Monday, 18 June 2012

I have been to ... Ireland, Iceland, Norway, and Belgium

After several days of uncertainty due to the strike of Pilot Boat drivers in Norway, we learnt on Saturday night that the strike was off and that the planned itinerary for our cruise to Ireland, Iceland, Norway, and Belgium was going to go ahead unchanged.

Sunday 3rd June: Southampton
The rainy and overcast weather did not deter us from feeling very upbeat about our latest cruise. We left home at 9.00am and just after 10.35am we reached Winchester Services, where we stopped for breakfast. We joined the queue to board our ship – MV Ventura – at 12.15pm and by 12.45pm we were sitting in one of the ship's restaurants eating a buffet lunch. By 2.00pm we were in our cabin waiting for our luggage to be delivered. It usually arrives in dribs and drabs during the afternoon ... which always amazes me as all the separate items of luggage were loaded at the same time! Luckily Luis (our cabin steward) turned out to be an excellent chap, and he found our entire luggage and delivered it to our cabin by just after 3.00pm, which gave us time to unpack before the SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) briefing took place.

At 4.00pm we went to the obligatory safety briefing at our muster station, which was in the Havana Show Lounge on the Promenade Deck at the stern of the ship. After returning to our cabin to drop off our lifejackets, we went on deck for the traditional champagne sail-out from Southampton.

There were several other cruise ships in port on the day we left, including P&O's MV Arcadia and MV Oceana.

Moored near to the cruise ship terminal where we boarded Ventura was the historic SS Shieldhall.

She is one of the few preserved steam-powered ships in the UK that is still capable of steaming under her own power.

We followed another P&O ship – MV Arcadia – down the Solent towards the Nab Tower ...

... and we were followed by Oceana which we could only see clearly when the emerged from the rain squalls and into the sun.

After a drink in the Red Bar we had dinner in the Saffron Restaurant. We were sharing a table for eight, but only four other people were there on the first evening. We all introduced ourselves and then settled down to eat what turned out to be a very good meal.

Once dinner was over we went for an after-dinner drink in the Metropolis Bar before we turned in for the night. Before going to sleep I began reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson. I first read this book (and the other two in the MILLENNIUM trilogy) last year, and having seen a DVD of the recent film starring Daniel Craig I decided to read all three books again.

Monday 4th June: At sea
Despite a short spell of rough weather during the night Ventura made her way down the English Channel, and by breakfast time she was off the coast of south-western Cornwall. She then turned around Land's End and sailed northward into the Celtic Sea and began to make her way towards Dublin.

The weather was overcast when we went to breakfast in the Saffron Restaurant, and it remained like that for most of the morning. By lunchtime the clouds started to disappear and the sun began to shine.

During the morning we visited the P&O Future Cruise desk ... and booked another cruise that will take us across the Atlantic to the USA and Canada! We then visited the ship's 'Jubilee street party', which was held in the Atrium. This was extremely crowded, and after fighting our way around the various stands we made our way to the Ramblas Tapas Bar for a snack lunch.

After lunch we went to the main theatre to watch a film. THE IRON LADY starred Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as her husband Denis Thatcher. The film told of her rise to become leader of the Conservative Party (and her subsequent ousting by her erstwhile colleagues) in a series of flash-backs. Meryl Streep rightly deserved the praise that was heaped upon her for the performance she gave in the film, and her supporting actors were all very convincing.

The film finished in time for us to indulge ourselves with afternoon tea, which we took on the Terrace area near the stern of the ship. The sun was shining, and though there was a rather stiff cooling breeze blowing across the deck, we spent a very pleasant time there before returning to our cabin to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise.

Traditionally the second night of a cruise is also when the Captain's Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party takes place, but because it is expected that Ventura will be mooring alongside in Dublin at 3.15am, it was felt that the event should be postponed until later in the cruise.

We had a pre-dinner drink in the Ramblas Tapas Bar, and at 8.35pm we went to the Saffron Restaurant, where we ate an excellent meal. Our 'missing' table companions arrived just as we sat down, and introductions were made and experiences of cruising were exchanged. As it was the day of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, after we had eaten the main course we all drank the Loyal Toast and stood to attention for the National Anthem.

