Saturday, 18 August 2012

I have been to ... Gibraltar, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Spain

Just six weeks after returning from our previous cruise we set off again, this time to the Mediterranean aboard P&O's MV Arcadia.

Tuesday 31st July: Southampton
Despite dire warnings that travel in and around London would be horrendous during the Olympics, we set off for Southampton at just after 9.00am ... and arrived in at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal less than three hours later. After we booked our car in with the valet parking service, we joined the priority boarding queue just after midday. The boarding process was swiftly competed, and within twenty minutes we had passed through the security checks and were sat in the Crow's Nest Bar drinking champagne and eating lunch.

At 2.00pm an announcement informed us that our cabin was ready, and we made our way there. Our luggage arrived soon afterwards, and we spent the next couple of hours unpacking. We had to stop at 4.00pm so that we could attend the SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety Briefing that was held in our emergency Muster Station. Once that was over we quickly returned to our cabin, stowed our lifejackets, and went up to the Aquarius Bar to take part in the sail-away.

As Arcadia sailed away from the dock we passed the Trinity House Cutter Patricia, ...

... the car transporter Gran Bretagna, ...

... and the Ministry of Defence-owned strategic sealift Ro-Ro ship Hurst Point.

Once Arcadia had sailed past the Nab Tower we went back to our cabin, completed our unpacking, and then prepared for dinner. After a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar we went to the Meridian Restaurant and met two of the four people who we will be sharing our table with during the cruise. After dinner we went up to the Promenade Deck and then had another drink, this time in Spinnakers Bar. By then we were both feeling rather tired and we went back to our cabin to sleep.

Wednesday 1st August: At sea
We awoke just after 8.00am, and when we looked outside the weather looked very gloomy and visibility was poor. However by the time we went down to the restaurant to eat breakfast, the weather had improved and the sun was breaking through the cloud cover.

We spent most of the day relaxing in various locations around the ship. I word-processed my draft blog entry and began reading GENTLY SAHIB by Alan Hunter. It was one of the series of books that featured Inspector George Gently as the main character, and unlike the BBC TV series (which is set in the North East of England) the stories are located in East Anglia (usually Norfolk). They are interesting whodunits, and it is not always obvious who the villain is.

This particular story started with the escape of a Bengal Tiger from a secure enclosure owned by an animal trader. It went on to terrorise a small town – Abbotsham – before it was (accidentally) shot dead by a policeman. A year later a mauled body was found buried in the garden of an apparently abandoned house. It appeared that the tiger had killed someone ... but how, why, and when?

We had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar before going to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner. We met our two new dinner companions for the first time, and discovered that they had originally been placed at a different table on the previous night, and that they had been moved to our table for the rest of the cruise.

After dinner we returned to the Aquarius Bar for a breath of fresh air before going to Spinnakers Bar for a drink. We then made our way to our cabin to go to bed, but not before adjusting our clocks and watches one hour forward as we were changing time zone.

Thursday 2nd August: At sea
The weather had improved overnight as we had crossed the Bay of Biscay and begun to sail down the coast of Portugal. After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we spent the morning in the seating area near the Aquarius Bar talking to an assortment of other passengers who came from all over the United Kingdom.

We had a late snack lunch in the Belvedere self-service restaurant, and then went to the Palladium Theatre to hear the ship's captain, Captain Ian Walters, interviewed by the Cruise Director, Leon De. Ste Croix. Captain Walters told the audience about his career as a Merchant Navy officer and interesting incidents during his life at sea, including being a deck officer aboard a P&O ship during the 1970s that came across a Soviet merchant ship that was replenishing a Russian submarine less than 40 miles south of Torquay.

We then returned to our cabin and prepared for the first formal dinner of the cruise. This was preceded by the Captain's Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, but as it was held in the area around the swimming pool we decided not to go. Instead we went to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink.

The dinner was described as being a gala event, and the food was of the usual high standard expected of P&O. The conversation at dinner covered a range of topics and I discovered that one our dinner companions is entering the onboard 'Mastermind' competition, and that his specialist subject was the History of the Royal Navy. After dinner we returned to the Aquarius Bar for a post-dinner drink before going to bed. I finished reading GENTLY SAHIB before going to sleep and I must admit that the plot to use a tiger to kill someone sounded a bit far fetched when I was reading the book ... but actually made sense by the time I had finished the book.

