I have been to … Germany, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands (almost!), and Belgium

Wednesday 6th December 2017: Southampton
Despite oversleeping thanks to faulty alarm clock, Sue and I were ready to leave home by 9.15am, and by 10.00am we were driving around the M25 towards the M3. Our journey was uneventful, and just after 11.00am we stopped at Winchester Services for a cup of coffee and a toasted sandwich.

The service area was relatively empty, and we were back on our way towards Southampton by just after 11.30am. Traffic was much lighter than usual, and by midday we had reached the Mayflower Cruise Terminal and were booking our car in with the valet parking service.

Our luggage was unloaded and whisked away by a porter, and almost as soon as we entered the terminal building we were in the queue to be processed by the booking-in staff. Once that was done we had to wait for less than five minutes before we were called to go through the pre-embarkation security checks. These checks were done very efficiently and quickly, and by 12.20pm Sue and I were aboard P&O’s MV Aurora and in the Alexandria Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) having a very welcome drink.

At 1.00pm an announcement was made that cabins were ready for passengers to occupy them, but as we knew there would be a lot of passengers trying to get to their cabins as soon as the announcement was made, we remained in the restaurant for another fifteen minutes. When we arrived at our cabin on Deck 10 Midships, our luggage was waiting for us, and we spent the next hour or so unpacking.

As we knew there would be a compulsory safety briefing at about 4.00pm, we decided to go up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant (Deck 12 Aft) at 3.00pm for a drink and a snack. We were back in our cabin by 3.40pm, just in time to hear the announcement that we should be in our muster station (Anderson’s Bar, Deck 7 Midships) by 4.00pm. Sue and I were in the muster station well before the start of the briefing, and managed to find a couple of nice armchairs to sit in.

The briefing lasted until just before 4.30pm, and after paying a short visit out onto the Promenade (Deck 7), we made our way back to our cabin to finish the last few bits of unpacking. Sue and I then spent the next couple of hours reading and resting before it was time to get ready for dinner.

Aurora set sail just before 5.00pm from Southampton, and headed towards the open sea.

Sue and I decided to go for a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar, and despite it being the first night of the cruise, it was relatively empty, and we had no trouble finding somewhere to sit.

We joined the queue for dinner at 8.20pm, and within ten minutes we were sitting at our table in the centre of the Alexandria Restaurant. We were soon joined by our four table companions, and spent a very pleasant evening eating, talking, and getting to know each other.

After dinner we went out on to the Promenade Deck again for some fresh air, but it was rather cold, and we only stayed there for a few minutes before deciding to go back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Thursday 7th December: At sea
Overnight the ship’s clocks went forward by one hour, and both of us were still feeling rather tired when we got up and began getting ready for breakfast. Aurora had made good progress during the night, and by the time it was getting light she was already well into the North Sea and off the coast of the Netherlands.

The sea was quite rough …

… and as we went to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant (Deck 6 Midships), Aurora was passed by a ship carrying parts for the Airbus 380 aircraft towards Hamburg.

After breakfast Sue and I went to the Shore Excursions Desk to book a tour to visit the town of Drøbak, which is not far by road from Oslo in Norway. We also had a look around the onboard shops and Sue bought some duty-free cigarettes.

We had already decided that we would go to the first of several talks being given by the former Chief Executive of the Anne Frank Trust UK, and by just after 11.00am we were sitting in the Curzon Theatre (Deck 6 Forward) waiting for it to start. The speaker was Gillian Walnes Perry OBE, …

… and although the talk was worthy, it was not very interesting as it told us very little that we did not already know.

The lecture finished just after midday, and Sue and I decided that before doing anything else we needed a drink. We went up to the Crow’s Nest Bar (Deck 13 Forward) where we had our drinks and sat reading until not long after 1.00pm.

Whilst we were there, a frigate (probably Dutch) sailed across Aurora’s bows at relatively high speed, and despite the bad weather (it had begun raining whilst we were in the theatre), I managed to take a photograph of her.

After eating a snack lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant, Sue and I returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. This was preceded by the Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, which was held from 8.15pm until 8.45pm in Carmen’s Show Lounge (Deck 7 Aft).

We were slightly late getting into the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner, but as almost everyone else had also been delayed, it created no problems for our dinner companions or our waiters.

After dinner we did try to get some fresh air on the Promenade Deck, but although we found a sheltered spot, the air temperature and spray made it too uncomfortable to stay there very long. We were back in our cabin soon after 11.15pm, and were in bed before midnight.

Friday 8th December: Hamburg
During the night Aurora sailed past the Frisian Islands, and by 2.00pm she had entered the estuary of the River Elbe. By the time we awoke at 7.45am, Aurora was slowly approaching her berth at the Hamburg Cruise Terminal.

By 9.05am Sue and I had eaten breakfast in the Medina Restaurant. The Aurora was already tied up alongside …

… and was awaiting clearance to begin landing her passengers. This took longer than normal, and it wasn’t until 9.35am that the first passengers began to go ashore. As they went ashore the weather began to take a turn for the worse, and Sue and I decided to wait until the heavy rain had subsided before making our way to the shuttle bus pick-up point. We only had to wait about ten minutes for a shuttle bus to arrive, and despite the heavy traffic on the road we were in the centre of Hamburg by 11,05am.

The drop-off point was only a few hundred yards from the Town Hall (Rathaus), where the largest section of the Christmas market was located.

We spent some time walking around the market …

… looking at what was on sale on the various stalls. One stall specialised in carving large wooden sculptures, and Sue and I found them very impressive.

Although the rain had abated during our journey to the centre of Hamburg, it began to fall heavily as we walked around the market. Sue and I therefore decided to walk towards another part of the market via the colonnaded shopping area that connects the Rathausmarkt with the road that runs along one edge of the Binnenalster.

Once across the busy main road, we were in the Alster Markt. Unlike the Rathausmarkt – which is entirely made up of wooden stalls – the Alster Markt stalls are all white tents.

At first, we took a leisurely stroll through the Alster Markt, but by the time we were half way towards one end, the heavy rain began to change into sleet, and I decided that I needed to buy a hat to keep both warm and dry. Luckily one of the stalls was selling hats, and I bought a peaked cap of the sort quite a few of the locals wear.

It was midday, and both Sue and I were feeling cold and thirsty. As we were close to a large café, …

… we stopped for a large hot chocolate each. This was extremely good, and it both warmed us up and gave us some more energy and enthusiasm to continue our walk.

Once we had looked around the rest of the Alster Markt we began to make our way back towards the shuttle bus pick-up point. We decided to make a short diversion through the Europa Passage Shopping Centre, …

… which proved to be a good choice as I was able to buy Sue part of her Christmas present in one of the shops!

When we left the shopping centre we discovered that the sleet had turned to snow, and even though we had to walk through the Rathausmarkt to get back to the shuttle bus pick-up point …

… we did not spend any further time looking at the stalls. Sue and I were able to board a shuttle bus just after 1.15pm, and by 1,45pm we were back in our cabin taking our hats and coats off and beginning to thaw out.

Once we were warm we went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a late lunch, and whilst we were sitting there we watched the snow going horizontally past the windows!

Although little of the snow settled, as we returned to our cabin we did see some the sunbeds had a light covering of snow on them.

Sue and I spent the rest of the afternoon resting in our cabin. At 7.50pm we made our way to Anderson’s Bar for a pre-dinner drink, followed by dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant. It was interesting to compare impressions of Hamburg with our table companions, some of whom had been ashore until 7.30pm that evening.

A little after 9.00pm we could see a tug coming astern of Aurora, and soon afterwards she began to move away from her berth and to make her way down the River Elbe towards the sea. By the time we all left the restaurant at 10.20pm, she was already about a third of the way to the river’s estuary, and when Sue and I went to bed at 11.30pm we could see very few lights on the horizon.

Saturday 9th December 2017: At sea
Aurora reached the open sea not long after 2.00pm … and as she made her way northwards along the west coast of Denmark the weather began to make itself felt. The pitching and rolling woke both of us up several times, and when the door of our bathroom swung open with a crash at 6.00pm, we knew that we were in a for a few hours of rough seas.

We both managed to get back to sleep, but were awoken again at 8.00pm by an in-cabin announcement that requested the duty medical team to attend an emergency in a cabin on Deck 6. Sue and I decided that as it was almost time to get up, we would do so, but the erratic movement of the ship made getting ready for the day quite difficult. (Moving about when a ship is rolling takes a bit of time to get used to, but once you have, it isn’t too difficult. Likewise, when the ship is pitching, moving about safely can be mastered relatively quickly. However, when a ship is doing both and the movement is jerky and erratic, even trying to walk from one side of the cabin to the other can be hazardous.)

We ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant and then tried to go out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. Unfortunately, all the doors out to the deck were closed due to the weather, so we went up to Deck 12 Forward instead. It was so cold and windy there that we only stayed for a few minutes, after which we went back to our cabin.

Sue and I remained in our cabin reading until 11.30am. It was then time for us to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch at midday, and we were changed and queueing outside the Alexandria Restaurant a few minutes before midday. Our table was hosted by the ship’s Head of Security, who turned out to be an ex-police officer from the Metropolitan Police who had served for some years in the area where we live.

The lunch – and the people we shared the table with – was very enjoyable, and Sue and I both left feeling rather full. After the meal we again tried to go for some fresh air, but as the Promenade Deck was still closed, we had to return to Deck 12 Forward. Although it was not as cold as it had been earlier in the day, it was much wetter. This was partially due to the large amount of water that was being ejected from the nearby swimming pool by the ship’s erratic rolling and pitching, and partially due to the occasional rainstorm the ship was passing through.

We managed to stay outside for slightly less than ten minutes, but as we could see that Aurora was about to sail into another rainsquall, we returned to our cabin to read and rest for a while.

By 4.00pm Sue and I were both feeling in need of a break, and we went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a drink. It was very quiet in the restaurant, and we both felt that the bad weather was encouraging passengers to stay inside their cabins rather than to venture outside. This was further borne out when we went out onto Deck 12 Forward, where only a few hardy and well wrapped up people were sitting or standing wherever they could in places that were sheltered from the wind and spray.

After a brief spell on the open deck area, Sue and I returned to our cabin to warm up and begin preparing for the second formal dinner of the cruise. By 7.50pm we were being served pre-dinner drinks in Anderson’s Bar, and just after 8.30pm we made our way to our table in the Alexandria Restaurant. Only one of the other couples joined us for dinner, the others had decided to dine in one of the alternative dining venues.

The menu was a special one to celebrate the 180th anniversary of the foundation of what became the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company, and included several of our favourite dishes. We ate very well indeed, and were feeling even fuller than we had done after lunch. Once the meal was over, Sue and I decided that we had to get outside and in the fresh air prior to going to sleep, and we did manage to spend some time on the Promenade Deck before going to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Sunday 10th December 2017: Copenhagen
Aurora had already turned around the northernmost point of Denmark before dinner on the previous evening, and this had been marked by an improvement in the weather. Overnight this improvement continued, and Sue and I had a much better night’s sleep as a result.

When we awoke at 8.00am, Aurora was beginning to manoeuvre alongside the dock in Langelinie.

After getting dressed we ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, and once that was over ventured outside to see what the weather was like. As it was bitterly cold and there was a threat on snow, we returned to our cabin to put on some of our cold weather clothing. Sue and I then went ashore and took the next available shuttle bus into the centre of Copenhagen.

The shuttle bus stop (and pick-up point) was just off one side of Kongens Nytoty and on the opposite side of the road from a large department store, Magasin du Nord.

From there Sue and I walked along Holmens Kanal

… from where we could see the distinctive candy twist spire on Holmens Kirke.

We then crossed over the road towards the Christiansborg Palace, and passed through the archway …

… which took us into a courtyard.

Sue and I crossed the courtyard, and after walking though another arch, we reached the entrance to the Tojhuismuseet or Royal Arsenal Museum.

The museum has been expanded since our last visit, and we spend an enjoyable hour or so looking at the new exhibits.

Once our visit was over, Sue and I retraced our step past the front of the Christiansborg Palace, and crossed over the nearby canal towards the St Nikolaj Contemporary Art Centre.

We then headed towards a small Christmas market we could see.

After browsing our way through the market, we found ourselves in the main pedestrianised shopping area, the Strøget.

We eventually returned to Kongens Nytoty, where there was another Christmas market.

From there we made our way to Nyhavn, …

… where after looking at the Christmas market stall there, we had a drink of hot chocolate in the Skipperkroen bar/restaurant.

