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Wednesday, 11 April 2018

I have been to … Spain, France, Italy, and Gibraltar

Friday 23rd March: Southampton
For once I actually woke up before the alarm clock went off at 6.30am. As a result Sue and I were able to get ready to leave home by 8.30am, slightly ahead of schedule.

Although it was Friday rush hour, our drive along the A2 to the interchange with the M25 was uninterrupted by even minor holdups, and the traffic on the M25 seemed lighter than normal. Other than some minor speed restrictions, we were able to reach the junction with the M3 without having to drive at less than 50mph, and by 9.40am we were driving along the now-finished ‘smart’ motorway.

We stopped at Winchester Services just after 10.20am, and after having a brief stop for a coffee, toasted sandwich, and a comfort break, we resumed our journey. The traffic remained relatively light, and by 11.10am we were in the queue to unload our luggage and hand our car over to the valet parking service. This was completed by 11.25am, and by 11.40am we had booked in, and were passing through the shoreside security checks before going aboard of ship ... the MV Azura.

Once aboard we were directed to the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships), where we were able to sit, drink, eat, and chat until our suite was ready. Just after 1.30pm, Sue and I went for a stroll along the Promenade Deck (Deck 7), where we were able to see luggage being loaded aboard ...


... and two ships – the MV Franklin and the Red Funnel ferry Red Falcon – that were moored across the quay from Azura.



Having had a breath of fresh air, we went up to Deck 8, where our suite was located. Our luggage had already been delivered, and we spent the next hour unpacking. At 3.15am Sue and I were feeling thirsty and hungry and decided to go to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a snack and a drink. We then went outside to sit in the open air near to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft).

We returned to our suite to finish our unpacking, met our cabin steward (Bill) and at 4.45pm Sue and I went to the Manhattan Show Lounge (Deck 7 Aft) for the ship’s compulsory Safety Drill.


Once the drill was over we returned to our suite just before Azura set sail.




Azura was moving away from her mooring when there was a knock at the door, and our butler – Denzil – came in and introduced himself. He made sure that we were aware of the services he could provide (e.g. booking a table in one of the select dining venues, getting tender tickets) and we had a long chat with him about his career. (It turned out that he had been an assistant waiter who served us on one of our early cruises.)

After Denzil left, Sue and I remained in our cabin reading and resting until it was time to go for a pre-dinner drink. We made our way up to the Terrace Bar where we had a drink, but it proved to be cold and wet there because it had been raining, and we only stayed in the open air for about fifteen minutes. We then went to the ship’s shopping area (Decks 6 and 7 Midships) for a look round, but it was very crowded so we ended up walking along the inside of Deck 7.

On reaching the rear of the ship, we joined to queue for the Oriental Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), and by 8.45pm we were seated with our four table companions. After the mutual introductions had been made, we ordered our meals, ad for the next ninety minutes we ate and chatted.

After dinner Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for a walk before going back to our suite to get ready for bed. After such a long and tiring day we were both feeling rather tired, and after reading for a short time, we turned off the lights and went to sleep.

24th March: At sea
Sue and both woke up at the same time, and came to the conclusion that this was probably to a change in the sea conditions. We had been told that Azura was likely to pass through some bad weather as she sailed down the English Channel towards Ushant.




After eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft), Sue and I went for a walk along the Promenade Deck before returning to our cabin. At 11.45am we made our way to the Playhouse Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) to listen to a lecture by a guest speaker, David Russell. His lecture was entitled ‘Sink the Bismarck!’ ...


... and lasted until midday. It was very informative, and we hope to listen to the other lectures he will be delivering during the cruise.

By the time we left the theatre Sue and I were feeling rather thirsty, and popped into the Glass House Bar for a drink. There we met Dolreich, a wine steward who has served us on quite a few cruises, and we were able to have a quick chat with him whilst he served us.

Sue and I then went out on the Promenade Deck for a breath of fresh air before returning to our cabin to read and rest. With the exception of a short break between 2.45pm and 3.15 pm for afternoon tea in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant, we stayed there until just before 8.00pm, when – dressed in full formal evening dress – we went to the ship’s Atrium (Decks 5, 6, and 7) to attend the Captain’s Gala Welcome Aboard Party. It was very crowded so Sue and I stayed went to the Glass House Bar for a drink. We remained there until 8.30pm, at which point we went up to the Epicurean Restaurant for dinner.

This turned out to be an excellent meal, and we did not leave the restaurant until almost 10.45pm. After a short spell on the open deck near the Terrace Bar, Sue and I returned to our cabin to get ready for bed, although neither of us went to sleep until after midnight.