Friday 3rd August: Gibraltar
Arcadia was docked alongside the quay in Gibraltar by just after 7.30am, and we had eaten breakfast and had gone ashore by 9.30am. We decided to walk into the centre of the town rather than to take one of the shuttle-taxis as the weather was not too hot and the queue for the taxis was quite long.

Once we had reached Casemate Square we set off uphill along Main Street. We did some window shopping as we made our way towards the Governor's Residence.

We stopped for a cold drink in the pub opposite the Residence ...

... and I managed to photograph a member of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment who was mounting guard outside the Governor's Residence.

I had hoped that we might see the Changing of the Guard, but the door of the Guardhouse remained firmly shut.

Suitably refreshed my wife and I made our way back down Main Street, where we bought some small items of jewellery and an electrical extension bar. The latter was important because it made it possible to plug in more than one appliance (e.g. iPad charger) in our cabin.

We had to return to Arcadia by 1.00pm, and we reached the queue for shuttle-taxis back to the ship just before midday. The queue was even longer than the one earlier in the day, and after a short discussion we decided to walk back to the ship. On the way back we passed the remains of some of the old brick-built gun embrasures ...

... and a statue of Admiral Sir George Rooke, who captured Gibraltar from the Spanish in 1704.

A smaller cruise ship (the MV Island Escape) was moored along the inner side of the Cruise Terminal quay ...

... and she was still there when Arcadia slipped her lines and left Gibraltar at 1.15pm.

My wife and I had a snack lunch in the Belvedere self-service restaurant before going to the Aquarius Bar to watch Gibraltar slowly get smaller as Arcadia made her way out of Algeciras Bay. The ship entered the Mediterranean soon after leaving Gibraltar, and although the heat haze was quite thick, it was possible to see the mountains of Morocco very clearly on the horizon.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our cabin and on its balcony. I began reading another Inspector George Gently novel GENTLY GO MAN. The text is full of 'beat generation' language from the 1950s, and it took me some time to grasp the meaning of all the expressions that are used.

During the late afternoon Arcadia overtook what looked like a large grey-painted motor yacht. The visibility was very hazy and it was difficult to take a clear photograph of the yacht ... but I still gave it my best shot.

As had become our custom, we had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar. The Bar was situated on Deck 9 at the stern of the ship. Part of the area was in the open (including the area around the small Aquarius Pool and its associated jacuzzis) and part was covered by fixed awnings. This ensured that it was possible to sit in the open air and still remain under cover should it rain or should the sun be too strong. We returned there after dinner, and enjoyed the cooling over-deck breeze that was caused by the ship's forward movement.

Saturday 4th August: At sea
The sea was covered by a light haze when we awoke at 8.00am, but this was soon burned away by the sun. By this point in our cruise we were off the coast of Algeria, sailing eastward.

After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we spent a couple of hours relaxing before getting ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch. This is a special hosted lunch for people who are in the top two tiers of the P&O loyalty scheme.

The host of our table was the Ship's Environmental Officer, who turned out to be a veteran of the Falklands War. He had served as an engineer aboard a Royal Fleet Auxiliary during the conflict, and after retiring from RFA service he had joined P&O. Our other table companions were all very experienced cruisers and we spent the lunch exchanging stories and discussing where we had been.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the open deck and in our cabin before getting ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise. The weather was a bit hot and humid for formal clothes (starched shirt, black bow tie, and Dinner Jacket for me, and long Evening Gown for my wife), but luckily the Aquarius Bar had a cooling breeze blowing across it and this made it the ideal place to have a pre and post-dinner drink.

When we returned to our cabin we had to adjust our clocks one hour forward again as the next port-of-call is in another time zone.

Sunday 5th August: At sea
A thick sea mist was obscuring the horizon when we awoke, but by 9.00am the sun had begun to burn this off. The air became hotter as the morning progressed but the humidity remained high, and without the over-deck breeze it would have been almost unbearable to be outside.