Sue and I then decided to return to the shuttle bus pick-up point to return to the ship, and we did so by crossing over a bridge across one end of Nyhavn

… and walking back past Det Kongelige Teater and one side of Kongens Nytoty.

On our return to Langelinie and before going back aboard Aurora, Sue went for a walk around the small shops that line the quayside and I walked further up the dock to take some photographs of a Dutch frigate – the Tromp – that was moored there.

Once back aboard Aurora, Sue and I went back to our cabin to get rid of our coats, hats, and bags. Once that was done we went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a hot snack. This was followed by a short spell in the open air on Deck 12 Forward, after which we returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for dinner.

As Aurora was staying in Copenhagen overnight, quite a few passengers had chosen to return to the centre of the city to visit places such as the Tivoli Gardens. As a result, Anderson’s Bar was emptier than usual when we went there for a pre-dinner drink. It was a similar situation in the Alexandria Restaurant, where many table were empty or only half full. Our table was one of these, and we shared it with only one other couple.

During dinner a very light dusting of snow fell, but by the time we went out on deck for some fresh air, it was already melting, and it had almost completely gone by the time we went to bed.

Monday 11th December 2017: Copenhagen
There was no more snow overnight, and although it was cold, Sue and I planned to walk into the centre of Copenhagen after breakfast. However, by the time we had eaten breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, it looked as if it was about to rain, and we decided to pay a visit to the Future Cruises desk (Deck 5 Midships) … where we booked a cruise for 2018!

We finally made our way ashore at 10.30am, and took the shuttle bus into the centre of Copenhagen. From there we made our way through the Magasin du Nord department store and into the Strøget. We walked toward the Pandora store – which is about half way up the Strøget – paying a visit to the Illum department store along the way.

Having spent some time in the Pandora store undertaking some retail therapy, we began to make our way back towards Kongens Nytoty. Sue and I took a minor diversion down one of the side streets, where we found a shop selling board games. I was able to buy a few items including a camouflage-coloured leather dice cup, four dice with Roman numerals, and two dice bags.

When we got back to the Magasin du Nord department store Sue and I decided to have lunch in the fifth-floor brasserie. This did not cost as much as we had expected, and we left feeling that it was the perfect way to end our time in Copenhagen.

It took us less than three minutes to cross the road to the shuttle bus pick-up point, and after a short wait it dropped us back at Langelinie. Sue and I then had a very quick browse through the shop that line the quay, and we were back aboard Aurora by 2.15pm.

Once we were back on board, we went straight back to our cabin to get rid of our coats, hats, and bags. We then spent the rest of the afternoon getting warm, reading, and resting. Just after 5.00pm Aurora cast off and began her passage out of Copenhagen’s harbour, which we watched from our cabin windows.

At just after 6.00pm Sue and I went to the Glass House Bar/Restaurant (Deck 8 Aft). We had booked what they term a ‘Tasting Dinner’ for a change from eating in the main restaurant. The fine dining menu had four courses, and each course was accompanied by a wine that had been specially chosen by wine expert Ollie Smith. We were seated with two friends who were travelling together, and spent a very enjoyable few hours chatting and eating.

We had finished eating by 10.00pm, and after a very short visit to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air, we returned to our cabin to rest before going to sleep.

Tuesday 12th December 2017: Oslo
Overnight Aurora made a fast run towards our next port-of-call, Oslo. It was still dark when we woke up at 7.30am, but the onscreen map showed that Aurora was well on her way up Oslofjord.

At 8.20am Captain Turnbull announced that due to high winds overnight, Aurora was running slightly late, and would not be alongside until approximately 9.15am, and not 9.00am as planned. This did not concern Sue or I as we had booked a trip to the village of Drøbak that was not leaving until midday.

Aurora eventually docked alongside at the predicted time, and the berth was next door to the Akershuis Fortress.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant and a very short walk along the Promenade Deck, Sue and I returned to our cabin to read and keep warm until it was time to go ashore. From our balcony we were able to watch some traditionally-clad dancers perform several Norwegian folk dances, but their performance only lasted for about half an hour.

At 11.20am we decided to go ashore to have a quick look in the cruise terminal, but as we descended the gangway onto the docks we discovered that our tour bus had already arrived. We were not the first to board, and by 11.45am everybody was aboard, and we set off on a panoramic tour of Oslo before taking the road to Drøbak.

The coach reached the centre of Drøbak just after 1.00pm, …

… and after getting off we went to visit the famous Christmas House.

After buying a couple of items there, Sue and I walked past the local church …

… and down to the edge of Oslofjord. From there we had an excellent view across the fjord towards the Oscarsborg Fortress.

Despite being armed with obsolete weaponry, the fortress engaged and sank the German heavy cruiser Blücher during the 1940 invasion. The ship had been carrying troops who were tasked with capturing Oslo, and particularly the Royal Family, the senior politicians, and the national gold reserves. The sinking threw the German plans out of kilter, and allowed for the Royal Family, the politicians, and the gold reserves to escape capture.

Sue and I then walked back into the centre of the village …

… and found a local bakery that was also a café. As it was already almost 2.00pm and we were feeling thirsty and a little hungry, we sat in the café and drank hot chocolate with cream and ate cinnamon and current rolls.

By 2.30pm we had joined the queue of people waiting to re-board the coach, and less than fifty minutes later we were disembarking back in Oslo. As the ship was not leaving for another couple of hours, we did spend a short time in the cruise terminal before going back aboard Aurora. Once back in our cabin we stored away our cold weather gear before going up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a hot drink and a snack.

Suitably refreshed, we then returned to our cabin, where we stayed until it was time for our pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar. The bar was very crowded, but we were very lucky and were able to sit with one of the couples with whom we share a table in the restaurant.

We went into the Alexandria restaurant with them, and soon afterwards we were joined by the second couple, who we had not seen for a couple of days. The conversation during dinner was mainly a discussion about what we had all seen and done during our time in Copenhagen and Oslo, and the time slipped by very quickly.

After dinner Sue and I ventured out onto the Promenade Deck for a short while, and we were both surprised to find that it was not as cold and windy as we had expected. We then returned to our cabin to read for a while before getting ready for bed.

Wednesday 13th December 2017: At sea
During the night Aurora left the relatively calm waters of the Baltic and entered the North Sea. Almost immediately the weather and sea state began to change, and by the time Sue and I woke up at 7.30am …

… the ship was battling her way southwards through Force 8 winds that were coming from the south-west. Her speed was just over 13 knots and she was pitching and rolling enough to make movement around the ship awkward.

After eating breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, Sue and I paid a short visit to the Future Cruise desk to check on the booking we had made earlier in the cruise. We then had a walk around the ship’s shops, where we bought several small items.

As our cabin steward had not finished cleaning our cabin by the time we returned to it at 10.30am, Sue and I went to Anderson’s Bar to sit and read until it was time to go to the Curzon Theatre to listen to Gillian Walnes Perry’s talk about Royal Families of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium. This ended at 12.15pm, at which point we decided to go to the Crow’s Nest Bar to read and for a drink.

At 1.00pm, just as we were getting ready to leave the bar, Captain Turnbull made a long announcement about the planned visit to Amsterdam. The weather forecast predicted that winds of 40 knots and more would prevent Aurora from passing safely through the locks on the North Sea Canal, thus making it impossible for her to sail into Amsterdam. Possible alternative ports-of-call – including Rotterdam – did not have berths available, with the result that Aurora would have to spend most of the day in the Thames Estuary riding out the worst of the weather. It was then planned that the ship would sail to Zeebrugge and moor alongside at approximately 5.00pm, and that tours to Bruges and Ghent would be available that evening as well as a shuttle bus service into nearby Blankenberge.

Sue and I had half expected that such an announcement would be made as several recent cruises had not been able to make planned visits to Amsterdam, and this decision was therefore not that surprising.

We returned to our cabin once the Captain had completed his announcement, and stayed there reading until it was time to go for lunch at 3.00pm. We ate a leisurely light lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant, followed by a short spell on the port forward side of the Promenade Deck. The latter proved to be less windy that any other open deck area on the ship, and we stayed there over twenty minutes having a chat with several other passengers.

On our return to our cabin, Sue and I spent a couple of hours reading and sorting out some of the clothes that we were going to have to pack on the last day of the cruise. Captain Turnbull made a further announcement at 5.45pm, but this was basically a repeat of what he had said earlier in the day.

At 7.30pm Sue and I went down to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air and then into Anderson’s Bar for a pre-dinner drink. An hour later we went down to the Alexandria Restaurant for the last formal dinner of the cruise, and it gave us a chance to talk to our table companions about the change in the cruise itinerary. We all agreed that depending upon what time we docked in Zeebrugge, we might all go ashore to eat rather than go to the restaurant. One couple hoped to make it to Ghent, and the others thought they might try to go to Bruges. Sue and I had already decided that we would probably only go as far as Blankenberge where we knew there were several small restaurants and bars – some of them on the seafront – where we could eat.

When we returned to our cabin to get ready for bed, Aurora was making steady progress southwards, and was off the north-west coast of the Netherlands.

Thursday 14th December 2017: At sea … and Zeebrugge
The weather became worse as the night progressed, and by 8.00am there was a Force 10 gale blowing and Aurora was pitching and rolling quite noticeably. This confirmed the wisdom of the captain’s decision not to try to take the ship through the North Sea Canal locks as it would have been impossible to do so without the very real danger of the ship being damaged.

By 8.30am the onscreen map seemed to show Aurora was still on her way southwards, and was some miles off the coast of Suffolk.

Sue and I ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, but when we tried to go out onto the Promenade Deck afterwards, we discovered that it had been shut due to the heavy winds and spray. In the end we had to go up to the open deck area on Deck 12 for some fresh air, but it was so cold and windy that we only stayed there a matter of minutes.

We then returned to our cabin, where we sat reading until it was time to go to listen to a talk in the Curzon Theatre at 11.00am. At 10.20am Captain Turnbull announced the plans for the day, during which he explained that Aurora would maintain her current course for some hours to avoid the worst of the weather, and would turn towards Zeebrugge not long after midday. He hoped to pick up the local pilot at around 2.30pm, and to be inside Zeebrugge harbour in time to moor alongside by 5.00pm.

The talk was given by Gillian Walnes Perry, and was a history of the British afternoon tea. It turned out to be far more interesting than we had expected, and after it had ended Sue and I went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant … for a cup of tea!

By the time we returned to our cabin, the weather had markedly improved, and Aurora had already turned towards Zeebrugge.

Sue and I ate lunch in the Riviera Grill … the first time it has been warm enough to do so! Whilst we were there, the local pilot came aboard, and Aurora was able to begin her entry into Zeebrugge. This took some time, but by 3.40pm she was approaching the harbour entrance …

… and by 3.45pm she was inside the outer harbour.

Aurora came alongside her berth just after 4.00pm, and by 4.50pm Sue and I were making our way ashore. We took the shuttle bus to Blankenberge, and walked from the drop-off point in Kennedy Square to the end of the main shopping street, Kerkstraat.

The street was decorated with some wonderful illuminations …

… and although many of the shops were closing, we were able to visit two of our favourite chocolate and nougat stores, Moeder Babelutte and Nougatine … and left each with two carrier bags full of goodies. We then walked back to the shuttle bus pick-up point via some of the smaller back streets, and in one square we found a beautifully illuminated Christmas tree.

We were back aboard Aurora in time to get ready for a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar and to have dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant with one of the other couples we share the table with.

After a very quick visit to the Promenade Deck, we went back to our cabin to read for a while before going to sleep.

Friday 15th December 2017: Zeebrugge
Sue and I both woke up early and spent the time before breakfast sorting out some of the things we would have to pack later in the day.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we went out onto the Promenade Deck, for where we could see the Belgian Navy’s main base. Several ships were moored alongside including a Dutch minesweeper (HNLMS Urk), …

… a Dutch survey vessel (HNLMS Luymes), …

… and a Belgian frigate (BNS Louise-Marie).

After doing some of our packing, Sue and I went ashore at 10.40am and took the shuttle bus to Blankenberge. Overnight Aurora had been joined in Zeebrugge by Cunard’s Queen Victoria.

Once we got off the shuttle bus, Sue and I walked towards the square (Koning Leopold III Plein) outside the train station.

Our walk then took us up Kerkstraat

… towards the seafront. Along the way we did some souvenir shopping before turning down Langestraat towards Manitobaplein, where we knew there was a very nice local café. Unfortunately, it was closed, and as the other cafés in the square we full, Sue and I decided to return to Kerkstraat by walking along Molenstraat.

Directly ahead of us was a large church (Sint Rochuskerk) …

… but as it was beginning to rain very lightly, Sue and I decided not to visit it.