Sunday 25th March: At sea
When we woke up at 8.00am, Azura had reached the northernmost point of Spain’s north-west coast – Cape Finisterre – and had turned south.




After eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I spent some time sitting on the Promenade Deck before going to the Playhouse Theatre to listen to David Russell’s second lecture of the cruise, entitled ‘The Battle of the Atlantic – The U-Boat War’. This lasted until just after midday, by which time we were feeling thirsty. After a quick drink in the Glass House Bar, Sue and I went to the sitting area near the Malabar Bar (Deck 7 Midships), where we sat and read until it was time to return to the Playhouse Theatre to watch the ‘Darkest Hour’.

Despite a technical problem that occurred about thirty minutes into the film (the DVD got stuck and the system had to be shut down and rebooted) we manged to see the film in its entirety. It finally finished just after 3.00pm, at which point Sue and I went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for a late snack lunch, followed by a drink in the Terrace Bar.

We were back in our suite by 4.30pm, and we remained there until it was time to go for a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar. Sue and I then joined our four dinner companions in the Oriental Restaurant, where we had a great time eating and talking. We finished just after 10.30pm, and when Sue and I left the restaurant we went up to the Promenade Deck for a short walk before going back to our suite to sleep.

Monday 26th March: At sea
For the second night running we ‘lost’ another hour of sleep (the first hour was ‘lost’ when the UK moved from GMT to BST, and the second because we had moved into a new time zone as Azura sailed around the south-west coast of Spain), and we were both feeling rather tired when we went to the Epicurean Restaurant for breakfast.




After breakfast Sue and I went for a stroll along the Promenade Deck, and then went up to the Planet Bar (Deck 18 Aft) to sit and read. We stayed there until 11.30am, when we went down to our suite to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch. This started at midday in the Meridian Restaurant, and our table was hosted by the Deputy Captain. The food and the company were excellent, and in no time it was gone 2.00pm and the ship was fast approaching the Straits of Gibraltar.

Sue and I went for a walk along the Promenade Deck, from where we could see the coast of Africa to starboard and Spain to port. This was even clearer when seen from our suite balcony.


As we sailed towards the Straits, Azura passed one of the largest heavy-lift vessels in the world.


It looked very ungainly but it has a lift capacity of 14,000 tons!

At 3.00pm the ship’s captain made a announcement that Azura was passing Gibraltar on the port side, and soon afterwards ‘The Rock’ was visible from our suite’s balcony.


We spent the rest of the afternoon dozing and reading, and as evening came on we began to get ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise. Once we were dressed we made our way to the Glass House Bar for a pre-dinner drink, followed by a walk aft along the Promenade Deck. Sue and I then took the stairs down to the Oriental Restaurant, where we were soon joined by our table companions.

We returned to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air after dinner, and then went back to our suite to get ready for bed as we were going on a tour early next morning.

Tuesday 27th March: Alicante
Sue and I were awake just after 7.00am in order to eat breakfast somewhat earlier than usual. Azura was already approaching Alicante ...




... as we began to get washed and dressed. By 8.20am Sue and I were eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, and soon after 8.50am we had returned to our cabin to collect the bits and pieces we needed to take ashore with us. We then made our way down to the quay, where we were directed towards the coach that was to take us on our tour ... ‘Alicante: City of the Moors’.


Our tour started with a short coach trip around the centre of Alicante. We then stopped at the eastern end of the Esplanade de España, ...



... where we disembarked and began our walk through the old Moorish Quarter. Our first stop was at the very impressive baroque Town Hall ...


... which we entered via a pair of ornate, copper covered doors.


The entrance hall was dominated by a statue created by Salvador Dali ...



... and this rather distracted from the presence of a small brass plaque set into the stairs.


This marks the zero point from which the heights above sea level for the whole of Spain are measured.

We ascended the stair, and were able to look into the public rooms in the Town Hall. These included a room full of portraits of Alicante’s mayors, ...


... a memorial that commemorates the visit of King Juan Carlos to the city, ...


... and the shrine and chapel used on that occasion.



We then made our way from the Town Hall to the Cathedral of St Nicholas, a seventeenth century church built in very austere, geometrical style.



By this point most of the tour party were in need of some refreshment and a comfort break, and we stopped for a drink in a café next to Alicante’s beach.



Suitably refreshed, we re-boarded our coach, which took us to the district of St Juan, which was on the outskirts of the city. We then paid a visit to the Monastery of Santa Faz ...


... where a relic (a section of St Veronica’s cloak, which she used to wipe the face of Christ) is held. The relic is housed in a small but beautifully decorated hexagonal room, and is only taken out of its special cabinet once each year on the second Thursday after Easter Sunday.t

Our tour then returned to Alicante, and our coach took us up the steep and narrow road to the Castillo de Santa Barbara.