We finished eating just after 10.30pm and went up to the Promenade Deck for a breath of fresh air. We ended the evening with a drink in the Metropolis Bar, where we were entertained by a duo who played a range of 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s music.

Tuesday 5th June: Dublin
We were woken up when the ship moored alongside early in the morning (about 3.30am), but managed to get back to sleep quite quickly. When we actually awoke at 7.00am the weather was wet and the sky overcast, and it remained so for the rest of the day.

Because we had an early start (we had to be ashore by 8.30am) we opted for a room service breakfast. This turned out to be better than we expected, and more that prepared us for our sightseeing trip and riverboat ride through Dublin.

We went by coach from the cruise ship to the River Liffey, and the riverboat took us up to the Ha'penny Bridge and back.

The commentary given by our guide was both humorous and informative, and the hour we were aboard seemed to pass very quickly.

We then got back aboard the coach, which took us around most of the major tourist sites in the centre of the city, including Trinity College ...

... The Old Parliament Building (which now houses the Bank of Ireland) ...

... and St Patrick's Cathedral.

We then made our way to Phoenix Park, where we saw the US Ambassador's residence ...

... and the Aras an Uacharain, the residence of the Irish Republic's President.

The tour lasted over three hours, and the coach returned us to the ship in time for us to have a snack lunch in the Waterside Restaurant. Having been suitable fed and rested we decided to go back into the centre of Dublin on the shuttle-bus to do some sightseeing on our own.

We were dropped off in Kildare Street, and made our way north, crossing the River Liffey by the O'Connell Bridge. Walking up O'Connell Street, we arrived outside the famous General Post Office, which was at the centre of the Easter Rising of 1916 and on whose steps the existence of the Irish Republic was proclaimed.

We did a bit of shopping in some of the larger stores in O'Connell Street, and had just left one of them when I heard my name being called. By sheer coincidence, Conrad Kinch happened to be passing the shop as we left, and introduced himself.

My wife and I were amazed at this coincidence, and all three of us repaired to a local food court where we drank excellent coffee whilst we had a long and interesting chat. Conrad Kinch then very kindly took time to show us how to get back to the River Liffey, which we crossed via the Ha'penny Bridge. He took us through Temple Bar and on to the George's Street Arcade and Covered Market, where we reluctantly parted company. This was a part of Dublin that we would probably never have visited ... and it turned out to be a gem of a place. Likewise the Powerscourt Centre, which he also recommended ... and which my wife has indicated that she would like to re-visit the next time we are in Dublin!

It was a short walk from there back to the shuttle-bus pickup point, and by just after 5.30pm we were back aboard Ventura, tired but very pleased with the way the day had gone.

We relaxed over a drink in the Red Bar before dinner, and after we had eaten our meal in the Saffron Restaurant we spent an hour in the Metropolis Bar drinking and talking to some of the staff whom we had met on previous cruises. It was interesting to listen to their experiences of working aboard ship for nine-month-long contracts, and how each cruise brought very different combinations of passengers, each of whom had their specific requirements and expectations.

Wednesday 6th June: At sea
When we awoke the sea was calm and the sun was trying to break through the light cloud cover. According to the in-cabin information system the ship was halfway between Northern Ireland and the Hebrides, and would be moving out into the North Atlantic later in the day.

By the middle of the morning the weather had begun to deteriorate, and it began to rain quite heavily. At midday we attended our first Peninsular Club lunch. The Peninsular Club is part of the new loyalty reward system used by P&O, and replaced the old Portunus Club. Due to the growth in popularity of cruising, P&O’s former three-tier loyalty reward system had become top heavy and they have now introduced an extra two tiers at the top end. They have also renamed all the tiers ... and we are now in the Baltic tier, which is the second from highest. This entitles us to a number of special rewards, including priority embarkation and disembarkation as well as an annual free gift, a special lunch that is hosted by the ship's officers, and discounts on certain services such as the laundry. We also get 10% off the price of everything that we buy aboard ship.