Walking back towards Koning Leopold III Plein we could not find anywhere to stop to have a hot drink (the cafés and bars were either closed or full), and somewhat reluctantly we decided to return to the Aurora by the next shuttle bus. We reached the ship and were back aboard just after 12.45pm.

As a lot of passengers were ashore on trips, Sue and I decided to have some lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant whilst it was relatively quiet aboard. Once that was over we returned to our cabin to complete packing all but our hand luggage and one last bag, which was not going to be left outside for collection until after dinner.

At 4.30pm we placed our packed bags outside the cabin door, and soon afterwards the last of the shuttle buses and tour coaches returned to the ship. Aurora was unable to depart exactly at 5.00pm as planned, as two passengers were delayed and only arrived by taxis as the gangway was about to be lifted away. The delay was not too great, and by 5.30pm Aurora had unmoored and was sailing away from her berth towards the open sea.

As we still had some onboard credit unspent, Sue and I paid a visit to the ship’s shops, just after the ship set sail, and we found it quite easy to spend almost all of the remaining balance. On our return to our cabin we had a short rest before getting ready for our final dinner of the cruise.

After our usual pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar, we made our way to the Alexandria Restaurant. We had a very pleasant time chatting to our table companions, and the time seemed to pass very quickly. At the end of the meal we said our goodbyes and wished them a safe journey home. We also thanked our two waiters – Ashley and Rodney – as well as the wine steward, Aileen.

Sue and I paid one last visit to the Promenade Deck before returning to our cabin to pack our last bag for offloading. Once that was done we got ready for bed and read for a while until it was time to go to sleep. Before we did, we made a final check on Aurora’s position before going to sleep, and she was off the south coast of Kent.

Saturday 16th December 2017: Southampton
Sue and I awoke at 6.15am, just as Aurora was making her final run into the Port of Southampton.

She was due to be alongside her berth at 7.00am at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal, and at 6.40am she passed the Arcadia, which was already moored at the Ocean Cruise Terminal. Aurora was slightly late tying up alongside, and this slowed down the disembarkation process. Sue and I ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant and then made our way to the Curzon Theatre, where we waited until it was time for us to get off. This should have been 8.30am, but did not take place until 8.50am.

We reached the luggage reclaim hall just after 9.00am, and by 9.30am we had collected all our bags, collected our car from the valet parking service, loaded our luggage into the car, and were on our way out of the docks. Our journey home was uneventful, and other than a short stop at Winchester Services for a coffee and to buy some food, we made good time and reached home just after midday.


Please excuse the quality of the pictures of the onscreen map displays shown above. The signal was poor throughout the cruise (I understand that the displays are transmitted to Aurora via satellite from Norway using data automatically supplied by the ship!), and both the colour balance and definition were very variable.
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Back home

Sue and I have just arrived home from a pre-Christmas cruise that took us to Hamburg, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Zeebrugge. (We were also supposed to go to Amsterdam, but high winds prevented the ship from even trying to get through the locks on the North Sea Canal.)

I will be writing a blog entry about our trip in the very near future, and I have visited a number of places (especially the Royal Arsenal Museum in Copenhagen) that will generate quite a few blog entries that will be published over the coming week or so … but for now we have a considerable amount of unpacking and sorting out to do.


I have been to … Portugal, Spain, and Gibraltar

Sunday 8th October 2017: Southampton
For once the alarm clock woke me before our cat did, and by 7.20am I had made Sue a cup of tea, had a shave, and was having a shower. I was dressed by a little after 7.30am, and just over an hour later we had eaten breakfast and loaded our luggage into the car.

Our journey along the A2 towards the interchange with the M25 was uneventful, and the traffic remained quite light all the way round to the junction with the M3. The roadworks to turn the M3 into a ‘smart’ motorway – and that have been going on for more years than I care to remember – had almost all gone, and by 10.30am we had parked in Winchester Services and were walking into the branch of Costa Coffee for a drink.

We were on the road again by just after 11.00am, and less than thirty minutes later we were joining the queue of cars waiting to unload at the Ocean Terminal in the middle of Southampton. The process of handing our luggage over to a porter and booking the car in with the valet parking service was completed by 11.45am, and by midday we had been checked in, given our cruise cards, and were walking towards the seating area near the security check-in area.

We had hardly sat down before it was time to go aboard P&O’s MV Azura. The security checks were thorough but relatively quick, and we were the first passengers to cross the air-bridge to the ship. Our cruise cards were scanned by the ship’s security staff, and we were directed to the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships), where we could sit, drink, and snack whilst our accommodation was prepared.

Whilst we waited, Sue and I chatted with the couple on the next table in the restaurant, and just after 1.20pm it was announced that all the cabins were ready for occupation. We made our way up to Deck 8 Aft, and by 1.30pm we were inside our suite.

By 2.30pm our luggage had not been delivered to our suite, and feeling a little bored we went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a drink. From there we could see the Ocean Terminal, …

… two of the other cruise terminals (which were occupied by the Celebrity Eclipse and the Queen Elizabeth),

… and the SS Shieldhall.

By the time we returned to our suite our luggage had arrived, and we had unpacked well before it was time to go to the pre-sailing safety briefing. In fact we had enough time to go down to the Promenade Deck (Deck 7) to watch the Celebrity Eclipse sail past.

We went along the deck to the Manhattan Show Lounge (Deck 7 Aft) at 4.30pm for the safety briefing …

… after which we went back to the Terrace Bar for a final drink before the ship set sail.

By 5.15pm the Azura had begun to move forward away from the Ocean Terminal, and this gave us the opportunity to the SS Shieldwall‘s port side.

It soon started to get cold out on the open deck, and once we had finished our drinks we returned to our suite. As the ship sailed towards the Solent and the sun began to sink towards the horizon, we could see Southampton slowly disappearing behind us.

We remained in our suite until just before 8.00pm, at which point we went up to the the Planet Bar (Deck 18 Aft) for a pre-dinner drink.

At 8.45pm we went down to the Oriental Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner, where we met Jacob – a Head Waiter we have known for over ten years – and Dolreich – a Wine Waiter – who first served us over five years ago! We joined a table for ten, but only two other people – a mother and daughter – joined us for the first dinner of the cruise.

After dinner Sue and I went up to Terrace Bar …

… before going down the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. We then returned to our suite to sleep.

Monday 9th October 2017: At Sea
After a very good night’s sleep, the alarm woke us at 8.00am. Azura was already well on her way down the English Channel, and on a course that would take her around Ushant by some point later in the morning.

After eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 18 Aft), we went for a stroll around the ship. We visited the shops which are located in the centre of the ship around the atrium and the Reception Desk before spending a short time watching a cookery demonstration by one of the ship’s team of chefs.

This took place in the Malabar Bar (Deck 7 Midships), and it was a short walk from there to the Manhattan Show Lounge where Diane Janes gave a talk entitled ‘Classic Cases and Big Moments in the History of Murder’.

This lasted from 11.00am until 11.45am, and proved to be a very interesting talk about the development of forensic science and its uses in the detection of murders.

We then made our way up to Deck 15, where we walked through the various open deck areas around the swimming pools before going to the Terrace Bar for a much-needed drink. Unfortunately the ship’s funnel was emitting a large amount of soot in its diesel engine exhaust gases, and everything was getting covered in a fine layer of black particles. We stayed undercover near the bar, where the sooty smuts were less noticeable, but once we had finished our drinks we decided to return to our suite to read and rest.

At a little after 2.15pm Sue and I decided to go up to Deck 15 for lunch, which we ate in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships). After we had finished eating lunch we went outside to the Terrace Bar, but as the weather had turned cold, we only stayed there for a short time.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in our suite reading and resting. Just before 8.00pm we went to the Atrium to attend the ‘Welcome Aboard’ cocktail party, after which we went to the Oriental Restaurant for the first formal dinner of the cruise.

Sue and I ate alone … two of us on a table set for ten! The mother and daughter who had joined us on the previous evening had decided to try the Freedom Dining option, and the other six people allocated to our table had still not turned up for dinner. After a discussion with Jacob – the Head Waiter – we decided not to move tables (we were offered the opportunity to move to a small table in another part of the restaurant where we would be served by a different set of waiters), but to stay where we were.

The meal was exceptionally good, and the main course – Beef Wellington – was the best we had ever eaten. The meat was so tender that I could have cut it with a spoon or fork, and the steak knives we had been given were totally superfluous.

After dinner we debated whether or not to go up to the Terrace Bar for a final drink or just to go for a walk along the Promenade Deck. As the latter was closer and we suspected that the Terrace Bar might be shut, we chose the Promenade Deck. In fact the weather was so mild that it was quite crowded, especially at the bow end of the ship, which was near to the theatre.

Sue and I were back in our suite by 11.00pm, and after sitting for a while reading and resting, we went to bed and were asleep by midnight.

Tuesday 10th October 2017: At Sea
After a very calm night, we awoke just before 8.00am. Over night the Azura had continued to skirt the Atlantic edge of the Bay of Biscay, and was well on her way towards the northern-westerly tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Cape Finisterre.

Considering the time of year, the sea conditions in the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay were very calm.

Sue and I ate breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, and then went to the Atrium to deliver our replies to an invitation to attend the Peninsular Club lunch on 12th October. Whilst we were there various of the ship’s Departments were setting up displays as part of the ‘Azura Uncovered’ event. We waited until this started at 10.30am, and then spent a pleasant twenty minutes or so time looking at the various stands.

We decided not to take part in the timed bed-making competition, but thoroughly enjoyed watching one of the staff of the Epicurean Restaurant cook a Crêpe Suzette. We also spent a few minutes looking at the range of food used by the kitchen staff when they cook the thousands of meals that are produced each day, and talked to one of the ‘Men in Black’ (the technical support staff) who set up and operate the ship’s stage and show sound and lighting systems.

At 10.45am we made our way to the Playhouse Theatre (Decks 6, 7, and 8 Forward) to make sure that we had seats for Diane Janes’ second talk of the cruise, which was entitled ‘Saint or Sinner: the Famous Career of Sir Bernard Spilsbury’. The talk started at 11.00am …

… and illustrated how Sir Bernard Spilsbury had risen to eminence in the field of forensic pathology to become the doyen of prosecution experts. It also point out that he was by no means infallible, and may well have been responsible for several miscarriages of justice due to his fame influencing juries to accept as absolutely true evidence that was – in fact – open to other interpretations.

The talk ended at 11.45am, and after a short visit to our suite to pick up our Kindles, Sue and I went up to the Planet Bar to get a drink and to read. We stayed there until 1.40pm, when it was time to go for lunch in the Verona Self-Service Restaurant. After lunch we spent a short time out on deck near the Terrace Bar, but by 3.00pm we were back in our suite reading and resting. During the afternoon I finished reading Quintin Barry’s history of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 entitled WAR IN THE EAST and began reading Boris Akunin’s latest Erast Fandorin book, ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE.

Just after 4.15am we returned to the Verona Self-Service Restaurant for tea. Once that was over, Sue and I sat outside near the Terrace Bar until it was nearly 5.00pm, when we returned to our suite. We remained there until 7.30pm, when we went up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink.

The Terrace Bar was almost empty, but we were entertained for some ten minutes by another passenger who was playing the banjo and singing. It transpired that he was practising for the passenger talent show that was going to be held later in the cruise … and judging by his performance, he should do quite well!

We ate dinner in the Peninsular Restaurant, and we were joined by the mother and daughter who had sat with us on the first night of the cruise. It appeared that they had tried the Freedom Dining option, and had not enjoyed it as they had had to wait for ninety minutes for a table.

After dinner Sue and I went for a stroll along the Promenade Deck before returning to our suite to get our camera and bags ready to take ashore when Azura docked in Oporto. Once that had been done, we read for a while before going to sleep.

Wednesday 11th October 2017: Oporto, Portugal
When we awoke at 7.30am, Azura was not moving, and the on-screen maps showed that she was stationary some distance offshore.

A quick glance out of the suite window showed the reason why … fog!

Visibility was less than one hundred metres, and it was obvious that until this lifted, the ship would be unable to dock. The Captain of Azura – Captain Camby – confirmed this at 8.00am when he made an announcement to the effect that it was estimated that our arrival alongside the dock was going to be delayed by approximately an hour.

The fog eventually cleared enough for the ship to enter the port, and Azura finally sailed into the dock area just after 9.00am.

By 9.20am she was alongside the cruise terminal, and the Captain explained that as we had been late arriving in Oporto, Azura would leave later to ensure that all the pre-booked tours would be able to take place as planned. It also meant that passengers who were not on a tour would be able to stay ashore until 6.00pm and not have to be back aboard by 4.30pm.