We entered by the main gate ...


... where map gave us a good understanding of the fortress’s layout.


We all stopped for a cold drink in a shaded area next to the Castle’s café.



The location gave us a wonderful view the docks ...


... where our ship was moored, ...


... and of the eastern part of Alicante.


Sue and I then spent a short time on our own exploring the castle.


Our first stop was at the dungeons ...


... after which we moved on to the barracks.


This cool and austere building ...



... contained three pictures that showed the development of the castle since 1573.




By the time we had finished looking around the barracks, it was time to return to our coach. We passed through the main gates ...


... and out into the car and coach park. Whilst waiting for the coach to return to pick us up, we were able to photograph the uppermost part of the castle’s fortifications.



The coach got us back to Azura by just after 2.00pm, and after a brief stop off in our cabin, we went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for a snack lunch.

After lunch we sat in the open area near the Terrace Bar until it was time to go back to our suite to get ready for a special dining event in the Glass House Restaurant.

This dinner was staged so that we could experience a special wine and food pairing menu developed by P&O’s executive chefs and wine expert Ollie Smith. It began at 6.30pm and finished three hours later! During the meal we ate four specially prepared dishes and drank a different wine with each.

Sue and I were feeling rather full by the end of the meal, and afterwards we went for a long stroll along the Promenade Deck before going up to our suite to read and rest until it was time to go to sleep.

Wednesday 28th March: Barcelona
The sounds and movement generated by Azura docking alongside the Barcelona Cruise Terminal woke Sue and I up just before our alarm clock wet off at 7.00am.





After getting dressed and eating a light breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I went ashore in plenty of time to join the tour we had booked ... ‘Barcelona Loop’.

The coach took up to the top of Montjuic, and then to the Olympic Stadium, and finally stopping at the Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village). This is a specially-built village that includes examples of architectural styles from across Spain. Most of the buildings are occupied by shops, bars, restaurants, night clubs, and art galleries, and is more of an event venue than an outdoor museum.












We spent about forty-five minutes there before re-boarding our coach for the next part of the tour ... a visit to Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia.


This is due to be finished in five years’ time, and we had the opportunity to walk around the outside to take photographs of the edifice.




Our final stop was at the Plaça de Catalunya.


The centre of the square was occupied by small number of pro-independence Catalans, and Sue and I managed to have a chat with one of them. He was adamant that Catalonia needed its independence, and felt that the government in Madrid were going to have to accept the inevitable sooner rather than latter.

One side of the square is occupied by a large branch of Il Corte Inglese, and Sue and I decided to use their facilities before doing some window shopping ... although the latter did result in a small purchase of jewellery.

At 2.05pm we re-boarded the coach, and by 2.35pm we were back aboard Azura. Sue and I dropped of our bags and cameras in our suite, and then went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for a snack lunch. By this time we were both feeling rather tired and weary, and decided to go for a drink in the Terrace Bar. Sue and I sat there until 4.00pm, and after walk around the outside area on Deck 16, we returned to our suite to rest until it was time to get ready for dinner.

Before going to the Oriental Restaurant for our dinner, Sue and I had a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar and a stroll along the Promenade Deck. We then went down to the restaurant to join our table companions. It was interesting to listen to their experiences of Alicante and Barcelona, and to share ours with them.

After dinner Sue ad I returned to the Promenade Deck for another walk, following which we returned to our suite to get ready for bed.

Thursday 29th March: Marseille
Although we had set the alarm to go off at 7.30am, we were awake beforehand due to the noise and vibration caused as Azura docked in Marseilles.




The new commercial harbour and cruise terminals are some distance from the centre of the city, and as it got light we could see that the ship was in a very commercial area.


Nearby the Costa Lines cruise ship Costa Favolosa was moored on the other side of the quay, ...


... as a local tug tested its firefighting equipment.


It was interesting to note that another Costa ship was in drydock across the harbour.


We ate our breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, after which we spent some time on the Promenade Deck talking and waiting for the shuttle-bus queue to shorten. By 10.00am the queue was much shorter, and after a quick trip to our suite to collect our coats and cameras, Sue and I went ashore.

The trip into the centre of the city took nearly forty minutes, and we disembarked from our coach just before 11.00am. We walked the short distance from the drop-off point to the Old Harbour (Le Vieux Port), passing a street market along the way.


It began to rain as we reached the harbour ...


... which is dominated by the church of Notre-Dame de la Garde.


Sue and I decided to take a walk along the Quay de Port towards the Fort Saint-Jean, which guards the western side of the harbour entrance. We climbed up the stairs leading to the promontory on which the church dedicated to St Laurent is situated.


