Monday, 18 January 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ventura was moored next to the Doca do Jardim do Tabaco

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

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

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

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

… and the impressive Arco da Vitoria.

I then joined Sue under one of the nearby colonnades …

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

… until we reached the Praça Dom Pedro IV.

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

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

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

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

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

From there it was a short walk to the Praça Restauradores

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and TUI's Mein Schiff 4.

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

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

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

Our walk continued along the Avenida Vargas

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

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

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

Eventually we reached the Arrecife Gran Hotel …

… and the beach called Playa del Reducto.

We the turned inland and walked up a side road …

… that took us to Calle Jose Antonio.

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

We then made our way to the Calle León y Castillo

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

… where we found a bar, El Notario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We could also see the local Spanish Naval Base …

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

Tornado (P44), …

… and Meteoro (P41) were moored.

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

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

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

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

… some of whom were armed with automatic rifles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We turned inland and walked though the Plaza de La Candelaria

… and up the Calle Castillo

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

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

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

The fish market …

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

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

… and Bravo Murillo

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

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

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

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

… and the somewhat larger Ventura!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the way we passed the Iglesia de El Salvador.

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

… finally led us to a small square …

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

… and have a cold drink and some excellent tapas.

When we had finished we walked a across the square …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we walked along the Avenida Arriaga

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

When the Avenida Arriaga reaches the Cathedral of Sé do Funchal

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

We crossed the bridge over the local river …

… and began to walk down the Rua Fernão Ornelas

… towards the Mercado doe Lavradores.

We spent quite some time in the market …

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

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

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

We chose one where we could sit outside …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sun came up just before 9.00am …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and then the harbour area …

… where the only ships were a tug …

… and a freighter.

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

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

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

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

Once the retail therapy was over, we continued our walk along Riego de Agua far as the Plaza de Maria Pita side of which is occupied by the Palacio Municipal.

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

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

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

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

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

… then turned right down Durán Loriga ...

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

… and Olmos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. What a wonderful cruise, Robert! Epic in many ways with many lovely photos. My wife and I have been considering a visit to the Canary Islands and your travelogue has been great inspiration. Say, in Corunna, did you get a chance to visit the 1809 battlefield?

  2. Bob,

    The SCW armour book is very good.
    Interestingly Nick Slope (assuming it's the same Dr Nick Slope) is a wargamer.
    He's an archaeologist; knew him when he was at Uni in Newcastle. He appeared on the BBC on a dig of some of Nelsons sailors (Timewatch?) a few years ago.

  3. Jonathan Freitag,

    Despite the weather at the beginning and end of the cruise, we had a great time!

    The Canary Islands are all different from one another. Tenerife is closest to Africa, and the south can be very hot when the winds blows in from the east. The north gets much more rain, and tends to be greener. Arrecife looks and feels more volcanic than the others, whilst Gran Canaria seems much more Mediterranean. La Palma, which is further west, feels more like Madeira.

    I didn't visit the battlefield outside Counna during this visit, but have done in the past. If you do go there, a visit to Moore's grave is a 'must', as is the small military museum that is on the opposite side of the road from the small park that encircles the grave site.

    All the best,


  4. Neil Patterson,

    The book is excellent, and has done much to revitalise my interest in the Spanish Civil War.

    It is the same Nick Slope, and had I realised that he was a wargamer, I would have made more of an effort to try to talk to him. As it was I couldn't get near him after his first talk due to the large number of people who wanted to speak to him, and I never saw him about the ship during the cruise. Perhaps I'll get a chance next time!

    All the best,


  5. Nick is a "canny lad" as we say in the Northeast.
    I think I last saw him at Salute (Olympia) many years ago.

  6. Neil Patterson,

    I hope that I have a chance to meet him some day.

    Salute at Olympia ... those were the days, although I can remember when it was at Kensington Town Hall.

    All the best,


  7. Me too! A real labyrinth if I recall, crowded aisles & backpacks!
    Never made it to Excel & from what I've heard don't plan to.

  8. Neil Patterson,

    I remember putting on games in all sorts of odd little rooms and corridors in Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall

    Excel has it plus side for me as it is closer than Kensington ... but it has all the appeal of a modern airport terminal and hanger. I haven't been for two years, and won't be going in 2016.

    All the best,