After breakfast we relaxed in the shade under the awnings near the Aquarius Bar, and just before midday I attended a meeting of the international fraternal organisation of which I am a member. As usual the meeting concerned itself with the organisation of a fund-raising event that would take place at some time in the near future. I was elected to act as Director of Ceremonies, which was quite an easy job as it involved introducing guests when they arrived and announcing the various toasts.

We decided to take a late lunch, and spent the early part of the afternoon in the Crow's Nest Bar. This was situated on Deck 10 Forward and had commanding views of the surrounding sea. The sea was very calm and it was possible to sea large fish swimming just below the surface as the ship passed then.

After a snack lunch in the Belvedere self-service restaurant we decided to book a tour for our next port-of-call, Corfu. We had originally intended to catch the shuttle-bus into the centre of Corfu Old Town and then just go where the mood took us, but then the next day's weather was predicted to be very hot (90F or more) and very humid. As we had experienced this type of weather on a previous visit to Corfu, we knew that it was going to be very uncomfortable doing what we had planned ... so we booked a tour around the island by air-conditioned coach.

We then spent the rest of the afternoon either inside our cabin - whilst it was too hot to sit outside - or on the cabin balcony ... once the temperature and humidity level had fallen. As usual we had a pre and post-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and after we had returned to our cabin to sleep I finished reading GENTLY GO MAN by Alan Hunter.

Monday 6th August: Corfu
As predicted, the weather was very hot and very humid. After an early breakfast we went ashore in one of the ship's tenders and made our way to the coach that took us around the island.

Whilst we were in the tender a warship passed us on its way out of the harbour. It was a patrol craft, and appeared to be one of the two former American Ashville-class ships that were transferred to the Greek Navy. (Later research indicated that the warship was the Tolmi [P229} of the Hellenic Navy.)

Our first stop was in the village of Kato Garouna, which was high up in the mountains of Corfu and that we approached through a green countryside full of pine, cypress, and olive trees. The village was made up of a wide variety of different styles of houses in varying states of repair.

The tour then went a few miles further on to a local taverna, where we were served a variety of different locally-made food and drink including red wine, feta cheese, olives, olive oil, bread, and salami.

Our coach then took us to the Achilleion Palace, which was named after the Greek hero, Achilles. This was built and used by Empress Elizabeth, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was dedicated to Achilles. After her death at the hand of an assassin in Geneva, Switzerland, the Palace lay empty until it was bought by Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. He used it as a summer home until the First World War, after which it was put to various uses. It is now a nationally-operated museum.

Our final stop was near the entrance to the Old Fort in the centre of Corfu Old Town.

We had explored the Old Fort during a previous visit to Corfu and decided that it was too hot and humid to repeat the experience. We remained on the coach and returned to the tender pick-up point in the harbour. From there we made our way back to the ship, where we had a very welcome cold drink and a late lunch/early tea in the Belvedere self-service restaurant.

During our stay in Corfu Arcadia was joined by several other cruise ships including P&O's MV Ventura, ...

... Royal Caribbean's MV Splendour of the Seas, ...

... Norwegian Cruise Line's MV Norwegian Jade, ...

... and Yachts of Seabourn's MV Seabourn Spirit.

Arcadia set sail from Corfu at around 6.00pm, and followed the Ventura out of the harbour. Arcadia then sailed northwards towards Dubrovnik whilst the Ventura began her passage back to the UK via Gibraltar.

The evening was designated as being 'tropical', and I took the opportunity to wear a shirt that I bought last Christmas whilst we were in the Caribbean. The various patterns and colours were so loud that I needed a suitable excuse to wear it. The food we were served in the Meridian Restaurant also had a 'tropical' theme, and the Aquarius Bar was the site of a tropical deck party that lasted until after midnight. Luckily the ship passed from one international time one into another overnight and we all gained an additional hour of sleep because the clocks were turned back.

Tuesday 7th August: Dubrovnik
This was our thirtieth wedding anniversary, and we decided to have as much fun and enjoyment as we could. After a very light breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we went ashore and caught the shuttle-bus to the edge of the Old City area of Dubrovnik. We passed through the Pile Gate and into the city, where we walked down the main street (the Stradun) to the Sponza Palace.

Inside the Palace was a memorial to all those who died defending Dubrovnik during the Homeland War (the Croatian name for their part of the several wars that followed the break-up of former Yugoslavia). It is a simple memorial that contains photographs of the dead as well as historic artefacts from the conflict.

