Tuesday, 1 September 2009

I have been on an … Adriatic Cruise

Despite – or in spite of – the current ‘credit crunch’, my wife and I have been away on another cruise … this time to the Adriatic. The problem of connecting to the Internet from our ship – P&O’s MV AURORA – was the same as on our previous cruise, and yet again I have used my small laptop to create this blog ‘as it happened’

Day 1 – 14th August 2009 – Southampton

We boarded MV AURORA soon after one o’clock in the afternoon, and after having a drink and eating a small lunch we were able to go to our cabin to unpack. Unfortunately our luggage had not arrived, and we spent a rather fretful hour or so waiting for it to be delivered. It eventually arrived just before the safety briefing was due to take place, and we finally managed to unpack after ‘sail away’. The latter took place to the accompaniment of a small jazz band that played ANCHORS AWEIGH as we cast off.

Day 2 – 15th August 2009 – At sea

Most of the day was spent transiting the Bay of Biscay, which was very smooth. In fact it was so calm that we were able to ‘spot’ a large pod of dolphins that accompanied the ship for over an hour.

This morning I began reading a detective novel set in 1911. It is DEATH ON A BRANCH LINE (by Andrew Martin) and is the fifth in a series of novels about Jim Stringer, who works as a detective for the Railway Police in Yorkshire. I have already read the first four books, which are:
Of particular interest to the wargamer is the fact that one of the characters – a stationmaster of a small rural station – recreates the battles of Britain’s colonial wars in which the York and Lancaster Regiment took part with model soldiers on a tabletop in the railway station office. The battle featured in the book is the Battle of Tamai, and at one point in the book the stationmaster explains that he paints all the figures himself, using a sable brush. Whilst I have not been reading, eating, and sleeping I have been giving some thought to my ‘Nostalgia’ project. So far these have been rather random, but I am now beginning to put ideas down on paper with the intention of blogging them in due course. Day 3 – 16th August 2009 – At sea I finished reading DEATH ON A BRANCH LINE this evening. The story concerns the murder of a local landowner whose son has been convicted of committing the crime and who is about to be hung. The landowner’s other son does not believe that his brother is the real murderer. He is also something of a genius when it comes to railway timetables and is one of the people responsible for creating the national railway mobilisation timetables, a set of secret documents that the Germans would want to get hold of at any price. The story deals with the detection of the real murderer and the protection of the secret documents. The book does impart something of the spy hysteria that gripped Britain during the period, and the short explanation of the need for a coordinated national railway mobilisation timetable makes one realise how important such things were at a time when a country’s ability to wage war depended so much on its railway system. Day 4 – 17th August 2009 – Cadiz (Spain) I understood that Cadiz was a major Spanish naval base, but other than a few references to Spain’s part in the Battle of Trafalgar, I saw nothing vaguely naval during our time ashore there. For the first time this year we experienced hot – rather than warm – weather and we spent the morning wandering around the streets of the old town. We did a bit of ‘retail therapy’, but confined our purchases to a few souvenirs. I did find one shop that sold models, but as one finds so often today, there was nothing unusual or unique on sale. I have begun to re-read Antony Beevor’s STALINGRAD, having read D-DAY: THE BATTLE FOR NORMANY quite recently. I first read STALINGRAD it when it was published in 1998, and had forgotten how good a book it was. Its use of quotes from letters and diaries gives a very personal flavour to the story he tells. This is no ‘dry’ history book and he deserves his reputation for being one of the best current British writers of military history. Day 5 – 18th August 2009 – At sea Spurred on by my continued reading of STALINGRAD, and wanting to move my ‘Nostalgia’ project forward, I have been doing some serious thinking about how to develop this project. At about 4.30pm (local time) the ship was ‘buzzed’ by a Westland Lynx helicopter of the Portuguese Navy. As MV AURORA was off the northern coast of Algeria at the time, I assumed that the helicopter was from a Portuguese frigate operating somewhere in the area. This assumption was further supported when – at about 5.00pm (local time) – I saw the silhouette of a frigate-sized warship on the horizon. Its outline resembled that of the current Portuguese frigates of the Vasco da Gama class, so it is fairly safe to assume this was the ship that the helicopter was operating from. Day 6 – 19th August 2009 – At sea I spent most of the morning reading STALINGRAD, and have reached the point where Operation Uranus is about to begin. I like Antony Beevor’s writing style, and find it very easy – and quite compulsive – to read. Day 7 – 20th August 2009 – Cephalonia (Greece) We went ashore for a couple of hours and wandered around the town of Argostóli, the island’s capital. Because of the earthquake that devastated the town in the 1990s, most of it has had to be rebuilt in the local style; it therefore has the look of a new town but follows its original town plan. We also visited some souvenir shops during our walk, and I was able to buy several ready-painted 1:300th scale models of typical Greek buildings. They were relatively inexpensive – between 2.50 and 1.20 Euros – and although I did not have any particular idea as to when or how I might use them – just like those I bought in Copenhagen during our last cruise – they were a bargain. After our return to MV AURORA I managed to get access to the Internet and made a blog entry on both of my blogs; I then spent the