The fog very slowly began to clear, and at 10.10am Sue and I decided that we would aim to go ashore at approximately 11.00am … assuming that the fog had cleared by then! Whilst we waited, a large Ro-Ro ferry – the Bore Sea – docked behind Azura.

Just before 11.00am Sue and I went down to Deck 6 Midships, where the gangway to the cruise terminal was situated. Once ashore we joined the long queue of passengers waiting to take the shuttle-bus into the centre of Oporto. The journey into Oporto on the shuttle-bus seemed interminable due to heavy traffic and roadworks, and we did not reach the drop-off point at the Praça da Cordoaria on Campo Máritires da Pátria until after 11.45am.

The stop was almost outside the Palace of Justice …

… which was an ideal location to find if we became lost.

After sitting in the nearby park for a few minutes, we set off along the Rua de San Felipe de Nery towards the Igreja e Torre dos Clérigos, just as the clock was chiming midday.

We turned left at the statue of Antonio Ferreira Gomes, …

… a former Bishop of Porto and stopped for a coffee and a custard tart in the Bela Torre on the Rua das Carmelitas.

(The custard tart …

… is a local delicacy and is well worth trying if you visit Portugal!)

Suitably refreshed Sue and I walked the short distance to the Praça de Gomes Teixeira, the location of the Igreja dos Carmelitas

… which is decorated with a magnificent tiled wall, …

… the magnificent Fonte Ledes, …

… and a wonderful example of Art Deco architecture in the form of a large shop.

Sue and I then spent some time wandering around the streets in the area surrounding the Igreja e Torre dos Clérigos, eventually ending up near the Centro Portugués de Fotografia, which was close to the shuttle-bus pick-up point.

We only had to wait about ten minutes before we were able to board the shuttle-bus back to the ship, and by 2.15pm we had passed through the security checks and were sitting in the Terrace Bar having a drink.

By this time the fog had cleared, and we were able to see the nearby beach.

At 3.00pm Sue and I went to the Venezia Self-Service restaurant for a snack lunch … and by the time we had finished and returned to our suite at 3,45pm, the fog had returned! During the rest of the afternoon this happened several times, and we could clearly see this phenomena whilst we sat reading and resting in our suite.

When the Azura set sail, it was possible to see two other cruise ships moored on the other side of the port. One was the Boudicca

… and the other was the Amadea.

Azura left Oporto just after 6.45pm, and turned southwards towards her next port-of-call, Cadiz. As soon as she had left the harbour entrance, Sue and I began to get ready for our first dinner in the Epicurean Restaurant. We had a drink in the Terrace Bar first, and at 8.30pm we presented ourselves at the door of the restaurant.

As usual, the food, the service, and the ambience were all exceptional, and Sue and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time … although I think that both of use would admit that we did overindulge somewhat!

We left the restaurant just after 10.30pm, and went back to the Terrace Bar for some fresh air, only to find that whilst we had been eating, it had been raining. The rain had stopped by the time we got there, and we were able to find some seats in the undercover area near the bar. We sat there for just over fifteen minutes, and then returned to our suite, where we read until it was time to go to bed.

Thursday 12th October 2017: At sea
Overnight the ship’s clocks we advanced by an hour as our next stop was in Spain, which is on a different time zone from the UK and Portugal.

When Sue and I awoke the Azura was off the coast of Portugal and relatively close to Lisbon.

After breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I spent the rest of the morning either sitting outside on the Promenade Deck or in our suite reading. At 11.30am we began getting ready to the Peninsular Club Lunch which was held form midday onwards in the Meridian Restaurant.

This special lunch is P&O’s ‘thank you’ to loyal customers, and each table was hosted by an officer. In our case our host was one of Carnival Cruises’ Training Officers. The food and drink is always of the highest order and on this occasion I ate:

  • Croquette of Confit Duck Leg, with a Picked Egg and Beetroot Purée
  • Beef Fillet, with Oxtail Potato Hash, Sautéed Bok Choy, Baby Carrots, and Pumpkin Purée
  • Rhubarb Sorbet
  • Warm Sticky Toffee Cake with Tonka Bean Mousse and Orange Curd

Sue ate:

  • Cornish Crab, Morecambe Bay Shrimp, and Caper Blini, with Tarragon Mayonnaise
  • Lemon Sole and Sea Trout Lattice filled with Buttered Leeks, with Creamed Potatoes, Asparagus, and a Chive Butter Sauce
  • Rhubarb Sorbet
  • Saffron Panna Cotta, with Pistachio Praline and Vanilla Poached Pear

After such a rich lunch, neither of us was in the mood for doing much, so after a short spell sitting on the Promenade Deck, we returned to our suite to read and rest.

At various time during the afternoon we ventured out onto our suite balcony so that we could enjoy the fresh air. The air temperature was certainly warm enough to ensure that sitting there was more than comfortable, and the sound of the sea was incredibly restful.

By 7.30pm Sue and I were well on our way to being ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise, and by 8.00pm we were having a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar.

The dinner in the Oriental Restaurant was excellent, and we spent a long time chatting with our table companions about a wide range of topics. We all left the restaurant at just before 10.30pm, and Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. We stayed there for just over fifteen minutes before going back to our suite to get our cameras and bags ready for the next day’s stop in Cadiz. Once that was done, we read for a while before going to sleep.

Friday 13th October 2017: Cadiz, Spain
Sue and I were awoken by the sound and vibration of the ship’s thrusters being used as she turned inside the harbour of Cadiz.

Just across the harbour for where the Azura had moored were a larger salvage tug, …

… a sailing ship, …

… and a research ship, the Ramon Margalef.

After eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I were ready to go ashore, and by 10.00am we were walking towards the steps that lead up to the walkway that follows the seawall of northern Cadiz.

We walked along this towards the Baluarte de la Candelaria

… although we did take a short detour through the tree-lined area that runs in parallel with the walkway.

This area contains a number of notable monuments …

… and ancient trees.

It is sometimes easy to forget the important links between Cadiz and South America, and three monuments served to remind us of this. These included busts of Admiral (Almirante) Miguel Grau Seminario, …

… General José Miguel Carrera, …

… and José Marti.

At this point the high temperature (it was just over 30°C) and humidity caused Sue and I to decided to turn inland and to look for somewhere to get a drink. We made our way through a number of narrow streets ,,,

… towards the Plaza Mentidero.

From there we walked more narrow streets that led towards the Plaza San Antonio

On one of the walls of the buildings was a plaque that commemorated Sir Arthur Wellesley’s stay in Cadiz during December 1812.

(Sir Arthur’s brother was the Ambassador to the Spanish Government that was based in Cadiz.)

The Plaza San Antonio is a very impressive square …

… and it takes its name from the equally impressive church that forms almost all of one side of the square.

In one corner of the square was a small café – the Cafe Bar Andaluz – where we were able to sit and have a drink.

Our route then took us through the maze of narrow streets that led us from the Centro district towards the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).

I was surprised to find two games shops along our route, and Sue and I spent some time in each … with the result that I bought an MDF kit of a dice tower, something that I was thinking about buying. (The games shops appeared to be geared up for selling Euro-games, collectible card games, and film/TV-related games (e.g. Star Wars, Game of Thrones) and both had tables and chairs at the back for players to use.)

There was a craft market in the square outside the Town Hall …

… and Sue and I spent about ten minutes looking around it. By this time we were both feeling rather tired and weary, and walked back towards the cruise terminal through the small park in the Paseo de Canalejas.

We had to cross the main road – the Avenida del Puerto – to get back to the cruise terminal, and by midday we were walking through the entrance to the port. After passing through the security checks (and paying a short visit to the Duty Free shop in the terminal) Sue and I were back aboard Azura and in our suite by 12.15pm.

After leaving our bags and cameras in our suite, we went up to the Terrace Bar for much needed cold drinks. We then walked along Deck 15 to the poolside grill, where we had a snack lunch.

After lunch we retired to our suite to cool down and to rest for a while. At 4.00pm we went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for a cup of tea, which was followed by a couple of hours on the open deck near to the Terrace Bar.

By the time we had returned to our suite, Azura was well on her way out of Cadiz …

… and the pilot cutter was already on her way back to the port.

As we sailed past the Spanish Navy’s base at Rota, it was just possible to see the upperworks of a number of warships and naval auxiliaries.

As usual, Sue and I went to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, after which we went down to the Oriental Restaurant for dinner. After a very good meal – and some excellent conversation with our table companions – we returned to the Terrace Bar for some fresh air before it was time to go back to our suite to go to sleep.

Saturday 14th October 2017: Malaga, Spain
It was at 7.20am that Sue and I were woken by the sound and vibration of the ship’s thrusters being used to manoeuvre her alongside the cruise terminal in Malaga.

By the time we were ready to go to breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, it was light enough to see the harbour.

Moored behind Azura was a very large motor yacht, the Ulysses.

Sue and I had finished breakfast by just after 9.00am, and by 9.45am we were going crossing the air-bridge to the cruise terminal. We did not have to wait very long before we could board a shuttle-bus to the entrance to the port in the Plaza de la Marina, and by 10.00am we were inside the local tourist information office, where we were given a map of the centre of the city.

After crossing the very busy main road (the Alameda Principal), we walked up Molina Laro towards the unfinished cathedral.

Having walked around the cathedral, we visited a nearby square, the Plaza de Obispo.

One side of the square is the ornate former palace used by the bishop, …

… which is now an arts centre.

In the centre of the square is a fountain (which gives the square its name) …

… and a cafe – the Taverna el Obispo – where we stopped for a cup of café con leche.

Sue and I then explored the numerous small streets that surround the cathedral, eventually ending up at the entrance to the La Alcazaba.

We had hope to go around this interesting archaeological site, but the queues to get in were already quite long, and neither of us wanted to stand in the sun for too long. We did managed to see the amphitheatre which was constructed next to the walls of La Alcazaba.

This has been extensively excavated since our last visit, and we were both impressed by what we saw.

We spent the next hour wandering the streets to the north of the city centre, and visited the Plaza de la Merced, walked along the Alamos, and up the road leading to Ollerias, where we understood the Mercado de Salamanca was situated.

We could not find the latter, and decided to return to the centre of the city. Along the way we stopped for a quick drink (and a visit to the servicios!) in a branch of ‘Dunkin’ Coffee’.

(It is worth noting that the drinks and the servicios were both excellent!)

We finally made our way back to the tourist information office, where a local wine and cheese festival was in full swing.

After looking around – and tasting some of what was on offer – we crossed the main road back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point in the Plaza de la Marina. The transfer back to the ship was slightly delayed because too many people had boarded it and then had to get off (the person supervising the loading ‘forgot’ to count how many passengers had been directed to get on the bus!), but despite this we were back in our suite by 2.30pm.

Sue and I had a quick wash to refresh ourselves, and then we went up to the Terrace Bar for a cooling drink, following which we walked along the deck to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant to get a something light to eat.

By 4.00pm we had returned to our suite to rest before we had to get ready for our second dinner in the Epicurean Restaurant. When we went to the Terrace Bar for our pre-dinner drink at 7.45pm, it was still warm enough for us to sit outside without worrying about being cold.

After another exceptional meal (we both ate the Duo of Smoked Salmon as a starter, the Chateaubriand with Madeira jus for our main course, and Crêpe Suzette for dessert!) we returned to the Terrace Bar to rest for a while in the open air before going back to our suite to sleep.

Sunday 15th October 2017: Cartagena, Spain
The sound and vibration from the ship’s thrusters woke us just after 7.20am as Azura began to manoeuvre her way through the narrow approach to Cartagena harbour.

As we sailed in, we appeared to be escorted by a Guardia Civil patrol boat until we were almost alongside.

Cartagena is one of Spain’s main naval bases, and there were several warships in the harbour area. These included the Chilreu-class patrol boat Tarifa (P64), …

… the Ro-Ro transport ship El Camino Español (A05), …

… the Serviola-class patrol boat Atalaya (P74), …

… and four Segura-class minehunters, including the Tambre (M33) and …

… the Duero (M35).

Already moored alongside was the small cruise liner, Sea Dream I

… and a large rescue tug.

Sue and I were ready in plenty of time to eat breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, and by 9.15am we were sitting on the Promenade Deck watching passengers from Azura streaming ashore.

We waited until the initial rush was over, and by 10.30am we were strolling along the jetty that connects the part of the harbour where the cruise ships dock to the main esplanade.

