I have been to … the Technical Naval Museum, La Spezia

During our recent cruise we stopped off in La Spezia, Italy, and whilst we were there Sue and I managed to pay a visit to the Museo Tecnico Navale (Technical Naval Museum). It is located just to one side of the main entrance of the Naval Arsenal in La Spezia, and when we visited it was in the process of going through a refurbishment. This meant that we were only able to visit a small section of the Museum … but it does give us a good excuse to go back there at some time in the future!

Having paid our entrance fee of 1.55 Euros each, we made our way through the gateway and out into the open area behind the entrance. This gave us access to a number of interlinked, single-story buildings as well as a number of memorials.

The open area contained several naval weapons including quick-firing guns (in this case a Cannone da 100/47), …

… a Menon anti-submarine mortar system removed from the former frigate Alpino, …

… and numerous nineteenth century cannons.

Inside the first of the buildings we visited were numerous examples of guns fitted to Italian Navy ships during the twentieth century. These included twin anti-aircraft guns (unlabeled, but probably a twin Breda 37/54 automatic cannon), …

… a quick-firing gun (unlabeled, but possibly a Cannone da 120/40), …

… a 1917-built Cannone da 102/45, …

… and a 1917-built Cannone da 102/35.

There was also a single, light anti-aircraft gun (unlabeled, but probably a Scotti-Isotta 20/70 automatic cannon), …

… an unlabeled, shielded gun (possibly a Cannone de 76/40), …

… a twin Cannone OTO da 100/47, …

… a single 1937 Cannone OTO da 100/47, …

… and a Cannone da 65/64 anti-aircraft gun.

There was also a selection of quick-firing guns from the first half of the twentieth century. The first was a pre-First World War Cannone da 76/40, …

… which was followed by a Maxim-Nordenfelt 6-pounder, …

… and a Cannone da 76/50 from the 1940s.

The Italian Navy was one of the first to adopt the torpedo as a weapon, and one section of the museum building traced the history of this type of weapon.

Included in the collection was an example of an early Whitehead torpedo that was made in Fiume.

The museum also housed a selection of the small-arms, machine guns, and smaller calibre weapons that had been used by the Italian Navy.

Outside the museum was a memorial to the sailors who served aboard submarines of the Italian Navy.

The memorial included a complete list of all the Italian Navy submarines that had been lost.

The garden area also had one of the battleship Vittorio Veneto‘s propellers on display.

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Ships of the Italian Navy seen in La Spezia

La Spezia is one the Italian Navy’s main naval bases. The First Naval Group Command (Comando del Primo Gruppo Navale (COMGRUPNAV 1)) is based there, as is the Comando delle Forze di Contromisure Mine (MARICODRAG), Italy’s Mine Countermeasures Command.

(Comando del Primo Gruppo Navale currently comprises the following ships:

  • Caio Duilio (Orizzonte-class Air-defence Destroyer)
  • Carlo Bergamini (Bergamini-class General-purpose Frigate)
  • Virginio Fasan (Bergamini-class Anti-submarine Frigate)
  • Carlo Margottini (Bergamini-class Anti-submarine Frigate)
  • Maestrale (Maestrale-class Anti-submarine Frigate)
  • Grecale (Maestrale-class Anti-submarine Frigate)
  • Libeccio (Maestrale-class Anti-submarine Frigate)
  • Scirocco (Maestrale-class Anti-submarine Frigate)
  • Bersagliere (Lupo-class Light Patrol Frigate)
  • Vesuvio (Stromboli-class Replenishment Tanker)
  • Elettra (Intelligence Gathering Ship)

Comando delle Forze di Contromisure Mine comprises two squadrons:

  • COMSQUADRAG 53, which includes the Gaeta-class Minehunters Numana, Rimini, Termoli, and Viareggio, and the Lerici-class Minehunters Vieste and Sapri
  • COMSQUADRAG 54, which includes the Gaeta-class Minehunters Alghero, Chioggia, Crotone, and Gaeta, and the Lerici-class Minehunters Lerici and Milazzo)

Most of these ships were not present (or not visible) when we visited La Spezia, but the following ships were:

An Audace-class Guided Missile Destroyer, which was withdrawn from service in 2006.

Bergamini-class Frigates: Carlo Margottini (F592) (on the left) and Carlo Bergamini (F590) (on the right).

A Maestrale-class Anti-submarine Frigate.

A Soldati-class Frigate: Artigliere (F582), which has now been withdrawn from service.

Magnaghi (A 5303) Hydrographic Survey Vessel.

A Stromboli-class Replenishment Tanker: Vesuvio (A5329).

Although not part of the Italian Navy, the Guardia di Finanza (Finance Guard) is a Military Police force that is responsible for dealing with financial crime, smuggling, and countering the drugs trade. They maintain a fleet of armed patrol boats that are stationed at various bases around Italy’s coastline.


Ships of the Spanish Navy seen in Cartagena

The Spanish Navy has three main naval bases, one of which is Cartagena. Cartagena appears to be the main support base for the patrol vessels and smaller warships (e.g. minehunters) used by the Spanish Navy, and during our recent visit to that port we saw quite a few Spanish warships of these types in and around the harbour.

Patrol Vessel: Chilreu-class
Only one of the Chilreu-class patrol vessels (the Alborán (P62)) was in Cartagena during our visit.

Patrol Vessel: Meteoro-class
Whilst we were leaving Cartagena, Ventura passed a Meteoro-class patrol ship,

Patrol Vessel: Descubierta-class
The Descubierta-class are former corvettes, which have now been re-rated as patrol vessels. There were three of the class in harbour at the time of our visit, including the Infanta Elena (P76), …

… the Cazadora (P78), …

… and the Diana (M11).

This last ship is not a patrol vessel, having been disarmed and converted for use as mine counter-measures support ship. It has been rumoured that she may be rearmed and sold to Angola.

Patrol Vessel: Toralla-class
The name-ship of the class (Toralla (P81)) was entering Cartagena just as Ventura was mooring.

Minehunters: Segura-class
There were three ships of the Segura-class minehunters moored alongside in the naval base, including the Segura (M31) …

… and the Turia (M34).

The design of these vessels is based upon that of the Royal Navy’s Sandown-class minehunters.

Sealift Transports
The Spanish Navy has three sealift transports, and two of them were in Cartagena on the day of our visit. They were the Ro-Ro ships Martín Posadillo (A04) …

… and El Camino Español (A05).

Other vessels
Like all other navies, the Spanish Navy has a plethora of small craft that it uses for minor roles, and a number of them were moored inside the naval base.

Although not a naval vessel as such, Cartagena is also one of the bases used by the Salvamento Marítimo. It is responsible for maritime traffic control, safety and rescue operations, and the protection of the maritime environment within Spanish waters. Amongst the vessels that it operates are a number of large rescue/salvage tugs, including the Clara Campoamor.

This vessel and its sistership – the Don Inda – are the largest of the rescue/salvage tugs operated by the Salvamento Marítimo, and one of them is stationed on Spain’s Mediterranean coast and the other on her Atlantic coast.


I have been to … Spain, Monaco, Italy, France, and Gibraltar

Friday 8th April, 2016: Southampton
We were awake earlier than expected (6.30am) and were we ready to leave for Southampton by 8.45am. Our route took us around the M25 – which was busy but not too busy – and onto the M3. The ongoing roadworks between the junction of the M3 with the M25 and the turn off for Fleet slowed us down somewhat, but by the time we had reached Basingstoke the traffic was flowing freely. We reached Winchester services at 10.35am, and stopped for a cup of coffee and a toasted sandwich in the branch of Costa Coffee.

When we rejoined the M3 the traffic flow had increased, but there were no major hold-ups. We turned off and joined the A35, which took us through the eastern part of Southampton to the docks. We reached the Ocean Terminal at 11.30am, and after a short wait to unload and hand over the car to the valet parking service, we we inside the Terminal building by just after midday.

As we are regular cruisers with P&O, we are rated as being what they term Ligurian Tier passengers. This meant that we did not have to wait to be checked in, and by 12.15pm we were sitting in a separate part of the embarkation lounge waiting to go through the security checks before boarding MV Ventura.

The security check area opened at 12.45pm, and we joined the short queue of passengers waiting to be checked through. There was a delay whilst the two passengers in front of us in the queue had to be thoroughly checked and their hand luggage searched. (Both set off the metal scanner because they were wearing items made of metal, and then the x-ray of their hand luggage showed up a suspicious item … a long-handled nail file that looked very like a knife.) This was – in many ways – very reassuring as it was nice to know that the security checking regime that is in place is thorough.

By 1.00pm we were aboard Ventura and on our way to the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 7 Midships), where we sat eating and drinking whilst our cabin was prepared. This took until just after 2.00pm, at which point we were able to go up to Deck 9 (D Deck) where our cabin was located. Our luggage had already been delivered, and we were able to unpack almost everything by the time we had to go to the Havana Bar (Deck 7 Aft) for the obligatory safety briefing.

By the time the briefing had finished, Ventura had just cast off and was slowly moving away from the dockside. As she did so we had a great view of her sister ship – Azura – which was moored some distance away alongside the Mayflower Cruise Terminal.

On our return to our cabin we finished unpacking the last few items in our luggage, at which point we decided to sit and rest for a while before it was time to get ready for dinner. We sat in our cabin watching the world go by as Ventura slowly steamed towards the Solent …

… and around the Isle of Wight. By then it was beginning to get dark, and we had started to get ready for dinner. We had a pre-dinner drink in The Glass House Bar (Deck 7 Midships) and then walked aft until we reached the stairs going down the the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft). The restaurant’s doors opened at 8.35pm, and we were shown to our table, which was situated at the stern of the ship, next to a window overlooking the sea. By 8.45pm we had been joined by our table companions for the voyage – three other couples from various parts of the UK – and had begun to order our meals. Everyone introduced themselves, and the conversation flowed back and forth throughout the meal, and we finally parted company just after 10.30pm.

Sue and I then went up to Deck 15 Forward for a breath of fresh air before going to bed, and it soon became apparent that the weather was beginning to change for the worse. It was cold and very windy, and we did not stay outside for very long. In fact, by the time we reached our cabin and had begun to get ready for bed, there was a distinct degree of motion that caused light items left on table tops to move about.

Saturday 9th April, 2016: At sea
By the time we awoke on Saturday morning the ship had developed a distinct lean to starboard as well as a periodic juddering sensation every few minutes. The on-screen map display in our cabin showed that Ventura had turned southward out of the English Channel and had rounded Ushant and passed into the Bay of Biscay.

Whilst we were eating breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), the Captain – Captain Simon Terry – made an announcement regarding the weather conditions. He told everyone that the forecast was that high winds and large waves were going to cause the ship to experience additional movement from mid afternoon onwards, and that this was predicted to remain the case for at least the next thirty six hours. As Sue and I are quite good sailors, this did not worry us unduly, but it was apparent that quite a few passengers were already beginning to feel the affects. (Every set of stairs had so-called ‘motion discomfort’ bags in dispensers on each deck level, and a large number of cabins had ‘Resting’ notices on their doors.)

Sue and I decided to attend a talk in the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) at 11.00am, and after breakfast we had a stroll around the ship before making our way there. The speaker was Tony White, and his talk was entitled ‘The Milk of Paradise’. The talk told the story of the use of opium (and its derivatives) from ancient times until the modern day, and included the role of the East India Company in the the import of opium from India to China (and the subsequent Opium Wars), the development and use of heroin and morphine, and the fact that the legitimate growing of opium poppies for use by the pharmaceutical industry is licensed by many countries across the world, including the UK.

After the talk – which ended just before midday – Sue and I went up to The Glass House Bar (Deck 7 Midships) for a drink before lunch … and eventually stayed there to eat as well. We finished just after 2.00pm, and after a very quick trip outside into the open air we went back to our cabin to read and rest for the rest of the afternoon.

I began reading FIGHT AND BE RIGHT by Ed Thomas (published by Sea Lion Press) on my Kindle. This is an alternative history of Britain – and the other world powers – during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and takes as its major premise that Lord Randolph Churchill did not contract syphilis and die, but became a reforming Prime Minister.

During the latter part of the afternoon and early evening Sue and I began getting ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. We had a pre-dinner drink in the Metropolis Bar (Deck 18 Aft) before going to the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner. The food was – as usual – excellent, and the company was even better. (We seem to have been very lucky again in sharing a table with people who are easy to get on with and interesting to talk to.)

After dinner we went to the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) to watch a performance by ‘The Beatles Experience’, a very good tribute band. This was followed by a quick breath of fresh air on Deck 15 Forward, after which we returned to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Sunday 10th April, 2016: At sea … and Vigo!
After a somewhat disturbed night’s sleep (the ship seemed to have spells when she was rolling quite violently at times), we both woke up just after 8.20am … and found that the weather outside had – if anything – actually got worse! Driving rain was lashing the cabin’s balcony door and the sky was a leaden grey. Somewhat alarmingly the on-screen map display seemed to indicate that Ventura was on a course towards Vigo in Galicia, Spain!

At 9.00am the Captain made an announcement that due to a medical emergency, Ventura was going to have to divert to Vigo to off-load a passenger who was in need of urgent medical attention. (We subsequently found out that they had had a heart attack.) By this time the coast of Spain was visible on the horizon …

… and as we went to breakfast at 9.30am, Ventura was approaching the entrance to the bay in which the harbour is situated.

We finished eating not long after 10.15am, and we were able to go out onto the port side of the Promenade (Deck 7) to see what was happening. The ship was just coming alongside the Vigo Cruise Terminal …

… and an ambulance was on-hand to collect the casualty.

From the other side of the Promenade (Deck 7) we could see across the bay to where two Spanish Navy mine-hunters were located.

Near to them was a Guardia Civil patrol boat, which remained on station until Ventura was ready to leave.

At 11.00am Sue and I made our way to the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7) to listen to Tony White’s talk entitled ‘The Elixir of Life’.

This talk covered the history of cocaine from its use by South American Indians during the pre-Columbian era until its widespread use in the modern world, and how governments and criminal gangs have exploited the trade in cocaine to achieve their goals of wealth and/or power.

Once the talk was over, we went for a walk around the ship in the hope of finding somewhere where we would be able to buy a drink and to sit in comfort. We ended up in the Metropolis bar (Deck 18 Aft), and we stayed there until it was time for lunch. We ended up eating at the carvery that was held in the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships).

After a light lunch we discovered that despite the poor weather, the Promenade (Deck 7) was still open, so we went out onto it for a breath of fresh air. After ten or so minutes were decided that it was too cold and windy to remain there, and we returned to our cabin to read and rest for a while. By that time Ventura was off the coast of Portugal, and well on her way towards her original course southwards.

During the afternoon we paid a short visit to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for some light refreshments, followed by a short spell out on the open deck for some fresh air. (Like most cruise ships, Ventura has a very efficient air conditioning system, but every so often it is nice to actually breath some fresh air that has not been filtered, warmed, and dried.)

On our return to our cabin I finished reading Ed Thomas’s FIGHT AND BE RIGHT and began reading the first of several ‘Maigret’ stories that I recently loaded onto my Kindle. PIETR THE LATVIAN was first published in 1930 and I believe that it might have been the first novel to feature Inspector Maigret of the Police Judiciaire.

Because the weather and sea conditions had not improved, Sue and I went for our pre-dinner drink in the Metropolis Bar (Deck 18 Aft) before joining our dinner companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft). After dinner we went up to the covered deck area on Deck 15 Forward for a short time before going back to our cabin to read and to sleep.

Monday 11th April, 2016: At sea
The weather was slightly better overnight, and we were only woken up a couple of times due to the ship making a sudden, violent movement. By 8.30 am Ventura had reached the southern coast of Portugal and turned eastwards towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

We had breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), after which we spent some time on the Promenade (Deck 7). Just before 11.00am Sue and I made our way to the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7), where we spent the next forty five minutes listening to Tony White’s third talk – which was entitled ‘Anything Goes!’ – about about barbiturates, amphetamines, LSD, and Ecstasy.

After leaving the theatre we both felt thirsty and decided to see what it was like in the covered area on Deck 15 Forward, where we knew that we could get a drink from one of the nearby bars. It was quite pleasant sitting there, and we remained there drinking and chatting until it was nearly 1.00pm.

As neither of us was feeling hungry, we decided to wait until later before going to find something to eat. We would have remained where we were had it not been for the smell of varnish which permeated the air. (The teak furniture in the undercover are on Deck 15 Forward was in the process of being re-varnished, and the furniture that had already been done had not yet lost the smell of fresh varnish.)

We went back to our cabin to read until we both felt hungry, and in fact we stayed there until nearly 3.00pm, by which time Ventura was beginning to approach the Straits of Gibraltar.

For the first time since we left Southampton, we also began to see a number of other ships.

By 3.00pm we were both feeling hungry and we decided to go up to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a snack, which we followed with a short spell out on the open deck area on Deck 15 at the back of the ship. We then returned to our cabin, and at 4.45pm the Ventura began to pass Tangier on the coast of Morocco.

At approximately 5.45pm Ventura passed through the narrowest part of the Straits of Gibraltar.

As it was the Captain’s Gala Cocktail Party at 8.00pm, we started to get ready not long after 6.0pm. The Party was held in the ship’s Atrium (Decks 5 to 7 Midships), and we decided to go to the lowest deck as experience told us that it tended to be less crowded. It was … and whilst we were there we met up with two of our dinner companions as well as two of the ship’s training officers.

The party ended at 8.30pm, and by 8.40pm we were sitting with the rest of our table companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for the second formal dinner of the cruise. The food, service, and tabletalk were all excellent, and by 10.15pm we were finished and on our way to the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) to watch the second performance by ‘The Beatles Experience’.

Once the performance was over – and before going back to our cabin – Sue and I took a walk along the Promenade (Deck 7). We were back in our cabin by 11.30pm, and before going to sleep I finished reading Georges Simenon’s PIETR THE LATVIAN (whose plot proved to be full of all sorts of twists and turn) and began reading THE HANGED MAN OF SAINT-PHOLIEN.

Tuesday 12th April, 2016: Cartagena, Spain
Ventura arrived in Cartagena well ahead of her planned 8.00am arrival, and when we awoke at just after 8.00am she was already moored alongside the dock and the formalities had been completed.

Because our cabin was on the starboard side of the ship, we had a view of seafront of Cartagena …

… which is dominated by the hill that is topped by Concepción Castle.

After breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), Sue and I got our stuff together and went ashore just after 10.00am. We walked along seafront …

… until we reached end and turned towards the main road that runs parallel with the seafront, the Paseo de Alfonso XII.

This took us into the Plaza Héreos de Cavite, which is dominated by a monument to the Spanish soldiers and sailors who died defending Cavite during the Spanish-American War.

On a wall nearly opposite the memorial were a number of commemorative plaques, …

… one of which was dedicated to Manuel de Cervantes, …

… and another which told the history of Cartagena since its foundation.

We walked inland past the impressive Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) …

… and up the main shopping street Calle Mayor

… until we reached the Plaza San Sebastian.

On one side of the Square was a very ornate and ancient-looking carousel.

We then continued our walk inland up the Puerta de Murcia and Calle Carmen

… until we reached the Plaza de España. The centre of the Square contained a small park which had a fountain at its centre.

Sue and I were both beginning to feel thirsty, and we decided to stop for a drink in a nearby café, the Piazza Café.

Suitably refreshed we retraced our steps, turning off along the way so that we could walk to the top of the Muralla del Mar, which gave us an excellent view across the section of the harbour where Ventura was moored.