This gave us an excellent view of the eastern bastion of Fort Saint-Jean ...


... and of Bas Fort Saint-Nicholas on the eastern side of the harbour entrance and Fort D’Entrecasteaux, which is just behind it.


The location also afforded us a panoramic view of the seaward end of the harbour.


By this time the rain was becoming persistent, and Sue and I decided to retrace our steps and return to the shuttle-bus pick-up point. On the way back we stopped for a drink in a café/restaurant, Le Mistral Brassiere.


We could see the Musée de la Marine ...


... which appeared to be closed!

We did not have to wait for a shuttle-bus to arrive, and Sue and I were back aboard Azura in time to have lunch at 2.00pm. After lunch we sat on the open deck near the Terrace Bar for a time as the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.

We returned to our suite at 3.30pm, and rested until it was time to get ready for our second dinner of the cruise in the Epicurean Restaurant. The meal in the Epicurean Restaurant was – as usual – superb, as was the service and the ambiance. It would be very easy to eat in there every night ... but also quite expensive!

For a change we went to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar after dinner, and we stayed there enjoying the cool night air until it was time to return to our suite to sleep.

Friday 30th March (Good Friday): La Spezia
Sue and I were both awoken by the sounds and motion of the Azura docking in Las Spezia.




As a result we were able to see the sun rise over the harbour as we got dressed.


The weather was very overcast, and after eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant Sue and I went down to the Promenade Deck to sit for a while. As many of our fellow cruisers were going on torus to Florence or Pisa, the ship was quite empty, and when we did go ashore just after 10.00am, the queue for the shuttle-bus was almost non-existent. As a result we were walking along the seafront by 10.30am.


Most of the seafront is bordered by a tree-lined promenade (Passeggiarta Morin) ...


... that took us to within a few hundred metres of the entrance to the Naval Museum.


This was undergoing renovation at the time of our last visit, and the newly-finished part was very impressive, and will form the basis of at least one future blog entry.

After spending nearly two hours in the museum, Sue and I were feeling thirsty, and visited a nearby café for a drink.


We then walked along the colonnaded area that formed one side of the Via Chiodo ...


... before wandering inland through numerous pedestrianised streets.


Eventually we reached the restaurant we had eaten lunch in during our previous visit to La Spezia, and we stopped there for a lunch of freshly-caught Sea Bream and potatoes.


We did not leave the restaurant (L’Osteria) ...


... until after 2.30pm. We were both feeling rather full, and decided to sit for a while in a nearby park to rest and watch the world go by.



Suitably rested, we walked back along the Viale Italia to the shuttle-bus pick-up point, and were back aboard Azura by 3.30pm. We then had a drink in the Terrace Bar before returning to our suite to read and rest until it was time for the ship to set sail for our next port-of-call.

Our evening followed what has become our normal routine; a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar, followed by dinner in the Oriental Restaurant, and then an after dinner spell in the open air on the Promenade Deck, before a return to our suite to get ready for bed.

Saturday 31st March (Easter Saturday): Civitavecchia
Sue and I were awoken at 6.30am by the sound and vibration caused by Azura manoeuvring her way through the harbour of Civitavecchia and alongside her berth. This took nearly ninety minutes and involved several long turns that required the extensive use of the ship’s thrusters.




The harbour was surprisingly empty, and Azura was the only cruise ship in port.


As Sue and I were not going on any of the organised tours to Rome, we took our time getting ready before going to eat breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant. Once that was over, we went down to sit on the Promenade Deck until 9.30am, at which point we returned to our suite to get ready to go ashore.

The locally-provided shuttle-bus service was took us to the dock gates via a somewhat roundabout route, but eventually we disembarked near to the famous castle that was designed by Michelangelo and built from marble. We then walked out through the pedestrian gate ...


... and along one of the main pedestrianised street leading inland.


From there we made our way up some stairs that led to the so-called ‘Chinese Market’ which is famous for the range of cheap goods that are on sale. The market was a bustling one ...




... and Sue and I had an enjoyable time wandering around looking at the very varied stalls.

We then made our way back to the seafront ...


... where we were able to find a café where we could sit and drink café latte whilst watching the world go by.


We then crossed the main road and sat for a while on the promenade, looking out to see.


Sue and I then walked back along the promenade, passing the numerous stalls that were selling all sorts of chocolate during the local chocolate festival.


We had plenty of time on our hands, and we were able to walk around the outside walls of Michelangelo’s fortress. (We would have liked to have gone into the castle, but it remains a military installation and is guarded by armed soldiers.)