The lunch was excellent, both in terms of the food and drink we were served and our lunch companions, and our table was admirably hosted by the ship's Passenger Services Manager.

After lunch we returned to our cabin and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. I read another couple of chapters of my book and ensured that my blog entry was up to date. We then prepared for the Captain's Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party and the formal dinner that was held that evening.

The Party was held in the ship's atrium area. This consists of a series of large walkway balconies around a central open space, with each balcony connected by stairs and glass-fronted lifts. Drinks were served to everyone who attended, and then the Cruise Director introduced the Captain. The Captain stood on the lowest level of the atrium and made an amusing speech of welcome, during which he introduced each of the senior members of the ship's staff. Once he had finished we all went into dinner.

This was yet another excellent meal, and the conversation that accompanied it was very lively and interesting. We finished the evening with a drink in the Metropolis Bar, listening to the same musical duo that had entertained us earlier in the cruise.

Thursday 7th June: At sea
We gained an extra hour of sleep overnight so that the ship (and most importantly the passengers) would be operating at local Reykjavik time when we arrived.

When we awoke the sun was actually shining through breaks in the light cloud over. Furthermore the horizon was very distinct, which is always an indicator that the weather for the next few hours should be good. Despite the best efforts of the sun, the air temperature was cold at 8°C at 8.30am. This was hardly surprising as we were at latitude 60N in the middle of the North Atlantic!

After breakfast in the Saffron Restaurant and a short time on the Promenade Deck we spent most of the morning in the Metropolis Bar. This was open so that passengers could use it as a lounge, and we were lucky enough to get seats so that we could see a large expanse of sea to the port forward side of the ship.

During the day I spent some time writing down ideas for game mechanisms I might use in my forthcoming revision of MEMOIR OF MODERN BATTLE (MOBAT). I decided to undertake this major re-working of the rules in the light of my recent work on MEMOIR OF BATTLE 2 (MOB 2). The latter convinced me that I could produce a better set of wargames rules for fighting battles set during the mid twentieth century, and I decided that the cruise would give me an excellent opportunity to put my ideas down on paper.

Because it was so cold on the open deck spaces there were considerable numbers of people who decided to have lunch in the Saffron Restaurant, and rather than wait for a table to be cleared (which could have taken up to 30 minutes) we went to Frankie's Grill on Deck 15. Because this was located on the uncovered deck area near to one of the ship's two swimming pools, the Grill was empty and we were able to get a hot snack lunch almost immediately. We found a table in the covered deck area near the second swimming pool where it was reasonably warm and not too crowded.

Once we had eaten lunch we returned to our cabin, where I tidied up the wargame design notes that I had written during the morning and - after some more thoughts on the matter - I made one or two significant changes.

During the afternoon the weather took a turn for the worse. Wind speed gradually rose to gale force, the sea became rougher, and we began to experience typical North Atlantic weather for this time of year.

The evening's dinner was a casual one, and as usual the food and conversation was good. We had a drink in the Red Bar before dinner, and one in the Metropolis Bar before going to bed.

Friday 8th June: Reykjavik
The ship moored alongside in Reykjavik at approximately 8.00am. Despite being cold the weather had improved and the sun was shining. As we were booked on an early morning excursion around Reykjavik and did not want to risk being late, we had arranged for a room service breakfast to be served to us.

Our tour took us around Reykjavik, and we saw most of the important sights, including the Höfði House where Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev met to discuss the limitation of strategic arms.

We then went to the Perlan (The Pearl) which was on one of the highest points in Reykjavik. The building was actually part of the geothermal heating system for Reykjavik, and was used to store hot water for heating homes, businesses, and even the pavements during the cold weather. The building had been developed so that it was also a tourist attraction, with its own viewing platform that provided a panoramic view of Reykjavik. It also had a café/restaurant and shop as well as a small museum.

We then went on to visit the Blue Lagoon near Keflavik. This was a special bathing area where naturally warmed water was used to reinvigorate the body. Its waters were also used to treat some skin complaints such as psoriasis.