Although we have visited the Naval Museum before, Sue and I decided to pay it another visit …

… and we spent just over an hour wandering around looking at the exhibits and taking loads of photographs. We even managed to visit the preserved prototype submarine Isaac Peral, which is housed in a separate building.

By the time our visit to the museum was over, we were both feeling very thirsty, and so we made our way into the centre of the city and had a drink in the ‘ Café Yellow Submarine’.

We then walked though the nearby market …

… until we reached the seafront. Sue and I then made our way to the restaurant that is located in the centre of the esplanade, the ‘Mare Nostrum’.

We have eaten in this restaurant before, and as they had space on the open air terrace, we decided to have lunch there.

After our excellent lunch we strolled back to Azura, and by 2.20pm Sue and I were in our suite resting. We spent until 5.30pm in our suite, at which point we went out onto our balcony as Azura sailed out of Cartagena.

During the day the Sea Dream I had sailed … and been replaced by the Amadea.

She was still alongside as Azura sailed out of Cartagena on her way to Gibraltar.

Almost as soon as Azura reached the open sea, Captain Camby increased the ship’s speed to approximately 20 knots to ensure that she reached Gibraltar by 7.00am on the following morning. Sue and I spent some time before getting ready for dinner sitting on the suite’s balcony watching the land disappear towards the horizon, and when we went up to the Terrace Bar for our pre-dinner drink, all we could see was the occasional lighthouse flashing in the dark.

We were joined by two new dinner companions, and it was very interesting to meet some new people. The couple were from Salford near Manchester, and were fairly experienced cruisers, although this was their first time aboard a P&O ship.

After dinner Sue and I returned to the Terrace Bar to sit and enjoy the warm evening air before returning to our suite to read for a while before going to sleep. I finished reading Boris Akunin’s ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE, the last part of which is actually the script of a play that is featured in the story.

Monday 16th October 2017: Gibraltar
The sound and vibration caused by Azura‘s thrusters as she docked inside Gibraltar’s harbour woke us at 7.00am,

It was still very dark, although the sun was just beginning to come up and it was possible to make out the silhouette of The Rock …

… although the rest of the harbour was still shrouded in darkness.

As Azura was only going to be in Gibraltar until the early afternoon, Sue and I were ready to go ashore slightly earlier than we normally are. We ate breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, got our bags and cameras from our suite, and were walking towards the centre of the town by 9.50am.

We arrived at the entrance to Casemates Square by 10.15am …

… and it was already becoming crowded.

Sue and I then walked up Main Street …

… and reached ‘The Angry Friar’ public house …

… well in time to see the Changing of the Guard outside the Governor’s Residence at 11.00am.

Sue and I then made our way slowly back down Main Street until we reached Casemates Square again. As it was almost midday we decided to have an early lunch in ‘The Tunnel’ restaurant.

We had finished eating by just before 1.00pm, and after seeing the length of the queue for the taxis back to the ship, we walked back. Along the way we passed ‘Khan’s’, which has the reputation of being the best take-away Indian food shop in Gibraltar.

(We were told this by the Indian members of the crew … who all try to get a takeaway from ‘Khan’s’ when the ship docks in Gibraltar.)

Not long after Azura had docked, she had been joined alongside by the Celebrity Reflection, one of Royal Caribbean Cruises newer ships.

Sue and I were back aboard Azura by 1.45pm, and after a quick visit to our suite to drop off our bags and cameras, we went up to the Terrace Bar to have a drink whilst the ship prepared to leave port.

Despite a short delay due to some passengers being late coming back aboard, the Azura had untied and begun to sail away from Gibraltar by 3.45pm.

For a change Sue and I sat on our suite balcony whilst Azura sailed away from Gibraltar. We had hoped to see dolphins following the ship – something that they frequently do in that area – but we were disappointed. The weather was so good that I remained out there until it was time to begin getting ready for dinner. During my time on the balcony I began reading Quintin Barry’s ROAD TO KONIGGRATZ: HELMUTH VON MOLTKE AND THE AUSTRO-PRUSSIAN WAR 1866.

It was still warm enough for Sue and I to sit in the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, but the ship was beginning to experience much more movement as she sailed into the Atlantic.

The amount of movement had increased by the time we returned to the bar for an after-dinner breath of fresh air, and as we were getting ready for bed it became more and more apparent that we were in for a rough passage to Lisbon.

Tuesday 17th October 2017: Lisbon, Portugal
Sue and I were woken up several times during the night by the violent movement and the noise of the ship sailing through rough weather. It was not until Azura turned into the mouth of the River Tagus that the rough seas began to abate.

Azura moored alongside just before 8.00am, …

… and as the darkness went we had an excellent view of the bridge over the River Tagus.

As neither of us was feeling energetic after our bad night’s sleep, we took our time to get ready to go ashore. After a light breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant and a spell sitting on the Promenade Deck watching the world go by, we finally went ashore just after 10.00am.

Azura had docked only a relatively short distance from Black Horse Square (the Praça do Comércio) …

… in Baixa, the old ‘Lower Town’ of Lisbon.

We made our way up the Rua da Prata

… to Praça de Figueria

… which is dominated by an equestrian statue of Don Jao I.

It was a short walk from the there to Praça Dom Pedro IV

… in the centre of which is a column with a statue of the king atop it.

On the corner of Praça Dom Pedro IV and Rua Aurea is a branch of Sue’s favourite Portuguese fabric shops, Feria dos Tecidos.

After a short visit to the shop, Sue and I strolled down the Rua Aurea

… until we reached the Praça do Comércio, where we stopped for a rest and a café latte in the ‘Café Aura’.

After a short visit to a nearby shop to buy some small souvenirs, we returned to Azura. We were back in our suite by 1.00pm, and soon afterwards we made our way up to the Terrace Bar for a cold drink. This was followed by lunch in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant, after which we returned to our suite.

At one point during the afternoon I went out onto our balcony, and looking across the River Tagus I realised that there was a Portuguese Naval Base on the opposite bank. Although it was some distance away, I could clearly see a frigate and a sailing vessel moored alongside in the base.

The frigate was the Vasco da Gama (F330) (she is the name-ship of her class) …

… and the sailing vessel was the training ship Sagres (A520).

At 4.20pm Sue and I went up to the Observation Deck (Deck 15 Forward) to attend a special party as Azura sailed away from her moorings.

During the day another cruise ship – the Seaborn Odyssey – had moored ahead of Azura, but we had not seen her until we went out onto the Observation Deck.

Just after 5.00pm Captain Camby sounded the ship’s siren, and Azura began to slowly move away from her moorings. She then turned 180° to starboard so that she was facing downriver towards the sea … and the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th April Bridge).

Very soon after turning, Azura sailed past Black Horse Square/Praça do Comércio on her starboard side …

… and the 360 foot high monument to Christ the King to port.

Within a matter of minutes Azura was approaching the bridge at approximately 15 knots, …

… and in less than a minute she had sailed under it …

… and a few minutes later still it seemed to be fast disappearing behind Azura.

The next interesting place we passed was the Monument to the Discoveries at Belém, where it just so happened that a replica caravel of the right historical period was sailing upriver as we did so.

Almost immediately the famous Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém, which has also been known as the Castle of St Vincent) came into view.

By this time is was getting very cold out on the open deck due to the high wind-speed over the deck, and Sue and I made our way back to the Terrace Bar, where the wind was far less fierce. From there we had our last view of the bridge …

… before we returned to our suite to get ready for the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party at 8.00pm. This took place in the Malabar Bar, and although it was quite crowded, we were able to find somewhere to sit.

The Deputy Captain – Captain Brown – acted at the Master of Ceremonies, and besides announcing the news that the MV Adonia was being sold and replaced by a newly-built cruise liner, he presented a bottle of champagne to the two people on the ship that had cruised most with P&O and drew a raffle prize (a photo album) that was given to another passenger.

After eating dinner with our four table companions, all of whom had quite different experiences of our stay in Lisbon, we spent some time in the open deck area near the Terrace Bar before going back to our suite to sleep.

Wednesday 18th October 2017: At sea
Although it had rained during the night, the seas were calmer than they had been on the previous night, and both Sue and I woke up feeling much more refreshed than we had the day before.

By 7.30am Azura was well on her way northward, and had already sailed past Oporto.

We had a leisurely breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, followed by a spell on the Promenade Deck and a short visit to the shops. By 10.30am we were in the Manhattan Show Lounge to listen to another of Diane Janes’ lectures. This one was entitled ‘Copy Cats’, and it examined the relationship between fictional depictions of crimes and actual crimes, and whether one had inspired the other.

Just after midday we were back in our suite, and Sue and I spent the next ninety minutes reading inside or on the balcony. We then made our way up to the Verona Self-Service Restaurant for lunch, after which we sat on the open decked area near the Terrace Bar. By 2.30pm we were back in our suite, just in time to see the on-screen map show Azura sailing out of the Cape Finisterre traffic management scheme and into the Bay of Biscay.

Sue and I spent the rest of the afternoon reading resting, and making preparations for packing our luggage. This was interspersed with spells out on the balcony enjoying the sunny weather and relatively warm temperature. In fact I remained on the balcony until just after 7.00pm, and only returned inside when the sun began to set and the temperature began to drop.

We were ready for the final formal dinner of the cruise by 7.50pm, and went up to the Terrace Bar for our usual pre-dinner drink. Only two of our table companions joined us in the Oriental Restaurant, and we were greeted at the entrance by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, who had come aboard in Lisbon. (He devised P&O’s formal dinner menus as well as running one of the restaurants on MV Aurora.)

During dinner the traditional ‘Parade of the Chefs’ took place. The entire galley brigade were clapped through the restaurant to the sound on Tina Turner singing ‘Simply the Best’ and then – along with all the waiters – they were toasted by all the diners.

After dinner we returned to the Terrace Bar, and although the bar was shut, we sat in the open air talking until it was time to return to our suite to go to bed.

Thursday 19th October 2017: At sea
Over night Azura had continued to sail across the Bay of Biscay, and by 7.30am she was fast approaching the traffic separation scheme at Ushant that marks the transit from the bay into the English Channel.

We discovered that it was raining quite heavily when we went to breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, as a result of which we were unable to go out onto the open deck anywhere after we had eaten. We did manage to find an undercover area on Deck 15 Midships where we could sit, but the wind was strong and temperature was low and we only stayed there for about ten minutes.

Sue and I then went to the Atrium, where the ship’s shops were holding a sale. The lowest deck in the atrium had been turned in to a large so-called bazaar, but it looked me like a rugby scrum for middle-aged people surrounded by tables full of handbags, perfume bottles, and cuddly toys! Needless to say Sue put up with trying to fight her way through the throng for about ten minutes whilst I stood on the deck above watching the melee below.

By 9.50am we were back in our suite, and were doing some pre-packing sorting out. At 10.50am we made our way to the Meridian Restaurant to partake of ‘brunch’ … which is included a tour of the restaurant’s galley followed by an opportunity to eat samples of the dishes prepared by the various restaurants around the ship.

I ate:

  • Parma Ham, Smoked Salmon, Tiger Prawns, Spicy Chicken, and Chorizo Sausage and Butter Bean Cassoulet (Starters)
  • Fillet of Beef with vegetables, served with a Port and Madeira Jus (Main Course)
  • Banana Sundae, Lemon Curd Meringue Cone, Strawberry Shortbread Tower, and Pancake with Maple Syrup (Desserts)

Sue ate a completely different selection of dishes … and by the time we had finished eating at 1.45pm, we were both feeling rather full.

When we left the restaurant we discovered that the weather had actually deteriorated, and the ship was sounding its foghorn at regular intervals because of the very low visibility. We needed a breath of fresh air before returning to our suite to pack, but after an attempt to go out onto the Promenade Deck proved too difficult (the wind-force was so great that we could not open the door that allowed us out onto the deck!), we returned to the undercover area on Deck 15 Midships. The wind was driving the rain under the fixed awnings, and water was running across the deck to the gunwales. As a result we stayed there less than ten minutes before returning to our suite to pack.

By 3.00pm we had finished all the packing we could do, and after resting for a short while we went down to the Malabar Bar at 3.45pm to attend Diane Janes’ last lecture of the cruise.

This proved to be very interesting, and after the lecture was over we continued discussing it whilst we sat in the Terrace Bar having a drink. (The rain that had been falling for most of the day had stopped, and although it was a bit cold in the open air, it was pleasant to get out of air-conditioned rooms for a short time.)

We were back in our suite by 5.30pm, and after placing all the luggage we had already packed outside our cabin, Sue and I began sorting out the final bits and pieces that were to be packed in the last piece of luggage to be collected for offloading.