We then passed through a gateway that led to the Old Harbour. After admiring the view we found seats in a large cafe at one end of the harbour where we spent some time sipping cold drinks and watching the world go by.

Feeling refreshed we made our way to a small market place near the Cathedral, where we browsed through the range of local products on sale. From there we made our way towards the Maritime Museum as we knew that a small restaurant we had eaten in before was situated near there. The Storia Restaurant was actually located in a narrow street that abutted part of the city's main defensive walls.

The waitress actually remembered us from our visit earlier in the year, and we were given a warm welcome. The food was excellent and we spent a wonderful time sitting in the shade eating and drinking.

On our way back through Dubrovnik we walked down one of the narrow streets that ran parallel to the Stradun. As we did so we saw the memorial cross that was built atop the mountain that overlooks Dubrovnik. It marked the location of a defensive position that the defenders of Dubrovnik held on to in the face of many attacks during the Homeland War.

We also came across a private memorial to the events of the Homeland War. It described how a local painter's house was hit and set on fire by Serbian artillery shells.

It portrayed a powerful and unforgiving personal view of the War ... and reminds us of the personal cost of Croatia's independence.

We returned to the shuttle-bus pickup point via the Pile Gate, and it took less than fifteen minutes to get back to the ship. Arcadia cast off from Dubrovnik just before 4.00pm and was on her way towards Venice.

As part of our anniversary celebrations my wife and I had booked a table in the Ocean Grill. This was the Marco Pierre White Restaurant aboard Arcadia, and on previous cruises we had enjoyed some excellent dinners there. That evening was no exception, and we both enjoyed our meals tremendously. The fact that it was also a formal evening added to our enjoyment.

Before going to sleep I began to read the next of the Inspector George Gently books that I had brought on holiday with me. GENTLY WITH THE PAINTERS seemed a much more traditional whodunit than GENTLY GO MAN, and did not contain any slang that I needed to get to grips with in order to understand the story.

Wednesday 8th August: Venice
There were very strong indicators that cruise ships would not be allowed to sail up the main canal in Venice from 2013 onwards, so we were up early to set up our video camera to record what would have been the last ever 'sail in' we took part in.

There were several other cruise ships in Venice on the day we visited including the Silver Seas Cruise's Silver Wind, ...

... Celebrity Cruise's Celebrity Solstice, ...

... and the MV Regatta.

After Arcadia was safely moored alongside we collected our shore excursion tickets (for a change we had booked a half-day tour rather than just making our own way in and around the port-of-call) and boarded a local water-bus that took us to a nearby gondola station. We then enjoyed a thirty-minute journey around some of the smaller canals of Venice. Away from the crowded areas it was a very quiet city, and one can appreciate what it must be like to live there.

We re-boarded our water-bus, which then took us through the main canal (the Canale Della Giuedecca) to the Island of San Giorgio, which is almost opposite St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace.

This was one of the few islands that remained a totally religious community, and it had a magnificent example of a Palladio-designed church, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.

The Church contained many religious classical paintings, including two by Tintoretto.

Our water-bus then took us around the easternmost part of Venice, northwards past the Arsenale district and the San Michele Cemetery island, and on to Murano. Whilst in Murano we saw a demonstration of glass blowing and had the opportunity to buy some of the world famous glassware made on the island.

On the return trip my wife and I took the opportunity to disembark and remain in the centre of the city. We walked though St Mark's Square to the Rialto Bridge, crossed the Bridge and continued past the markets that are situated at the western end, and then turned south-west and walked parallel to the Grand Canal. There we found the shop where we had previously bought examples of Murano glassware. The owner recognised us, and because we were returning customers who were paying cash, he gave us a significant discount of 20% off the marked price.

Having completed our purchases, we walked through some of the small alleyways to the Grand Canal. We found an empty table at one of the numerous canal-side restaurants and ate a late but very welcome lunch. Lunch over, we walked slowly back towards St Mark's Square and on to the canal-side area outside the Hotel Londra, which was where the P&O shuttle-boat pickup point was. We finally arrived back aboard Arcadia just after 5.00pm feeling very tired after having a great day out in the city.