The Blue Lagoon was developed as an off-shoot of the geothermal power generation plant that was located in the area. It was discovered that the waste water from the power station had high levels of silicon and that it had certain healing properties. The waste water collected in a natural inland lagoon, and this had been developed into a thriving tourist attraction and leisure facility.

We then returned to Ventura and after a short break we went back into the centre of Reykjavik on the shuttle-bus. This dropped us off near the Harpa Concert Hall, and as we got off I noticed that two ships of the Icelandic Coast Guard were moored just being the Concert Hall. It proved impossible to get very close to the vessels, but I did manage to take a photograph of them.

We then walked inland and up the main shopping streets of Reykjavik.

We were also able to get a good view of the very impressive Hallgrimskirkja whose tower and spire dominated Reykjavik's skyline.

We ended our visit to Reykjavik by having a cup of coffee in a small café near to the shuttle-bus pickup point. Not only did it sell the best café latte I had drunk outside of Italy ... but it also provided a free WiFi connection!

After returning to the ship we had a late lunch/early tea in the Waterside Restaurant and then went back to our cabin to have a rest before getting ready for dinner.

Saturday 9th June: Akureyri
During the night the ship passed through the Denmark Strait – and briefly across into and then out of the Arctic Circle – as it made its way from Reykjavik to Akureyri through quite difficult seas. The waves were not high but came with such frequency that – in combination with the strong wind – they caused the ship to have an unpleasant degree of jerky movement.

The northern coast of Iceland was extremely rugged, and was as spectacular to look at as one would have expected.

MV Ventura then sailed up the Eyjarfjordur to Akureyri, which she reached not long after midday.

After a snack in Frankie's Grill we collected our coats and cameras from our cabin and went ashore to join the coach tour we had booked.

Our first stop was some way out of Akureyri at the Christmas Shop (which was also known as Santa's House). My wife bought several unusual Christmas decorations and we were able to take some photographs of the local scenery.

From there we went to the local botanical gardens, which were somewhat crowded due to it being Saturday afternoon and very warm! In fact the temperature reached well over 15°C in the shade and nearly 20°C in the sun. I must admit that it did feel a little odd sitting in my shirtsleeves so near to the Arctic Circle ... but it was summer even if it was Iceland.

After a short refreshment break in the café in the centre of the botanical gardens we drove to the former home of one of Iceland's most famous children's authors, Jon Sveinson, who was better known as Nonni.

He only lived in the house from 1865 until 1870, but in 1957 the local people opened a museum dedicated to telling his life story.

Next to Nonni's House was a very small church ...

... and an Art Deco building that housed the local folk museum.

Of particular interest to me were two nineteenth century cannons that were situated next the church.

These cannons were cast in Denmark during the war with Prussia, but they were delivered after the war was over. In 1925 they were sold to Akureyri to use as mooring bollards in the harbour. They had since been renovated and mounted on replica gun carriages, and were occasionally used to fire blanks during important celebrations.

Our tour ended at 4.40pm, and by 4.50pm we were aboard and back in our cabin. The ship set sail for Alesund in Norway at 5.45pm.

After a short rest we both got ready for dinner, which was – as has become our custom – preceded by a drink in the Red Bar and followed by one in the Metropolis Bar.

Before going to sleep I finished reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson and began reading the next book in the trilogy, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE.

Sunday 10th June: At sea
By the time we woke up Ventura had passed around the north of Iceland and into the Norwegian Sea. The weather had been relatively good during the night, with some movement due to the effects of wind and waves. At 8.30am the sky was almost entirely covered by thin cloud and the sun was trying to break through.

We went for breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant, and by the time we had eaten the weather had taken a turn for he worse. The sky had closed in and the horizon had almost completely disappeared. The air temperature had dropped to just under 3°C and the wind across the deck made it feel even colder. We went back to our cabin to sort out what we would need during the morning ... and when we emerged to go to sit in the Metropolis Bar the clouds had begun to clear and the sun began to shine again. In fact the weather remained very changeable all day, and the air temperature never rose much above 6°C at anytime during the day.