afternoon reading STALINGRAD. Day 8 – 21st August 2009 – Dubrovnik (Croatia) Because there were three other cruise liners in port, we had to use the ship’s tender into the main port area, where we travelled to the Old Town – the Grad – by shuttle bus. The journey time was nearly an hour, and the temperature was well over 30° centigrade. The town was very crowded and we had to almost fight our way through the crowds at times. Despite the crowds we were able to do some ‘retail therapy’ and I was able to buy some ready-painted 1:300th scale models of typical Croatian buildings to go with the Greek ones I bought yesterday. The prices were slightly more expensive – 3 or 4 Euros for larger buildings – but were still good value. I will look out for different building to add to the collection when we visit Korcula in two day’s time. We spent just under two hours in Dubrovnik, and then made our way back to the shuttle bus pick-up point. This proved more difficult that expected, as we had to pass through the Pile Gate (Pile is pronounced Pee-lay). This is very narrow, and the crowd was so dense that it took us over ten minutes to go about ten metres. Once through the gate we were able to move quite easily, and it demonstrated why medieval towns often had such narrow gates as part of their defences! I have continued to read STALINGRAD but as we are in Venice tomorrow I suspect that further reading will have to go onto the back burner until after we visit Corfu. Day 9 – 22nd August 2009 – Venice (Italy) We sailed into Venice early this morning and were alongside our berth by 8.30am. During the sail-in I was able to take lots of photographs, including some of the coastal defences originally built by the Doges and subsequently improved and extended. We travelled into the centre of the city – the water’s edge by the London Palace Hotel near St Mark’s Square to be exact – by vaporetto. These are the local waterbuses that vie with the water-taxis for high-speed transit around the city. Neither type of water-transport seem to follow any ‘rules-of-the-road’, dodging in between each other and the other vessels – including very large cruise liners – that use Venice’s main waterways. We spent several hours walking around the streets and alleys of central Venice, buying a few souvenirs and having a drink in a Venetian café next to the Canal Grande and just down from the Rialto Bridge. Needless to say, there was no news on the Rialto! By the time we got back to MV AURORA the temperature was again well over 30° centigrade. After a very welcome shower and a short snooze we sailed out of Venice and set sail for Korcula in Croatia. There has been news of major fires raging across parts of Greece, and it has been rumoured that we may have to miss our stop at Corfu. This will be a pity as Corfu – along with Cephalonia and the other Ionia Islands – was British from the end of the Napoleonic Wars until the 1860s. In fact the British influence can still be seen in Corfu as they play cricket in the centre of the town on most weekends during the Sumner. Day 10 – 23rd August 2009 – Korcula (Croatia) After an overnight storm on our way to Korcula, we arrived and anchored in mid-channel by 8.00am. After a light breakfast we went ashore by tender. Korcula is a typical Venetian-style walled town. The Old Town is built on a small hill, and a defensive wall originally surrounded it. The main towers still remain and the original walls have been incorporated into the houses that form the boundary of the Old Town. No vehicles are allowed into the Old Town, and most of the streets are only wide enough for three or four people to walk along them side-by-side. Since my last visit the town’s links with Marco Polo have begun to be exploited. A small museum has been set up in the building that has been identified as his ‘home’, and an associated shop selling Marco Polo-related items has been opened. It was here that I managed to buy some more ready-painted 1:300th scale models of typical local buildings. The range stocked by this shop appeared to be unique – I have seen nothing like them in any of the other souvenir shops in Croatia – and I bought two defensive towers and two different harbour quaysides. These will be ideal for wargaming as they are suitable for most parts of Europe up until the early part of the twentieth century. I also manage to buy some additional ready-painted 1:300th scale models of local buildings similar to those I had already bought in Dubrovnik. Despite the fires raging in parts of Greece, we are going to Corfu next, and should be there early tomorrow morning. Day 11 – 24th August 2009 – Corfu (Greece) We moored alongside the main quay at 8.00am after a fairly uneventful run from Korcula. There had been some rain during the night, and when we got off it was to an overcast sky and high humidity. The shuttle bus dropped us off at the entrance to the Old Fort, and after inspecting the two ‘gate guardians’ – a pair of French cannons from the 1790s that were mounted on garrison carriages – we set off for a walk around the area of the town nearest the Old Fort. This seemed to be entirely made up of shops, hotels, cafés, and restaurants. Most of the shops sold local souvenirs and handicrafts, jewellery, or clothes. There was very little on sale that tempted us to indulge in some ‘retail therapy’, and with rising humidity making it very uncomfortable we decided to return to the ship. As a result I was able to spend some time finishing reading STALINGRAD. It is the second time that I have read this book – I read it when it was first published in 1998 – and it was as good the second time as it had been the first time. It reminded me why I like re-fighting the battles of the Eastern Front using MEGABLITZ; there are very few other rules systems that give players the ‘feel’ of the large-scale operations such as the ‘Little Saturn’ offensive and Manstein’s attempts to break through to relieve Paulus’s beleaguered 6th Army. I have now started to read the second of Andrew Martin’s