We ended the evening with a couple of drinks in the Aquarius Bar and a quiet dinner in the Meridian Restaurant. In fact we were so tired that we were in bed well before midnight and slept through Arcadia's departure from Venice.

Thursday 9th August: Koper
Another day ... and another new country. Koper was a new port-of-call for us and it was also our first visit to Slovenia.

Our time in Koper was limited as the ship sailed for its next port-of-call at 2.00pm. We went ashore just after 10.00am and walked to the main square in the centre of the city, which was called Tito Square. This was dominated by the Praetorian Palace ...

... and the Cathedral of the Assumption.

From there we walked down the main shopping street. All the streets in the older part of the city were narrow and pedestrianised, with the result that they were shady and cool to walk through.

We found a small cafe at the end of the main street in a square near the Muda Gate, and we sat there and had a refreshing drink.

The square contained an interesting fountain but it was impossible to find out why such a magnificent structure had been built there.

We then returned to our ship in plenty of time before she departed for the next stop of our cruise, Kotor. On the way back we came across some very interesting war memorial plaques that were fixed to one of the walls of one of the local university's buildings.

We spent most of the afternoon relaxing in the Aquarius Bar, on our cabin balcony, or inside our air-conditioned cabin. After yesterday's long stay in Venice both of us were feeling in need of a rest, and this was an ideal opportunity to recharge our batteries.

Our evening followed its usual pattern, starting (and ending) with a drinking the Aquarius Bar and dinner in the Meridian Restaurant. The conversation around the table mostly consisted of us all recounting the stories our various travels of the previous few days and discussing what Kotor might have to offer as a tourist destination.

Friday 10th August: Kotor
After an uneventful journey down the Adriatic coast from Koper to Kotor, we arrived alongside just after 9.00am. During the ship's approach towards the quay in Kotor we passed an old Ton-class type NATO coastal minesweeper that appeared to have been sold for commercial use. The ship appeared to be somewhat neglected, and one wondered what use she had been put to.

As had been the case since Arcadia first entered the Mediterranean, the weather was good and the temperature was hot. After a late breakfast we went ashore midway through the morning. The main entrance in to the Old City of Kotor was only a few hundred yards away from where the ship was moored and within a matter of a few minutes we were walking through its narrow winding pedestrianised streets.

Amongst the buildings we saw during our walk around the city were the Romanesque-style Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Tryphon, ...

... Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, ...

... St Luke's Church (which is unusual in that it has both Romanesque and Byzantine features as well as separate Roman Catholic and Orthodox altars), and ...

... the Maritime Museum.

Although the Museum was quite small it had some interesting exhibits, including model of twentieth century several warships.

During our stay in Kotor we ate an al fresco meal at one of the numerous restaurants inside the city. Both my wife and I enjoyed eating the local food and drinking local wine and beer, and in my case I was introduced to the delights of a locally-brewed lager ... the wonderfully named Niksicko Beer!

The name was not inspiring, but it was very cool and very refreshing.

Having gone ashore just after 10.45am we were beginning to feel quite tired by 1.30pm, and we went back aboard Arcadia just after 2.00pm. During the day the air temperature reached well over 92F and we avoided the risk of dehydration by drinking little and often.

At 4.00pm Arcadia began the process of unmooring, after which the Captain used the ship's azipods to turn 180 degrees in a space that was barely bigger than the ship's length. Having completed this very tricky manoeuvre the Arcadia made her way down the fjord towards the sea. During her passage she passed a special religious building, the Our Lady of the Rocks Church. This was built on a man-made island by local sailors as a sign of thanks for their safe return from sea voyages.

Further downstream Arcadia passed several relics of the Cold War, including a camouflaged entrance to an underground bunker for motor torpedo/missile boats, ...

... the former Koni-class missile-armed frigate, Beograd (formerly Split), and ...

... several partially sunken or derelict support craft.

Nearby was a modern local police patrol boat ...

... as well as several smaller motor craft.

The theme of the evening's entertainment was the 1960s and 1970s ... and when we went for our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar the ship's DJ was playing a selection of music from those decades. Thankfully the food at dinner in the Meridian Restaurant did not follow the same theme, but when we returned to the Aquarius Bar after dinner we found that a deck party was in full swing. The atmosphere was extremely good and the live band were excellent, and in the end we stayed almost until the end at midnight.