This area is being rejuvenated and many of its buildings are being restored, and it seems to be one of the more exclusive areas of Cartagena in which to live.

We then walked back down to the seafront and to a restaurant where we ate the last time we visited Cartagena, the Mare Nostrum.

We sat on the restaurant’s terrace area …

… where we ate and excellent light lunch. We returned aboard Ventura just before 2.30pm, and after dropping off our bags and cameras in our cabin, we went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a drink.

Ventura set sail at 4.30pm, and as she sailed out of the harbour, we passed some of the old fortifications.

Sue and I then had to get ready for dinner. We had booked places at the special Pairing Menu meal in The Glass House (Deck 7 Midships), and had to be ready by 6.30pm. (The meal matched each dish on the menu to a specific wine that one could drink.) The meal and wine were excellent … as was the service and the company, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an evening.

We finished eating at 9.30pm, and after a short walk along the Promenade (Deck 7), we went back to our cabin to read before it was time to go to sleep. I finished reading George Simenon’s THE HANGED MAN OF SAINT-PHOLIEN and began THE CARTER OF LA PROVIDENCE. (Unlike most crime stories, THE HANGED MAN OF SAINT-PHOLIEN ended without anyone being arrested for a crime, although a crime had been committed by the man whose death Maigret investigated.)

A quick check of Ventura‘s position on the on-screen map display in our cabin showed that she was sailing northwards not far from Moraya on the Spain’s east coast.

Wednesday 13th April, 2016: Barcelona, Spain
We were woken up not long after 7.00am by an emergency announcement for the ship’s medical team. Sue and I tried to get back to sleep again, but in the end we gave up and got up. By that time Ventura was already in the outer harbour of Barcelona, and was turning around so that she could moor with her bows pointing towards the harbour entrance.

Ventura was finally moored alongside by 9.00pm …

… by which time Sue and I were eating breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft). Once we had finished eating, we returned to our cabin to pick up the bags and cameras we were taking ashore, and had just left to go to the gangway when an announcement advised us to wait until the queues for the shuttle-bus had shortened. We waited on the Promenade (Deck 7) until 10.30pm, by which time the queues were much shorter.

The shuttle-bus dropped us off outside Barcelona’s World Trade Centre, from where we took a taxi to the Castell Montjuïc (Montjuich Castle).

From there we had a view across Barcelona’s harbour, where we could see Ventura tied up alongside one of the Cruise Terminals.

We walked around the outside of the castle …

… to a point where there was a panoramic view across the city.

One of the most prominent buildings was Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) cathedral, which is still in the process of construction.

We then decided to walk down from the top of Montjuïc, using the extensive network of paths and roads.

Our walk took us down towards the Estadi Olimpic (Olympic Stadium) …

… which looked very impressive the closer we got to it.

The Olympic Torch Holder that was used for the 1992 Olympic Games was still in place …

… near the main entrance to the stadium. The stadium was open for the public to view, and after a quick look at the field and running track …

… Sue and I decided to have a drink in the stadium’s café.

Suitably refreshed, we then set off to walk further down the hill towards the Placa d’ Espanya. Our route took us towards the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalonian Art).

On the way we almost trod on a small, very well camouflaged lizard …

… which scuttled across the footpath we were using. Soon afterwards we reached a statue on a plinth …

… from where we could see the back and side of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

As we walked around the building, we passed the entrance to a small park that contained an interesting water feature.

From the front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

… we had a wonderful view of the Font Magica (Magic Fountain) and the twin towers that mark the entrance to the Placa d’ Espanya.

By this time we were both feeling rather tired, and used the outdoors escalators to go downhill.

Halfway down we passed another interesting water feature …

… which was quite dwarfed by the one that came down from Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

We walked down the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina until we reached the Placa d’ Espanya. It was interesting to note that the former Barcelona Bullring (Casa de la Papallona) had been converted into a shopping centre.

We found a taxi rank on one corner of the Placa d’ Espanya and took a taxi to the World Trade Centre, where we boarded the shuttle-bus back to Ventura.

We returned aboard just after 2.15pm, and after a quick visit to our cabin, Sue and I went up to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a snack lunch and a cooling drink. Once we had eaten we went out to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft), where we sat chatting to other passengers until 3.30pm. By then we were both feeling rather hot, and thought that we ought to go back to our cabin to cool off.

Ventura was due to leave Barcelona at 4.00pm, but due to a problem with one of the tours, her departure was delayed. (The coach carrying the tour passengers had broken down.) Eventually everyone was back aboard by 4.45pm, and Ventura set sail very soon afterwards.

As we were going to eat dinner in the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft) at 8.00pm, Sue and I began getting ready slightly earlier than usual. I still had time to finish reading George Simenon’s THE CARTER OF LA PROVIDENCE and to begin reading the next book in the omnibus selection that I had bought for my Kindle, THE GRAND BANKS CAFÉ.

We had a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft), before going up to the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft). The food – a duo of oak-smoked and whisky-cured wild salmon, followed by a chateaubriand, and completed with Crepe Suzette – was well worth the supplement we had to pay … and the quality of service was superb. After dinner we returned to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) just to sit and rest for a while in the open air. We then returned to our cabin to read until it was time to get ready for bed.

Thursday 14th April, 2016: Monte Carlo, Monaco
After a high-speed run overnight run from Barcelona, Ventura was moored in the harbour of Monte Carlo not long after 7.00am, …

… and by 8.00am the tenders had been launched and she was preparing to ferry passengers ashore.

Sue and I ate breakfast as usual in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), and by 10.10am we had finished, returned to our cabin to collect our bags and cameras, and were waiting in the queue outside the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships) to collect our tender tickets.

That was when our troubles began. It took nearly twenty minutes queuing before we were handed our numbered tickets … and then we had to wait a further fifteen minutes before our numbers were called and we went down to Deck 4 to board the tender. The tender finally cast off at 10.55am, and set off towards the harbour. This journey took over twenty minutes … and then we stopped! Our tender then sat just outside the harbour, bobbing about, until there was room for it to move alongside the docks. We finally disembarked after midday, the whole process having taken almost two hours from start to finish.

Because we were so late arriving, we had missed our chance to see the Changing of the Guard at the palace, so we just set off to walk towards the town along the Quai Antoine 1st.

Along the way we passed many, many expensive speed boats and yachts.

As preparations for the Monaco Grand Prix were well under way, the area around the main road – the Route de la Piscine and Boulevard Albert 1st – was a massive building site. We managed to negotiate our way around this and eventually ended up in Rue Princesse Caroline, …

… where we found a convenient bar – the Brasserie du Mystic – where we had a much-needed drink.

We then set off towards the Fontveille area of Monaco via steps …

… up to the Rue de Millo

… and Rue Terrazzani.

Along the way we passed through the local market, which was in the process of closing up.

We finally reached Fontveille, …

… and after deciding not to visit the Musée des Timbres et des Monnaies (the Monaco Stamp and Currency Museum) …

… or the Collection des Voitures Anciennes (Monaco Motor Car Museum), we opted to go into the Musée Naval (Monaco Naval Museum) … and what a revelation that turned out to be!

I have rarely seen so many excellent ship models under one roof and in such a small area, and what we saw and photographed will form the basis of at least one future blog entry.

By the time we had finished our visit to the Museum, it was close to 2.00pm, and Sue and I decided to find somewhere to eat lunch. After a bit of a search we ended up back in the local market square, where we found an excellent small bar/restaurant – the Eden – where we were able to buy lunch.

We had finished eating by 2.45pm, and began our walk back to the harbour to catch the tender back to Ventura … and our troubles began again! The queue of passengers waiting to board a tender was over 300m long … and was only moving slowly forward. We finally boarded a tender at 3.45pm, and got back aboard Ventura at 4.15pm … only fifteen minutes before Ventura was supposed to be setting sail for Las Spezia, our next port-of-call. In the end the tenders were still bringing passenger back aboard at 5.30pm.

Ventura eventually set sail at 6.30pm … two hours late! Just before she sailed the Captain apologised for all the problems passengers had experienced, and explained that it was due to a strong swell slowing down the loading and unloading tenders, coupled with restrictions on the dockside due to another cruise ship’s tenders having to use the same facilities.

Because the air temperature was still warm, we were able to sit in the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for our pre-dinner drink. When we went down to the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner, we discovered that two of our table companions had gone to one of the select dining restaurants and one of the others was feeling unwell. Despite this we had a great meal, and did not leave the restaurant until 10.30pm.

We were joined by one of our dining companions on the Promenade (Deck 7) for a breath of fresh air and a chat before we all went our separate ways to sleep.

Friday 15th April, 2016: La Spezia, Italy
Ventura was already well on her way into the harbour at La Spezia when we woke up just before 8.00am.

She was secured alongside her berth just before 9.00am, and Sue and I went for breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) soon afterwards. By 10.15am we were ready to go ashore, and a little after 10.45am the local shuttle-bus dropped us off at the Cruise Terminal, which was located on the seafront.

We then walked along the Viale Italia

… until we reached the Viale Diaz, which took us inland. Along the way we passed a memorial to Giuseppe Garibaldi.

When we reached the Via Chiodo

… we turned left, and walked towards the Piazza Chiodo.

Sue and I then crossed the Via Amendola and the bridge across the Canale Lagora, …

… which brought us to the entrance of the Museo Tecnico Navale (Technical Museum of the Navy).

We spend nearly an hour inside the Museum (a report of our visit will feature in a future blog entry), by which time we were both feeling thirsty. Crossing back across the bridge and the Via Amendola, we came to a small local café where we both had an excellent café latte.

We then walked along the colonnaded pavement of the Via Chiodo

… until we reached the Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, …

… at which point we turned inland. Our rambles took us through numerous streets …

… until we reached the Piazza Cavour, which is also known as the Piazza del Mercato.

By this time most of the shops had shut for lunch, and we decided to begin looking for somewhere to eat. We eventually found a local restaurant near the Via Chodo called the L’Osteria, where we ate a superb example of local cuisine …. baked sea bream and potatoes!

Because the meal was prepared from scratch, we were in the restaurant for well over an hour, and it was 2.30pm before we left to return to Ventura. We walked back along the Via Chiodo until we reached the Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, and then back towards the sea via the Via XX Settembre. This brought us out opposite the Cruise Terminal, where we were able to catch the shuttle-bus back to the Ventura.

Once back aboard Ventura, Sue and I both paid a quick visit to our cabin before going up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a cold drink. We stayed there chatting to another passenger until 4.30pm, by which time we began to feel tired. We therefore returned to our cabin to read and to rest until it was time to get ready for dinner.

Just after 7.30pm Sue and I went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a pre-dinner drink, and stayed there until the ship set sail from Las Spezia at 8.25pm. We then went down to the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), where we ate yet another excellent meal, made all the better by the people with whom we share a table.

After dinner we spent a few minutes on the Promenade (Deck 7) before going back to our cabin to read for a while before going to sleep. I finished reading THE GRAND BANKS CAFÉ by Georges Simenon, and started THE SAINT-FIACRE AFFAIR.

Saturday 16th April, 2016: Ajaccio, Corsica
Sue and I were both awake by 7.30am, just as Ventura was beginning her approach towards the harbour of Ajaccio.

The last time we visited Ajaccio it was a rainy Sunday, and everything was either closed or cold, wet, and miserable. This time it was a warm Saturday and we hoped to see some more of the town and its surrounding area as a result.

Some distance away we could see what at first we thought was fog … but it turned out to be smoke from a fire!

After breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), Sue and I began to make our way ashore just as crew drills were starting at 10.00am. Our route took us out of the exit from the Cruise Terminal, where we found a small flea market taking place on the opposite side of the road.

After having a look around – and resisting the temptation to buy anything – we made our way along the Quai de la République to the Place Foch, where there was a far more substantial market.

Sue and I took a leisurely stroll around the market, and having done so we decided to take the forty five minute-long ‘Little Train’ sightseeing tour.

This took us along the Avenue du 1st Consul to the Place De Gaulle, and from there on uphill along the Cours Granval to the Grotte Napoleon. On the site of a former house owned by the Bonaparte family a monument to the Emperor has been erected.

All of Napoleon’s victories are recorded on the monument, which is surmounted by a statue of the great man.

Our tour then passed through a residential area, after which it emerged onto the Boulevard Pascal Rossini, which runs along the edge of the beach. After passing the local cathedral (Cathédrale de l’Assumption), …

… (where the road became the Boulevard Lantivy and then the Boulevard Danielle Casanova) the ‘Little Train’ turned inland up the Rue Roi de Rome. We then turned right into the Avenue Eugène Macchini, and then right again into the Avenue du 1st Consul and finally ended up back in the Place Foch.

By this time Sue and I were both feeling thirsty, and we managed to get a drink in a nearby restaurant called La Gioia.

As we had been unable to take many photographs during our tour, Sue and I set off along the Rue Bonaparte towards the Boulevard Danielle Casanova and thence onto the Boulevard Lantivy. There we were able to photograph the magnificent Plage Saint François.

Turning around, we could see one corner of the Citadelle

… which is protected by a wide dry moat.

The Citadelle is still used by the French Army, and is currently to home of a detachment of the 2nd REP (2nd Parachute Regiment of the Foreign Legion).

Next to the main gate is a monument to one of the local soldiers who took part in the liberation of France during the Second World War, General Pierre Lelong.

The Citadelle‘s dry moat …

… was used to graze a couple of donkeys …

… and a goat …

… which had found a convenient, shady ledge to rest on.

Just set back from the dry moat was a bust dedicated to the memory of the famous Corsican patriot, Pascal Paoli.

By this point Sue and I were both feeling very hot, and we began to walk back towards the Ventura. Just before we reached the Cruise Terminal entrance we passed a monument dedicated to those who fought in the Resistance.

We were back aboard the ship just after 1.00pm, and after a long, cool drink in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) we went into the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a snack lunch. We returned to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) after lunch, but it had become so hot out on deck that we only stayed a short time before going back to our cabin to read, to rest, and to cool down.

Ventura set sail for Gibraltar at 4.30pm, and we sat on our cabin balcony and watched as the ship made her way out of the harbour …

… towards the open sea.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and the early evening pottering around, reading and resting until it was time to get ready for dinner. Although it had somewhat colder once Ventura had sailed out into the Mediterranean, it was still just about warm enough for us to be able to sit in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a pre-dinner drink. At 8.30pm we joined our six other table companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner, and spent an very enjoyable time discussing how we had all spent or day ashore.

After dinner we went for a breath of fresh air on the Promenade (Deck 7) but as it had got even colder we only stayed there a short while. We then returned to our cabin and got ready for bed. Before going to sleep I finished reading Georges Simenon’s THE SAINT-FIACRE AFFAIR and began THE MISTY HARBOUR. (Most of Simenon’s novels are quite short and easy to read, and I found them idea stories to read whilst on this cruise.)

Sunday 17th April, 2016: At sea
After visiting five different places in five days, it was nice to have a relatively quiet day at sea. It was just getting light as Sue and I awoke, and Ventura was sailing at a steady 20 knots and had already reached a position south of the Balearic Islands.

Although it was a Sunday and a sea day, we had the Peninsular Club Lunch to attend at midday. We therefore planned to eat a light breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) and to spend the rest of the morning lazing around until it was time to get ready for the lunch.

By 11.45am we had returned to our cabin to change before going to the Peninsular Club Lunch, which was held in the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships) at midday. This was hosted by senior officers, and we had the Chief Staff Engineer as our table host. As we have come to expect, it was an excellent meal, and our table companions – all of whom were also regular cruisers – proved to be a very varied but interesting group of people.

The lunch finished just before 2.00pm, and after a short spell on the Promenade (Deck 7), Sue and I returned to our cabin to read and to rest … and to recover from eating such a rich meal at lunchtime! Whilst Sue dozed, I finally managed to get around to writing a developed version of my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME. I had plans to use these rules at COW2016, and this seemed like an opportune time to do some work on them.

We had a break at about 5.00pm, and went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a drink. It was a little breezy, but the sun made it warm enough to sit there in reasonable comfort for twenty minutes. Sue and I then returned to our cabin, and began to leisurely get ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise.

We returned to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for our pre-dinner drink, and then joined our regular table companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner. After dinner Sue and I were both feeling tired, and only spent a few minutes on the Promenade (Deck 7) before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Monday 18th April, 2016: Gibraltar
Ventura arrived off Gibraltar well before 8.00am, …

… and she was moving alongside the quay at 8.10am.

Another cruise ship – the Saga Pearl II – was already moored on the inner side of the dock, …

… which made the process of docking faster as Ventura did not have to manoeuvre between the mole and the dockside before mooring.

After a leisurely breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), Sue and I got ready to go ashore, and by just before 11.00am we had disembarked and walked as far as the entrance to Casemates Square.

We made our way across Casemates Square …

… and began the long walk up Main Street.

We stopped for a drink the ‘The Angry Friar’, …

… which is opposite the Governor’s Residence and next to the Old Guard House. Whilst we were sitting there, the hourly guard change outside the Governor’s Residence took place.

We then walked further uphill, past the Trafalgar Cemetery and the lower cable car station (where a cable car was just arriving), …

… and up to the gates of the Alameda Botanical Gardens.

Just inside the gates were two Russian cannons that were captured during the Crimean War and presented to the Government of Gibraltar.

We then walked up the steps …

… to the monument that was erected in memory of General George Augustus Elliott (later Lord Heathfield) who defended Gibraltar during the Great Siege (1779 to 1782).

We then spent the next hour just wandering around Gibraltar’s very interesting botanical gardens.

During our wanders we crossed a small bridge …

… from which we had an excellent view of a pond containing terrapins …

… and a small ornamental garden whose centre-piece was the Arms of Gibraltar.

We also saw a reconstructed summer house (The Prince of Wales’ Summer House) …

… and a small statue of Molly Bloom (one of the characters in James Joyce’s ULYSSES), whose connection with the Alameda Gardens is mentioned in the book.

By 12.30pm we were beginning to feel hungry, and left the Gardens via the Europa Road entrance …

… which is located just below the famous ‘The Rock Hotel’.

It took us less time to get back to Casemates Square than it had to climb up to the Alameda Botanical Gardens, and by 1.00pm we were sitting in the outside area of The Tunnel Restaurant …

… having a drink and eating lunch. Once we had eaten we decided to take a taxi back to the ship, and by just before 3.00pm we were sitting by the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) waiting for Ventura to set sail at 3.30pm. At 3.35pm the Captain announced that the ship was about to manoeuvre her way to port in order to turn toward to Straits of Gibraltar, and as she did so we had an excellent view of the airport runway …

… and the lower part of the town.

We could also see RFA Mounts Bay (L3008) …

… which was moored alongside the old Royal Navy base.

By 4.30pm Ventura was well on her way towards the Straits and Gibraltar was slowly getting smaller and smaller as she did so.

Not far from Cape Trafalgar, Ventura began to pass a United States Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship – the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) – …

… which appeared to have a number of Osprey and Harrier aircraft on deck.

The warship then did a 180° turn back towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

This made it possible to see her in much greater detail.

As she moved away from Ventura, the USS Kearsarge began flight operations using two of her ASW (anti-submarine warfare) helicopters.

The USS Kearsarge finally disappeared from view just before 7.30pm, just after Sue and I had gone to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for our pre-dinner drink. At 8.00pm we went up to the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft) to eat there for the second time during this cruise. As before the food was excellent, the service was superb, and the ambiance was relaxing.