I spent the next couple of hours either reading my book or word processing the notes I had made for MEMOIR OF MODERN BATTLE 2 (MOB 2). We then went back to our cabin to leave our books and iPads there before we went to Reception to change two hundred pounds into Norwegian Kroner.

We had hoped to watch a film that was being shown in the Arena Theatre, but when we got there every seat had been taken ... and there were six hundred seats in the theatre! Instead of doing what we had planned to do we went up to Deck 15 and had a snack lunch in Frankie's Grill. We ate our food by the covered swimming pool and tried to go out onto the open deck ... only to find that they way out had been locked as it was thought to be too dangerous for passenger to be on the open decks!

After a refreshing drink in the Waterside Restaurant we returned to our cabin, where I continued to read my book and word process my design notes and ideas.

At 8.00pm there was a special reception held in the Tamarind Club for all members of the Peninsular Club, and we went along before going into the third formal dinner of the cruise. After dinner we went up to the Metropolis Bar for a final drink before going to bed.

Monday 11th June: Alesund
The ship moored alongside the quay in Alesund at 8.50am after negotiating her way into the mouth of Geirangerfjord. It was a grey start to the day. The sky was overcast and there was no sign of the sun. We ate breakfast in our cabin to avoid the expected crush in the various restaurants.

At 9.30am we went ashore to join our morning coach tour around Alesund. This first took us to the Sunnmøre Open Air Museum, where examples of old and distinct wooden houses had been collected and put on display.

The main building housed a collection of local archaeological and cultural artefacts, and in the outbuildings was a collection of various boats, including reproductions of some Viking longboats.

The drive back to the ship took us via Mount Aksla, which was the highest point around Alesund and which provided us with the opportunity to enjoy magnificent panoramic views of Alesund and the surrounding district.

We returned back aboard Ventura in time to eat lunch in the Saffron Restaurant, after which we went back into Alesund to do our own unguided sightseeing.

One boat in the harbour did catch my eye, and I decided to have a closer look at it. It turned out that it was now used for coastal and fjord tours, but that it had started life out looking very different and had been rebuilt several times to perform different tasks, including that of being a local ferry.

The boat was called Bilfergen, and the unusual offset funnel and squared-off bow were leftovers from her time as a ferry.

We were back aboard ship by just after 4.00pm, which gave us plenty of time to have a hot drink and a rest before the ship left Alesund to sail to Olden at 5.30pm.

For a change from our usual dining arrangements we had booked a table in the Marco Pierre White Restaurant aboard Ventura. This was located on Deck 17, just under the Metropolis Bar, so we had a drink there before our meal. The meal was – as one would expect – exceptionally good, and we both enjoyed the experience of eating there.

Tuesday 12th June: Olden
The distance from Alesund to Olden was approximately 116 nautical miles by sea, and much of the journey involved sailing 60 nautical miles up Nordfjord, one of the longer fjords in Norway. When the ship docked alongside the landing quay in Olden the weather was cloudy and the air temperature was just over 12°C. Despite this there was snow on the mountain tops that towered over the fjord.

The passage along Nordfjord had been very calm, and there were no waves to speak of in the fjord after the ship had come to a halt.

After eating breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant and spending some time on deck watching the world go by, we went ashore and walked into the village. We visited the wooden church ...

... and had a coffee and hot pancake in the local café. (Hot pancakes, served with blackberry jam and vanilla ice cream, seemed to be the normal local mid-morning snack.) On the way back to the ship we did some shopping and bought a few small souvenirs, as well as taking lots of photographs of the impressive scenery.

After a late lunch, I decided to do some more wok on my draft of MEMOIR OF MODERN BATTLE 2 (MOB 2) but when I opened my word processed notes for the draft I discovered that part of the file had been corrupted, and despite efforts on my part to undo the problem, it proved insoluble. In the end I had to start again from scratch ... which was very time consuming. Luckily I still had my handwritten notes, and these proved to be very helpful.

During the evening Ventura sailed back down Nordfjord towards the sea, and the views of the fjord were stunning.