Saturday 11th August: At sea
During the night Arcadia steamed towards the southern coast of Italy, and when we awoke we could clearly see the coastline on the horizon. After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we went on deck whilst Arcadia sailed through the Straits of Messina between mainland Italy and Sicily. The Straits were very narrow at one end and were also amongst the busiest waters in the world. Just before the ship picked up the pilot who was required to be on the ship's bridge whilst the transit of the Straits took place, Arcadia was 'buzzed' by an Italian Police helicopter.

Soon afterwards the ship entered the main ferry crossing point between the mainland and Sicily. It would appear that the ferries used on this route are a very mixed collection of vessels including Logudoro, ...

... Vestfold, and ...

... Enotria.

These ferries passed very close to the Arcadia ... and each other.

One thing that was very striking about the Logudoro was the complete absence of lifeboats on the ship's davits, and it must be assumed that this complied with local Italian safety regulations!

After Arcadia had exited the Straits of Messina the weather began to change for the worse, and the ship turned south-west to avoid the bad weather. I then attended a meeting of the international fraternal organisation of which I am a member, and was appointed Master of Ceremonies for the evening social event that had been organised for later in the voyage.

I then attended a lecture by John Martin, a professional comedian and amateur military historian. This was billed as being about George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn ... but it was actually about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by SOE-trained Czech and Slovak soldiers. The success of this operation led to the destruction of the Czechoslovak village of Lidice by the Germans as a reprisal.

After a late snack lunch in the Belvedere self-service restaurant, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our cabin before we got ready for the fourth formal dinner of the cruise. The dinner was preceded by the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party. This was a special social event for all those who regularly cruised with P&O, and gave the company the opportunity to say 'Thank You' to them.

We finished the evening with a drink in the Aquarius Bar ... which would have been unpleasantly hot and humid had it not been for the breeze that was blowing across the deck.

Sunday 12th August: At sea
The sky was covered by low cloud when we awoke, but by the time we had eaten breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant the sun had burned off the cloud and the temperature was in excess of 80F. We went up on deck after breakfast and stayed there until just after 11.00am, when we returned to our cabin to cool down. I managed to finish reading GENTLY WITH THE PAINTERS, whose plot turned out to have far more twists and turns than I at first suspected.

Just before midday we made our way to the onboard cinema to watch THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL ... but by the time we got there all the seats were taken ... fifteen minutes before the film was due to start! Instead we made our way up to the Crow's Nest Bar, where we drowned our sorrows with a cold drink.

After a late lunch in the Belvedere self-service restaurant we returned to our cabin ... to discover that the air conditioning had begun to malfunction. Rather than pumping out cold air it was producing warm air. In fact it was cooler on the cabin balcony (where the temperature was well over 80F!) than it was in the cabin. We reported the problem to Reception and waited for an engineer to arrive to fix the air conditioner ... and waited ... and waited.

Eventually two members of the Electrical Engineering Department arrived and checked the air conditioner over ... and discovered that the airflow was more than 50% below its proper operating level and that the valve that connected it to the main air supply trunking was not opening fully. Once these two problems were dealt with, the air conditioner functioned at full efficiency and our cabin began to cool.

Whilst all this was going on I began reading my fourth Inspector Gently novel. It was entitled GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM and I had read it on a previous occasion. Luckily I could only remember the basic outline of the plot and could not remember who committed the murder or their motive for doing so.

As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar before going to our table in the Meridian Restaurant. On the previous evening we had eaten alone as none of our four table companions had joined us for dinner, but on this evening all of them were present. It transpired that they had gone for a meal together in the Ocean Grill as a last-minute cancellation had meant that a table had suddenly become vacant. After dinner we went back to the Aquarius Bar for a final drink of the day, after which we went back to our now much cooler cabin to sleep.

Monday 13th August: Malaga
We awoke as the Arcadia was approaching the harbour of Malaga, and the ship was tying up as we went into breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant. Whilst we were eating breakfast another cruise ship – the Aida Vita – moored just behind Arcadia.

