Sunday, 22 October 2017

I have been to … Portugal, Spain, and Gibraltar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and the SS Shieldhall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After dinner Sue and I went up to Terrace Bar …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stop was almost outside the Palace of Justice …

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

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

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

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

(The custard tart …

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

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

… which is decorated with a magnificent tiled wall, …

… the magnificent Fonte Ledes, …

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and the other was the Amadea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This special lunch is P&O's 'thank you' to loyal customers, and each table was hosted by an officer. In our case our host was one of Carnival Cruises' Training Officers. The food and drink is always of the highest order and on this occasion I ate:
  • Croquette of Confit Duck Leg, with a Picked Egg and Beetroot Purée
  • Beef Fillet, with Oxtail Potato Hash, Sautéed Bok Choy, Baby Carrots, and Pumpkin Purée
  • Rhubarb Sorbet
  • Warm Sticky Toffee Cake with Tonka Bean Mousse and Orange Curd
Sue ate:
  • Cornish Crab, Morecambe Bay Shrimp, and Caper Blini, with Tarragon Mayonnaise
  • Lemon Sole and Sea Trout Lattice filled with Buttered Leeks, with Creamed Potatoes, Asparagus, and a Chive Butter Sauce
  • Rhubarb Sorbet
  • Saffron Panna Cotta, with Pistachio Praline and Vanilla Poached Pear
After such a rich lunch, neither of us was in the mood for doing much, so after a short spell sitting on the Promenade Deck, we returned to our suite to read and rest.

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

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

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

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

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

… a sailing ship, …

… and a research ship, the Ramon Margalef.

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

We walked along this towards the Baluarte de la Candelaria

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

This area contains a number of notable monuments …

… and ancient trees.

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

… General José Miguel Carrera, …

… and José Marti.

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

… towards the Plaza Mentidero.

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

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

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

The Plaza San Antonio is a very impressive square …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… which is now an arts centre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… the Duero (M35).

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

… and a large rescue tug.

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

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

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

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

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

We then walked though the nearby market …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and it was already becoming crowded.

Sue and I then walked up Main Street …

… and reached 'The Angry Friar' public house …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Azura moored alongside just before 8.00am, …

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

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

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

… in Baixa, the old 'Lower Town' of Lisbon.

We made our way up the Rua da Prata

… to Praça de Figueria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ate:
  • Parma Ham, Smoked Salmon, Tiger Prawns, Spicy Chicken, and Chorizo Sausage and Butter Bean Cassoulet (Starters)
  • Fillet of Beef with vegetables, served with a Port and Madeira Jus (Main Course)
  • Banana Sundae, Lemon Curd Meringue Cone, Strawberry Shortbread Tower, and Pancake with Maple Syrup (Desserts)
Sue ate a completely different selection of dishes … and by the time we had finished eating at 1.45pm, we were both feeling rather full.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Always love a cruise, we did this one last year. The pastry shop in Oporto is excellent!

    1. Prince Lupus,

      It was a great cruise, and we visited some of our favourite places.

      We wanted to try the Portuguese custard tarts in Oporto, and chose the cafe that seemed to have the greatest number of locals who were buying coffee and pastries there.

      All the best,


  2. Hi Bob...a mammoth account of your recent cruise- well done.
    I must own up to scrolling through your post looking at your splendid photos - leaving the reading until later. I appreciate what you have presented as I will most certainly never see that part of the World in person-
    many thanks. Cheers. KEV.

    1. Kev R,

      I'm very pleased that you enjoyed looking at my photographs. I akways try to convey some idea of what the places we visit feel like. As to the words ... well food seems to feature quite a lot in them!

      All the best,