Wednesday, 6 November 2013

I have been to … the Adriatic and back

About a month ago my wife spotted a P&O cruise to the Adriatic that had balcony cabins available at what they described as ‘Getaway’ prices. These were quite heavily discounted, and as we were looking to take a break somewhere relatively warm before the winter started, we booked it.

Saturday 19th October: Southampton
We got up just after 6.30am and by 8.40am the car was fully laden and we were on our way to Southampton. The drive around the M25 was uneventful until we reached Junction 9, where we were held up by slow-moving traffic that had built-up as a result of an earlier accident. This eventually cleared, and by the time we reached Junction 12 for the M3 turn-off the traffic was moving at normal speed. The rest of the journey to Southampton was uneventful, and we were able to take a break for breakfast at Winchester Services not long after 10.40am. After eating a toasted sandwich and drinking some coffee, we resumed our journey to Southampton and arrived at the Ocean Terminal just after 11.35am.

We unloaded our car, and – after handing it over to the valet parking service – we made our way inside and booked in. This only took a few minutes, and by just after midday we had passed through the security checks and were sitting down in the Arcadia’s Meridian Restaurant.

Just after 1.30pm we were told that our cabin was ready for us, and when we got there one of our six bags had already delivered to the door. We unpacked it and waited for the rest to arrive. We waited … and waited … and waited … but by 3.30pm none of the other five bags had arrived. We reported this to the ship’s Reception Desk, but they told us that as luggage was still being loaded it would be delivered in due course.

At 4.00pm we went to the compulsory Safety Briefing about what to do in event of an emergency, and afterwards, when we returned to our cabin, the missing bags had still not arrived. I spoke to our Cabin Steward about this, and he and I both searched the surrounding deck area … to no avail. As we had nothing else that we could do, we went up to the Aquarius Bar to take part in Arcadia’s ‘sail away’ from Southampton.

We were back in our cabin by 5.15pm, and the missing bags were still missing. I went back to the ship’s Reception Desk, and this time they took down a description of the missing luggage and assured me that it would be found … eventually. By this time my wife and I were becoming very concerned, and at 5.45pm I set off yet again to search for the missing bags. I got to the nearby lift … and a young porter was getting out of it with the missing bags! Apparently they had been delivered to a cabin five decks below ours, and the occupants had just left them outside the door. The porter had seen them and realised that they were in the wrong place, and on his own initiative he had decided to deliver them to the correct cabin. Needless to say, he got a generous tip!

For the next hour my wife and I unpacked our luggage as fast as we could so that we would have time to get ready for our evening meal, and by 8.00pm everything was in the right place, and we had washed and changed and were sitting in the Aquarius Bar having a pre-dinner drink.

When we had booked the cruise we had asked for a table for six or more for dinner … and we were allocated to a table in the lower Meridian Restaurant that we shared with two other couples. We all made our introductions, and then spent a very pleasant couple of hours eating, drinking, and talking. After dinner we went for a short breath of fresh air up near the Aquarius Bar, and then returned to our cabin for a very welcome sleep.

Sunday 20th October: At sea
When we awoke at 8.00am it was apparent from the water on our balcony that Arcadia had sailed through rough weather on her way down the English Channel. The sky was very dark, and we experienced nearly thirty minutes of thunder, lightning, and heavy rain. The sea was also rough and winds of up to Force 8 were buffeting the ship.

The weather improved slightly by the time we went for breakfast at 9.00am in the Meridian Restaurant, but after Arcadia had rounded Ushant and began to sail out into the Bay of Biscay, the ship’s movement made walking around the ship quite difficult. We did manage to get some fresh air in the undercover area near the Aquarius Bar, but eventually the cold drove us indoors and back to our cabin.

I spent the next three or so hours reading BEWARE RAIDERS! – GERMAN SURFACE RAIDERS IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Bernard Edwards (published by Leo Cooper in 2001 [eISBN 978 1 78337 907 1]) on my Kindle, after which we went up for a snack lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant. This was followed by another brief spell in the undercover area near the Aquarius Bar, but the ship’s movement had become so violent that water was being thrown out of the nearby Aquarius Pool and we were in danger of getting rather wet. We went back to our cabin and stayed their reading and writing until it was time to get ready for the evening meal.