We were back aboard Azura just before 1.00pm, and after a short visit to our suite we went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for a light lunch, followed by a drink in the outdoor Terrace Bar.

Sue and I were back in our suite not long after 2.45pm ... and both of us had a short doze to recover from the effects of being woken up so early! Suitably refreshed, we spent the next couple of hours reading and sitting on our balcony getting some fresh air.

At 4.30pm, a sudden storm blew in from the sea, and winds of over 40knots hit the side of the ship. An crew announcement ordered members of the deck crew to emergency mooring stations, but before they were able to do anything, the mooring lines had snapped, and the Azura began to swing across the harbour. (We were later told that one of the mooring bollards was pulled out of the dock and ended up in the water, as did one of the ship’s own embarkation gangways.)

Despite using her thrusters, the high winds caused the ship to drift towards the opposite side of the docks. Within a few minutes a tug had sped across the harbour to try to push the ship away from danger, and a second crew announcement was made to close and secure all watertight doors.

Within five minutes two other tugs and a Pilot launch came alongside, and the combined efforts of the tugs and the thrusters stopped the Azura from colliding with the dockside and a small cargo ship that was nearby. By this time the winds had reached a speed of 46knots and the ship was at 90 degrees from her original position.

By 5.00pm the tugs had got tow lines attached to the Azura and were holding her in place in the centre of the harbour. The storm suddenly took a turn for the worse, and for a few minutes it looked as if the ship was going to collide with the nearby cargo vessel ...




... and then the wind dropped slightly and the tugs and the Azura’s thrusters were able to stop the drifting any further towards danger.

At 5.10pm the Officer-of-the-Watch made an announcement to reassure passengers that the captain was in consultation with the pilot and harbour authorities as to how best to re-moor the ship, and that as soon as it was possible, the ship would be secured alongside.

The storm went almost as quickly as it had arrived, and by 6.10pm mooring the ship on the opposite side of the harbour from her previous berth was in progress. This was completed by 6.20pm, and the captain announced that all the passengers and crew who had been stranded ashore were being re-embarked as quickly as possible.

It took some time to re-embark the passengers and crew who had been left ashore, and as a result the Azura was over an hour late sailing. In fact Sue and I were already drinking our usual pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar when the ship set sail.

Only two of our four table companions made it into dinner. The missing pair had been on a tour to Rome, and had been delayed getting back aboard. As a result they had chosen to eat in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant instead of rushing to get ready to eat in the Oriental Restaurant.

Although the storm had passed, the sea conditions as the ship made her way towards the Straits of Bonifacio (the stretch of sea that separates Corsica from Sardinia) was very bad, with winds in excess of 40knots. This meant that our normal post-dinner stroll along the Promenade Decks was impossible as the outside deck area had been closed for safety reasons. Sue and I did venture up to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar, but we only stayed there for a very short time before returning to our suite to go to sleep.

Sunday 1st April (Easter Sunday): At sea
Overnight the sea conditions remained bad, and at some points the violence of the motion woke both of us up. By the time we got up, Azura was already through the Straits of Bonifacio on a course to go south of the Balearic Islands.




As we were both feeling very tired as a result of our interrupted sleep, Sue and I ate a light breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant before going down to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. This was still impossible as the access to the deck was closed for safety reasons. We therefore returned to our suite to read and to rest, and Sue and I stayed there until 11.30am, when we went to the Glass House Bar for a drink.

At midday Sue returned to our suite whilst I attended a Masonic get-together in the Kamala Room (Deck 6 Forward). This meeting did not end until nearly 1.30pm, and I returned to our suite for a short time before we both went to the Glass House Bar for a drink and a light lunch.

After lunch Sue and I yet again attempted to go out onto the Promenade Deck, but barriers had been erected at each starboard door to prevent passengers from going out onto the deck. We did manage to get out onto the port side of the Promenade Deck, but it was so windy and wet from sea spray that it was very unpleasant to stay there.

At 3,00pm Sue went to the onboard spa to have her nails done, and I returned to our suite to read and rest. We went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant at just after 4.15pm for afternoon tea, followed by a spell sitting in the open air by the Terrace Bar. We were back in our suite by 5.30pm, and we remained there until it was time to get ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise.

Sue and I had a stroll along the Promenade Deck before going to the Glass House Bar for a pre-dinner drink. At 8.30pm we made our way down to the Oriental Restaurant for dinner, and soon after we had sat down one of the other couples we share the table with joined us. They had missed dinner on the previous evening due to having been on a tour that was delayed returning to the ship, and they told us all about their rather unfortunate experiences over dinner.