Sue and I were both feeling rather full after our meal when we left the restaurant at 10.00pm, and went back to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) just to sit and relax before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Tuesday 19th April, 2016: At sea
Overnight Ventura sailed northward along the Spanish and then Portuguese Atlantic coasts, and at 8.00am she was south-west of Cape Espichel.

Sue and I decided that we wanted to attend the fifth talk – entitled ‘The Many-headed Beast’ – by Tony White, and as this was being held in the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) at 10.00am, we went to breakfast slightly earlier than is usual on a sea day. (We had missed his fourth talk about marijuana – entitled ‘The Green, Green Grass’ – as it clashed with the start of the Peninsular Club Lunch.)

The talk dealt with the impact of so-called money laundering and was extremely interesting. After it had finished Sue and I went up to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) … and discovered that it was raining! We therefore had a drink in the nearby Beach House Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft), before going down to Decks 6 and 7 to pay a visit to Reception (Deck 6 Midships) and the ship’s shops (Decks 6 and 7).

As it was still raining, we returned to our cabin in time to read for a while before it was time for the Officer-of-the-Watch to make the usual midday announcement. I finished reading THE MISTY HARBOUR and began George Simenon’s MAIGRET, which is set after the famous detective’s retirement from Paris to the Loire.

Early in the afternoon we went up to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for some fresh air … but although it was no longer raining, it was very windy. As a result we made our way forward to the covered deck area on Deck 15 Forward, and we stayed there until 1.45pm.

Sue and I then ate lunch in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships), and afterwards we tried yet again to sit on the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft). Although the wind speed had – by then – dropped, the air temperature had also fallen, and we only stayed there for ten minutes before we gave up and went back to our cabin.

We remained in our cabin for the rest of the afternoon, and spent part of the time sorting out some of the clothes that we would have to pack before going home. As it was the last formal dinner of the cruise, we took our time to get ready for it.

As the weather had improved, Sue and I were able to have our pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) before joining our table companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) at 8.30pm. As we had not seen them for a couple of days, we all had plenty to talk about, and the meal seemed to pass very quickly. We had all finished by 10.20pm, and whilst the others went off to see that evening’s show in the Arena Theatre, Sue and I went back up to open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for some fresh air.

We were back in our cabin by 11.00pm, and read for a while before going to sleep.

Wednesday 20th April, 2016: La Coruña, Spain
Ventura began turning into the harbour of La Coruña just after 7.15am. Before mooring she turned through 180° so that her bows were pointing towards the sea before manoeuvring and tying up alongside the dockside.

Another cruise ship – the Aida Vita – was already moored in the harbour, although judging by the lack of people visible on deck, there were few signs that any of her passengers were awake and out of bed.

At 8.45am the Captain announced that Ventura was secured alongside and that passengers were able to go ashore. As quite a few tours were going to Santiago de Campostella and the coaches were expected to leave by 9.15am, Sue and I decided to go for breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) once the rush was over.

We stepped ashore just after 10.15am, and made our way through a local shopping centre complex, Los Cantones … which did not seem to have any shops that we open!

It did, however, give us access to the Avenida de Alférez Provisional, where there was a wonderful example of late nineteenth/early twentieth century architecture.

We crossed Avenida de Alférez Provisional and entered the paved area and gardens that are situated to the south of the Cruise Terminal.

This contained a large bandstand, …

… flower beds and paths, …

… and numerous sculptures and monuments.

Amongst these was a very unusual combined thermometer, …

… sundial, …

… and barometer.

When we reached the end of the gardens, we crossed the Avenida de Linares Rivas and began to work our way northwards through the network of streets.

Eventually we ended up on the Canton Pequeño, and we were able to pay a visit to the excellent Libreria Arenas bookshop, where I bought two books. (The books were EL CRUCERO REINA REGENTE by Joaquín Gil Hondubill and LAS ARMAS BE LA REPUBLICA by José Maria Manrique Garcia and Lucas Molina Franco.)

We then walked along the Canton Grande and into the main shopping area situated along the Calle Real.

We then turned eastwards and found ourselves back on the seafront on the Avenida de la Marina.

Since our last visit in January, the road tunnel under the Avenida de la Marina had been finished, and there was no traffic on the road except for buses and taxis. We decided to have a drink in a nearby café – the Luchana – where we were both drank a very refreshing café cortado and watched the world go by.

It was just after 12.30pm when we left the café, and less than fifteen minutes later we were back aboard Ventura. We dropped off our coats, bags, and cameras in our cabin, and then went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for another drink. We stayed there until nearly 2.00pm, at which point we went to eat a snack lunch in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships).

After eating we returned to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft), but whilst we had been eating the sky had become cloudier and the wind had begun to blow across the deck. This made it much colder, and after about twenty minutes we decided to go back to our cabin.

At 4.00pm we went up to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for afternoon tea, and by the time Ventura set sail at 4.30pm, we had returned to our cabin to stand on our balcony.

As Ventura set sail, another cruise liner – Holland-America’s Rotterdam – became visible moored on the far side of the Aida Vita.

Ventura was preceded out of harbour by a Spanish Customs launch …

… and followed by the Pilot Launch, …

… which took the Pilot off almost as soon as Ventura had left the harbour.

We sat and read for a while before getting ready for dinner, which we ate in the Beach House Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft). We had never eaten there before, but as we have known the head waiter – Judith Denton – for many years, she persuaded us to try it out … and it proved to be an excellent alternative dining venue. We were booked in to eat at 8.30pm, and finally left at 11.00pm, having spent nearly an hour talking to Judith.

I finished reading Georges Simenon’s MAIGRET before going to sleep, and only have one book left – THE JUDGE’S HOUSE – to read before I have finished the omnibus selection that I bought for my Kindle.

Thursday 21st April, 2016: At sea
Ventura entered the Bay of Biscay not long after leaving La Coruña, and had made steady progress overnight. By 8.00am she was well over halfway across, and looked certain to round Ushant and enter the English Channel at some point during the afternoon.

After breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) Sue and I just had enough time to get to the other end of the ship to attend Tony White’s last talk of the cruise. It was entitled ‘What if?’ and examined the impact of the decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs in various places across the world. It was very thought provoking, and left one feeling that the ‘problem’ of drug dependency as a world-wide phenomena might well be overstated.

The talk ended at 10.45am, by which time Sue and I were both feeling rather thirsty. We made our way up to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft), but it had just stopped raining and we only stayed there for five minutes before going back to our cabin to begin preparing to pack.

We began packing before midday, and by 1.30pm – when we stopped for lunch – we had packed all three suitcases and one of the large holdalls that we use. Sue and I ate lunch in the Beach House Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft), after which we sat in the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for about twenty minutes. We then went down to Reception (Deck 6 Midships) for a print-out of our on-board account, followed by a short trip to the ship’s shops to spend as much of our remaining credit as possible!

Sue and I then paid a visit to the Future Cruise Desk (Deck 5 Midships) to enquire about a particular cruise that P&O’s Aurora is making to North America in 2016. We both felt that the price we were quoted was a bit expensive, and decided to leave booking places on the cruise for the time being.

We then returned to our cabin to finish packing the second of our holdalls (the third was to be packed just before we went to bed that evening), and once that was finished and our luggage had been placed outside our cabin for collection, we had a bit of a rest.

By 4.00pm Sue and I were feeling in need of some fresh air, and after getting a drink in the Beach House Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft), we went our onto the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) and sat there for an hour enjoying the warm weather … something that we had not expected to be able to do!

We returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for the last dinner of the cruise. At 7.50pm we went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a pre-dinner drink … and discovered that it was pouring with rain and that the tables and chairs were wet. Sue and I therefore went up to the Metropolis Bar (Deck 18 Aft) for our drink, in the expectation that the bar would be very crowded. In fact it was only half-full, and were were able to find somewhere to sit as soon as we walked in. The service was quick, and we had plenty of time to sit and enjoy the view until we had to go down to the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) to eat.

The meal was – as usual – very good, and Sue and I were very sad to have to say goodbye to our six table companions and the staff that have served us during the cruise. Hopefully we will meet some or all of them again in the future.

After we had left the Restaurant we went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 6 Aft) for a last breath of fresh air, but it was still raining and we were only able to stay there for a few minutes before we had to go back to our cabin to finish packing the last of our holdalls. This task was completed by just after 11.00pm, and by 11.30pm we were both in bed reading prior to going to sleep.

Friday 22nd April, 2016: Southampton
Sue and I were woken just after 6.00pm by the sound and vibration of Ventura completing her final manoeuvres alongside the Ocean Terminal in Southampton. It was already getting light as we were getting up.

At 7.45am we were on our way to breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), and by 8.30am we had finished eating and had returned to our cabin to pick up our hand luggage prior to going ashore. After collecting the rest of our luggage from the baggage collection hall, we went through Customs and retrieved our car from the valet parking service. By 9.10am we were driving out of the car park and on our way home. Our journey was reasonably uneventful (there was a brief delay on the southern section of the M25), and by just after midday we had parked outside our house and were unloading our luggage.


I have been to … Portugal, the Canary Islands, Madeira, and Spain

Saturday, 2nd January, 2016: Southampton
We were awake not long after 7.00am, and after getting dressed, eating a quick breakfast, and packing the last few bits of luggage, we put our bags in the car and set off for Southampton. Thanks to the appalling weather (it rained for almost the entirety of our journey) and the ongoing roadworks on the M3, it took us nearly two hours to reach Winchester Services, where we stopped for half an hour for a café latte and a toasted sandwich each in the branch of Costa Coffee.

The sat nav advised us that there was a traffic jam near West Quay in the centre of Southampton (IKEA was having a post-Christmas sale), and took us on a slightly different route which enabled us to miss the worst of the hold up. As a result we arrived at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal just after midday, and after unloading our luggage and handing the car over to the valet parking service, we went inside to book in. Thanks to the fact that we are regular cruisers with P&O, we did not have to wait in the main seating area before going to the booking in desk; we were taken there straight away, had our passports checked, our photographs taken, and were issued with our boarding passes. We then sat in the Priority Embarkation Lounge until we were called to go aboard MV Ventura at 12.45pm.

We went straight to our cabin, dropped off our hand luggage, and went down to the Promenade Deck (Deck 7) for a breath of fresh air. The deck was empty …

… and the only signs of life that we could see was a local police motor cruiser (the Preventer) that was sailing slowly past.

We stayed on deck until just before 1.30pm, when we went down to the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 6 Midships) for a snack lunch and free champagne. We stayed there talking to other passengers until nearly 2.45pm, at which point we went back to our cabin to unpack our luggage. We had to stop at 4.00pm in order to go to the Arena Theatre (Deck 7 Forward) for the obligatory safety briefing, and did not get back to finish until 4.45pm. We had just enough time to complete our unpacking before going up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a quick drink whilst Ventura made her way out of Southampton Harbour.

Whilst we were in the Terrace Bar the Captain of Ventura – Captain Derek Gray – made a long and detailed announcement about the bad weather that Ventura was going to have to pass through on her way to Canary Islands. He explained that in order to avoid the worst effects of the storm the ship was sailing towards, Ventura was going to sail on a course that would take her across rather than around the Bay of Biscay. Furthermore he intended to reduce speed to improve conditions aboard the ship (i.e. making it safer for passengers and crew to move about the ship), and that – in combination with the change of course – put the possibility of our visit to Lisbon in doubt.

After returning to our cabin we spent the time until we had to get ready for dinner reading and resting. I began reading THE COURTS OF THE MORNING by John Buchan, and finished the first two chapters by 7.45pm. Sue and I then went for a pre-dinner drink in the Red Bar (Deck 7 Midships), and just before 8.30pm we joined the queue for the Terrace Bar. As it was the first night of the cruise it took quite a while for everyone to be seated, and it was nearly 8.50pm before the last couple joined us on our table for six.

Luckily our four table companions all turned out to be friendly and talkative, and the meal seemed to pass very quickly although it was nearly two hours before we had finished eating and chatting. Despite the bad weather, Sue and I ventured out on deck for a few minutes for some fresh air before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Sunday, 3rd January, 2016: At sea
Despite the bad weather, we both slept very soundly, and did not wake up until just after 8.00am. When we looked outside the sky was overcast, everything looked grey, and rain and spray was lashing the balcony doors. The outside air temperature was 52.5°F/11.4°C and the over deck wind speed was 41.2 knots (Strong Gale).

As the Captain had already told us, the ship was not going at her normal cruising speed, but was doing just over 14 knots. As a result she had not quite reached Ushant by the time we were ready to go to breakfast at 9.00am.

After eating breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant we returned to our cabin to pick up our Kindles before going to the ship’s shops so that Sue could undertake some retail therapy in the Pandora section of the jewellery store. We then went up to Deck 15 Forward for some fresh air, but it was so wet and windy that we were only able to stay there a few minutes before we went to the Tamarind Club (Deck 7 Midships).

We ordered a drink and endured fifteen minutes of a hairdressing ‘demonstration’ (i.e. a sales pitch by the ship’s Hair and Beauty Salon) prior to the arrival of Dr Nick Slope, the guest lecturer for this cruise. He delivered a very interesting talk about the early European explorers that put the reason for the Portuguese and Spanish drive to explore into context.

The talk finished at 12.45pm, and Sue and I went up to other quick spell in the open air – this time by the Terrace Bar – after which we went up to the Metropolis Bar (Deck 18 Aft). We had a drink and remained there reading and talking until just after 2.15pm. We then went to the Glass House Bar (Deck 7 Midships) for lunch. This was a somewhat leisurely affair, and we did not leave until nearly 4.00pm.

By the time we returned to our cabin the ship was already well into the Bay of Biscay …

… and the sea had become even rougher, with swells of up to 8 metres, the outside air temperature was 51.8°F/11.0°C, and the over deck wind speed was 55.3 knots (Whole Gale). Despite this the ship was managing to make 18.4 knots.

We then returned to our cabin to rest before getting ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. Unlike previous cruises this was not preceded by a Welcome Aboard/Gala Cocktail Party as the Captain felt that the weather was too bad to hold it with a sufficient margin of safety for the passengers and crew. It was therefore postponed until later in the cruise.

Just after 6.30pm the Captain made an announcement about the weather situation. Ventura had been leaning over to port for some time due to the prevailing high wind, and the Captain explained that this would continue until later in the evening when he would be turning the ship onto a more westerly course into the wind and reducing speed. This would have the effect of reducing the list, but would considerably increase the pitching.

Once we were ready for dinner, we went down to the Red Bar for as pre-dinner drink … and found that it was less busy than on the previous night. The same was true of the Bay Tree Restaurant, where there were far fewer diners. Only one of the couples we shared a table with managed to make it to dinner, and the same seemed to be true of the nearby tables in the restaurant.

The dinner was actually very good, and the conversation around the table was interesting and humorous. The service was also excellent and faster than normal, and by just after 10.00pm we had all finished eating and were on our way out of the restaurant. Sue and I ventured up to Deck 15 Forward, but only stayed outside for a few minutes before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Monday, 4th January, 2016: At sea
We woke up at 8.00am after what can best be described as a night of episodic sleep. After turning the ship slightly eastwards, at some point before midnight the ship had changed course to a more south-westerly course. As a result the Ventura had turned into the wind and the pitching movement – and the sound of the ship slamming into the waves – increased.

At 8.30am the Ventura was managing to make approximately 12 knots and the outside air temperature was 55.9°F/13.3°C. As the ship was a little over half way from Southampton to Lisbon (our first port-of-call), it was becoming very obvious that it was highly unlikely that we would be able to reach Lisbon by 8.00am on the next day, our planned time of arrival.

We took care whilst getting ready for breakfast as the ship had a tendency to suddenly lurch quite violently. By the time we had finished eating breakfast in the Terrace Bar it was 10.15am, and we decided to go to the Metropolis Bar – via a detour to our cabin to pick up our Kindles – so that we had somewhere comfortable to sit and read. We stayed there until after the midday announcement from the Bridge, by which time we wanted a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air.

The ship’s movement had improved somewhat, and Sue and I managed to get out onto the open deck on Deck 15 Forward … but we only stayed there for about five minutes before a sudden squall drove us back inside. In the end we went back to our cabin for an hour before going to lunch in the Cinnamon Restaurant.

After lunch we again ventured outside, by which time the weather situation had improved to such an extent that we were able to stay there chatting to other passengers until 3.15pm. This improvement did not last, and soon after leaving Deck 15 Forward the ship began to lurch quite violently as she passed Cape Finisterre in northern Spain and turned onto a more southerly course again.

We returned to our cabin and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. At 6.00pm the Captain announced that thanks to the prevailing current and a following wind, Ventura was now able to sail at her maximum speed and should therefore be able to make her planned stop in Lisbon, although her arrival might be slightly later than planned. We celebrated this excellent news by going to the Metropolis Bar for a pre-dinner drink.

By the time we had finished dinner at 10.30pm and returned to our cabin, the weather had improved considerably and Ventura was well on her way down the coast of northern Portugal. The ship was still experiencing a bit more movement than normal, but it was far less noticeable than it had been even two hours earlier.

Tuesday, 5th January, 2016: Lisbon, Portugal
Ventura was supposed to be alongside in Lisbon by 8.00am, but at that time she was just entering the mouth of the River Tagus (Rio Tejo).

At 8.30am a public announcement was made that informed us that the ship would not be secured at her berth until 9.30am, and that as a result Ventura would be leaving slightly later than planned.

As this announcement was being made Ventura was passing under the famous 25th April Bridge at Belem and past the statue of Jesus Christ that stands on the opposite bank of the River Tagus.

Sue and I went for breakfast just as the ship was completing her final docking manoeuvres, and by the time we had eaten many of the passengers had already begun to disembark to go on organised tours or to take the shuttle-bus into the centre of the city.

Ventura was moored next to the Doca do Jardim do Tabaco

… which is only a relatively short way from the centre of Lisbon. Having left plenty of time for the organised tours to leave, Sue and I went ashore a little after 11.00am, and began to walk south-westwards along the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique.

By the time we reached the area where many of the government buildings are situated (Ministerios) …

… it had begun to rain, and within a few minutes a rainstorm broke overhead. We had just reached the Praça do Comércio (which is also known as Terreiro do Paço or Black Horse Square) …

… and whilst Sue sought shelter, I managed to photograph the statue of Dom José I …

… and the impressive Arco da Vitoria.

I then joined Sue under one of the nearby colonnades …

… and we used them to shelter us from the rain as we made our way to the Arco da Vitoria. Passing through the arch, we began to walk slowly up the Rua Augusta

… until we reached the Praça Dom Pedro IV.

We then made our way to the Praça da Figueira, in the centre of which is a statue of Don Joàn I.

This was where we had expected to catch the shuttle-bus back to Ventura, but despite a walking around the square, we could not find the pick-up point. What we did find, however, was an example of one of Lisbon’s former trams …

… which are now used to carry tourists around the tram network.

We were about to give up and to walk back to the ship in the rain when we met two people who were also travelling aboard Ventura, and they directed us to the correct pick-up point for the shuttle-bus.

We returned to the Praça Dom Pedro IV and passed through it to the Praça Dom J da Camara, where we saw a magnificent example of local architecture.

From there it was a short walk to the Praça Restauradores

… where we caught the shuttle-bus back to the ship. We were very lucky that we got aboard the shuttle-bus when we did, because only a few minutes later a torrential rainstorm broke and we would otherwise have been thoroughly soaked.

We were back aboard Ventura by 1.30pm, and after dropping our bags and coats off in our cabin we went for a snack lunch in the Saffron Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships). After having a very pleasant meal with a group of other passengers, Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck to sit and watch the world go by.