Jim Stringer novels that I have brought with me. It is entitled THE LAST TRAIN TO SCARBOROUGH and so far it seems to be about the search for a missing person. Having read all the other Jim Stringer novels I suspect that there will be at least one murder to be solved along the way. Day 12 – 25th August 2009 – At sea We have spent most of the day sailing around the south of the Italian mainland and Sicily. The weather has been hot, but the sea breeze has kept it from being too uncomfortable. I have spent most of the day reading THE LAST TRAIN TO SCARBOROUGH, and I expect to finish it tomorrow. Day 13 – 26th August 2009 – At sea The weather has been cooler today, which is somewhat surprising as we are off the coast of North Africa where a hot wind usually blows straight off the Sahara out to sea. I finished reading THE LAST TRAIN TO SCARBOROUGH this afternoon and as I assumed before I started, there was a murder to be solved – in fact there were two and several attempted murders as well. Day 14 – 27th August 2009 – Gibraltar We rose early so that we could see the sun rise over Gibraltar as we sailed into the harbour. We followed in MV VENTURA – the most recent addition to the P&O fleet – and both ships moored along opposite sides of the same pier. Our ship berthed just after 8.00am, and after a leisurely breakfast we went ashore. First stop was the 100-ton gun at Rosia Bay. This is one of two such guns that were emplaced in Gibraltar as part of its coastal defences. They were built by Armstrongs, and were bought – along with two that were sent to be part of Malta’s coastal defences – in response to the sale of similar guns to Italy. The existing gun is emplaced in the ‘Napier of Magdala’ battery above Rosia Bay, and covers the approaches to Gibraltar harbour and the seaward side of the Royal Navy’s dockyard. It is said to have had sufficient range to hit any ship trying to enter the harbour and targets on the Spanish mainland opposite. It was not, however, capable of rapid deployment, and took two hours to prepare before it could open fire. Once it was ready, it could then fire once every five minutes. Attempts to fire faster were made, but these resulted in the barrel beginning to split. On the way back to Main Street – the main shopping street on Gibraltar – we passed the Trafalgar Cemetery, where those who were injured during the Battle of Trafalgar and died subsequently are buried. We then passed through an archway, where a large, well-preserved, rifled muzzle-loading cannon confronted us. We then spent time indulging in some ‘retail therapy’ along Main Street. I resisted the temptation to buy some of the excellent photos of warships that were on sale in a specialist photographer, although my wife did manage to buy some of the things that she wanted. Due to the pavement and road outside the Governor’s residence being dug up, there was no military guard outside and hence there was no guard change to watch. In addition there was no obvious Royal Navy presence in the dockyard – such as a frigate or destroyer – and I was rather disappointed that the photo opportunities that I had the last time I visited Gibraltar were unavailable this time. By the time we returned to the ship at about 2.00pm, MV VENTURA had sailed and her berth was occupied by Cunard’s latest ship, RMS QUEEN VICTORIA. We set sail for the UK at 6.00pm, and within a few hours we were through the Straights of Gibraltar and off the southern coast of Spain and Portugal. Day 15 – 28th August 2009 – At sea During the night the weather took a decided turn for the worse, and by the morning the ship was battling her way home through Force 7 winds and a typical Atlantic swell. The RMS QUEEN VICTORIA, which had set sail from Gibraltar sometime after MV AURORA, had caught up with our ship during the night and spent much of the day some way off on the starboard side. She seemed to be making a slightly higher speed than our ship, and slowly overtook us during the day. However by 11.00pm we had – in turn – overtaken her, and were making 21 knots despite the Force 8 winds and increasingly violent swell. Because of the poor weather I spent a lot of time reading the last book that I brought with me, ARTHUR & GEORGE by Julian Barnes. It is a fictionalised account of the lives of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – one of my favourite authors – and George Edalji. The latter was a solicitor who was wrongly convicted of mutilating animals, and the book tells how – after a considerable legal fight – Conan Doyle helped to get the conviction overturned. I also spent time looking at whether or not it was possible to convert my WHEN EMPIRES CLASHED! wargames rules so that they could be used with the Heroscape hex terrain that I own. The terrain is made up of 40mm hexes rather than 50mm squares, and although such a conversion seemed very feasible when I began to examine this possibility, I realised that I needed to do some practical experiments with the terrain and figure bases before proceeding any further. Day 16 – 29th August 2009 – At sea The poor weather continued throughout the night and into the early morning. There was no sign of RMS QUEEN VICTORIA when we got up – either we had made better speed during the night or she took a different course to Southampton. The weather improved during the late morning, and by lunchtime the wind was only Force 3 and the seas were only moderate. I spent some time reading more of Julian Barnes’s ARTHUR & GEORGE, which is turning into even more of a true-life crime story than I had imagined. Most of the afternoon was spent packing ready for disembarkation tomorrow morning. As the ship continued to make at least 21 knots throughout the day, we expect to dock at Southampton on time. Day 17 – 30th August 2009 – Southampton We docked ahead of schedule and were off-loaded and leaving the car park by 10.30am. We had a good run back home on the M3 and M25, and despite a slight diversion to buy some much needed food, were back home by just before 1.30pm.