By just after 10.00am we were aboard the shuttle-bus and on out way to the main entrance to the dock area. Our journey took us past a Spanish Navy patrol boat named the Tagomago. This was a member of a small class of ships (the Anaga-class) that formed part of the Spanish Navy's coastal patrol service. The class were armed with a 3-inch/76.2mm main gun and a 40mm anti-aircraft gun. This made them quite powerfully armed vessels for their size and capable of dealing with most potential opponents.

We had originally planned to visit the old Moorish fortress that is situated on top of a hill that dominated the centre of Malaga ... but discovered that it was shut on Mondays. Instead we made our way to the area of the city near to the Cathedral, where we stopped for a drink.

From there we made our way through the winding streets to the main shopping area. The streets in the main shopping area were kept cool by the simple but effective method of suspending large sheets of fabric between the tall buildings on either side of the street.

After having another drink (in a different bar that was also near the Cathedral) we made our way back to the ship in time to have a snack lunch in the Belvedere self-service restaurant. We then went to the Aquarius Bar to join in the traditional P&O 'Great British Sail-away'. Hundreds of people took part in the sail-away, and it gave them a great excuse to wave flags, sing traditional and patriotic songs, and generally enjoy themselves.

By the time the sail-away ended, Arcadia was already way out to sea and steaming at near full speed towards the Straits of Gibraltar. The sea conditions had become slightly rougher during the sail-away and they remained so until Arcadia passed through the Straits of Gibraltar at approximately 7.00pm.

The weather was fine enough for us to have our pre and post-dinner drinks in the Aquarius Bar, although there were indications that the weather was due to change. For example all the sun beds that filled the deck area aft of the Bar were stacked up and tied down.

Tuesday 14th August: At sea
Despite predictions of bad weather overnight we awoke to find that the sky was filled with a covering of light clouds and the sea was relatively calm. Just after 8.30am Arcadia passed a sailing ship that had no sails deployed, and this was indicative of how mild the winds were.

After breakfast we spent our time on deck or in the Crow's Nest Bar reading, chatting, or using our iPads. In my case I updated the draft of my blog entry and then watched an episode of the BBC version of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY.

We returned to our cabin before having lunch in the Belvedere self-service restaurant, and whilst we were in our cabin Arcadia passed a cargo ship that was also making its way northward along the coast of Portugal.

The weather took a sudden turn for the worse during lunch. Visibility dropped so much that the ship had to regularly sound a fog warning signal. This was then followed by torrential rain that fell for nearly an hour. The rain was so heavy that it cascaded down open stairwells as if they were waterfalls!

Once the rain had stopped the visibility improved, but the forecast indicated that the weather was likely to remain poor for the rest of the cruise.

At 5.30pm we attended the social event organised by the international fraternal organisation of which I was a member. I acted as Master of Ceremonies, and my duties involved introducing attendees to the meeting's President as they arrived, and calling the event to order so that the various toasts could take place. The event was a great success and raised £250.00 each for two charities, one of which was nominated by the Captain.

After the event was over we returned to our cabin for just over an hour to rest and recuperate. Whilst we were there Arcadia passed a lightly loaded RO-RO ferry.

We then went up to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink before going to the Meridian Restaurant for the last formal dinner of the cruise. The conversation around the table was particularly interesting and it was after 11.00pm before we all got up from our table and left. My wife and I hoped to have a post-dinner drinking the Aquarius Bar but when we got there it was closed due to bad weather. Unbeknown to us the weather had become a lot worse whilst we had been eating, and the rain and wind had made it too dangerous for passengers and crew to be on open deck areas ... such as the area near the Aquarius Bar. We were able to get a drink elsewhere, but it was not as pleasant an experience as being able to sit in the open air on deck.

Wednesday 15th August: At sea
During the night Arcadia had the Bay of Biscay, and by the time we awoke the ship was well on her way towards Ushant. We had breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant and then went up to the Aquarius Bar so that we could sit in the open for some time even though it was not very warm and the sky was overcast.

We sat down in the Aquarius Bar just before 10.00am, and within a couple of minutes of our doing so the Captain made an emergency announcement calling the crew to stations for 'Man Overboard'. As this was not preceded by the statement 'For Exercise' and it was accompanied by several blasts on the ship's horn, we knew that this was a real emergency. Seconds later the ship passed an inflated life raft that could be seen very clearly less than half a mile away. Arcadia slowed down very rapidly and then turned across the sea to approach the life raft. Whilst Arcadia performed this manoeuvre passengers were requested to sit down as the ship would be moving violently due to the effects of the waves and the wind during the turn. We also saw a nearby coaster turn to assist Arcadia in the search and recovery mission.