It began to rain again, and we went up to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a cup of tea before returning to our cabin to rest and recover.

When Ventura set sail from Lisbon, Sue and I were getting ready for a special meal in the Glass House Bar. It started at 6.30pm, and each of the four courses was accompanied by a specially chosen wine for use to taste. We did something similar on our last cruise aboard MV Aurora but this was slightly different as all the attendees were not sat at one large table but were split up into groups of four.

The food, the wine, and the company were all excellent, and Sue and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening. Afterwards we had to go out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air and to rest for a short while before returning to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Just before going to sleep I checked on Ventura‘s progress, and she was already well on her way down the coast of Portugal on her way to our next port-of-call, Arrecife on the island of Lanzarote.

Wednesday, 6th January, 2016: At sea
By 8.00am Ventura had already passed the Straits of Gibraltar and was sailing south along the coast of Morocco.

The weather had continued to improve and the ship was making 16.2 knots. The outside air temperature had also increased, and was 61.4°F/16.4°C.

After breakfast in the Terrace Bar, Sue and I paid a visit to the the Loyalty and Cruise Sales (Deck 5 Midships) to find out the current details of a cruise to the Caribbean that we are thinking about booking. It turned out that if we book aboard during this cruise, P&O will offer us a deal that will include £480.00 of individual on-board spending credit as well as a discounted price. Something for us to think about!

This was followed by a quick visit to the ship’s shops and a drink in the Terrace Bar We stayed there chatting until 11.45am when we had to go back to our cabin to change before going to the Peninsular Club Lunch, which was held in the Cinnamon Restaurant at midday. This was hosted by senior officers, and we had Hayley Edwards – the Loyalty and Cruise Sales Manager – as our table host. As usual it was an excellent meal, and our table companions – who were also all regular cruisers – proved to be an interesting and entertaining group of people.

During the lunch Captain Gray visited every table and talked to all of us. He explained that at one point during her journey south the ship had been affected by Hurricane-force winds of over 85mph. This had exerted a force equal to 780 tons on the ship’s side, causing her to list at an angle of 9°. It was to avoid this that he had decided to turn into the Bay of Biscay rather than to try to sail across it.

When the lunch had ended, Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. After staying there for over twenty minutes we returned to our cabin to rest and recover. (Too much good food and wine at lunchtime can make one feel very ‘tired’ if one isn’t used to it … and I certainly am not!)

By mid-afternoon Ventura was over half way from Lisbon to Arrecife. The sea was calm, the sun was shining, and the outside air temperature was 64.2°F/17.9°C. In fact the weather had improved so much that we were able to sit out on our cabin balcony for part of the afternoon.

We were ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise by before 8.00pm, and were able to spend a little time on the Promenade Deck before going inside to enjoy the delayed Welcome Aboard/Gala Cocktail Party, which was being held in the ship’s Atrium. (This is in the centre of the ship and extends from Deck 5 to Deck 7).

Once the Welcome Aboard/Gala Cocktail Party was over, we made our way to the Terrace Bar for dinner. We had a very enjoyable time talking to the other couple we share a table with whilst we ate. (In conversation we all agreed that the couple who joined us on the first night must have either changed table or sitting)

I checked the ship’s position just before going to bed, and she was west-north-west of Agadir in Morocco, and well on her way to Arrecife.

Before falling asleep I finished reading John Buchan’s THE COURTS OF THE MORNING … and was very pleased to have chosen to read it again as it is both a great read and a source of lots of ideas for wargame scenarios!

Thursday, 7th January, 2016: Arrecife, Lanzarote
Ventura was supposed to be alongside the dock in Arrecife by 9.00am, but the Captain seemed to have managed to get into the harbour a little ahead of schedule, and at 7.30am the ship was already nosing her way towards her berth.

There were other cruise ships in harbour already, including the AIDA Sol

… and TUI’s Mein Schiff 4.

By the time that Sue and I went to breakfast in the Terrace Bar at 9.15am, the air temperature was beginning to rise and was already 65.5°F/18.6°C and projected to continue to do so until midday.

We disembarked at 10.15am and the shuttle-bus took us to a car park in the Calle Juan de Quesada. From there we walked towards the seafront, passing a street market as we did so.

The market stretched along one side of the Charco de San Ginés, which is and almost totally enclosed tidal basin.

Our walk continued along the Avenida Vargas

… from where we could see the Castillo San Gabriel, the local history museum.

We kept to the waterfront walk, which took us through the Parque José Ramirez Cerdá

… where the local tourist information centre is located … in the bottom of an ornate wooden bandstand!

Eventually we reached the Arrecife Gran Hotel …

… and the beach called Playa del Reducto.

We the turned inland and walked up a side road …

… that took us to Calle Jose Antonio.

Before we reached main shopping street – the Calle León y Castillo – we took a number of side streets back to the seafront, where Sue managed to do some retail therapy in a shop selling here favourite brand of jewellery.

We then made our way to the Calle León y Castillo

… but as we were feeling thirsty we soon turned down a small side street …

… where we found a bar, El Notario

… where we could get a drink and some local Tapas Lanzarote.

Suitably refreshed we continued along the side street until we reached the the picturesque church dedicated to San Ginés de Clermont.

We then retraced our steps to Calle León y Castillo, where Sue found a model shop for me (!) …

… where I bought a pair of Italieri Fast Assembly 1:72nd-scale Jeeps.

We continued our walk along Calle León y Castillo until we reached the local supermarket, where I bought four bottles of Coke Lite to take back aboard Ventura.

From there we walked the short distance back to the inland end of the Charco de San Ginés

… and it took us less than fifteen minutes to walk back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point from there. Along the way we passed a model of the church dedicated to San Ginés de Clermont.

The journey back to Ventura took under fifteen minutes, and by 2.30pm we were back in our cabin. We only stayed long enough to drop off our bags and cameras, and then went up to Deck 15 Forward to get a drink.

Once we had cooled down a bit in the shade, drunk our cold drinks, and rested for a while, we went along to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant for a small snack. We then ventured out to the area near the Terrace Bar for another drink before returning to our cabin to rest and read for the remainder of the afternoon.

During this spell between lunch and dinner I began reading the Kindle version of FINLAND AT WAR: THE WINTER WAR 1939-40 by Vesa Nenye with Peter Munter and Toni Wirtanen. I had bought the hardback version of the book just before going on this cruise, but did not want to take with me … so I bought the Kindle version as well.

At just before 6.00pm Ventura cast off and began to make her way to her next port-of-call, Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. By the time Sue and I went up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, the lights of had already disappeared beyond the horizon, although the lights on Fuenteventura were easily visible as Ventura sail past.

After dinner in the Terrace Bar Sue and I went for a walk along the Promenade Deck before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed. Just before 10.30pm I checked on the ship’s position, and she was already over one third of the way to Las Palmas and was steaming at a very leisurely 9 knots.

Friday, 8th January, 2016: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
Overnight the crossing between Arrecife and Las Palmas was very smooth … but Susan became unwell during the night with some sort of stomach bug (luckily not the dreaded Norovirus!) and had very little sleep. As a result we were both half-awake when Ventura arrived in Las Palmas and moored alongside at 8.00am.

The view from our cabin balcony was not the most picturesque …

… as we had ended up facing the freight and fishing areas of the docks.

Eventually Sue felt a little better, and just after 10.00am we did manage to eat a light breakfast in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant. We then sat on the Promenade Deck for a while before going ashore.

From the Promenade Deck we had an excellent view of a large ocean-going rescue tug – the Miguel De Cervantes – which was moored alongside Ventura.

We could also see the local Spanish Naval Base …

… where the Offshore Patrol Vessels Rayo (P42), …

Tornado (P44), …

… and Meteoro (P41) were moored.

There were also several other interesting vessels alongside the Naval Base, including the Petrel

… which is operated by the Agencia Tributaria, and a fast Customs launch.

We finally went ashore just before 11.00am, and walked as far at the Museo Elder

… which is located near to the port. It was very noticeable that there was quite a heavy and obvious police presence in the area, including members of the Cuerpo de Policia Nacional

… some of whom were armed with automatic rifles.

We then walked a little way along the shoreline to look at a recreation of the Nina, one of the ships Columbus used on his famous voyage of 1492.

From there we made our way inland until we reached the Santa Catalina Park.

There we saw the statue of Lolita Pluma, who was a well-known, cat-loving character who used to be seen daily in the park.

After a quick drink in a local bar, Sue and I began to walk back to the ship. As we did so we passed the large shopping centre that has been built near to the port. El Muelle contains all sorts of shops, restaurants, bars etc., but neither Sue nor I felt up to visiting it that day.

During our walk back we had a panoramic view of that part of the harbour that seems to have become a fishing boat graveyard. Whilst some of them are obviously in need of a bit of care and attention, some of them look as if they are totally unseaworthy.

We finally climbed back aboard Ventura just before 2.00pm, and after a short spell in our cabin resting, we went up to Deck 15 Forward for a cold drink, followed by a light snack lunch in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant. We finally returned to our cabin just after 3.15pm, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and resting.

Just before 7.30pm we went up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink. We then walked down a deck to the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft) – one of Ventura‘s select dining venues – for dinner. This was an wonderful meal, and we did not finish until just before 10.00pm.

We returned to the Terrace Bar for some fresh air after our meal, and it was interesting to note that lights of Gran Canaria were clearly visible on the horizon. We stayed there for about fifteen minutes, and then returned to our cabin to get ready for bed. I checked our position just before going to sleep, and Ventura was making a steady 9 knots towards Tenerife.

Saturday, 9th January, 2016: Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife
Sue and I were both awake at 7.15am, and saw the sun rising as Ventura finally docked.

Neither of us was feeling on top form as Sue had been suffering from a stomach bug on the previous day and I had woken up with the beginnings of a cold. We did – however – managed to get ready in time to have breakfast in the Terrace Bar, and after a visit to the Future Cruise Desk to book a cruise for later in the year, we got our stuff together and went ashore just after 10.15am.

We took the shuttle-bus to the Cruise Ship Terminal, climbed up the stairs to street level, and crossed the Avenida de Anga. We then walked through a small park (Alameda del Duque de Satan Elena) …

… that was dotted with kiosks and trees that had been decorated with colourful woollen sleeves!

The end of the park was marked by a large archway …

… through which could be seen the very impressive monument (the Monumento de los Caidos) in the centre of the Plaza de España.

We turned inland and walked though the Plaza de La Candelaria

… and up the Calle Castillo

… until we reached Calle Valentin Sanz, where we turned to walk towards the main market across the Puente Gral. Serrador.

Sue and I have visited the Mercado de Nuestra Señora de Africa several times before …

… and it was just as interesting a place to visit as it had been then.

The fish market …

… had some very impressive displays of wet and salted fish for sale.

On leaving the market we turned back towards the sea and walked along Calle San Sebastian

… and Bravo Murillo

… towards the Plaza de la Iglesia, where the oldest church in Santa Cruz – Iglesia del Nuestra Señora de la Conçepcion – is located.

As we reached the Plaza de la Iglesia, a Guardia Civil helicopter flew over us at quite a low altitude.

We eventually arrive back at the Plaza de España and found a very nice café – the Olympo – in which to have a refreshing and much needed drink.

Sue and I then retraced our steps back to the Cruise Ship Terminal, from where we could see the preserved inter-island steam vessel La Palma

… and the somewhat larger Ventura!

We took the shuttle-bus back to the ship, and were back aboard Ventura just after 1.00pm. As soon as we had dropped off our bags and cameras in our cabin, we went up to Deck 15 Forward to have a cold drink. We stayed there resting and reading until 2.15pm, when we went into the Waterside Self Service Restaurant for a light lunch.

After lunch we went out to the Terrace Bar and sat in the sun and watched the world go by for over an hour before deciding to go back to our cabin to cool off. (It was 66.7°F/19.3°C when I looked at the air temperature when we returned to our cabin, which is somewhat warmer than we are used to in mid January!)

Sue and I went for a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar, but did not return there after dinner as we decided to go to see Tom O’Connor in the Arena Theatre instead. He was – as usual – very good value and the theatre was packed to capacity. After the show finished at 11.10pm, Sue and I went out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air before going to bed. What was a pleasant surprise was the air temperature, which was 66.1°F/18.9°C at 11.30pm!

Just before going to bed I made a final check on Ventura‘s progress towards Santa Cruz de La Palma and found that she had rounded to top of Tenerife and was north-north-west of Tacoronte on the western side of the island.

Sunday, 10th January, 2016: Santa Cruz de La Palma, La Palma
Ventura had reached Santa Cruz de La Palma before 8.00am, and had moored alongside soon afterwards. There had been a bit of movement as the ship had sailed between the islands, but nothing like as much as we had experienced earlier in the cruise.

As we were in rush to go ashore, we took our time to get ready for breakfast, which we ate in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant. We then had a short spell on deck near the Terrace Bar before returning to our cabin to collect our bags and cameras.

Sue and I disembarked just before 11.00am and walked from the ship to the main gate of the port. A small flea market had been set up just outside the port gates in a car park …

… where I was able to buy a second-hand copy of BLINDADOS EN ESPANA: 1a PARTE: LA GUERRA CIVIL 1936-1939 by Javier de Mazarrasa.

Once we had finished looking around the market, we crossed the main road and began walking up Calle O’Daly, the main pedestrianised shopping street in La Palma.

On the way we passed the Iglesia de El Salvador.

The Calle O’Daly eventually became the Calle Anselmo Pérez de Brito, which …

… finally led us to a small square …

… where there was an equally small café – El Encuentro – where we could sit in the shade …

… and have a cold drink and some excellent tapas.

When we had finished we walked a across the square …

… until we reached the Maritime Museum, which is housed inside and underneath a replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship Santa Maria.

After visiting the Museum – about which I will be writing a further blog entry – we walked towards the main coastal road, the Avenida Maritima. As we did so we could see the small fortress we visit the last time we came to La Palma.

almost as soon as we joined the Avenida Maritima we passed the walls of the Castillo de Santa Catalina

… a seventeenth century star-shaped fortress that is now a national monument.

The Avenida Maritima is famous for its ornate and elegant house, many of which have carved wooden balconies.

The Avenida Maritima ends at the main gates into the port, and after thinking about taking the shuttle-bus back to the ship, we decided to finish our trip ashore with a walk back to the ship. We finally re-boarded Ventura at 2.45pm, and after a quick visit to our cabin we went up to the Terrace Bar for a much-needed cold drink and a chance to sit in the shade. During our time ashore the weather had been very pleasant, and the air temperature was still 68.7°F/20.4°C at 4.00pm when we returned to our cabin for a rest.

We were ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise by 7.45pm, and went up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink. We then joined the other couple with whom we are still sharing a table for six in the Terrace Bar, and had a very enjoyable meal. After dinner Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air before going back to our cabin to go to sleep.

Monday, 11th January, 2016: Funchal, Madeira
The sounds of the ship manoeuvring alongside woke Sue and I up just before 8.00am. As a result we were dressed and ready to go to breakfast in the Terrace Bar by just after 9.00am. Once breakfast was over we then went up to the Promenade Deck, where we sat for a while watching crowds of passengers flock ashore.

After the bulk of the passengers had departed and things had begun to quieten down, Sue and I returned to our cabin, picked up or bags and cameras, and went ashore. The shuttle-bus was ready to depart, and by just after 10.45am we were getting off at one end of the Avenida Arriaga.

As we walked along the Avenida Arriaga

… we passed a very impressive statue of João Goňcalves Zarco.

When the Avenida Arriaga reaches the Cathedral of Sé do Funchal

… the left-hand branch (the one we followed) becomes the Rua do Aljube.

We crossed the bridge over the local river …

… and began to walk down the Rua Fernão Ornelas

… towards the Mercado doe Lavradores.

We spent quite some time in the market …

… including paying a visit to the nearly deserted fish market.

Having bought several items, we then walked downhill toward the sea along the Rua Visconde Anadia. At the bottom of the hill we walked around the Praça da Autonomia and onto the Avenida do Mar e das Comunidades.

We followed this road until we passed a side street that led up to some cafés, and we decided to stop in one for a drink before continuing on our way back to Ventura.

We chose one where we could sit outside …

… and enjoyed a leisurely drink watching the world go by.

Whilst we were there we were entertained by a very good classical guitarist called Juan Caldarao.

Once we had finished, we chose to walk back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point via a number a small back streets.

We were back aboard Ventura not long after 1.15pm, and after a quick trip to leave our bags and cameras in our cabin, we went up to the Terrace Bar for a cold drink before eating lunch.

We remained on deck until just before 2.00pm, when we decided that it was time to eat lunch. After considering the various options available, we ended up eating a snack lunch in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant.

After lunch Sue and I paid a visit to the Reception Desk (Deck 6 Midships) were we checked that we were booked to take part in a special ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour of Ventura on the next day. We also registered our preferred disembarkation time for when we return to the UK.

Rather than return to our cabin, Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for a walk along the deck and a short rest. We then went back to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to go up on deck to watch Ventura leave harbour at 6.00pm. We sat in the Terrace Bar until the ship had slipped her lines, and was making her way out to sea. As she did so, the sun was just about to set on the horizon.

We returned to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and at 8.30pm we joined our table companions in the Terrace Bar for dinner. After dinner Sue and I went for a walk along the Promenade Deck before going back to our cabin to read for a while prior to going to sleep. A quick check showed that Ventura was already well on her way to the last port-of-call of the cruise, La Coruña.

Tuesday, 12th January, 2016: At sea
For some reason Sue and I both woke up much earlier than normal. We therefore had time to get ready for breakfast at a leisurely pace, and were able to read for while before going down to the Terrace Bar to eat.

After breakfast we went up to the Promenade Deck for a short time before returned to our cabin to collect our Kindles. We then made our way to the Tamarind Club in order to sit and read until Dr Nick Slope – the guest lecturer for this cruise – began his talk about the Battle of Jutland at midday. Unfortunately he was slightly late starting, and I had to miss the last five minutes of his talk as Sue and I had to get ready for the ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour, which was starting at 1.15pm.

The group doing the tour only numbered twelve, and after being given special access passes and undergoing a security scan, the Deputy Entertainments Manager – Paul Lau – led us to the first of the places we were going to see … the ship’s Medical Centre, which we were shown around by the Chief Nurse. This is really a small seven-bed hospital, and has a small ICU and digital X-ray facility. It is staffed 24 hours per day, and has two doctors and four nurses.

Communications between the ship and its passengers is a vital function, and the officer in charge of all of Ventura‘s internal communications – mainly the ship’s daily newspaper, The Horizon – showed us around the Print Shop where is prepared and printed, before it is distributed.

We then moved on to the Engine Control Room, where the Chief Engineer explained about Ventura‘s propulsion, electrical, fuel, and water systems. He then passed us on to the engineer who overseas the ship’s re-cycling and waste disposal systems. This is a vast undertaking, and has to comply with the highest environmental standards.

Next the officer in charge of the ship’s food and beverage stores showed us the storage areas used for fresh vegetables and meat, the latter being a chilled facility with separate areas for cooked and uncooked meat and fish.

It naturally followed that after a short break for a drink and some cake in the Bay Tree Restaurant, the next place we would visit was Ventura‘s main kitchens or galley. The ship’s Executive Chef took us on a tour of the kitchen that served two of the main restaurants. He explained how the food was prepared, how P&O use a variety of different sources of information (e.g. the passenger age profile, the weather, the areas being visited, data from previous cruises) to ensure that sufficient ingredients are available to meet the demands of the diners, how orders taken by restaurant waiters are filled, and the staff structure of the catering department.