(Besides getting soaked when there was a torrential downpour just after they had disembarked from their tour coach in Rome, they almost failed to get into St Peter’s Basilica due to overcrowding, even though their tour had a booked time slot. On the return trip the coach stopped several times when the driver was told by radio to do so by the tour operator, but no one told the passengers why their return was delayed. It was not until they got back to the harbour two hours later than expected that they were informed about the ship having to move berths. When they finally got back aboard Azura they were so tired that they could not be bothered to get changed for dinner, and went to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant to eat.)

After dinner Sue and I went back to the Promenade Deck for stroll in the fresh air before returning to our suite to go to bed.

Monday 2nd April: Cartagena
Although the weather overnight was much calmer than it had been, Sue and I were both awake before 7.30am. The Azura was still sailing at close to her maximum speed in order to reach Cartagena by 11.00am, her new arrival time. (She should have been arriving by 8.00am, but the delayed departure from Civitavecchia and the bad weather in the Straits of Bonifacio that had slowed down the ship’s progress had resulted in the Azura being three hours behind schedule.




As Azura sailed towards Cartagena, she passed what looked like a small cruise liner that was on a similar course.


Closer to Cartagena, a fast motorboat belonging to the Guardia Civil came out to escort Azura into the harbour, and it continued to circle the ship until she was almost alongside the quay.






Once inside the harbour it was possible to see several smaller Spanish warships that were moored at various quays. These included two patrol vessels ...



... and a supply ship.


Also moored in the harbour was the large salvage tug Clara Campoamor.


A Spanish Navy RIB was moving at high speed around the inner part of the harbour, although appeared to have no reason for doing so.


Azura was secured alongside by 11.00pm, and Sue and I went ashore by 11.15am. As we did so, the small cruise liner that Azura had passed earlier began to move to a berth just astern of the Azura. (The cruise liner’s name was Berlin.)


Sue and I walked from the quayside towards the long promenade that forms the main seafront of Cartagena.


Just across the harbour was a very large and unusual sailing yacht.


It was the White Pearl, and is reputed to be the largest sailing yacht in the world.

We then walked inland past the very impressive memorial to the Spanish military personnel who died at the Battles of Cavite and Santiago de Cuba.



Our walk took us past the old Town Hall...


... and along numerous pedestrianised roads that were lined with a wide variety of banks, shops, cafés, and restaurants.






We eventually returned to the seafront, and as it was almost 1.00pm, we decided to go for lunch in the restaurant we have used on previous visits ... the Mare Nostrum.




Sue and I sat on the terrace, and ate a wonderful meal. (I had lamb chops followed by a local dessert made from caramelised pumpkin, and Sue had sole followed by a crema Catalan, the latter being a type of crème caramel.


We were back aboard Azura by 3.00pm, and after returning to our suite, both of us spent the next hour reading and dozing. At 4.10pm Sue and I went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for some tea, and then sat on the open deck area near the Terrace Bar until 4.45pm.

We were back in our cabin in time to see the Berlin cast off and begin to leave Cartagena at just after 5.00pm, and at 5.35pm the Azura followed suit.



Our evening followed what has become its usual pattern; a short walk along the Promenade Deck, then a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar, followed by dinner in the Oriental Restaurant. After dinner we returned to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air, but as the air temperature had dropped considerably and the wind was quite strong, we only stayed there for a few minutes before returning to our suit to get ready for bed.

Tuesday 3rd April: Gibraltar
Although the weather was not bad overnight, neither Sue or I slept particularly well. We were already awake by 7.00am, and were in time to watch Azura moor on the outside of the two available berths.






By 9.30am we had eaten breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, and within thirty minues we were on our way ashore. The shuttle-taxis service took us to the gates of Casemates Square ...


... for where we walked up Main Street ...


... towards the Governor’s Residence.


We arrived there too late to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony, although we did see the soldier who was guarding the entrance to the Residencey.


After a much-needed drink in ‘The Angry Friar’ ...


... Sue and I returned down Main Street and ate an early lunch in the outside area of ‘The Tunnel’ Restaurat.


We finished eating by 12.50pm, and were in the queue to go aboard Azura by 1.20pm. The process of getting back aboard took longer than expected due to the large number of passengers who had arrived back at the docks at almost the same time. We were back in our suite by 1.45pm, and would have been able to watch the ship sail from Gibraltar had we not both fallen asleep!

(A ‘flu-like bug had been going around the ship, and we both seemed to be suffering from the symptoms; headaches, fever, general lassitude, and a sudden need to sleep. It had been affecting both of us for some days, but seemed to get much worse whilst we were ashore in Gibraltar.)

We awoke in plenty of time to get ready for the evening’s events. At 8.00pm we went to the Manhattan Show Lounge to attend the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party, and thirty minutes later we had joined our table companions in the Oriental Restaurant. The meal lasted until 10.15pm, and after leaving the restaurant Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck before going to our suite t sleep.