We were so engrossed by the views that we decided to stay on our balcony until it was time for dinner and to forgo a pre-dinner drink.

Wednesday 13th June: Bergen
It was only 170 nautical miles from Olden to Bergen, and much of the journey was along fjords rather than the open sea. As a result the passage was almost entirely conducted in calm water, and there was very little movement.

Bergen was well known for its rainfall (it was reputed that it rained in Bergen on 300 days each year!) but as Ventura sailed into the harbour the weather was dry and cloudy, and the air temperature was 11°C.

After breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant we waited until the tours had all gone before leaving the ship to go ashore. The shuttle-bus dropped us off in the centre of Bergen near the Grieghallen, and we walked for there through the fish market to the main part of the old town that is called Bryggen. On our way we passed two sailing ships, the Statsraad Lehmkuhl ...

... and the Loyal.

We then crossed the road and entered the Bergenhus Fortress via the main arched gateway.

We were able to look around the Rosenkrantz Tower ...

... and into the courtyard between the Tower and King Haakon's Hall.

As a large part of the fortress was shut so that the venue could be prepared for a forthcoming concert, we decided to pay a visit to the Bergenhus Festningsmuseum (Bergen Fortress Museum). This was a small military museum that we had visited on a previous occasion, and although we saw nothing new during this visit, we enjoyed seeing it again.

By the time we left the museum it was almost 1.00pm, and whilst we were walking though the back of the famous block of wooden buildings in Bryggen we came across a small café/restaurant where we were able to have a snack.

Once we had eaten we felt a little reinvigorated, and continued our slow perambulation through Bergen towards the shuttle-bus pickup point. Although there were quite a few people waiting to take the shuttle-bus back to the ship, the three shuttle-buses that were at the pickup point soon made quick work of getting everyone back to the ship, and we were back aboard by just after 3.30pm.

During the afternoon I finished reading THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE by Stieg Larsson and began reading the third book in the trilogy, THE GIRL WHO KICKED OVER THE HORNET'S NEST.

Ventura unmoored and set sail for Stavanger just after 5.30pm. She made her way slowly up the fjord towards the open sea, and then turned southwards towards Stavanger. As we sailed out of harbour we passed an interesting looking ship that had the words 'Heimevernet' and the number P381 painted on her side.

(Subsequent research indicated the P381 was SHV Magnus Lagabøte of the Norwegian Sea Home Guard ['Heimevernet'])

During the evening we were able to attend a talk that was given by Martin Bell, the former BBC war correspondent and Member of Parliament ... and current roving UNICEF Ambassador. His talk was illustrated with short video clips that highlighted his career in television (and the conflict in Bosnia in particular) as well as his election campaign against Neil Hamilton ... and his formidable wife, Christine. He also explained what he has recently done as a UNICEF Ambassador in South Sudan.

Thursday 14th June: Stavanger
The overnight journey to Stavanger was uneventful, and Ventura was tied up alongside the quay next to one of the older parts of the town when we awoke just after 7.30am.

As usual the sky was cloudy, and the air temperature was slightly less than 10°C. However, a stiff breeze made it feel a lot colder!

There were three other cruise ships in Stavanger. They were P&O's Oriana, Costa Cruise Line's Costa Luminoso, and SAGA's Saga Sapphire.

We ate breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant and went ashore just after 10.00am, just before a major emergency exercise took place aboard Ventura. We walked up to St. Swithin's Cathedral (which is also known as the Stavanger Domkirke) and then through the numerous small streets that were located around the Valberg Tower (the former fire-watching and observation tower used by the City's Guard).

This was the main shopping area of Stavanger, and my wife and I both managed to spend some of our Norwegian Kroner on small bits and pieces that will remind us of our visit.

By midday the wind had dropped and the sun had emerged from behind the clouds. As a result we decided to have lunch in Stavanger rather than to return to our ship to eat, and we had an excellent lunch in the Skagen Restaurant, which was located overlooking the harbour's marina.