This was followed by a visit to the Arena Theatre, where the senior technician explained how the lighting, stage props, and sound systems were operated and controlled by the technical team. We were joined by two of the Headliners – the ship’s on-board dancers and theatre company – and then taken backstage, where the Dance Captain described how the dancers and singers prepared themselves and their costumes for a show.

After the glitz and glamour of the theatre, we went down to the Mooring Deck, where Ventura‘s Safety Officer/Senior First Officer showed us the mooring ropes and winches used when the ship is moored alongside. He then explained how the ship’s anchor was dropped and recovered, and that it was the anchor chain rather than the anchor that actually held the ship in place when she was anchored.

Our next stop was Ventura‘s bridge, where the Deputy Captain spent a considerable amount of time showing the various systems used to control the ship. These included the radar system, the computerised navigation system, and the main engine and steering control systems. He also took great pains to explain how there are always two officers and a lookout on the bridge at all times, and how other senior officers are used to supplement the bridge crew at various times, such a during bad weather or entering or leaving port.

Our final stop was a meeting the Captain in the Glass House for drinks and canapés. He proved to be an excellent host and entertained us well past the allotted time for the tour to end. In fact the tour – which we were told would last about three hours – lasted nearly four and a half hours.

By the time we had left the Glass House both Sue and I were in need of some fresh air and a drink, and we went up to the Terrace Bar for fifteen minutes. We then went back to our cabin to begin getting ready for the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party that was being held in the Tamarind Bar at 8.00pm.

As our normal dinner companions were eating in one of the select dining venues, we ate dinner on our own. The service was excellent, and Sue and I decided that if we finished early enough, we would go to see Tom O’Connor’s show in the Arena Theatre. We finished eating at 9.45pm, and walked along the Promenade Deck towards the theatre. When we got there, the venue was completely full … over forty minutes before Tom O’Connor was due to start! We could find nowhere to stand, let alone sit, so in the end we went back to our cabin to read before going to sleep. This was probably just as well, as overnight the ship’s clocks went forward one hour.

Wednesday, 13th January, 2016: At sea
When we awoke it was still dark. Overnight Ventura had reached the coast of Portugal, and at 8.45am she was past Lisbon, sailing northwards, with just under 300 nautical miles to go to reach La Coruña.

The sun came up just before 9.00am …

… and not long afterwards Sue and I went down to the Terrace Bar for breakfast. Once we had eaten, we paid a visit to the Ship’s Photographers to look at the photographs that were taken during the ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour … and bought one. We they spent some time in the on-board shops before going up to the Terrace Bar for some fresh air.

It proved to be somewhat colder than we had hoped, and after a short spell we went up to the Metropolis Bar, where we stayed reading until nearly 1.30pm. Sue and I then went to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant to eat lunch … but it was so crowded that we ended up going to the Poolside Grill (Deck 15 Forward) to eat.

After lunch we returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for the final formal dinner of the cruise. During the afternoon the sky became greyer and the weather got worse, and by 8.00pm it raining quite heavily.

It was still raining when we had finished dinner, and although we were able to walk along the Promenade Deck without getting wet, we could not find any other open deck areas where we could get some fresh air before going to bed. In the end we had an early night, and when I checked Ventura‘s position just before getting into bed, she was already level with the coast of Galicia, Spain, and well on her way to La Coruña.

Thursday, 14th January, 2016: La Coruña, Spain
Ventura arrived in La Coruña somewhat ahead of schedule, and I was awoken at 6.55am by the increased sound and movement as she manoeuvred through the harbour entrance and towards her berth.

At 7.50am the Deputy Captain announced that the ship was secured alongside, and that passengers were free to go ashore … although where they were going to go to at that time of the morning and in the dark, who knows!

Because Sue and I were awake earlier than planned, we went down to the Terrace Bar just after 9.05am, and had finished by 9.30am. We then went up to the Promenade Deck to have a look at the city …

… first at the older part with its famous glassed-in balconies, …

… and then the harbour area …

… where the only ships were a tug …

… and a freighter.

By 10.00am Sue and I had disembarked and were trying to cross the very busy Avenida de la Marina during the rush-hour!

Once safely across, we walked inland to join the Calle Real, which is one of La Coruña’s pedestrianised shopping streets.

Not far from where the Calle Real becomes the Riego de Agua, I found a shop called El Baul de los Recuerdos (although its bag was labelled El Baul de Fer) that sold graphic books and collectables …

… where I bought three die-cast 100th-scale models of World War II Russian aircraft, a 1200th-scale model of a Japanese Kongo-class battle cruiser/fast battleship, and model of a Volga car similar to that we used during our last visit to St. Petersburg.

Once the retail therapy was over, we continued our walk along Riego de Agua

…as far as the Plaza de Maria Pita

…one side of which is occupied by the Palacio Municipal.

Sue and I then retraced our steps back along the Riego de Agua and Calle Real

… until the latter merged with the Avenida de la Marina. There we saw a plaque on a building that occupies the location of the house in which Sir John Moore died.

The road name changed once again and became the Cantón Grande and then the Cantón Pequeño, and on almost on the corner where the latter joins the Juana de Vega we found a bookshop – the Librería Arenas – that had a large stock of military and naval books. After a long look around, I finally bought a copy of the recently-published LA FÁBRICA DE ACORAZADOS: LA SOCIEDAD ESPAÑOLA DE CONSTRUCCIÓN NAVAL EN FERROL (1909-1936) by José María de Juan-García.

This tells the story of the shipyard that was set up in El Ferrol with British assistance, and which built many of the larger Spanish warships used during the Spanish Civil War.

After leaving the bookshop, Sue and I walked up the Juana de Vega

… then turned right down Durán Loriga

… and then the very narrow, café/bar-lined La Estrella

… and Olmos.

This was almost back to where we had joined the Calle Real, so we turned back toward the Cruise Terminal and we back aboard Ventura by just after 1.30pm.

After warming up in our cabin, we went up to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant where we had a drink before eating lunch. Once our meal was over we returned to our cabin sort out what we had bought ashore before having a short rest. We then did some sorting out that should speed up the packing we would have to do on the next day.

We had a short break for afternoon tea in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant, and at 7.30pm we went up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink … but it was so cold and windy that we ended up going up to the Metropolis Bar instead. At 8.00pm we went down to the Epicurean Restaurant for our second dinner in that particular select dining venue. As usual the food, atmosphere, and service were exceptional, and we hope to go back there again on a future cruise.

After our meal we returned the Terrace Bar for a breath of fresh air, and although it was not as cold and windy as it had been earlier that evening, we only stayed the for about fifteen minutes before going back to our cabin to read for a while until it was time to go to sleep.

Friday, 15th January, 2016: At sea
The night turned out to be quite a turbulent one … although the weather was not as bad as it had been on the run down to Lisbon from Southampton earlier in the cruise.

By the time we both woke up at 8.00am, Ventura was two-thirds of the way across the Bay of Biscay on her way from Cape Finisterre in Spain to Ushant in France. She was moving at a speed of 17 knots and the air temperature was 49.2°F/9.5°C. More importantly, she was sailing with a 34 knot wind on her forward port quarter, which with the action of the waves, caused Ventura to move very jerkily up and down and from side to side.

We took our time getting ready for breakfast as movement around our cabin was not very easy. We eventually went down to the Terrace Bar for breakfast at 9.15am, after which we went to Reception to check on our on-board spending account.

As we still had some on-board spending credit left, we spent a bit of time in the shops buying a few small presents. Sue and I then went up to the Terrace Bar, but it was too cold and windy to stay there very long, and by 11.15am we were back in our cabin thinking about doing some packing.

We started packing not long after midday, and by 1.15pm Sue and I were about a third of the way through. We then went down to the Cinnamon Restaurant for a carvery lunch, followed by a trip up to Deck 15 Forward for a breath of fresh air. (We had hoped to go out onto the Promenade Deck, but was closed due to high winds and spray. The wind was so strong that it caused the Ventura to develop a list to starboard that was quite noticeable.

We returned to our cabin just before 2.00pm, and Ventura was already nearing the coast of France to the west of Brest.

We finished packing all but our last bag and our hand luggage by 3.10pm (just as the Ventura began to turn around Ushant and into the English Channel) …

… and spent the next hour or so resting after our exertions! We had afternoon tea in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant at 4.00pm, and when we returned to our cabin we put all the packed bags outside our cabin for collection.

Just after 5.00pm the Captain announced that the current bad weather and high winds were likely to persist for some time, and that passengers should take care when moving around the ship. He further explained that the list was due to unforeseen high winds. (The forecast was that Ventura would pass through an area of 30 knot winds and some rain … but the reality was 50 to 60 knot winds coming from abeam and occasional hail storms!)

We decided to try going into the open air on Deck 15 Forward before going for a pre-dinner drink, but it was so cold and windy that we gave up and just went straight up to the Metropolis Bar.

At 8.30pm we entered to Bay Tree Restaurant for the last dinner of the cruise, and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours chatting to our two table companions and our waiters, Mario, Stephen, and Grace. In fact we were enjoying ourselves so much that we were the last people to leave the restaurant.

After saying a final goodbye to our table companions, Sue and I attempted to go out onto the Promenade Deck … but the wind was so strong and so cold that we turned straight around and went back inside. Deck 15 Forward proved to be slightly better, and we managed to get a few minutes of fresh air before it was time to go back to our cabin to finish packing our last bag and our hand luggage.

It was 11.15pm when we finally went to bed, and a quick check of Ventura‘s position showed that she was just north of the Channel Islands doing 17.5 knots with 99 miles left before she docked in Southampton.

Saturday, 16th January, 2016: Southampton
During the night the sea gradually calmed, and by the time Ventura reached the docks in Southampton there was hardly any movement. Sue and I were awake by 6.00am, and were dressed and on our way to breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant by 7.45am. As soon as we had finished eating and picked up our hand luggage from our cabin, we made our way ashore. After collecting the rest of our luggage from the baggage collection hall, we went through Customs and retrieved our car from the valet parking service. Once we had loaded up the car, we set off for home, and by 9.30am we had reached the junction where the M27 joins the M3. Our journey was quite uneventful, and we parked outside our house just after midday.


I have been to … the United States of America and Canada

Sue and I cruised to North America and back in 2012, and this year we decided to repeat the experience. For once we booked a long time in advance (it was a cruise that is always fully booked) in order to get the sort of cabin that we like. (It was called a superior deluxe cabin … which meant that it was slightly larger than a standard cabin, and has a balcony.)

Thursday 17th September, 2015: Southampton
We awoke just after 6.00am, and after getting dressed and having a very frugal breakfast, the luggage was packed into the car and we were ready to leave for Southampton just after 8.00am.

As neither of us could remember travelling to Southampton on a Thursday – a day of the week when the levels of road traffic are supposed to be at their highest – we allowed plenty of time for the journey. This was probably a good idea, because we had hardly gone a mile or so before the satnav began to make a number of announcements to the effect that ‘a traffic incident has been reported‘ and our route was ‘being re-calculated‘. In the end we drove around the M25 at a steady 50mph, and other than a bit of a traffic jam near the junction with the M20, the hold-ups in front of us seemed to disappear as we did so.

Roadworks on the M3 meant that we kept at this rather sedate pace until we reached Basingstoke, by which time we were in desperate need of a break. As usual we stopped at Winchester Services, where we had a somewhat more substantial breakfast and some coffee. (I don’t usually drink coffee, but a large café latte does wonders for me when I need a caffeine ‘boost’ … and by then I was in serious need of one!)

After this much needed break we continue our drive towards Southampton Docks. Because the Southampton Boat Show was taking place we expected to experience some delays driving through the city, but this had hardly any impact on the time it took use to reach the Mayflower Cruise Terminal, where our ship – MV Aurora – was moored alongside. By 11.15am our luggage had been unloaded, the car consigned to the valet parking service, and we were entering the terminal building.

Because we have travelled so often with P&O, we were given priority boarding, and by just after midday we were sitting at a table in the Alexandria Restaurant, drinking a complimentary glass of champagne and eating food from the hot buffet that had been provided. We stayed their chatting to other passengers until 1.30pm, at which point we were told that our cabin was ready for us to occupy.

Our cabin was on B Deck Aft, and it only took as a matter of minutes to get there from the restaurant … and when we did, we found that all our luggage was lined up outside the cabin, waiting to be unpacked. This took took us until just before 3.45pm, at which point we made our way down to Carmen’s – the ship’s show lounge – where we attended the statutory safety briefing and life-jacket test. Once that was over we returned to our cabin to drop off the life-jackets, pick up our coats, and go out on deck to watch Southampton disappear as Aurora set sail towards the Isle of Wight.

By the time Aurora had reached Calshot is was already beginning to get cold on deck, and we decided to return to our cabin to rest before getting ready for dinner at 8.30pm. We had a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar, and by 8.35pm we were seated at a table for six in the Alexandria Restaurant. We were soon joined by two other couples, and we all got to know each other over dinner. One of the couples had already requested a move to first sitting, and during dinner they were told that their request had been granted. As a result, they would not be joining us again for dinner for the rest of the cruise.

By the time that dinner was over we were both feeling very tired, and by 11.00pm we were back in our cabin getting ready for bed. Before going to sleep I began reading William Dalrymple’s RETURN OF THE KING: THE BATTLE FOR AFGHANISTAN (published in 2013 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc [eISBN 978 1 4088 2843 4]).

Friday 18th September, 2015: At sea
After a very good night’s sleep we were woken by our alarm clock at 8.00am. After washing and dressing ourselves we paid a very swift visit to the Future Cruise and Loyalty Desk on our way to the Medina Restaurant for breakfast. (Whilst we had been at dinner a letter from the staff of the Future Cruise and Loyalty Desk had been delivered to our cabin. It was an invitation to attend the Peninsular Club lunch later in the cruise, but the reply had to be returned to them by 9.00am that morning.)

There was a queue to get into the restaurant, but eventually we were allocated a table, and by 9.45am we had ordered breakfast. The service was quite swift, and within thirty minutes we had eaten and were on our way back to our cabin. Sue was feeling rather tired, and had a short nap until it was time to go to Carmen’s to hear a talk by guest speaker Howard Nichols about the mystery of the Mary Celeste.

The start of the talk was delayed by some technical difficulties. (The laptop computer and the projector would not interface, and even when a second laptop was produced it took nearly fifteen minutes to get the presentation ready.) The talk was – however – very interesting, and told the history of the ship from when it was built in Nova Scotia as the Amazon until its deliberate wrecking on a reef outside Port á Prince, Haiti. Mr Nichols explained how – as a result of a story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – most people though that the ship’s name was Marie Celeste and not Mary Celeste.

(As I was listening to this talk I was struck by the fact that the captain of the Mary Celeste when the crew disappeared was called Briggs … and that a ship called the Matilda Briggs was featured in one of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Was this an example of Conan Doyle subconsciously revisiting the story of the Mary Celeste? I wonder?)

Sue was still feeling tired, and was suffering from pains in her stomach, so after the talk we returned to our cabin so that she could rest. We stayed there until just after 4.00pm, when we went up to the Horizon Self Service Restaurant for afternoon tea.

After a short spell on the open deck, we went back to our cabin and watched the port presentation about New York on the in-cabin TV system. Although we had already booked a three-stop tour in New York, we had been notified that the Pope was making a visit to the city whilst Aurora was there, and that this would affect where our tour was going to stop. It transpired that the first two tour stops (Madison Avenue/Central Park/Museum Mile and the area around the Rockefeller Centre) were largely unaffected, but the stop in the Financial District (the area around Wall Street) would have to be changed to a stop in Soho. On reflection we decided that this change was unimportant to us, and did not cancel our tour booking.

We went for a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar, and then down to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner. A new couple joined our table of six to replace the two people who had changed to the earlier dinner sitting, and we spent a very pleasant meal introducing ourselves to each other and exchanging cruise-related stories.

After dinner we were both feeling rather tired, and so we returned to our cabin to do some reading before going to sleep.

Saturday 19th September, 2015: At sea
Overnight the weather became more like the conditions one might expect in the North Atlantic in early autumn. The Force 4 (Moderate wind) wind had become Force 8 (Gale), the sea state had changed to moderate, the sky was completely overcast, and there were very frequent rain squalls.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, we went up to the area near the Riviera Bar and Pool, but it was too cold and windy to stay there for very long. After returning to our cabin to get warm, we then made our way to the Curzon Theatre to listen to guest speaker Howard Nichols’s second talk. The subject of the talk was the race to reach the South Pole, and covered the exploits – and fates – of Amundsen, Shackleton, and Scott.

By the time that the talk ended at midday, the weather had improved somewhat (the sky was cloudless and the wind speed had dropped), and we were able to go back to the deck area near the Riviera Bar and Pool for a drink … and just managed to miss seeing a pod of whales that Aurora sailed past. We stayed on deck for nearly thirty minutes, and then took a walk through the Horizon Self Service Restaurant to see what was on offer for lunch. As neither of us was feeling very hungry, we decided to return to our cabin to read for a while before eating lunch.

In the end we decided to see if we could eat lunch in The Glass House Wine Bar … and were very pleased that we did. The food was excellent and the service impeccable, although it was not fast as every dish was prepared and cooked to order. It took about an hour from start to finish to eat in The Glass House, but it was so relaxing that it did not seem that long.

After lunch we went out on deck for a breath of fresh air … and discovered that the weather had changed for the worse. The sky was overcast and the wind speed had increased to Force 6 (Strong wind). We only stayed outside for about ten minutes before going back to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party … the first formal event of the cruise.

The party was held in Carmen’s – the ship’s show lounge – and the doors opened at 8.00pm.

After the party ended we made our way down to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner. There were only five of us at dinner as one of our number was feeling unwell. This did not – however – diminish the atmosphere around the table, and we all chatted away whilst we ate.

Once dinner was over some of us went up to the open deck area on Deck 10 Aft to continue talking, and we stayed there until members of the ship’s crew arrived to clean that area of deck. We then parted company and went back to our cabins to sleep.

Sunday 20th September, 2015: At sea
Although the wind speed had dropped back to Force 4 (Moderate wind) and the sea state was moderate, Aurora was experiencing a significant roll when we woke up. The horizon was very clear, and the cloud cover seemed to be quite light, and it showed all signs of it being quite a pleasant day at sea.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we took a stroll on the Promenade Deck, but we didn’t get very far as we met some people we had travelled with on previous cruises and spent quite some time talking to them.

We then went to Carmen’s to listen to Howard Nichols’s third talk of the cruise. This one was about the life of Walter Henry, one of the survivor’s of the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912. From a genealogical point-of-view this was extremely interesting as Sue had a relative who was a member of the Titanic’s crew (he was a chef) and who did not survive. It transpired that Walter Henry was – in fact – Howard Nichols’s grandfather, and served as a steward. Because he was also a trained lifeboatman he was allocated to Lifeboat 15, as a result of which he survived the sinking. The talk told the story of Walter Henry’s life before and after the Titanic‘s fateful voyage, and included details of the difficulties he had after the sinking in getting back to the UK and the subsequent problems he suffered trying to get further employment aboard ships.

Once the talk was over we went up to the Pennant Bar on Deck 12 Aft for a drink before returning to our cabin to read. We stayed there until 2.00pm, when we went to the Horizon Self Service Restaurant for lunch. After lunch we spent some time on Deck 10 Aft before returning to our cabin, where we stayed reading and resting until it was time to get ready for dinner.