The Captain made his final announcement of the cruise at 6.00pm … just as the on-screen map showed that Azura was south of Devon, north of Brittany, and west of the Channel Islands.

Sue and I were ready for our pre-dinner drink by 7.30pm, and first made our way to the Terrace Bar … only to find that the whole area was awash thanks to the rain that had returned. As a result we had to go to the Planet Bar instead, which was pleasant enough but rather crowded.

At 8.00pm we joined our four table companions in the Oriental Restaurant for our last dinner of the cruise. At the end of the meal we were sad to have to say goodbye, as they had all been excellent company. Likewise saying farewell to the waiters who had served us was also difficult, but with luck we will see them on a future cruise.

Sue and I took a final post-dinner walk along the Promenade Deck before returning to our suite to pack the last piece of luggage that had to be offloaded. This task was complete by 11.00pm, and soon afterwards we were in bed reading before going to sleep. By then Azura was well on her way towards the Isle of Wight.

Friday 20th October 2017: Southampton
We had no need of alarm clocks to wake us up early; the noise and vibration of the ship’s thrusters did that!

They were first used as the ship began to turn near the Nab Tower, and yet again during the run up Southampton Water. Sue and I were up and dressed just in time to see Azura move alongside her mooring at a few minutes after 6.30am, …

… and by 7.00pm we were in the Epicurean Restaurant eating breakfast. Once that was over, we returned to our suite to pick up our hand luggage and made our way to the Blue Bar (Deck 7 Midships) which was the assembly point for passengers with priority disembarkation times.

We expected that we would disembark between 8.00am and 8.30am, but it soon became apparent that there was going to be a delay. This was due to the high winds that had required the use of the thrusters to help Azura turn earlier that morning. They were continuing to affect that ship, and had delayed both the mooring process and the offloading of luggage.

We finally disembarked at 8.45am, and despite another delay whilst we searched for our luggage in the crowded and chaotic baggage handling area, we had retrieved our car from the valet parking service by 9.15am, and were driving out of the dock minutes later.

At 9.45am we stopped at Winchester Services to buy some food and have a drink, and by 10.30am we were well on our way towards London. There was a delay on the M3 due to an accident, but after that our journey home was relatively uneventful. We eventually reached home at 12.30pm, and less than thirty minutes later we had unpacked the car and were sitting down having a cup of tea … and thumbing through the cruise brochure to see where we will go next!


Back from Iberia

Sue and I have recently returned from a cruise to Iberia and back … and have come back mightily refreshed!

I will be writing a more detailed blog entry about where we went and what we saw, but in brief we visited:

  • Oporto, Portugal (our first ever visit)
  • Cadiz, Spain (one of our favourite port cities because there is so much to see within walking distance of the berth)
  • Malaga, Spain (a very crowded place, especially on a Saturday … but unlike last time we visited the city, it was not raining and we managed to see parts of the city we had not seen before)
  • Cartagena, Spain (another of our favourite port cities, where you can see so much without having to travel very far … including the excellent Naval Museum!)
  • Gibraltar (Britain in the Sun! ‘Nuff said!)
  • Lisbon (a visit to the old ‘Lower Town’ that was built after the earthquake of 1st November, 1755, is always enjoyable)

I have been to … Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and Estonia

Sunday 18th June 2017: Southampton
Knowing that Junction 12 on the M25 was going to be closed to traffic trying to drive westward on the M3, Sue and I intended to leave home as early as possible in order to allow for any potential traffic hold-ups. This turned out to be a wise course of action as there was considerable congestion on the M25, especially towards Junction 10 where the motorway intersects the A3. The latter was the suggested alternative route for car drivers hoping to travel towards Southampton, and the queue to turn off there was nearly two miles long when we reached it.

Luckily our sat nav recommended that we continue driving around the M25 and then turn off at Junction 11. We followed this suggested route and it took us to Junction 4 on the M3. Due to so much of its normal traffic having been diverted onto the alternative route, the M3 was relatively empty, and we managed to make up for some of the time that we had lost due to the hold-ups on the M25.

We stopped at about 10.45am for a late breakfast at Winchester Services, and then rejoined the M3 to continue our journey towards Southampton. Soon afterwards we joined the M27, the motorway that serves the New Forest, Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth area. Because the weather was particularly good, there was a build-up of traffic on the motorway, and the closer we got to Southampton, the slower the traffic was moving. We were able to turn off and use a local road that took us into the centre of Southampton, and this enabled us to miss the worst of the congestion.

We finally reached the dock where MV Arcadia was moored just before 12.30pm, and within thirty minutes were had unloaded our luggage, handed our car over to the valet parking service, booked in and received our boarding passes, passed through the shoreside security checks, and had boarded the ship. Once aboard we were directed to the upper tier of the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 3 Aft), where we were able to have a drink and a snack lunch whilst we waited for our cabin to be ready for us to occupy. This was announced not long after 1.35pm, and by 2.00pm we were in our cabin unpacking.

Sue and had a short break for a drink in the Aquarius Bar (Deck 9 Aft) at 3.30pm, after which we retrieved our life-jackets from our cabin prior to going to the pre-cruise safety briefing in the Palladium Theatre (Decks 1, 2, and 3 Forward). The briefing ended at 4.45pm, and soon afterwards Arcadia set sail downriver. We had finished our unpacking by 5.30pm, at which point we went up to the Aquarius Bar for another drink. Sue and I then returned to our cabin to rest for a time before we had to get ready for dinner.

We returned to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and just after 8.30pm we made our way down to the lower tier of the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 2 Aft) to eat. Sue and I were directed to our table, where we were soon joined by the two other couples that we will be eating with during the cruise. We were very pleased to see that we were going to be served by a waiter – Aldrin – that we knew very well from previous cruises.

After dinner we returned to the Aquarius Bar for a final drink and a chat before going back to our cabin to sleep. Sue and I were both feeling very tired, and were asleep well before midnight.

Monday 19th June 2017: At Sea
After a very good night’s sleep, we awoke at 7.30am, to find that Arcadia was off the coast of the Netherlands, heading north east.

Visibility was quite good, but the horizon was obscured by light sea mist.

Just after 9.00am Sue and I were in the Meridian Restaurant and had just ordered breakfast. We had finished eating by 9.45am, and after spending about twenty minutes on the Promenade Deck (Deck 3) we went down to the Excursions Desk (Deck 1 Midships) to book a tour of the World War II German-built coastal defences that are located near our first port-of-call, Skagen.

After a short visit to the ship’s shops we returned to our cabin to drop off our purchases. As we did so, Arcadia passed very close to one of the numerous oil and gas platforms that are located in this area of the North Sea.

We then decided to go to the Aquarius Bar to sit in the fresh air, and whilst we were there we had a long and interesting chat with a couple that we had met on the previous evening. In the end we stayed there until after midday, at which point we went back to our cabin to rest before it was time to eat lunch.

Sue and I had hoped to eat lunch from the Neptune Grill (Deck 9 Midships), but as there was nowhere to sit nearby, we went to the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant (Deck 9 Midships). We had a drink with our meal, and went out to the Aquarius Bar after we had finished eating to get some fresh air whilst we finished our drinks. We then returned to our cabin to rest before it was time to get ready for the Welcome Aboard Party and the first formal dinner of the cruise, and other than a short break to go to the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant for afternoon tea, we stayed there until it was time to go to the party.

Just before 8.00pm Sue and I made our way up to the Neptune Pool to attend the Welcome Aboard Party, and when the party had ended, we went down to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner. After dinner we returned to our cabin and spent a short time reading and resting before getting ready for bed.

Tuesday 20th June 2017: Skagen, Denmark
Overnight Arcadia passed along the north west coast of Jutland, and experienced bad weather from just after midnight until after 3.00am. By the time we woke up at 7.00am the ship was turning around the most northern part of Denmark …

… and the weather had undergone considerable improvement.

Sue and I made sure that we were in the Meridian Restaurant by just after 8.00am so that we could eat breakfast and have plenty of time to get ready before we had to go ashore to join our tour around some of the World War II bunkers dotted around the coast of northern Denmark.

Our first stop was at Grenen, the most northerly point of Denmark. This is the location of a lighthouse …

… and a special tractor-drawn trailer bus service that takes tourists to the very tip of the sandy peninsular.

It is also the location of the Grenen Bunker Museum, which we spent over thirty minutes looking around.

Our tour coach then took us southwards to Frederikshavn, the location of our second stop, the Bangsbo Bunker Museum, which has a commanding view over the town and the Baltic Sea.

During our hour-long visit we were able to look around an artillery bunker that contains a 150mm naval gun …

… and the battery command bunker.

On our way to our next stop, we had a brief comfort and refreshment break at a local restaurant. We were served coffee and tea as well as a Danish pastry … which we were informed is know as Vienna Bread in Denmark!

Our final stop was at the Resistance Museum that is housed in the small museum complex inside the privately-owned Bangsbo estate. The family that own the estate still live in the manor house …

… which is only about 100m from the main museum building.

We spent an hour in the Resistance Museum before returned to Arcadia, and Sue and I were ready for a late snack lunch by the time we were back aboard just after 3.20pm. After a brief break out on deck for some fresh air, we returned to our cabin to rest until it was time to get ready for dinner.

(We saw and photographed so much during the visits we made that I will have to devote at least a blog entry to each location to do them justice.)

We had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar before we ate dinner with our usual table companions in the Meridian Restaurant. Sue and I returned to the Aquarius Bar after dinner for some fresh air, but it proved to be quite cold and we were back in our cabin getting ready for bed by just before 11.30pm.

Wednesday 21st June 2017: Kiel, Germany
When we awoke at 7.00am Arcadia was already on her way down the inlet leading to the city of Kiel.

The ship was moored alongside almost an hour earlier than expected, which was probably just as well as two other cruise liners – the Queen Elizabeth

… and Color Magic

… moored nearby very soon afterwards.

We ate our breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, and had finished in plenty of time to go back to our cabin to collect our stuff before going ashore to join the tour we had booked. Arcadia was moored alongside the Ostseekai, and we had to use an air-bridge and a long elevated walkway to reach the cruise terminal. Once there we were directed to our tour coach, and just after 10.00am we were on our way.

Our tour took us on a brief trip around Kiel, before we drove to the village of Wik, the location of the Kiel Canal locks. We were shown a large billboard display of the locks …

… before we drove over a nearby bridge which gave us an excellent view of them in operation.

We were then taken past some of the few old buildings that survived the World War II bombing raids …

… to the small lighthouse situated on the northern bank of the Kiel Canal.

This was opened by Kaiser Wilhelm II when the canal was opened.

For there we were driven back through the outskirts of the city to Laboe, the location of the Naval Monument and Museum. This was a most impressive building constructed from local dark red brick, which comprises a tower and viewing platform, …

… and underground monument, and a museum with a colonnaded frontage.

We spent over an hour exploring the site, and only saw about fifty percent of what was there.

(Again we saw and photographed so much during our visit that I will have to devote at least a couple of blog entries to the Naval Monument and Museum to do it justice.)

By this time Sue and I were both feeling rather thirsty, and before we had to board our tour coach, we were able to buy a cup of tea to drink in the small nearby café.

On our return to the Arcadia Sue and I did consider walking into the old part of Kiel to have a look around, but by the time we had been back to our cabin to drop off our bags and cameras we had decided to stay aboard and have some lunch. We ate a late lunch in the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant, followed by a short spell in the seating area near the Aquarius Bar. By then we were both feeling rather tired, and as a result we spent the rest of the afternoon in our cabin.

Arcadia set sail from Kiel just before 5.15pm, and on our way out into the Baltic we were able to see the Naval Monument and Museum at Laboe from the sea.

It was in some ways even more impressive when viewed from the sea … and one feels that this was always the intention of its designer.

Suitably rested, Sue and I had our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar … and after dinner we returned there for another drink before going to bed.

Thursday 22nd June 2017: At sea
The weather remained calm overnight as a result of which we both slept well. In fact we did not wake up until 8.00pm, by which time Arcadia was well on the way to her next port-of-call, Stockholm.

As we were attending the Peninsular Club Lunch for Ligurian and Baltic tier members at midday, we decided to have a leisurely morning. After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we sat out on deck near the Aquarius Pool (Deck 9 Aft) until it was time to get ready for lunch.

Out table at the lunch was hosted by the ship’s Safety Officer, who is also the Senior First Officer, and there were five other people at the table besides us. The menu was superb, and I ate:

  • Croquette of Confit Duck Leg with Pickled Egg and Beetroot Purée
  • Beef Fillet with Oxtail Potato Hash, Sautéed Bok Choy, Baby Carrots, and Pumpkin Purée
  • Warm Sticky Toffee Cake with Tonka Bean Mousse and Orange Curd
  • Tea and Turkish Delight

The food, the service, and the company were excellent, and afterwards we spent a short time on the Promenade Deck before going back to our cabin to read, rest, and recover!