We then made our way to the older part of Stavanger, where we spent a very pleasant time walking through the streets of wooden houses that made up the Old Town district. This walk brought us back to the ship, which we re-boarded just before 2.00pm.

We then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our cabin and on the cabin balcony. At 5.00pm we watched Oriana slip her lines and sail ... and Ventura followed her out of Stavanger some forty minutes later.

The short passage to the open sea took less than an hour, and then the ship turned southwards again, this time towards Zeebrugge on the coast of Belgium. By the time the ship reached the open sea my wife and I were getting ready for dinner. As had become our habit on the cruise, this was preceded by a pre-dinner drink in the Red Bar and followed by a post-dinner drink in the Metropolis Bar.

Friday 15th June: At sea
When we awoke at 7.30am, the ship was already two-fifths of the way between Stavanger and Zeebrugge, and was over part of the Dogger Bank. The sea was calm and the sky was fairly cloud free, but the air temperature was just under 10°C.

After breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant we spent some time on the Promenade Deck before returning to our cabin. During the late morning we went to the ship's Atrium to see what was called 'The V Factor'. This had a number display stands put on be each of the ship's main departments that showed what functions they performed.

I paid a visit to the barber before lunch and had what I would have called a haircut, but what the hair salon termed a 're-styling'. My wife and I then had a snack lunch in the Saffron Restaurant before returning to our cabin to begin preparations for the inevitable chore of packing.

During the early part of the afternoon the weather had taken a turn for the worse. The ship sailed in and out of numerous rain squalls, and the wind and increased wave height caused some increased movement. Although the air temperature reached 12°C, the effect of the wind-chill factor made it feel much colder if you went out on deck.

By late afternoon the weather had changed again. The rain had stopped, the cloud had thinned out, and the sun shone ... with the result that the air temperature rose to 13°C.

Because the choir was performing in the ship's Atrium (the choir was formed from amongst the passengers on the cruise), we were unable to have a pre-dinner drinking the Red Bar. Instead we went to the Ramblas Tapas Bar, which was somewhat less crowded.

The conversation over dinner concentrated upon the Eurozone Crisis and the possible outcomes, although there was also some discussion about the fairness – or otherwise – of the UK's tax system. After dinner we went up to the Metropolis Bar on Deck 18 as usual, only to find that it was half empty. This was possibly due to the fact that a Euro2012 football match between England and Sweden had taken place and had been shown live in two of the other bars onboard.

Before going to sleep in finished reading THE GIRL WHO KICKED OVER THE HORNET'S NEST by Stieglitz Larsson. I had previously read each book of the trilogy individually, but this cruise had made it possible to read them sequentially without a break between each book ... and I felt that this was a much better way to read them.

Saturday 16th June: Zeebrugge
The ship completed its journey to Zeebrugge in quite a leisurely manner, and she was tied up at her berth by just after 8.00am. The weather was quite good, with some cloud and an occasional offshore breeze, and stayed like that for most of the day. The time the ship was in port was shorter than expected, and we had been informed on the previous day that the Ventura would sail for England at 4.00pm

The Captain also warned us that because some important safety equipment needed testing (it was the emergency evacuation slide and pontoon), passengers had a choice of either going ashore before 10.45am or after 12.30pm. Between those hours the gangways were withdrawn and the ship unmoored so that the equipment could be deployed and then recovered.

We had a slightly earlier breakfast than usual in the Bay Tree Restaurant and after collecting our coats and other bits and pieces from our cabin, we went ashore well before the 10.45am deadline. We took the shuttle-bus to Blankenberge, which was the nearest town to Zeebrugge.

Blankenberge was a small seaside town, and we had no difficulty finding things to see and do. Besides buying chocolate - something for which Belgium is renowned - we bought some gifts and I bought some very useful model vehicles in a local toy shop. We also did some sightseeing ...

... and had a drink in a local bar.

We returned to the ship by 1.00pm, and after sorting ourselves out we had lunch in the Saffron Restaurant. After lunch I managed to take some photographs of some ships of the Belgian Navy that we're moored alongside in the Zeebrugge Naval Base.