As usual we went to Anderson’s Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and managed a quick walk outside along the Promenade Deck before going down to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner. All six of us were at the table, and the conversation over dinner range across a number of different topics, including fast cars, books that we were reading, and places we planned to visit whilst we were in the US and Canada. In fact we were all enjoying ourselves so much that we were almost the last group to leave the restaurant.

We then went up to Deck 11 Aft with one of the couples we sat with at dinner, and began having a very interesting conversation in the open air area. Unfortunately this was cut short when we realised that we were sitting next to a cabin window, and that we were keeping the cabin’s occupants awake! (It was only 10.30pm, but some of the older passengers do like to go to bed early … and the cabin was occupied by one such couple.)

We therefore parted company, and returned to our respective cabins to get ready for yet another night’s sleep.

Monday 21st September, 2015: At sea
The weather improved overnight, and by 7.30am – when we woke up – the wind speed was Force 3 (Gentle breeze), the sea state was slight, and the cloud cover was light. The navigation map on the in-cabin TV system showed Aurora‘s position as being to the south east of easternmost tip of Newfoundland.

We had a leisurely breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, followed by a short walk on deck for a breath of fresh air. Then it was off to Carmen’s again to listen to Howard Nichols’s fourth talk of the cruise, which was about his service with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as a trainer. Having been a paramedic for many years, he was recruited by the RNLI to train its lifeboat crews how to deal with major life-threatening injuries that were more serious than those that could be dealt with using standard first-aid techniques.

Once that was over we had to make a quick visit to our cabin to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch, which was held in the Alexandria Restaurant at midday. This was hosted by senior officers, and we had Christian, one of the ship’s two Future Cruise and Loyalty Managers as our table host. It was an excellent lunch, and our table companions – who were also all regular cruisers – all proved to be interesting and entertaining people to share a meal with.

When the lunch had ended, Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. After staying there for over thirty minutes we returned to our cabin to rest and recover. (Too much good food and wine at lunchtime can make one feel very ‘tired’ if one isn’t used to it!)

We remained there until it was time to begin the leisurely process of getting ready for dinner. In fact we were ready nearly an hour before we needed to be, and this meant that Anderson’s Bar was emptier than usual when we went there for our pre-dinner drink there. We also had time to go out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air before going down toe the Alexandria Restaurant on Deck 6 Aft.

We both ate slightly less for dinner than normal (we were both still feeling quite full from our lunch), and as usual the food, service, and company were excellent. Afterwards Sue and I and the couple who had sat with us on Deck 11 Aft after yesterday’s dinner, went up to Deck 10 Aft for a chat. Although it was quite windy, it was not very cold, and were were able to talk for nearly half an hour before we parted company and went back to our respective cabins.

Neither Sue nor I was feeling very tired, and after getting ready for bed we spent some time reading before we switched our lights out and went to sleep.

Tuesday 22nd September, 2015: At sea
During the night Aurora sailed into a storm. At 4.30am our cabin’s balcony door slide open about ha quarter of an inch due to the violence of the ship’s movement, and the wind noise was so loud that it woke me up. Although it was still dark, I could see white water on the tops of the waves. Once I had managed to shut and lock the door in place, I found it difficult to get back to sleep. Aurora was rolling quite violently from side to side and this – coupled with the pitching motion – made it almost impossible to lay down in bed.

Eventually Sue and I gave up trying to sleep, and at 7.30am we began the slow and careful process of getting washed and dressed on board a ship where even walking across the cabin was difficult. The information channel on Aurora‘s in-cabin TV system informed us that the ship had reduced speed and that the wind speed was Force 8 (Gale). The sea state was described as being rough and the fact that it was overcast did little to make things outside look anything other than bleak and unpleasant.

By the time we were ready to go to the Medina Restaurant for breakfast, the wind speed was Force 10 (Storm) and the sea state very rough. We felt that the ship’s movement was so erratic that for the first time we used the lift to go down to Deck 6 where the restaurant was located.

We finished eating breakfast by 9.45am, and during the time we had been in the restaurant the weather had improved slightly. The wind speed had returned to Force 8 (Gale), and the ship’s movement was somewhat less violent. We decided to see what it was like out on the open deck … but the only area that was accessible was on Deck 12 near the Riviera Pool. We went up and sat there for about fifteen minutes discussing what we wanted to do next.

(Access to the Promenade Deck was closed to passengers. Notices and barriers were placed across all the doors leading out onto the Promenade Deck, but this did not stop some passengers from ignoring them and going out there. It was only the intervention of members of the ship’s security staff who put their own safety at risk by going out onto the open deck area that eventually cleared the Promenade Deck of passengers.)

As we wanted to attend Howard Nichols’s fifth talk of the cruise, we decided to go back to our cabin to collect our Kindles before making our way to the Curzon Theatre over thirty minutes before the talk was due to start. As a result Sue and I were able to select some good seats in the theatre, and to sit there and read our Kindles until the talk started at 11.00am.

The subject of the talk was the Bermuda Triangle, and during his presentation Howard Nichols explained how the idea of the so-called Bermuda Triangle had come about before debunking the numerous theories as to its alleged causes. He presented detailed explanations as to what had happened to many of the ships and aircraft that had ‘disappeared’ in the Triangle, and by the end of forty five minutes he had convince the majority of those present that it was all a load of bunkum.

We returned to the open deck area near the Riviera Pool after the talk had ended, and had a chat with one of the couples we sit with at dinner. By the time we parted company with them, Sue and I were feeling thirsty, and we went up to the Crow’s Nest Bar on Deck 13 Forward. We stayed there drinking and reading our Kindles until 1.00pm, and then went back to our cabin until it was time to go to lunch.

At 2.00pm we went up to the Horizon Self Service Restaurant for lunch. It was emptier than we had expected, and as a result we had no trouble finding somewhere to sit and eat. Once lunch was over, we went down to Deck 11 Aft, where we were able to sit in the open air whilst being sheltered from the wind. Eventually the wind direction shifted, and it became too cold to remain on deck, so we went back to our cabin for the rest of the afternoon.

That evening it was the second formal dinner of the cruise, and as the weather had not significantly improved (the wind speed was Force 7 (Very strong wind) and the sea sate was rough) we decided to start getting ready slightly earlier than usual. Once we were both appropriately ‘suited and booted’ in our formal finery, we went down to Anderson’s Bar for a pre-dinner drink.

As we were leaving Anderson’s Bar we were able to have a quick chat with Howard Nichols and his wife, who provides all his technical assistance. We thanked them both for the excellent talks and they told us about the cruises that had done as lecturers. It transpired that he not only gives talks about a variety of sea-related subjects, but has also done port presentations on some of the Fred Olsen Line cruises.

We then joined the queue of passenger waiting to go into the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner, and whilst we were there we met one of the couples with whom we share a table. Once seated, the other couple soon joined us, and the conversation flowed back and forth as we ate our meal.

We had all just finished eating when the head waiter appeared at the table and asked which of us was celebrating an anniversary. The couple that had been last to sit down then rather sheepishly admitted that they were not celebrating an anniversary … they were celebrating their wedding, which had taken place that afternoon! As if by magic, a cake and a group of waiters appeared, and whilst the cake was presented to the bride and groom, the waiters sang to them.

After we had all congratulated the newly-wed couple and eaten a slice of wedding cake, it was time to leave the restaurant. We all parted company outside the restaurant, and Sue and I went up to Deck 10 Aft from a last breath of fresh air before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Wednesday 23rdSeptember, 2015: At sea
Overnight Aurora reached the point where she was sailing in the deep water almost parallel with the coast of Nova Scotia, and by the time we woke up at 7.00am we were south of the southern tip of the. The weather had also improved. The wind speed was Force 4 (Moderate wind) and the sea state was moderate.

Breakfast in the Medina Restaurant was followed by a spell in the open area near the Riviera Bar and Pool. Whilst we were there we had a chat with a couple that we had met on a previous cruise and some of their friends. Because we wanted to get good seats in the Curzon Theatre to hear Howard Nichols’s final talk of the cruise – which was about the Northern Lights and where best to see them – we made sure that we were seated by just after 10.30am. The talk was excellent, and it was a great pity that Howard Nichols was leaving Aurora once she reached Boston.

We returned to the open area near the Riviera Bar and Pool to have a drink and to read our Kindles, and we stayed there until it was 2.00pm. Sue and I then decided to go to lunch, which we got from the Horizon Self Service Restaurant and Lido Grill and ate by the Lido Pool.

After lunch we went to Deck 11 Aft to carry on reading our Kindles, and we stayed there until the just after 3.00pm, by which time where we were sitting was in shadow and getting cold. We went back to our cabin to warm up, read some more, and to rest … and we stayed there until it was time to go for a pre-dinner drink.

Sue and I went up to the Pennant Bar for a pre-dinner drink, but as it was deserted we decided to go to Anderson’s Bar as usual. We had a brief chat with Howard Nichols and his wife whilst we were in Anderson’s Bar, and at 8.20pm we left for a short walk along the Promenade Deck. We stayed out on deck until 8.30pm, when we returned inside and went down to Deck 6 Aft, where the Alexandria Restaurant was located.

After dinner we went up to the open deck area near the Riviera Bar and Pool on Deck 12 Forward, where we were joined by one of the couples with whom we share a table for dinner. We stayed chatting with them for about thirty minutes, by which time the wind had picked up and it was beginning to get too cold to be comfortable to sit in the open. We parted company and Sue and I returned to our cabin on Deck 10 Aft to get ready for bed and to get our stuff ready ahead of our arrival in New York.

Thursday 24th September, 2015: New York City, USA
Sue and I were both awake just after 7.00am, and it was already light enough to see the shore of Long Island on the horizon.

Aurora had slowed down – which is probably what woke us up – and was entering the traffic separation scheme that operates on the approaches to New York.

In order to enter Upper New York Bay, Aurora had to pass under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

At the Staten Island end of the bridge was Fort Wadsworth.

As Aurora sailed past the docks on the New Jersey side of the bay, we could see the MV Liberty of the Seas moored alongside.

In hardly seemed any time at all before Aurora was sailing past the Statue of Liberty …

… and Ellis Island.

As the Pope was due to arrive in New York that day, there was evidence of higher than normal levels of security, including the presence of US Coast Guard vessels partolling the harbour.

As we approached the New Jersey side of the bay …

… a Staten Island Ferry sped past the stern of Aurora.

By 10.30am the ship had almost reached the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island …

The most impressive building was – of course – the new Freedom Tower building, which dominates the skyline.

We had another reminder of the heightened levels of security when a US AEW aircraft overflew the city.

As Aurora sailed towards her berth at Pier 90, she passed the USS Intrepid, …

… a retired US Coast Guard vessel, …

… and a former US Navy missile-carrying submarine, USS Growler (SSG-577).

The Holland-America Line’s cruise liner Eurodam was already alongside the next-door pier.

Aurora finally berthed at Pier 90 just after 11.15am … but the face-to-face immigration interviews that had to be carried out on all the passengers and crew aboard Aurora took a long time. At 11.10am – ten minutes after the group immigration tickets became available – we collected a ticket … and were allocated to Group 15. Group 1 was called to go ashore to be checked at 11.45am … and our group was not called until 2.00pm! As a result it was nearly 2.30pm before we actually stepped out of the Cruise Terminal.

Our first task was to cross the West Side Highway …

… but we were slightly delayed by a New York City Fire Department rescue tender that was moving at high speed along the highway.

Once across the highway, we walked inland along 50th Street West, and crossed some almost empty streets.

It was our day for seeing New York City Fire Department vehicles, as another one turned in front of us as we walked up West 50th Street.

We stopped for a coffee in a branch of Starbucks in the Worldwide Plaza, and then turned left into 8th Avenue.

We walked from West 50th Street along 8th Avenue to the Columbus Circle.

We sat down to rest there, and saw one of New York’s ‘finest’ dealing with a number of street people.

He was firm and patient with them, and they eventually moved on.

Sue and I then walked past Trump Towers …

… towards Broadway.

We then turned back towards the Hudson River down West 59th Street. When we reached 11th Avenue we turned south towards Pier 90. Along the way we saw a car being towed away by the New York Police Department …

… much to its owner’s disgust!

Sue and I reached Pier 90 at 4.45pm, and by 5.00pm were were back aboard. We had a much-needed cold drink in the Pennant Bar on Deck 12 Aft, and then went back to our cabin to begin getting ready for dinner.

Because the weather was so nice, we had our pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar … and returned there after dinner as well. (The two other couples on our table had not joined us for dinner, and the service had been much swifter than usual. In fact the Alexandria Restaurant was only about a third full as many passengers had decided to stay ashore during the evening.) We were able to go to bed relatively early … which was good thing as we were going on a trip the next morning.

Friday 25th September, 2015: New York City, New York, USA
Because we were going on a trip to three places in New York that was starting at 9.00am onshore, we had decided to set our alarm for 7.00am in order for us not to need to rush to get ready. As it was, Sue and I both woke up earlier than that, and by 6.45am were were both getting ready.

The sun had already risen, but the sky was overcast. Because the Eurodam had left her berth late on the previous evening, we had a good view of USS Intrepid from our cabin balcony …

… as well as the traffic on the nearby highway.

Sue and I managed to be ready in time to have breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, and by 8.30am we were going ashore to rendezvous with our coach and tour guide.

The first stop of our tour was outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue.

Sue and I particularly wanted to wanted to have a walk through Central Park, and as it is behind the museum, we tried to enter by a pathway next to the 79th Street Traverse Road … but were stopped from doing so by two New York Police Department police officers.

Undaunted, we walked back past the museum, and entered by an unguarded pathway next to the 86h Street Traverse Road.

When we reached the area known as The Great Lawn, we found that it was being set up as a venue for a rock concert …

… and we had to keep to the pathways around it.

As we walked through the park we reached the Turtle Pond …

… although the only evidence of wildlife was a number of ducks swimming in the pond.

Nearby was a statue of Wladyslaw Iagiello, the King of Poland and Duke of Lithuania who defeated the Teutonic Knights in 1410.

The statue was erected by Polish New Yorkers to commemorator the man who unified the people’s of ‘Eastern Central Europe‘.

From there we walked towards the Belvedere Castle.

This ‘folly’ was built in 1869, and houses the New York Meteorological Observatory. This was created Dr. Daniel Draper, and a memorial plaque about him is fixed to the wall of the tower.

From the Belvedere Castle we made our way down to the area known as Shakespeare’s Garden …

… which is near to the Delacorte Open-air Theatre. Outside the theatre are two statures, one of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ …

… and one depicting ‘The Tempest’.

At this point we only had about twenty minutes left before our coach was to take us to our next stop. On our way back to the 79th Street Traverse Road exit (the one we had been forbidden to enter the park by) we passed an ancient Egyptian obelisk …

… before walking under an ornate stone bridge.

Just before we reached the exit, we stopped to look at a sculpture of three bears.

It was only a short walk back to our coach, and along the way we passed a New York Fire Department rescue tender.

The tour then went to the Rockefeller Centre in Midtown.

We spent nearly two hours exploring the area in and around the Centre, and were very impressed by some of the statuary.

The latter formed part of the decoration along one wall of the partially underground Rockefeller Centre Café/Restaurant.

The final stop was in the SoHo (South of Houston) district. The coach dropped us off not far from the junction of Broadway and West Houston Street, and we spent ninety minutes walking to and from the direction of Canal Street. Along the way we did some shopping the the Pandora Shop on Broadway as well as eating a snack in the small café in Bloomingdales. We got back to the coach on the deadline we had been set by the tour guide, and we were the last people aboard.

The coach drove back through China Town and Tribeca, where we joined the West Side Highway. This took us back to Pier 90, and we were back aboard Aurora by 3.30pm … an hour early. We had a snack in the Horizon Self Service Restaurant before going out to the Pennant Bar for a cold drink. We took this down to the open deck area on Deck 10 Aft, where we sat until it was time to go back to our cabin.

Aurora unmoored and left her berth at 5.45pm, and by 6.00pm she was sailing down the Hudson River towards the Upper New York Bay.

At 6.30pm Aurora sailed past The Statue of Liberty …

… and our visit to New York was finally over.

Because the weather was still warm, Sue and I had our pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar before going down to the Alexandria Restaurant. All six of us were there for dinner, and we spent the meal exchanging stories about our time in New York. In fact we had so much to talk about that once the meal was over, we carried on talking to one of the couples out on Deck 10 Aft until nearly midnight.

Saturday 26th September, 2015: Newport, Rhode Island, USA
Despite having gone to bed slightly later than we had planned to the night before, Sue and I were awake by 7.00am … and Aurora was already mooring just outside Newport’s small harbour.

As we were getting ready for breakfast, the sounds of the tenders being launched was audible in our cabin. From our balcony we could see Fort Adams …

… and the sun coming up behind the town of Newport.

Because Newport was a tender port, we had to collect numbered disembarkation tickets from Masquerades, the ship’s nightclub, after breakfast. We did so … and got numbers 901 and 902. We were eventually called down to the tender boarding pontoon at 11.00am, and finally landed in Newport at 11.45am. (The journey from the ship to the shore was much slower than usual due to local speed limits in Newport Harbour.)

Sue and I had already decided that we would take the local trolley tour of the area, and by just after midday we had reached the local bus station/information office and bought tickets for the tour.

We boarded the trolley, …

… which in the UK would normally be referred to as a reproduction of an old bus, at 12.20pm, and at 12.30pm the driver closed the doors and set off. He described the history of Newport and showed us examples of the old wooden colonial buildings that are dotted all over the older part of the town.

The tour then went out along Coastal Drive, where we were shown numerous examples of the seaside mansions that were built during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by New York’s elite to act as summer homes. Once we had turned inland again and begun to drive along Bellevue Avenue, we saw more of these magnificent houses. Our ninety minute tour ended back at the bus station, and we both agreed that it been well worth the cost.

The queue to go back aboard Aurora was nearly two hundred yards long, so Sue and I decided to have lunch ashore before joining the queue. We found the restaurant we had eaten in during our last visit to Newport – the Barking Crab – and ate a very substantial lunch.

When Sue and I finally joined the queue at 2.50pm, it had grown even longer, and we did not board a tender back to Aurora until nearly an hour later … twenty minutes after the final tender was supposed to have left the shore!

Near where we were queuing there was a memorial to the US Marines from the Newport area who died in Lebanon and the operations in Grenada.

The queue was still at least one hundred yards long as our tender left on its journey back to the ship, and the last of those queuing passengers was not back aboard until an hour after the last shuttle was due to have returned.

Aurora eventually left Newport just after 5.00pm, and began to sail out towards the open sea before turning towards the next port-of-call, Boston. By this time we were sitting in our cabin having a refreshing drink and thinking about getting ready for dinner.

By the time we were ready to go for a pre-dinner drink, the wind speed had risen to Force 6 (Strong wind), and when coupled with the speed of Aurora moving through the water at over 21 knots, it was very uncomfortable to be on the open deck. We therefore went to Anderson’s Bar before going to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner.

The food and company were excellent, and we did not leave the restaurant until after 10.15pm. We tried to go outside for a breath of fresh air, but even in the sheltered area near the Riviera Bar and Pool it was too windy and too cold to be comfortable. We only stayed there a matter of minutes before going down to our cabin on Deck 10 to get ready for bed.

Sunday 27th September, 2015: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
As Sue and I had visited central Boston during our previous cruise to North America, we decided to book places on a day-long tour that would take us to Lexington, Concord, and Cambridge, the latter being the home of Harvard University.

Aurora had just passed the ends of the runways of Logan Airport when she turned towards the Boston waterfront.

Sue and I were in the Medina Restaurant eating breakfast as the ship finally moored alongside the Black Falcon Wharf.