Our period of rest and recovery lasted longer than expected, and we both dozed for a large part of the afternoon, and didn’t do very much until it was time to get ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise.

As has become our habit on this cruise, we had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and after dinner we returned there for some fresh air before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Friday 23rd June 2017: Stockholm, Sweden
Arcadia was already moored alongside when we woke up just after 7.00am.

As we were not going on a tour, we took our time having breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant and getting ready to go ashore. We disembarked not long after 9.30am, and the shuttle-bus dropped us off outside the Opera House, which is located on Strömgatan near the Parliament Building and Royal Palace.

Sue and I stopped in the Kungsträdgärden park to orientate ourselves. The park is dominated at one end by a statue of King Karl XII.

From there we walked along several streets and through an open area …

… until we reached the National Theatre.

We then walked up the road to its left-hand side …

… and then around its back …

… which brought us to Riddargartan, the location of the Swedish Army Museum.

Sue and I were somewhat surprised to find that the main gate was closed and locked, but the presence of people inside the site encouraged us to try to find an alternative entrance. Our walk took us completely around the block, …

… and past the Hedvig Eleonora Kyrka, …

…a most impressive looking church.

We finally found an open gate in Sibyllegatan, and walked into the courtyard of the Army Museum.

It soon became apparent that the museum was shut …

… and after photographing the three military vehicles that were on display in the courtyard …

… we found an noticeboard that informed us that the museum was shut on Midsummer’s Eve (23rd June), Midsummer’s Day (24th June), and the Sunday after Midsummer’s Day (25th June). This was most disappointing as I had hoped to visit the special wargaming exhibition that was being staged in the museum.

Rather deflated we made our way back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point. Sue and I followed a slightly different route back that took us past a monument to John Ericsson, the father of the turreted ironclad …

… and a large red church.

We were back aboard Arcadia just before midday, and after a quick visit to our cabin we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-lunch drink. Sue and I then ate a snack lunch in the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant before returning to open deck area near the Aquarius Bar.

We stayed there until 1.15pm, when we returned to our cabin to rest until it was time to go back to the open deck area near the Aquarius Bar for the sail-away from Stockholm.

Sue and I remained on deck from just before 3.00pm until just before 5.00pm, by which time it was beginning to get cold. We returned to our cabin, where we spent some time reading before getting ready to go to dinner in the Ocean Grill Restaurant (Deck 2 Midships), one of the alternative dining venues aboard Arcadia.

We sat down to eat at 8.30pm, and finally left the restaurant just over two hours later feeling rather full. Sue and I had a short walk along the Promenade Deck before returning to our cabin, where we sat for a while to allow our meal to begin being digested before we went to bed.

Saturday 24th June 2017: Helsinki, Finland
Sue and I were up just after 7.00am, after a quiet and gentle night’s sleep. Arcadia had already changed course towards the entrance to the archipelago of islands that protect the approaches to Helsinki.

The harbour was already quite crowded, and we saw three other cruise ships moored alongside. These were Serenade of the Seas, …

Marina, …

… and Celebrity Silhouette.

As it was Midsummer’s Day – a public holiday in Finland and several other Scandinavian countries – we did not rush to have an early breakfast. Sue and I decided to have as leisurely a start to the day as possible, and made our way down to the Meridian Restaurant just after 8.30am to eat. We had finished by 9.15am, and after a short walk along the Promenade Deck we returned to our cabin to get ready to go ashore.

We were in the shuttle-bus from the docks to the centre of Helsinki by just before 10.00am, and it deposited us outside the Swedish Theatre in the centre of Helsinki about twenty minutes later. Unfortunately the theatre was not marked on our map, so we set off to find a suitable landmark by which we could orientate our map.

A ten minute walk along a wide but quite empty street …

… brought us to the Central Railway Station and bus station.

This helped us to identify where we were on our map, and after a few minutes walk Sue and I arrived at the Esplanade Park.

A large statue of Sibelius is located near the centre of the park …

… and we passed it on our way towards the harbour-side market.

One end of the market is adorned by a large fountain …

… which we had to walk past in order to reach the market.

Sue and I spent some time browsing the market stalls to see what was on sale, as a result of which we came away with a few small souvenirs.

Near one end of the market is the Uspenski Church …

… but rather than visit the church, Sue and I decided to go back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point. We took a slightly different route back to the ship, and after walking up a side street …

… we reached and then passed the Helsinki Cathedral, which is located along one side of Senate Square.

We then made our way back to the pick-up point via yet another almost empty street.

We were back aboard Arcadia by 12.15pm, and after a drink in the Aquarius Bar we at lunch in the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant. Sue and I had returned to our cabin by 2.30pm, and stayed there resting and reading until it was time to get ready for dinner. (If the truth be told, both of us seem to be feeling very tired in the mid afternoons at the moment, and more dozing took place than reading!)

Dinner in the Meridian Restaurant was preceded by our usual drink in the Aquarius Bar, where we chatted for some time with a couple we have got to know during this cruise. After dinner Sue and I spent a short time on deck before going to our cabin to prepare for our visit to St Petersburg on the next day.

Sunday 25th June 2017: St Petersburg, Russia
We were both awake by just after 6.00am, by which time Arcadia was already docked alongside the cruise terminal.

The weather was very overcast, with occasional rain, and it was quite difficult at time to see the other cruise ships that were docked nearby. They included Norwegian Getaway, …

AIDA Cara, …

… and Celebrity Silhouette.

After eating a very light breakfast in our cabin, we were ready to join the rest of the passengers who were going on the same tour as us in the Palladium Theatre. We were all there by 7.40am, and by 7.55am we had all passed through Russian Immigration Control in the terminal and were on our way towards the minibus being used for our tour.

We were greeted by our tour guide – Marina – and issued with ‘whisper’ radio receivers and earpieces. Once these were tested we set off for the first stop of our tour, the house that was owned and occupied by the Fabergé family.

The minibus then took us to the Fabergé Museum, which is housed in the former Shuvalov Palace. Although the building does not look very impressive from the outside, inside the entrance is dominated by a grand staircase that you have to climb to reach the exhibition.

The stairwell is surmounted by a very ornate cupola.

Our tour of the exhibition began in the Knight’s Room …

… and then moved on to the Beige Room …

… which contains a large collection of Russian icons.

We then spent some time in the Red Room, where some wonderful examples of Russian silverware are on display, …

… and Blue Room where the Imperial Fabergé Easter Eggs are displayed in individual glass cabinets.

Our tour then went into the Gold Room, …

… the Anteroom, …

… the White and Sky Blue Rooms.

At this point one of our tour party became faint (it was very humid and we probably all had low blood sugar levels due to the very early start) and had to be taken downstairs by members of the museum’s staff.

They had sufficiently recovered by the time the tour had ended and we had all made our way outside for the tour to continue. The minibus then took us via Nevesky Prospect …

… to Ostrovskovo Place, where we had a short stop to look at the Alexandrinsky Theatre …

… and the statue of Catherine the Great.

During our stop a police car belonging to the St Petersburg Militia parked alongside our minibus.

Our final stop of the tour was at the Pushkin Art Gallery, which is – in fact – a souvenir shop. Sue and I bought a few small items (a book about the Fabergé Museum and some wooden Christmas tree ornaments) and had a chance to have a quick drink … of Russian champagne!

On the drive back to the ship we passed a large housing development, in the middle of which were two turrets from an old Russian cruiser!

After saying goodbye to our tour guide, Sue and I spent ten minutes looking in the various souvenir shops in the cruise terminal before going back through Passport Control and re-boarding Arcadia. By this time we were both feeling very thirsty, and after dropping our stuff off in our cabin, we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a refreshing cold drink. We then ate lunch in the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant before returning to our cabin.

We had intended to read and to rest for a while, but fatigue overcame us and we both fell asleep … and it wasn’t until 5.00pm that we were both fully awake again! Our sleep had – however – helped to revive us, and we were feeling much more energised by the time we went up to the Aquarius Bar for our pre-dinner drink.

As one of the couples we share a dinner table with was on an evening trip to the Hermitage, there were only four of us at dinner. The conversation covered a variety of topics, but mainly concentrated on what we had seen and experienced during our first day in St Petersburg.

After dinner Sue and I went for a short walk along the Promenade Deck, and by 11.00pm we were back in our cabin getting our stuff ready for the second day of our visit to St Petersburg.

Monday 26th June 2017: St Petersburg, Russia
Sue and I were woken up by our alarm clock at 6.30am, and after getting dressed and eating a couple of croissants in our cabin, we were ready to go ashore by 8.00am. The weather seem a bit overcast, …

… but the forecast for the morning was reasonable, so we did not bother to take umbrellas or topcoats.

Getting through Immigration Control was quick and easy, and by 8.10am we were seated under the canopy where the tour coaches picked up their passengers.

Our guide arrived quite soon after we had sat down, and we discussed our tour itinerary with her whilst we waited for our car – a vintage Volga limousine – to arrive. The car was earlier than expected, and was driven by the same driver who had driven us three years ago!

Our driver is keen on military history and shooting, and remembered us from our last visit to St Petersburg. As a result he was very amenable to altering the order in which we visited the various sites on our itinerary, and even suggested a couple that we were unaware of.

Our first stop was at St Nicholas Cathedral …

… which has a famous, separate bell tower.

The cathedral contained many beautiful icons, but as photography was banned were we unable to capture any images of them.

Our next stop was close to the Rostral Columns where the Malaya Neva (Little Neva) and Bolshaya Neva (Big Neva) rivers meet. This gave us a panoramic view from the Peter and Paul Fortress to the Hermitage and Winter Palace.

The Rostral Columns …

… were erected to commemorate Russian Naval victories, and were copied from similar columns built by the Romans.

The Peter and Paul Fortress …

… contains the Peter and Paul Cathedral, which is the last resting place of the Romanovs.

On the opposite bank of the River Neva are the Hermitage and the Winter Palace, both of which are iconic buildings.

At our driver’s suggestion we next visited Alexandrovsky Park, which is not normally visited by foreign tourists. It is located just behind the Artillery Museum, and contains a bronze tableau of all the architects who planned and built modern St Petersburg …

… and a magnificent 3D map of the centre of the city with the major buildings modelled in bronze and marble.

It was only a short drive from the park to the place where the cruiser Aurora is moored.

It has recently been renovated and re-commissioned into the Russian Navy, and its foremost 6-inch gun bears a plaque commemorating the shot that signalled the start of the October Revolution.

(It has been suggested that the ‘signal’ was in fact fired by mistake by a number of drunken sailors … but no one actually knows whether or not this is true.)

Whilst we were there, our guide pointed out a large anonymous-looking building on the opposite side of the River Neva.

This is the local headquarters of the State Security organisation, the FSB, which was formerly the KGB and before that the NKVD.

We recrossed the River Neva and stopped at the Field of Mars. This park was formerly the parade and training ground used by the local garrison, but now it houses a memorial to those who died in the February and October Revolutions, the Russian Civil War, and the Great Patriotic War.

In its centre is an eternal flame …

… the first to have been lit in Russia.

The park also gives visitors an excellent view of the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilt Blood …

… and Mikhaylovsky Castle.

The final stop on our tour was next to Dvortsovaya Place, …

… where the General Staff Building, …

… the Alexander Column, …

… and Winter Palace …

… are located.

After our visit to Dvortsovaya Place, Sue and I walked across the Moika Canal …

… to the Kempinski Hotel …

… where we ate afternoon tea …

… at 11.30am!

Our vintage Volga limousine took us back to Arcadia by 12.30pm, and after a drink in the Aquarius Bar, we sat on deck chatting until it was time for a late snack lunch at 3.15pm. We then went to our cabin to rest and recuperate after what seemed to have been a long and busy day, but neither of us fell asleep.

Arcadia set sail just after 6.00pm, and I was able to stand on the cabin balcony whilst she sailed past the Russian naval base at Kronstadt and through the new barrier that has been built across the channel from the open sea to St Petersburg. Needless to say, I managed to take some interesting photographs of the Russian warships that were in harbour, and they will be featured in a future blog entry.

Despite the cold weather and rain, Sue and I had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar. Over dinner we exchanged stories of our respective tours in St Petersburg with our table companions, and did not leave the restaurant until nearly 10.30pm. We had a short walk along the Promenade Deck, but as it was quite cold we only stayed there for about five minutes before going inside and back to our cabin for some much-needed sleep.