We then began the task of packing our luggage so that it could be collected later that day. As usual this was a somewhat dismal task as it was a reminder that our holiday had all but ended. The task was punctuated by a visit to the ship's Reception to ask where our priority luggage labels were. (Because we were Baltic tier members of the Peninsular Club we were entitled to have our luggage disembarked later than other passengers and held in a separate place ashore.) It appeared that our labels had been delivered to another cabin in error, and I was assured that they would be brought to our cabin as quickly as possible.

Ventura unmoored from the quayside of Zeebrugge just after 4.00pm, and sailed out into the North Sea and towards the eastern end of the English Channel. She made her way into the traffic system and crossed to the right-hand side before reaching Dover, which we passed during the early evening.

After dinner in the Saffron Restaurant we made our farewells to our dinner companions and the waiters who had served us during our cruise. We then went to the Metropolis Bar for one last drink before going to back to our cabin to sleep.

Sunday 17th June: Southampton
We set our alarm clock to wake us at 6.30am, but the vibration from the thrusters that were used to help dock the ship woke us up slightly earlier. We dressed, packed our hand luggage, said goodbye to our cabin steward, and had our last breakfast of the cruise in the Bay tree Restaurant.

Because we were Baltic tier members of the Peninsular Club, we were allowed to disembark whenever we wanted to, and we did some almost as soon as we had finished breakfast. We were slightly held up in the baggage reclaim area because one of our bags had been placed in the wrong area. Despite this the car was fully loaded by 9.30am and we drove home. The journey was uneventful and we had git home and unpacked the car by midday … and then the process of getting back to normal began.

Our cruise was finally over!


  1. Splendid post sir! Thanks for sharing your travels with us...

  2. That sounded like a very enjoyable cruise. If your cross Atlantic cruise has Halifax or another Nova Scotian point of call, perhaps we could arrange to meet. Your wife might not appreciate seeing me on the quay with a Portable Wargame under my arm but there's always lunch or a coffee.

  3. I was trying to remember what I was doing on the fifth, but then it hit me!

    I was being dead all day, and refusing to move. Jetlag is hard to get over when you have no reason to get up.

  4. Tradgardmastare,

    Many thanks for your kind words.

    I thought that the sections that dealt with Iceland and Norway might be of particular interest to you.

    All the best,


  5. Ross Mac,

    It was a great way to go and see places. Cruising is far more relaxing that flying ... and a lot less hassle!

    Our trip to North America will include a stop at Halifax, so nearer the time I will get in contact to see if we can meet. I suspect that my wife will want to visit the shops and possibly anything that is related to the RMS Titanic, but I sure that we can fit a meeting in somewhere! Thanks very much for the offer.

    All the best,


  6. Arquinsiel,

    The 5th was a somewhat dismal day, with overcast skies and the odd shower or two of rain. In other words, a typical June day in Ireland ... from what I have been told!

    Sorry to have missed you.

    All the best,


  7. I will never have the chance to go on cruises like you do, so I very much enjoy your posts about them.


    -- Jeff

  8. Bluebear Jeff,

    That is a great pity, as it is a great way to see the world.

    I hope that my small efforts can give you a view of places that you would have liked to have seen had you been able to.

    All the best (and I hope that you are still on the road to recovery),


  9. Yeah, that's been the standard for years now. It's gotten a lot warmer than it used to be in recent years though, so you sometimes get lucky.

    I'm sure I'll pop over to Salute one of these years, I keep meaning to do it until around December when I forget.

  10. Arquinsiel,

    The weather in the UK used to be something that you could rely on (Spring = rain; Summer = light rain; Autumn = rain; Winter = heavy rain/snow) ... but now it is sometimes difficult to know what season you are in.

    Try to come over the SALUTE sometime soon. It is worth going to.

    All the best,


  11. Dhcwargamesblog,

    It was one of the most interesting cruises that I have been on, and I never expected Iceland to be as impressive as it was.

    The itinerary is not one that many cruise ships do, which is why it appealed to my wife and I.

    All the best,


  12. City,

    I am glad that you enjoyed reading about my travels.

    All the best,