Whilst Azura had been sailing along the south-western coast of Spain and southernmost part of Portugal, the weather had begun to worsen, and it was very apparent that we were going to have a rough night.

Wednesday 4th April: At sea
Overnight the weather got a lot worse, and the ship seemed to develop a corkscrew motion where she rolled as well as pitching. This – coupled with the noise of things moving about all around us and the sudden lurches as the ship hit a particularly big swell – kept Sue and I from sleeping very well. As a result we were awake before 7.00am as the ship passed Lisbon.




The weather had improved slightly by the time we had eaten breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, and we decided to see what it was like out on deck. As we expected that the Promenade Deck would be closed to passengers, we went to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar. It was not too cold, but it was windy, and after having a chat with the barman, we returned to our suite to read and to doze.

Before midday I went to the Kamala Room to attend a second Masonic get-together, and I gave a shortened version of my talk about Freemasonry in the British Army. This was well received, and the alms collection that was held raised over £80.00 for the ship’s charity, the Teenage Cancer Trust.

After the meeting I returned to our suite, and just after 1.30pm Sue and I were eating lunch in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant. We then had a drink in the Terrace Bar before going back to our suite to read and to rest. (We were both still feeling under the weather due to our ongoing colds/’flu, and the lack of sleep was not helping matters.)

The weather had not improved very much during the day, and at 6.00pm the captain announced that it was hoped that when the Azura reached Cape Finisterre in northern Spain during the late evening, there would be less swell and that the movement would decreased.

It didn’t, and when Sue and I went to go for a pre-dinner walk along the Promenade Deck, the spray was so bad that it felt as if it was raining. We did not stay on deck very long, and went to the Glass House Bar for a drink instead.

At 8.30pm we joined our table companions in the Oriental Restaurant for the final formal dinner of the cruise. Just after we had eaten the main course, the ship’s Executive Chef and his galley brigade paraded through the restaurant to the acclamation of all those present. This was followed by three cheers for the restaurant’s serving staff.

Sue and I were still feeling tired as a result of our previous night’s disturbed sleep, and we went up to the open deck area for a short spell in the open air before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Thursday 5th April: At sea
Overnight there was no real improvement in the weather, and yet again Sue and I had a night when sleep was sometime difficult. Sue and I both woke up at 5.30am, and we had real difficulty sleeping after that. In the end we accepted that all we could do was doze, and we finally got up at 7.30am.

During the night Azura had been sailing at about 20 knots into the Bay of Biscay, and when she was nearly halfway across when we were getting ready to go to breakfast.




After eating our last-but-one breakfast of the cruise in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I went to the ship’s Atrium, and worked our way down from Deck 7 to Deck 5. Along the way we did some minor retrial therapy, obtained a print-out of our on-board account, and ended up booking a future cruise!

By this time the weather had begun to improve, and we went to the Promenade Deck for a short time to sit enjoying the sun, something that we have not been able to do for some days! Suitably revived, we returned to our suite to begin packing.

By midday we had packed all but one of our bags, and felt in need of a break. Sue and I decided that the Glass House Bar would be the best place to go (we thought that it would be almost empty ... which it was) and we spent thirty minutes there drinking and chatting. This was followed by yet another spell on the Promenade Deck before we returned to our suite to read until it was time for lunch.

Sue and I ate lunch in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant, and then had a drink in the nearby Terrace Bar. The latter was quite crowded as the weather had continued to improve as the Azura had got closer to the northern edge of the Bay of Biscay.

We were back in our suite by 2.45pm, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and resting.

We decided to go for a walk along the Promenade deck before going for our last pre-dinner drink of the cruise, but the wind over the deck was very strong, and even though the weather had continued to improve, it proved too cold and windy to stay in the open for very long.

After we had had our drink, we made our way to the Oriental Restaurant for our last dinner of the cruise. The meal was excellent – as usual – and the conversation was great. Once the meal was over Sue and I said our goodbyes to our table companions and the two waiters – Augustine and Xavier – who had served us during our cruise.

Rather than risk getting cold by going to the Promenade Deck for one last time, Sue and I went to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar. It was cold (there were few clouds in the sky and we could clearly see the stars) but not too windy. We then returned to our suite, packed the last bag that we had to leave out for collection, and then got ready for our last night’s sleep of the cruise.

Friday 6th April: Southampton
I woke up at 4.00am (I think it was the change of movement as the ship stopped near the Nab Tower to pick up the Southampton pilot that woke me) and tried to get back to sleep. I dozed rather fitfully until 6.15am, when the sounds and vibration of the Azura moving towards the quay woke me up again.