Tuesday 27th June 2017: Tallinn, Estonia
The ship arrived in Tallinn just before 7.00am, and we were awoken by the announcement from the bridge that the ship was secured alongside.

After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, Sue and I visited the Future Cruises sales desk … and booked a cruise to Iberia for later in the year. We then went ashore just after 10.00am, and took the shuttle-bus to the Viru Gates of the Old Town.

After passing through the gates we turned right and walked along the back street (Uus) …

… that followed the outer side of the old city walls. Along the way were passed several interesting old buildings …

… before passing though a gateway in the city wall …

… that gave us access to Vene Street, the street on the inner side of the city wall.

We followed this road …

… until it reached Paks Maragrata (Margaret Park). We sat there for a time opposite an ancient stone-built building …

… before walking uphill towards the Fat Margaret Tower.

The tower was formerly part of the city’s defences, and was a gun platform that guarded one of the main gates as well as the northern end of the city walls.

We walked through the gate …

… and entered the tower, which houses part of the Estonian Maritime Museum. We spend over an hour in the museum, which has a magnificent collection of model ships as well as displays that tell the history of Estonia’s maritime history from earliest times.

When we left the museum we found two plaques were fixed to the wall, one commemorating the role of the Royal Navy in the independence of Estonia …

… and the other the role of Estonians in the Finnish Navy during the Second World War.

We then walked down Pikk Street, one of the most historic streets in the city.

Our route took us past the Oleviste Church …

… which had the tallest spire in the world when it was built in 1500.

By this time Sue and I were feeling thirsty, and began to look for a café as we walked further along Pikk Street.

We eventually stopped for a café latte in Tallinn’s oldest coffee house, Maiasmokk’s.

Suitably refreshed Sue and I continued our walk through the city’s streets …

… until we reached Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square). This is dominated by the impressive stone-built Town Hall, which was built during the fifteenth century.

After a look around the numerous restaurants that line three sides of the square, we decided to eat lunch in Mad Murphy’s Irish Pub and Grill.

By the time we had finished lunch the weather was beginning to get colder, and Sue and I decided to make our way back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point.

When we got back to the cruise terminal, we spent some time looking around the numerous small shops that line the route back to the quay. Arcadia was moored alongside one of the two cruise ship quays …

… and Norwegian Getaway was tied up next to the other.

Sue and I were back aboard Arcadia by 3.45pm, and after a quick drink in the Aquarius Bar we went back to our cabin to rest until it was time to get ready for the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party. This was held in the area around the Neptune Pool, and lasted from 6.00pm until 6.30pm.

Sue and I then spent about thirty minutes in the open deck area near the Aquarius Pool before going back to our cabin to get ready for dinner. As we had already had a drink, we chose to have a walk along the Promenade Deck instead of a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar.

At 8.30pm we joined our table companions in the Meridian Restaurant, and we spent most of the meal sharing our experiences of Tallinn.

Wednesday 28th June 2017: At sea
Sue and I woke up when the alarm clock went off at 7.50am, and the on-screen map showed us that Arcadia had already sailed past Gotland on her way to Copenhagen.

We ate breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant as usual, and then went up to the open deck area near the Aquarius Pool to sit in the fresh air. We stayed there chatting to other passengers until just before 11.00am, at which point we went through to the area around Neptune Pool where the on-board shops were holding what they termed a Russian Bazaar.

Sue and I browse our way around the various stalls, and bought a few small items. We then returned to the deck are near the Aquarius Pool, and sat there until after midday having a drink. We walked back through the bazaar on our way back to our cabin, where we remained until it was time to go for a late lunch in the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant.

After lunch Sue and I sat in the open deck area near the Aquarius Pool until 4.15pm, when we went down to our cabin. We stayed there until it was time to get ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise, which – for a change – we ate in the Ocean Grill Restaurant.

We had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar before dinner, but we were both feeling so full afterwards that rather than go back there after our meal, we went for a short walk along the Promenade Deck before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Thursday 29th June 2017: Copenhagen, Denmark
Our overnight voyage was affected by some bad weather, and as a result Sue and I both woke up much earlier than we needed to.

We were actually eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant when Arcadia docked alongside in Langelinie, which is at the seaward end of the inlet on which Copenhagen is located.

We decided not to rush ashore, and spent time after breakfast in the open deck area near the Aquarius Pool chatting to other passengers. Sue and I finally got our act together just after 10.30pm, and after putting on our coats and collecting our stuff for our cabin, we took the shuttle-bus into the centre of the city.

The drop-off point was located outside Det Kongelige Teater (The Royal Theatre) on Konigens Nytory (King’s Square).

From there it was a short walk to the nearby Danske Bank, where we checked the validity of some of our Danish currency. (During our earlier visit to Skagen we had been told that the currency notes we were using were no longer in circulation; this proved not to be true … as we found at the bank.)

We then walked up the Stroget, Europe’s longest pedestrianised shopping street.

After a short detour into a large department store, …

… Sue and I continued our walk up the Stroget

… until we eventually came to the Pandora store, where some serious retail therapy took place.

By this time is was after midday, and we began looking for somewhere to have lunch, but due to the fact that there were four cruise ships in harbour, everywhere was crowded. It also began to rain, and in the end we decided to return to Arcadia.

On our return to Langelinie we had a short walk along the quayside shopping area before going back aboard, and by 1.15pm we were having a drink in the Aquarius Bar. Sue and I decided to have lunch in the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant whilst it was still relatively empty, and then went back to the Aquarius Bar for a second drink before returning to our cabin at 2.45pm.

We stayed in our cabin reading and resting until it was time to go up to the open deck area near the Aquarius Pool to watch and listen to the Tivoli Youth Guard Band play a selection of music on the fife and drum. During the afternoon we saw a seaplane land in the harbour and taxi across it to a landing stage on the other side of the inlet.

The Tivoli Youth Guard began their performance at 7.45pm by marching onto the open deck area near the Aquarius Pool towards the stern of the ship …

… where they stopped and played for fifteen minutes …

… before marching off again to loud applause.

Not long afterwards Sue and I went down to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner, during which Arcradia set sail for Southampton. After dinner we returned to the Aquarius Bar for a post-dinner drink … only to discover that the ship was sailing through torrential rain. Luckily we were able to sit under cover, and we remained there for half an hour before going to our cabin to sleep.

Friday 30th June 2017: At sea
Sue and I woke up just after 7.00am to find that overnight the weather had improved. The ship was just turning around the north of Denmark, thus leaving the Baltic Sea and entering the North Sea.

As we did not have a lot to do Sue and I had a leisurely morning. After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, we went to Reception to get a print off of our on-board account, followed by a short time in the ship’s shops. We then spent some time outside on Deck 9 near the Aquarius Bar before going up to to East Bar (Deck 11 Midships) to sit and read. It was very quiet there, and we stayed until it was well past midday.

For a change we managed to eat lunch from the Neptune Grill, which is situated in the Neptune Pool area. Sue and I then returned to the open deck area near the Aquarius Bar, but only stayed there for about thirty minutes before we went back to our cabin. Once there we did some pre-packing sorting out, which took us until just before 3.30pm.

We then returned to sit in the area near the Aquarius Pool via the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant, where we had afternoon tea. Although the weather was overcast, the temperature was not too low to be uncomfortable to sit there, and we stayed there chatting until 5.00pm. Sue and I then returned to our cabin to get ready for the last formal dinner of the cruise, which featured the usual parade of the chefs.

After dinner we had a further chat in the Aquarius Bar with some fellow passengers, and did not got back to our cabin to sleep until it was 11.45pm.

Saturday 1st July 2017: At sea
Overnight Arcadia made her way down the coast of Denmark and was off the Netherlands when we woke up at 8.00am.

Sue and I had breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, and after visiting Reception to drop off our end-of-cruise passenger survey form and a trip to the ship’s shops for some last minute purchases, we returned to our cabin to begin the process of packing.

This was not a difficult task, but it was time-consuming, and during the morning we took a break for some fresh air and a drink. We had completed most of our packing by lunchtime, and after eating in the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant we went outside to take part in the ‘Great British Sail-Along’. (It had been impossible to stage a ‘Great British Sail-Away’ when Arcadia left Copenhagen as we did not set sail until mid-evening, and Langelinie is a residential area as well as the location of the cruise terminal.)

Sue and I were back in our cabin by 1.15pm, and after finishing the last of our packing, we spent the rest of the afternoon – until teatime – sitting in our cabin reading. We ate afternoon tea just after 4.00pm in the Belvedere Self-Service Restaurant, followed by a spell on deck near the Aquarius Pool. A couple with whom we have talked quite a lot during our cruise were there, and we spent time with them until we had to go back to our cabin to get ready for the last dinner of our cruise. We met up with them for a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and after saying goodbye to them, we went down to the Meridian Restaurant.

The meal was excellent, and after we had finished eating Sue and I said our farewells to the other couples we had shared our dinning table with and – most importantly – the waiters who had served us so well. Before going to bed we paid our last visit of the cruise to the open deck area near the Aquarius Bar, and by 11.00pm we were getting ready for bed. As we did so, Arcadia sailed past Dungeness on the Kent coast.

Sunday 2nd July 2017: Southampton
Thanks to all the early morning starts we seemed to have had on our cruise, both of us were awake by 6.15am.

We got dressed, packed our hand luggage, and were in breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant by 7.45am. We took less than thirty minutes to order and eat our food, and by 8.20am we had returned to our cabin, picked up our hand luggage, and were on our way to our disembarkation rendezvous.

The ship’s company were actually ahead of schedule with the disembarkation process, and we went straight to the gangway. From there we went down to the luggage reclamation area and by 8.45am we had all our bags and were on our way through Customs. In less that twenty minutes we had reclaimed our car from the valet car parking service, had loaded our luggage into our car, and were driving out of the port entrance.

The drive home was uneventful, and other than a short stop at Winchester Services to buy some food from the Simply Food branch of Marks and Spencers that is located there, we had no stops along the way. We actually drove onto the hard standing outside our house just after 11.20am, and by midday we had unloaded our luggage, said hello to – and fed – our somewhat disgruntled cat, and were having a much needed drink.

Our cruise to the Baltic was finally over.


Back from the Baltic

Sue and I returned yesterday from a cruise to the Baltic aboard P&O’s MV Arcadia. Along the way we visited Denmark (twice!), Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Russia … and I have loads of stuff to write blog entries about!

Today is going to be very busy as we plough through everything that has to be done once one has returned from a holiday (washing dirty clothes, putting our luggage away, shopping for food to fill our empty larder and fridge, etc.), but with luck I hope to write a long and detailed blog entry about our cruise later this week.


Other warships seen during our latest cruise

During our recent cruise I had the opportunity to see several warships.

In Casablanca – which is one of the Moroccan Navy’s main bases – two Sigma-class corvettes and a FREMM multipurpose frigate were moored astern of MV Ventura.

The Dutch-designed (and built) Sigma-class corvettes were closest to Ventura, and I was able to see one of them (613) in some detail. There is some confusion in the various reference works as to which ship 613 is. It is variously named as being the Tarik Ben Ziyad and the Sultan Moulay Ismail, but it was unclear what her actual name is. She is armed with a 76mm OTO Melera gun forward, …

… a pair of twin MBDA Exocet MM40 Block II surface-to-surface missile launchers amidships, …

… and a 20mm anti-aircraft gun on each side of the rear superstructure.

The panels underneath the 20mm guns are understood to conceal triple B515 launchers for EuroTorp 3A 244S Mode II/MU 90 anti-submarine torpedoes.

In Malaga I saw something rather unusual, the Finnish Border Guard Vessel Merikarhu.

She is currently serving with Frontex (The European Border and Coast Guard Agency tasked with securing the coasts of the Schengen Area) and is one of the ships patrolling the Mediterranean.

She is unarmed, although her crew can carry small arms if necessary.

The final warship I saw during the cruise was in Funchal, Madeira. It was the NRP Tejo (P590). …

…a former Danish Flyvefisken-class patrol vessel. It was sold to the Portuguese Navy in 2014, along with four sister-ships. (One of the latter is being used as spare parts for the four vessels that are in service.)

The design is also known as the Standard Flex 300 or SF300-class, and was designed on a standard hull on which containerised weapons or systems could be placed. This allowed them to be rapidly changed from one role (e.g. surveillance/pollution control, combat patrol, mine countermeasures/minehunter (MCM), minelayer) to another in about 48 hours.

Tejo appears to be unarmed at present, and her role seems to be that of a local patrol vessel.