After nearly fifteen minutes of careful manoeuvring the Captain brought Arcadia alongside the life raft. The raft was checked to make sure that there was no one inside it. Normally the life raft would then have been brought aboard, but the Captain decided that due to the heavy seas this was too risky and its position was reported to the French Coastguards. The Captain then declared that the emergency was over and thanked the passengers and crew for the exemplary way in which they had conducted themselves.

We sat in the Aquarius Bar until 11.30am, at which time we went below to our cabin to begin the process of packing. Firstly we sorted out the numerous bits and pieces that needed to be packed, and then we went through the same process with our clothes. We took a break for lunch not long after 2.00pm, after which we completed as much of the task as we could before putting our luggage outside our cabin for collection. (We kept back one bag so that we could pack the clothes that we wore during the day and the evening. It was placed outside our cabin door just before we went to bed.)

We went up to the Aquarius Bar for a final pre-dinner drink, and at 8.30pm we made our way to the Meridian Restaurant for our last dinner of the cruise. The meal was excellent and afterwards we took our farewells of the restaurant staff who had served us during our cruise as well as our dining companions.

Thursday 16th August: Southampton
Thanks to our being members of the Baltic tier of the Peninsular Club, we were able to disembark from Arcadia when we were ready to. This enable us to collect our luggage, pass through customs (where we were stopped and checked over by a very courteous member of the UK Border Agency), and retrieve our car from the car park by 9.05am, and soon afterwards we were on our way home. We had a good run home, and were sitting down having a much needed drink by 11.30am.


  1. Bob, I hope P&O have you on retainer! You make a compelling argument for cruises.

  2. Konrad Kinch,

    Well my wife and I do qualify for discounts on the cost of some cruises and most onboard services - as well as being shareholders in the company - so it would be in our interest to make cruising sound good, wouldn't it?

    All the best,


    PS. It would cost LESS to send my father on a month-long cruise than to keep him in his care home for the same amount of time. Makes you think, doesn't it?

  3. Pat G,

    It was very enjoyable ... even though it was uncomfortably hot and humid in one or two places.

    Venice was as good as it always is, but Kotor is beginning to get very popular and will probably end up as commercialised (and crowded) as Dubrovnik.

    Koper was somewhere we had not visited before ... and we both hope that next time we visit it we can spend more time exploring the town and its environs.

    All the best,


  4. Sounds like a fun and relaxing trip. Those cruise ships look like some of the ugliest and ungainliest vessels afloat, yet something tells me that, except maybe in really filthy weather, they would be a great way to travel by sea.

  5. It would appear we were in Corfu at the same time.. :o)

  6. Archduke Piccolo,

    Cruising is so much more pleasant than flying ... with the added bonus that you can take as much stuff with you as you can fit into your car!

    The very modern cruise ships are really just mobile floating hotels. Underwater they are designed for fuel efficiency and above water for maximum capacity. They have a great deal of 'windage', and in heavy weather they 'crab' through the water and/or roll whilst pitching and tossing. The latter can cause a lot of 'motion discomfort' (i.e. seasickness) for some passengers.

    I much prefer the older ships because of their sea keeping qualities ... but they are not as well-appointed and have fewer onboard facilities ... and are also beginning to go out of service. Therefore we have to cruise on the more modern ships. I do, however, draw the line at travelling on the really big 'resort' ships that Royal Caribbean own. They are hideous to look at and are far too big.

    All the best,


  7. Steve-the-Wargamer,

    What a coincidence! Were you staying on the island or just paying it a fleeting visit?

    All the best,


  8. Staying.. and very nice it was as well..

    Come on... be honest.... it sounds lovely, but how much weight did you put on?? :o))

  9. Steve-the-Wargamer,

    Well if the day we were there was anything to go by, then you had some very hot weather during your stay!

    I must admit to putting on a few pounds whilst I was away ... but I am now doing my best to get rid of it again! (Lots of salads are being eaten ... and I HATE salads!)

    All the best,