When I looked out of the suite windows I saw P&O’s MV Britannia moored alongside the Ocean Cruise Terminal.





Sue woke up just after me, and by the time the ship was moored, we were already getting ready to go for our last breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant. This was over by 8.00am, and by the time we had collected our hand luggage and made our way to the Blue Bar (Deck 7 Midships) to join the other passengers who were disembarking with us, it was 8.20am.

Our group was called to go ashore just after 8.45am, and by the time we had retrieved our luggage, passed through customs, and collected our car from the valet parking service, it was 9.30am. The journey home took us just under three hours (including a short stop at Winchester Services to buy something for lunch) and by 1.00pm we had unloaded the car and were sitting in our home drinking tea.

10 comments:

  1. Bob,
    You have certainly covered some territory this cruise- overwhelmed by the size of your ship. Must admit that I have not read all of your posting yet- you have certainly delivered a huge 'Log'. Pleased that you both enjoyed this mammoth journey. Best Wishes. KEV.

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    1. Kev Robertson,

      We had a great cruise, even if the weather was not good all the time.

      The ship is about average size for modern cruise ships, with some that are twice as large now in service or planned. The smaller ships tend to be older or more exclusive ... and the latter can be much more expensive.

      The situation that arose when the ship broke free of her moorings was rather scary, and she got very close to hitting a smaller cargo ship and the corner of a quay. The seamanship and skill exhibited by the crew, the local pilot, and the tugs prevent the situation from becoming potentially disastrous. Interestingly some of the passengers who were ashore at the time moaned about the inconvenience they had suffered and at least one demanded compensation fir their 'ruined' day. I wonder what they would have thought if the ship had been damaged and the rest of their cruise had been cancelled?

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Bob,
      We have cruised three times in the Pacific - New Caledonia was first, then New Zealand and lastly Tasmania. All very enjoyable cruises and at no time was there any danger to the ship's crew or passengers. We did experience some rough weather returning down the coast of New South Wales to Sydney- huge seas- I've never seen anything like it- we seemed to be heeling something like 40 degrees at times...though we survived the ordeal and it was all part of that great adventure: 'The First Cruise'. Regards. KEV.

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    3. Kev Robertson,

      My wife and I have done over fifty cruises and survived over 36 hours of hurricane force winds when the ship never had a list of less than ten degrees, a life raft recovery in a Force 10, complete loss of electrical power for four hours ... and that is just what I can remember! I’ve developed a great love and respect for the sea, and wish that I had not been barred from service in the Royal Navy because of my imperfect eyesight.

      You managed to visit some places I would love to go to, but unless we manage to do a world cruise, I suspect that we’ll never go there.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    4. Bob,
      I expect that your location there in England certainly allows for much in the way of cruising- with over 50 cruises you must certainly have your 'sea legs' and a great deal of fine memories and experiences. Yes, I also have a deep respect for the sea- and do lament not joining the Royal Australian Navy when I was 15- life would have been entirely different for me- though now I wouldn't exchange the life I've had for anything else. Yes, I'd recommend cruising the two Islands of New Zealand if you and Sue ever get the chance- the 'Land of The Long White Cloud' is truely spectacular. You would just love Aukland's Maritime Museum. All the best. KEV.

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    5. Kev Robertson,

      I certainly do have my sea legs! Because we live in the south-eastern part of the UK, the main cruise port (Southampton) is less than three hours drive away. You can take cruises from there to almost anywhere with a seaboard.

      Some cruise ships sail from Tilbury, which is even closer (less than an hour's drive), but the ships tend to be older and smaller.

      My brother and his wife went to New Zealand last year on a touring holiday ... and loved it! My wife wouldn't fly that far, and the only way we will ever make it there is on a world cruise ... which is just a bot outside our current budget!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Sounds like a memorable trip.

    I was slightly amused at the idea of listening to a lecture on the Uboat war in the Atlantic while cruising on said ocean. Food for the imagination.

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    1. Ross Mac,

      It was a very, very memorable cruise.

      The irony of listening to lectures about the U-boat war and the hunt for the Bismarck in the Atlantic was not lost on me.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Love your cruise posts, although I can feel myself putting weight on by the day. The promenade walks seem vital! Great photos as ever. Are you attending Salute this year?

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    1. Legatus Hedlius,

      I am very pleased that you enjoyed reading my latest cruise report. I understand that the average weight gain per passenger on a fourteen day cruise is about a pound per day!

      I will certainly be attending SALUTE on Saturday and hope to be at the blogger's meeting point at 12.20pm. Hope to see your there.

      All the best,

      Bob

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