When we disembarked just before 9.00am to join our tour, we discovered that Aurora

… had moored behind The World, the only time-share cruise ship in the world.

Once we had boarded the tour coach, we discovered that the planned itinerary was slightly different from what we had expected. Instead of going to Lexington and Concord and then returning to Boston via Cambridge and Harvard University, we were going to travel around historic Boston first and then have a lunch break before visiting Lexington, Concord, and Harvard.

For the first three hours were travelled around Boston, looking at the major sites. Our first stop was in Copley Square, where we saw Trinity Church …

… the John Hancock Building, …

… the Boston Public Library, …

… as well as other notable buildings.

On the way to our next stop, we passed the Massachusetts State House.

The second stop of the tour was in the North End district of Boston. Because the streets were narrow, we had to leave the coach in Commercial Street and walk up towards Paul Revere Mall. On the way we passed a Boston Fire Department turntable ladder.

At one end of the Mall was a statue of Paul Revere …

… which faced a picturesque church.

We then walked up the Mall, towards Old North Church …

… which had a Dog-Tag Memorial in its yard.

Each dog-tag represented a member of one of the American armed forces who had died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Inside the church we sat in box pews …

… where a very enthusiastic young woman told us a rather romanticised version of the story of Paul Revere. We then rejoined our coach, which took us to the Union Oyster House in Union Street for lunch.

Once lunch was over, we boarded the coach again and set off for Lexington. We were set down on Lexington Green …

… where we saw the monument that was erect to commemorate the seven colonists who were killed during the fighting.

This monument marked one end of the line of colonial militia who tried to stop the troops General Gage had sent to seize arms and documents belonging to Sam Adams and the other leaders of the disgruntled colonists. The other end of the line was marked by rock that bore a quotation from Captain Parker, the leader of the colonist militia in Lexington.

Captain Parker is also the subject of a statue on the Green.

The tour coach then took us to Concord, where we were able to stand on the Old North Bridge, which was the site of a larger skirmish between the colonial militia and the British troops. The bridge was important because it allowed easy access over the river.

There are several monuments near the Old North Bridge including one that commemorates the battle, …

… the Minutemen who fought there, …

… and the three British soldiers who were killed.

Our tour was by this time running behind schedule, but this did not result in our missing the chance to visit Harvard University. We walked through Old Yard …

… where we had the opportunity to see the statue of the ‘founder’ of the University.

In fact as no known image of Mr Harvard exists, it cannot be an accurate portrayal of him. Furthermore, he didn’t found the University that bears his name; he donated the books that formed the major part of its earliest library.

We then walked into New Yard …

… which is the location of the new library building.

We finally returned to Aurora at 6.45pm (thirty minutes late!), having been on tour for just over eight hours! We had a quick drink in the Pennant Bar before returning to our cabin to get ready for dinner. This took much less time than usual, and by 8.00pm we had returned to the Pennant Bar for a pre-dinner drink.

The other two couples with whom we share a dinner table in the Alexandria Restaurant had very different experiences of Boston, and we had a great meal exchanging stories about what we had done all day.

After dinner Sue and I went up to Deck 10 Aft to watch Boston disappear towards the horizon as Aurora sailed out of the harbour …

… and to watch the rare Lunar eclipse.

By then we were both feeling very tired, and once the eclipse was over we went to our cabin to sleep.

Monday 28th September, 2015: Portland, Maine, USA
Sue and I were both woken up by the sound of Aurora mooring alongside in Portland.

She had not moored alongside the Cruise Terminal as that berth had already been taken by Royal Caribbean Cruise’s Brilliance of the Sea.

When we first boarded Aurora, we had not planned to go on any trips or tours in Portland. The opportunity had then arisen to pay a visit to Freeport, which is sixteen miles from Portland and which is well-known for it selection of shops and sale outlets. We had therefore booked places to go there.

On Sunday evening, when we got back from our tour in Boston, a letter had been delivered to our cabin informing us that the trip had been cancelled. We were disappointed … but not distraught. When we woke up on Monday morning, a voicemail had been left on our cabin telephone telling us to ignore the letter as the trip had been reinstated.

Sue and I discussed what to do … and decided to go on the trip. We went ashore in plenty of time, and at 9.30am the coach left Portland, and by 10.00am we had arrived in Freeport.

We were dropped off outside the flagship store of L L Bean …

… the town’s major employer and the driving force behind making Freeport a retail centre. We wandered around the town – which was very uncrowded – looking and and buying stuff until 11.30am …

… when we went for a couple of café lattes in the coffee shop attached to L L Bean’s store. We then spent time looking around the store … which was a haven for anyone who enjoys outdoor pursuits. We rejoined the coach back to Portland at 1.00pm, and by just after 1.30pm we were dropped off near to where Aurora was moored.

Sue and I decided to have a walk around the Old Port area of Portland …

… but after looking for somewhere for lunch – a quest that proved fruitless as everywhere we looked was full – we returned to the ship and ate lunch in the Horizon Self Service Restaurant. After lunch we had a couple of drinks in the Pennant Bar before going back to our cabin to read and rest.

Aurora left Portland just after 5.00pm, and after negotiating her way out to sea, she turned onto a course towards our next port-of-call, Saint John, New Brunswick. As she did so, Sue noticed that a fast-moving rigid inflatable boat was escorting the Aurora out towards the open sea. She photographed it … and on closer inspection it turned out to be a US Coast Guard boat, armed with what looked like an M60 machine gun!

Because it was quite windy out on deck, Sue and I had our pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar. We then had a short walk along the Promenade Deck before going down to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner.

After dinner Sue and I paid a short visit to Reception to sort out a minor problem with our on-board account, after which we went up to the open deck area near the Riviera Bar and Pool. We stayed there until nearly midnight talking to other passengers, by which time we were both beginning to feel tired. We went back to our cabin to sleep, although I did have to read for a bit before falling alseep.

Tuesday 29th September, 2015: Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
On the previous occasion that Sue and I visited Saint John, New Brunswick, it was foggy … and when it wasn’t foggy, it was raining. We were delighted – therefore – when we awoke at 7.30am to find that the sun was shining and there was no sign of fog.

How stupid we were to expect it to stay like that all day. In fact, by the time we went to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, the fog had descended and we could hardly see more than one hundred yards.

Aurora moored at the Cruise Terminal nearest to the entrance because the Princess Cruise Lines’s MV Regal Princess was moored ahead of her.

Because of the fog, we decided not to rush ashore, and we returned to our cabin after breakfast to read until the fog had lifted. By 11.30am it showed no signs of doing so, so we decided to get ready and go ashore.

Once out of the terminal building we passed through a local tented market that was set up to sell gifts etc. to cruise ship passengers.

We walked along the dockside as far as the Loyalist Square, where another market – this time a craft market – had been set up. The square commemorates the arrival of 2,000 Empire Loyalists in Saint John in 1783.

We then used the elevated walkway that connects the building that houses the New Brunswick Museum and Saint John Library to the town hall, and then on to the Brunswick Square retail area and the Old Market.

Having walked through the market, we arrived at King’s Square.

This open area contains a number of monuments including one to the Canadian dead of the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and the war in Afghanistan.

The other monuments commemorated Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Canadian Federation, …

… Charles I Gorman, the famous world speed-skating champion, …

… the local fire-fighters who have died on duty, …

… the foundation of New Brunswick,

… and King Edward VII.

The latter was present to the city by the local Cornet Band.

We then retraced our steps somewhat, and ended up back in the Brunswick Square retail area …

… where we did some shopping and ate lunch in a branch of Cora’s. (Cora’s in a nation-wide chain of breakfast and lunch restaurants.)

After lunch we walked back to Aurora, and were aboard by 3.15pm. We dropped our bags off in our cabin before going up to the Pennant Bar for a drink. We stayed there until after 4.00pm, and it gave us the opportunity to see the entrance to the harbour.

A lone piper played as Aurora gradually slipped her moorings and began to move away from the dockside.

As the ship turned to leave, we saw the famous Martello Tower that dominated the headland opposite the port of Saint John.

Aurora was escorted out by a local pilot cutter …

… which remained close by until it was time for the pilot to disembark.

Once Aurora reached the open sea, the weather changed for the worse. Wind speed reached Force 6 (Strong wind) and was coming from the direction in which the ship was sailing. As a result it was too cold and windy out on deck to be comfortable. We had planned to have our pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar, but when we got there it was deserted, so we went to Anderson’s Bar instead.

We ate dinner with our usual table companions in the Alexandria Restaurant, and one topic of conversation that came up concerned the so-called Reversing Falls in Saint Johns. They are  phenomena that occur when the tide coming in meets the local river flowing down to the sea. If the tide is strong enough, it forces the river water back. Sue and I had seen this during our last trip to Saint John in 2012 … and were not overly impressed. Neither – it would appear – were the other people on our table when they went to see it during Aurora‘s stop this year.

After dinner we did try to go out on deck near the Riviera Pool and Bar with one of the other couples from our dining table, but the wind and the cold was too strong, and we returned to our respective cabins within five minutes of going outside. Sue and I then got ready for bed, although we both read for a while before going to sleep.

Wednesday 30th September, 2015: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
The sun was shining, the sea was calm, and the wind speed had dropped to Force 2 (Light breeze) when we awoke at 7.30am. We had been told to expect rain, but the forecast did not seem to relate to the good weather that we could see around us.

Aurora docked whilst Sue and I were eating breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, and immediately afterwards we went up to Deck 10 Aft to wait until the passengers who were going on tours had disembarked. Whilst we were there, a Royal Canadian Navy ship – the HMCS Summerside (MM711) – had just left the naval base that is located upstream of the Cruise Terminal, and was making her way towards the open sea.

By 10.00am we had joined the queue of people who were disembarking. We turned right after leaving the Cruise Terminal and spent the next hour or so wandering along the riverside boardwalk.

Just along from the Cruise Terminal was a statue of Samuel Cunard …

… who was born in Halifax and who founded the Cunard Shipping Company.

Close by was a sculpture that commemorated the male emigrants who had left their families in order to go to Canada and to prepare a new life for their families.

(We were told by some locals that they refer to this statue as ‘The travelling salesman running away from his family’.)

The next memorial that we came to was dedicated to the ships and men of the RCN who were lost on active service during World War II. One side of the monument bore an inscription …

… whilst the other side had a plaque that listed the names of the ships as well as illustrations of the different classes of ship that were lost.

There was also a rather poignant memorial about the Great Acadian Upheaval.

The Acadians were settlers of French origin who were in Nova Scotia before the foundation of Halifax. Some moved to other French territories in North America, but those that remained were perceived to be a threat to the British colony. From 1755 onwards they were ‘removed’ to British colonies in modern-day America, to France, or to England.

The next monument that we saw was a carving of the Venetian winged lion, which had been presented to Halifax when it hosted a G7 summit some years ago.

This was followed by a memorial to the Norwegian seamen who lost their lives during the Second World War.

By this time we had reached the preserved covette RCNS Sackville

… which is moored very close to the preserved research vessel CSS Acadia.

Sue and I had been wandering along the boardwalk for the best part of an hour, and decided to have a drink in a nearby branch of the famous Canadian fast-food establishments, Tim Hortons.

Suitably refreshed, we walked slowly back to the Aurora, where – after paying a swift visit to our cabin to freshen up – we waited until it was time to go back ashore to meet Ross Macfarlane and his lovely wife Kathy.

Sue and I had a wonderful lunch with them in a nearby restaurant, and spent the afternoon talking to them as we walked along the boardwalk. It was with great regret that we had to leave them to go back aboard Aurora at 3.45pm so that we did not miss our departure to our next port-of-call.

Whilst we were walking back to the Cruise Terminal, we saw HMCS Summerside (MM711) returning upriver to the RCN naval base.

(HMCS Summerside is a Kingston-class coastal defence vessel.)

Aurora left Halifax soon after 5.00pm, and on her way out to sea she passed the Royal Caribbean Lines Brilliance of the Seas.

The local pilot was picked up from the ship about forty five minutes after Aurora had set sail. The pilot cutter came alongside …

… and moments later the pilot had descended the ladder from Aurora and had jumped onto the deck of the cutter, …

… which set off towards the shore at high speed.

Once Aurora got further out to sea, the weather began to deteriorate, and by the time we went for our pre-dinner drink, it was too wet and windy outside to drink in the Pennant Bar on Deck 12 Aft. Sue and I therefore went to Anderson’s Bar instead, and from there we went to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner.

We did attempt to go outside after dinner for some fresh air, but although it was not wet by the Riviera Bar and Pool, it was very windy, and we stayed for only a few minutes before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Thursday 1st October, 2015: At sea
After seven continuous days of port visits, we were both looking forward to a restful day at sea … but the weather had other ideas! When Sue and I woke up at 7.45am, Aurora was steaming through the channel that separates the tip of Nova Scotia – Cape Breton – from Newfoundland. It was raining, the sea state was moderate, and the wind speed was Force 7 (Very strong wind) coming from the south-south-east (i.e. astern of the Aurora). Cloud cover seemed to be total and we could not see the horizon. In addition, some of the open deck areas had been closed off for safety reasons.

We managed to make it into breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, after which we paid a quick visit to Reception to get a print-out of our on-board account. Members of the crew were in the process of setting up Aurora Uncovered – a series of exhibits set up by each of the ship’s main departments – in the Atrium. We had to return to our cabin for a few minutes before we were able back to the Atrium to look at the exhibits.

The ship was experiencing rather a lot of movement, and after spending some time in the Atrium we decided to go up to the Crow’s Nest Bar to sit and read. We stayed there until after midday, at which point we went back to our cabin, where we stayed until 1.30pm. Sue and I decided to see how crowded the Horizon Self Service Restaurant was, and were surprised to find that it was quite empty … so we decided to eat lunch there.

After eating our lunch we went out onto the open deck area on Deck 10 Aft, but the wind and rain made it uncomfortable to stay there. We therefore returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise.

During the afternoon I finished reading William Dalrymple’s RETURN OF THE KING: THE BATTLE FOR AFGHANISTAN and began reading THE TITANIC PLAN. This was written by Michael Bockman from a story by Ron Freeman.

As Aurora began to turn into the entrance to the St Lauwrence River, the weather began to improve slightly. The ship began to move less, and it was possible to walk around without worrying that a sudden lurch would cause you to inadvertently collide with other people. Sue and I had a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar, but when we went out on deck for a quick breath of fresh air before going to the Alexandria Restaurant, we found that it was still too windy to be comfortable.

Only one other couple joined us for dinner, and as a result the meal seemed to take less time to serve and eat. We were finished well before 10.30pm, and by 10.35pm Sue and I had been out to the open area on Deck 10 Aft and returned to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Friday 2nd October, 2015: Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
Sue and I woke up just after 7.30am, and by 8.45am we were in the Medina Restaurant eating breakfast. When we had finished eating we then went out onto the Promenade Deck, to watch the banks of the St Lawrence River as Aurora sailed towards Quebec City.

It was much colder on deck that we had expected (10°C/50°F), and we decided to find somewhere inside to sit and read. We tried the Crow’s Nest Bar, but that was full to capacity and in the end we sat in the nearby Uganda Room. We remained there until just after midday, when we went down to the Horizon Self Service Restaurant to eat an early lunch.

By the time we had finished eating, Aurora was very close to Quebec …

… and soon after she begin mooring alongside her berth, which was situated some distance from the centre of Quebec City, just underneath the cliffs up to the Plains of Abraham.

Another cruise ship – the Regatta – was already moored alongside the quay that Aurora was going to use.

As we were going on a tour, we went ashore at 1.45pm so that we were in plenty of time to find our coach, which was due to leave at 2.15pm. It was very cold when we went ashore, and everyone going on the tour was ashore by 2.15pm … but there was no sign of the coach. In the end – and nearly thirty minutes after we were supposed to have left – the shore agent redirected another coach to replace the missing coach.

Our first stop was at the Montmorency Falls. The coach parked near the former Kent House, where Queen Victoria’s father lived whilst he was in Canada.

The falls were spectacular … and well worth the climb up the steps to the bridge over the falls.

The second stop was at the Albert Gilles Copper Art Centre and Museum. Albert Gilles began working in copper whilst he was living in the USA, but in the 1930s he moved to Canada. He became known for the quality of his work, some of which was in use at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.

The Gilles family continue to work copper, and the centre contains examples of worked metal.

The final stop of our tour was Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.

Work began on the present building in 1923 after the former basilica was burned down. It is still under construction, although only detail work remains to be done. The inside of the basilica is decorated with an incredible number of mosaics and stained glass windows.

Whilst we were waiting to get back aboard the coach, a small, local train passed along the nearby tracks.

By the time we left it was beginning to get dark, and we reached Aurora at 6.45pm … thirty minutes late again! Sue and I were back in our cabin by just before 7.00pm, and began to get ready for dinner. Because we were so late getting back to the ship, we did not have time for a pre-dinner drink before going to the Alexandria Restaurant.

After dinner we did try going out on deck, but the temperature had dropped to 8°C/46°F and we only stayed there for a matter on minutes before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Saturday 3rd October, 2015: Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
Over night the air temperature remained low, and it had not risen by the time Sue and I went to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant. Once we had eaten we wrapped up in our warmest clothes and went ashore.

The shuttle-bus dropped us off near the Place Royale, and Sue and I decided not to make our way straight into the Old Town. Instead we walked towards the Old Port area via some of the oldest streets in the city.

(There were numerous displays of pumpkins at various locations throughout the city … in this case around the base of a bust of King Louis XIV.)

At the corner of two streets was a very interesting monument and fountain.

Sue and I found a narrow alleyway off one of the crowded main roads that led to a smaller and deserted one. Every building had its own set of gaily painted stairs leading from ground level up to each floor.

Having had a look around the Old Port area, Sue and I began the climb up one of the step roads leading to the upper level of the Old Town. Along the way we passed one of the magnificent murals that adorn some of the buildings in Quebec …

… as well as the steps leading down to Rue du Petit-Champlain.

There were numerous monuments and sculptures in the open square abutting the Le Château Frontenac Hotel.

It was nearly midday, and we decided that we were both in need of a hot drink. As the closest place was the branch of Starbucks on the ground floor of Le Château Frontenac, we went in there.

The café was very crowded, but after queuing for nearly fifteen minutes we managed to get of coffees and had found somewhere to sit.

After finishing our drinks we made our way onto the Dufferin Terrace …

… from where we could see Cunard’s Queen Mary 2

… and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dream.

Rather than walk down all the steps, Sue and I opted to take the Funiculaire down to the Rue du Petit-Champlain

… which we walked along until it joined the Boulevard Champlain, where we saw another of Quebec City’s murals.

It was a short walk from there back to shuttle-bus pick-up point, and by 2.00pm we were back aboard Aurora and eating lunch in the Horizon Self Service Restaurant.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in our cabin getting warm again as well as reading and resting. We took a break just after 4.00pm to have a drink and a cake in the Horizon Self Service Restaurant, but when we tried to go outside for a breath of fresh air, the wind made it feel too cold to be comfortable, and we went back to our cabin again.

Because of local licensing restrictions, not all of the ship’s bars were allowed to be open when Aurora was in port, so we went for our pre-dinner drink in the Crow’s Nest Bar on Deck 13 Forward. Surprisingly it was empty, and we spent from 7.45pm until 8.20pm watching the world go by … in the dark!