  1. I liked your building purchases a lot . . . however when I buy things like that I often buy doubles because turned at a different angle (especially if a bit distant from its twin) they aren't recognizable as the same building.

    Nevertheless you made some good buys. Thanks for the travelogue.

    -- Jeff

  2. Jeff,

    I actually bought quite a few such buildings last year (about 60 in all) ... and could not remember which ones I already had, so I do have several doubles ... and trebles!

    Because the buildings are painted by different painters, each has a few variations as well, so even next to each other they are not always obviously the same.

    The Adriatic area had much less of obvious interest to the wargamer than the Baltic. I had hoped to visit the War Photo Museum in Dubrovnik and the museum dedicated to the defenders of Dubrovnik, but it was so hot and crowded when we were there neither my wife or I felt like joining the long queues at both locations.

    Similarly, the fort in Corfu was open when we were there, but the humidity and heat were both very high, and there was little or no shade inside the fort. We both decided that we would visit the fort if and when we ever return to Corfu, but on that day it would have been so unpleasant that we would not have enjoyed the experience.

    On the other hand, Gibraltar has so much to see that the time we had there was insufficient to visit more than a fraction of what is on offer. We will probably be going back there next year, and we hope to visit part of the tunnel complex if we do.

    All the best,


  3. For 25mm gaming, I have a bunch of those inexpensive ceramic "Christmas Village" type buildings.

    I just repaint the roofs to cover the "snow" and they work great for 18th century games. And, by painting two of the same building's roofs different colors (and placing them at a different angle) they become different buildings.

    Your Adriatic finds can actually serve in many different Mediterranean locals.

    Good stuff!

    -- Jeff

  4. Jeff,

    I hope to catalogue exactly what I have sometime this weekend as I suspect that over the past two years I have bought a lot more than I realised!

    I have seen the ceramic houses you mention, and very nice they look. I have not, however, found anywhere in the UK that sells them.

    All the best,



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