After dinner we thought about going to a new show that the ship’s theatre company – the Headliners – was putting on, but in the end we decided to go to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Sunday 4th October, 2015: At sea
Sue and I woke up at 7.45am, and when we opened the cabin’s curtains we saw an almost cloudless blue sky. Although the sun made it look as if it was going to be warm, the outside air temperature was cold – 7°C/44°F – and would have felt colder if the wind speed had been any greater than Force 2 (Light air).

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we went for a short walk around the ship. We watched some of the passengers doing line dancing in Carmen’s – the ship’s show lounge – before going for a brief walk along the Promenade Deck. Although the sun was shining, it still felt cold and in the end we went back to our cabin to warm up.

At 10.50am we went back to Carmen’s to listen to a talk by guest speaker Vivianne Rowan entitled ‘Alexander the Great and His City’. What we got was a very brief and somewhat disjointed history of the life of Alexander the Great, followed by a lot of slides about the rise of the Ptolemaic Dynasty and the life of Cleopatra. Sue and I came away feeling that the speaker had not stuck to what we thought was going to be the central theme of her talk, and that the title had been misleading.

As it was approaching midday, we decided that it was time for a drink. We managed to find a couple of seats in the Crow’s Nest Bar, and sat there drinking and talking until 12.45pm, when we went back to our cabin to read until it was time to eat lunch.

All morning Aurora had been closing the gap between her and another cruise ship that was sailing ahead of her. By 2.00pm it was apparent that the ship was one belonging to the AIDA Line …

… and by 2.15pm it was possible to read the name AIDA diva painted on her side.

The two ships were sailing alongside not long afterwards …

… but by the time we had eaten lunch in the Lido Grill, Aurora was gradually pulling ahead of her rival.

After lunch we sat in the open deck area near the Riviera Pool and Bar on Deck 12 Forward, and we were joined by one of the couples were sit with at dinner. We chatted until 4.00pm, when we all went to the Horizon Self Service Restaurant for a drink and a cake.

Once we had eaten, Sue and I went back to our cabin to rest until it was time to get ready for the fourth formal dinner of the cruise.

We had a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar with a couple from the Isle of Mann we had sat next to on the tour to Lexington, Concord, Harvard, and Boston. The were also eating in the Alexandria Restaurant, and we walked with them through the ship to get to dinner.

We had an interesting chat with our dinner companions, and after dinner we thought about going out on deck for a while. In the end we just returned to our cabin to prepare the stuff we would need at our last port-of-call, Sydney, Nova Scotia, and to get ready for bed.

Monday 5th October, 2015: Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
Sue and I were awake just before 7.30am, and the ship appeared to be shrouded in fog. There was the occasional glimpse of land every so often, and Aurora was moving very slowly through the water.

At 7.45am there was an announcement about the arrangements for going ashore. It appeared that the run in by tender was 2½ miles, the journey was going to take thirty minutes each way, and that passengers should adjust their arrangements accordingly! As Sue and I were going on a tour which was supposed to meet ashore just after midday, it meant that we had to try to get on a tender that was going ashore by 11.00am at the latest.

We tried to get ready for breakfast somewhat faster than usual, and managed to get into the Medina Restaurant by 8.30am. By the time breakfast was over, the fog had begun to clear, but as we did not want to risk missing our tour, we got everything ready, collected a couple of tender tickets, and went ashore at 10.00am.

The journey did not take anything like thirty minutes, and by 10.30am we had passed through the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion (and its huge fiddle!) …

… and were walking towards the centre of town for a look around. We walked along the Esplanade (from where we had a good view of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwgian Dream moored alongside the quayside), …

… up Dorchester Street, and then turned right along Charlotte Street, the town’s main shopping area.

After having a walk around – and undertaking a little retail therapy – Sue and I began to walk back towards the quayside. Along the way we passed a very pretty church …

… and a monument to the members of the Canadian Merchant Navy who died during the Second Wolrd War.

We returned to the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion in time to have a drink before we had to be at the rendezvous point to meet our tour guide. Inside the Pavilion was a small exhibition dedicated to the Cape Breton Highlanders.

At 12.15pm we were there, along with a lot of other passengers … but there was no sign of our tour guide, the coach, or a member of P&O’s excursions staff.

We waited … and waited … and at 12.30pm a P&O representative arrived, gave out the tour stickers, and told us that the coach and guide had been delayed and would not arrive until 1,05pm. We waited until it was 1.05pm … but the coach and guide had still not arrived. We were told that it was on its way, but had been delayed because it was still brining back a tour that had gone out earlier that day … which had been late starting due to the fog!

By 1.25pm we were on the verge of handing back our tour tickets and cancelling our seats on the tour. Sue and I set a deadline of 1.30pm … and at 1.29pm the missing coach and guide arrived. Everyone quickly boarded the coach, and by 1.45pm – over an hour late – we were on our way.

The journey to Louisburg took forty five minutes, which meant that our tour of the fortress was supposed to be curtailed. Our guide was able to negotiate a slightly longer stay, and in the end our visit lasted just under two hours.

Luckily Louisburg turned out to be an excellent place to visit – we could have easily spent the whole day there – and it made up for the poor shore-side organisation we had experienced. I will write a fuller account of what we saw and did in a later blog entry.

We left Louisburg at 4.20pm, and got back to the quayside in Sydney at 5.05pm. By the time we had boarded the tender back to Aurora, it was 5.15pm … and we were late back yet again!

We had to wait for some time as the tender we were on was the last one due back to the ship … and two passengers were ‘missing’ according to the ship’s electronic registration system. Eventually they were ‘found’ (they had already boarded Aurora, but their passes had not been scanned properly) and the ship’s shore team boarded the tender and we all returned to Aurora.

Sue and I finally got back to our cabin just before 6.00pm, and had just enough time to get up to Deck 12 Aft to buy a much-needed drink and to watch Aurora‘s departure from Sydney.

Whilst we were on deck we saw an unusual phenomenon in the sky. The cloud formation produced the allusion that there were two suns in the sky, the ‘false’ one being less bright that the real one and having a sort of rainbow affect to one side of it.

We then went back to our cabin and got ready for dinner.

Our usual pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar was followed by dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant, where we all shared our experiences of our time on Cape Breton Island. By the time dinner was over Sue and I were both feeling very tired, and went back to our cabin to sleep.

Tuesday 6th October, 2015: At sea
We had a little bit of a lie-in (we had set the alarm clock to go off at 7.45am rather than 7.30am!) and when we did wake up Aurora was passing the southern tip of Newfoundland. The sea was remarkably calm, the sun was shining, the wispy cloud cover was 3/8, and the wind speed was Force 2 (Light air). It was not very warm, however, as the air temperature was 11°C/52°F.

We went down to the Medina Restaurant for breakfast at 9.10am, after which we went for a walk around the ship. We spent a short time out on the Promenade Deck and then went up to our cabin to read for a while.

Just before midday Sue and I went up to the Riviera Bar to have a drink, and although the air temperature had increased during the morning, we found that the bar was closed. Nearby we met one of the couple we share a dinner table with, and spent some time taking to them before making our way to the Crow’s Nest Bar, where we finally managed to get a drink.

We remained there until just after 2.15pm, when we went down to the Horizon Self Service restaurant for lunch. After we had eaten, we went to the back of the ship and spent some time sitting in the open deck area on Deck 10 Aft.

As the sun’s position shifted and the wined began to veer round, it began to get cold, and we returned to our cabin to read and rest for a while. Not long after 4.00pm Sue and I went back to the Horizon Self Service Restaurant for a cup of tea, after which we retuned to our cabin.

By later afternoon it was time to begin getting ready for the fifth formal dinner of the cruise, and we were out of our cabin and in Anderson’s Bar in plenty of time to have a pre-dinner drink.

Over dinner the weather seemed to get somewhat livelier, and the motion in the dinning room was quite noticeable at times. Despite that, we had a very enjoyable, after which we retired to our cabin to read for a while before going to bed. I finished reading THE TITANIC PLAN by Michael Bockman and Ron Freeman and began Richard Hough’s THE FLEET THAT HAD TO DIE. This was originally published in 1958 and I have a hardback copy on my bookshelves at home.

Wednesday 7th October, 2015: At sea
Over night the weather appeared to be quite rough at times, and both Sue and I were woken up on several occasions by the ship’s movement and the noise. By early morning things had quietened down, and by 8.00am the sea state was moderate and the wind speed was Force 2 (Light breeze). The air temperature was – however – low at 11°C/52°F.

After eating breakfast in the Median Restaurant and a short walk along the Promenade Deck, Sue and I visited the Future Cruise and Loyalty Desk … and booked another cruise! It will be aboard P&O’s Ventura next year, and will be visiting various places around the Western Mediterranean.

We then went for a drink in the Crow’s Nest Bar but it was so crowded that we could not find anywhere to sit. After trying the Riviera Bar – which was also closed – we ended up returning to our cabin to sit and read.

At 1.45pm we made our way down to the Median Restaurant for lunch. This was the first time during the cruise that we had eaten in the formal lunch restaurant, but it was quite empty and the experience was very enjoyable.

After lunch we went up to Deck 10 After for some fresh air, but we only stayed there for ten to fifteen minutes before the cold wind made it uncomfortable for us to stay there any longer. We were back in our cabin by 3.30pm, and Sue and I spent some time sorting out some of the stuff that we will need to pack before we disembark.

We made the occasional foray outside for a breath of fresh air, but spent most of the rest of the afternoon in our cabin reading. At 6.00pm we began to get ready for dinner, but this was not made easy by the fact that the water supply to our cabin was erratic due to a problem somewhere in the system. It was eventually sorted out – for the time being – by 7.00pm which gave us just enough time to be washed and dressed by 7.45pm. We had agreed to meet another couple in Anderson’s Bar at that time, and we only just got there on time.

Dinner was made interesting by the amount of movement the ship was experiencing, and we did not finish eating until just before 10.30pm. Sue and I decided that we ought to return to our cabin rather than go to any of the evening’s events, and we were in bed by just after 11.00pm. Sleeping – however – was not easy as the noises made by the ship were quite loud at times.

Thursday 8th October, 2015: At sea
I awoke at 4.20am, and found it very difficult to get back to sleep due to the sound of a metal door banging somewhere nearby. I eventually managed to get to sleep again, but Sue and I were woken up by the alarm clock at 7.45am and decided to get up. At that point we both realised that overnight we had both developed heavy colds!

Aurora was by this time halfway across the Atlantic, and the weather was typical for the time of year. Although the sea state was moderate, the wind was coming from the north east at Force 5 (Fresh wind), and the air temperature was 10°C/50°F. All of this made movement around the ship rather difficult as one tended to up and down as well as from side to side.

We ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, after which we spent some time in the Ship’s Photography Gallery, where we bought eight pictures that were taken at the various places we had visited during our cruise.

Although neither of us was feeling particularly well, we decided not to go back to our cabin for the rest of the day. Instead we went up to the Crow’s Nest Bar, where we sat reading and drinking until it was well after midday. We then returned to our cabin to drop our stuff off before going to the Horizon Self Service Restaurant for a light lunch. Sue and I were by then beginning to feel the need for some fresh air, and ventured out to Deck 10 After for five minutes.

The cold drove us back indoors, and we returned to our cabin to read, rest, and to complete our passenger survey form. Sue then took this down to Reception, along with two pages of comments about the shambolic shore-side organisation of the tours we had gone on.

We began getting ready for dinner earlier than usual because neither of us was feeling very well and we were going to the Glass House Wine Bar for dinner. The booking was for 7.00pm, and the menu was a special one that was designed to give diners a chance to try new dishes and specially selected wines.

The meal was set up like a dinner party, with just eleven of us sitting around a long table in the Captain’s Lounge. The latter is actually a room off the back of the Glass House Wine Bar. The meal was excellent, as was the service and the company, and Sue and I would certainly consider booking this experience again in the future.

We finished eating at 10.30pm, and by then both of us were feeling very tired and suffering from the effects of our colds. We went back to our cabin, and were asleep by 11.00pm.

Friday 9th October, 2015: At sea
After a very restless night’s sleep, Sue and I got up at 7.45am and prepared to go to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant. For once we chose to eat on our own as our colds – and mine in particular – made it difficult to talk without coughing and sneezing all the time. After breakfast we went up to the ship’s shops to see if we could buy any throat lozenges to help us cope with the colds … but they had sold out as quite a few people seemed to have come down with the same cold.

We returned to our cabin, and after sitting on our balcony for some time trying to cool down, I managed to get a couple of hour’s sleep. I felt a bit better as a result, and at 1.30pm Sue and I went up to the Lido Grill for a drink and a snack lunch. After lunch we both went out to the open deck area near the Riviera Pool, but soon after we had the wind changed direction and it became too cold to sit there. We therefore returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party at 8.00pm.

The centrepiece of the display was an ice sculpture.

After the party we went to the Alexandria Restaurant for the last formal dinner of the cruise. As usual this was marked by a parade through the restaurant by the Executive Chef and the galley brigade. It also gave us the opportunity to thank our waiters.

By the end of the meal Sue and I were feeling very tired, and we went back to our cabin to sleep. I just managed to finish Richard Hough’s THE FLEET THAT HAD TO DIE, and plan to start reading his THE HUNTING OF FORCE Z next.

Saturday 10th October, 2015: At sea
It grey and miserable when we got up, and the weather didn’t change much as the day went on. Our colds had also not improved much, even though we had both slept somewhat better than we had on the previous night.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant Sue and I went to the Curzon Theatre to listen to the captain of Aurora – Captain Julian Burgess – being interviewed about his life at sea by the ship’s Entertainment Manager. This was most interesting, and was a excellent way to start the day.

After a quick drink in the Pennant Bar, we went back to our cabin to begin packing. We stopped for lunch in the Horizon Self Service Restaurant at 2.00pm, resumed an hour later, and managed to finish by 3.30pm. I then stacked all but our personal hand luggage and one travel bag outside our cabin for collection by members of the ship’s crew.

We were ready for dinner nearly an hour early, so we went for a couple of pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar before going down to the Alexandria Restaurant for the last time. We really enjoyed our final meal with our table companions before we had to bid them and our waiters goodbye. Sue and I then went back to our cabin to pack the last of our travel bags before going to bed.

Sunday 11th October, 2015: Southampton
Our colds did not improve much overnight, and neither us was feeling much like driving back to London … but we did. We woke up at 6.30am, and by 7.45am we had made our way down to the Medina Restaurant for our last breakfast of the cruise. We had finished eating by 8.20am … and by 8.30am Sue and I were making our way ashore. Finding our luggage took nearly twenty minutes, thanks to what seemed like total chaos in the baggage reclamation hall, but in spite of that we were still driving out of the car park just after 9.00am.

We stopped for a rest break – and to do some essential shopping – at Winchester Services, and then resumed our journey. We reached the junction of the M3 with the M25 just before 11.00am, and drove onto the hard-standing outside our house just after midday. We unpacked the car as quickly as we could, carried the bags upstairs … and then we both sat down and had a much-needed drink.

Our cruise to North America was over … but our next one is already on the horizon.


I have been to … Britannia

On Friday Sue and I visited P&O’s latest cruise ship … MV Britannia.

Britannia has been moored in Southampton since she arrived from her builders – Fincantieri – on 6th March, and she was officially named by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 10th March. Because Sue and I have cruised so often with P&O, we were offered the opportunity to visit the ship before she sailed on her maiden voyage. This was too good an opportunity to turn down, so we booked our places and went.

We travelled down to Southampton on Thursday afternoon and stayed overnight at the Chilworth Manor Hotel, which is situated in the countryside just north of Southampton.

On Friday morning we were up and eating breakfast by 7.30am, and had checked out of the hotel by just after 8.30am. We drove to Southampton Docks and arrived at the Ocean Car Park (where we had a reserved parking space) just twenty minutes later. We then boarded a shuttle-bus which took us to the Ocean Terminal, where Britannia was moored.

We had to wait about fifteen minutes before we were processed by the booking-in team, and after another short wait we were shepherded through the security checks. It was interesting to note that all of this was exactly the same procedure as if we were going on an actual cruise rather than just a visit.

During the check-in process Sue and I were both given a red lanyard to wear whilst we were aboard. This was used to display our day passes and also designated the restaurant in which we were to eat lunch. We were also given a tour brochure that included maps of the decks we were recommended to visit.

Once aboard our first port-of-call was the ship’s atrium. This is open space is spread over several decks and is dominated by a huge glass chandelier.

We than visited the theatre …

… which seemed rather on the small side for a ship of Britannia‘s size. We then walked through some of the public areas, including the ship’s pub, …

… wine bar, …

… and coffee bar.

At this point Sue and I decided that we needed a breath of fresh air, and made our way out onto what we thought was the Promenade Deck. We were sadly mistaken, as Britannia does not have a conventional Promenade Deck, merely a couple of very short and cramped deck areas on the level where the Promenade Deck should be.

We returned inside and made our way up to the deck where a selection of cabins had been prepared for show. These were a major disappointment for us as all of them – with the exception of the large suite we viewed – seemed small and very cramped.


A large suite

A mini-suite/superior double cabin

A disabled cabin

An inside double cabin


After this rather disappointing part of our tour, we made our way up to the main open deck area of Britannia. This is where two of the ship’s swimming pools – and a large number of sun loungers – are located.

Aft from the swimming pool and sunbathing area was the self-service restaurant, which did seem to be well designed, although how well it will work when the ship is full has yet to be seen.

Forward of the swimming pool and sunbathing area was the Crow’s Nest Bar and Lounge.

This feature has been missing on the previous two large ships to join P&O’s fleet – MV Azura and MV Ventura – but its incorporation in the design of Britannia is very welcome and much appreciated by regular cruisers.

Britannia’s design incorporates a number of smaller public rooms that can be used for specific functions such as receptions and – once the ship is re-registered outside the UK – weddings …

… and several select dining venues, including The Epicurean Restaurant.

By the time we had reached this point our tour was nearly over, and we made our way down to the Meridian Restaurant for lunch. The menu was made up from items from the menus of all the select dining venues aboard Britannia, and choosing what to eat was a problem as everything looked very enticing.

We sat at a table with seven other people, and over lunch we discussed what we thought about Britannia. The general consensus was that she was too large to appeal to traditional P&O cruisers and that the cabins – and even the standard suites – were smaller than we had expected. It was also generally agreed that the public spaces all had the ‘Wow!’ factor … but that this did not compensate for the lack of such things as a Promenade Deck.

By 1.30pm we had finished eating and soon afterwards we disembarked. As we walked out through the Ocean Terminal I managed to photograph the ship’s fore end …

… and this gives some idea of how huge the ship is, how small many of the cabin balconies are, and illustrates the new Union Flag-inspired bow decoration that has been adopted by P&O.

The shuttle-bus returned us to the Ocean Car Park by 2.00pm, and after collecting our car we drove home. Despite one or two minor delays due to roadworks and a diversion, we got home not long after 4.30pm.

All-in-all the visit was very worthwhile, but Sue and I came away with serious doubts as to whether or not we will ever cruise aboard Britannia. We may do one day … but not one day soon.


General characteristics of MV Britannia

  • Length: 1083′ (330m)
  • Beam: 144′ (44m)
  • Height: 232′ (70.67m)
  • Draft: 27′ 4″ (8.3m)
  • Passenger Decks: 15
  • Propulsion: 2 x Wärtsilä 12V46F and 2 x Wärtsilä 14V46F diesel engines which power electric generators that in turn power 2 x VEM Sachsenwerk GMBH electric propulsion motors that each drive a propeller.
  • Speed: 21.9 knots @ 136 rev/min
  • Passenger Capacity: 4324 in 1837 cabins (64 are suites and 27 are single cabins)
  • Crew: 1398 officers and crew