The continued bad weather had obviously affected quite a few people, and the Aquarius Bar was almost empty when we went there for a pre-dinner drink. The same was true in the Meridian Restaurant, where almost a third of the places remained empty throughout the meal. We ate dinner on our own as neither of the two other couples joined us.

After dinner we decided to go to the Crow’s Nest Bar for a drink, but there were very few people about and in the end we returned to the Aquarius Bar … which was shut. There were, however, more people under the covered deck area there than one would have expected, and we spent nearly an hour chatting to several fellow passengers before going back to our cabin to bed. I finished reading the book I had started earlier in the day and began to read SAINT-NAZAIRE: OPERATION CHARIOT 1942 by James Dorrian (published by Pen & Sword Military in 2006 as part of their ‘Battleground’ series [ISBN 978 1 78340 972 3]) before finally going to sleep.

Monday 21st October: At sea
Overnight the weather had not improved, and the ship was still battling through Force 8 winds, rough seas, and frequent heavy rain squalls. By the time we awoke at 8.00am Arcadia had already sailed out of the Bay of Biscay and was making her way down the coast of Portugal. It was still dark when we got out of bed, and it was only just beginning to get light by 8.45am.

After breakfast in the Median Restaurant we went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar. It was raining quite heavily and we only remained there for about twenty minutes before we returned to our cabin, where were stayed until 11.30am. I read several more chapters of James Dorrian’s SAINT-NAZAIRE: OPERATION CHARIOT 1942 before we decided to go for a walk along Deck 3. This is the Promenade Deck, but due to the bad weather the outside area was closed and we had to walk along the inside passageway. After a look around the ship’s shopping area we made our way up to the Crow’s Nest Bar, where we stayed for just over two hours. We both had a drink and I watched the first two-thirds of the English audio version of the film of Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO on my iPad.

By 2.30pm we were both feeling hungry, and went to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a snack. We followed this with yet another fresh air break in the covered area next to the Aquarius Bar, but as the weather had not improved a great deal we only lasted about fifteen minutes before we returned to our cabin. I then watched the rest of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO before having a short snooze.

Just after 5.00pm I began getting ready for the Captain’s ‘Welcome Aboard’ Cocktail Reception, which is always held on the same evening as the first formal dinner of the cruise. As my wife and I had been to so many of these receptions in the past we were unsure as to whether or not we would bother to attend. The fact that we had not sailed with Captain Trevor Lane before – and that he came from the area where we live – encouraged us to go … but the venue – the area around the Neptune Pool – rather put us off. (The area around the Neptune Pool has a sliding roof so that it can be covered during periods of inclement weather. Unfortunately the presence of the pool and its heating system makes the area rather humid when the roof is closed, and the presence of upwards of 1,000 people does little to improve matters!)

In the end we decided to go to the Captain’s ‘Welcome Aboard’ Cocktail Reception (where we met the ship’s Human Resources Manager – Michelle – with whom we had had lunch during a previous cruise), and afterwards we made our way down to the Meridian Restaurant for our dinner. We were joined by one of the other couples we share a table with (it later transpired that the missing couple were both feeling unwell) and spent a very pleasant time talking to them whilst we ate.

After dinner we had a drink in the Aquarius Bar before going to our cabin to sleep. The weather was only slightly better when we went to bed than it had been when we got up that morning, but the weather forecast for the following day predicted some improvement, particularly with regard to the wind and rain.

Tuesday 22nd October: Cadiz, Spain
Just before 9.30am Arcadia docked alongside the Cruise Terminal in Cadiz, and by 10.00pm it was possible to go ashore.

Arcadia was not the only cruise ship in port, and L’Austral (an exclusive French cruise liner) was moored alongside the dock just behind Arcadia.

We disembarked just before 10.30am and set off towards the northern side of Cadiz. On our way we passed the Monument to the Cadiz Constitution of 1812 which is located in the Plaza de España

… and walked along numerous narrow side streets.

Eventually we reached the sea near the Baluarte de la Candelaria (Bastion of Candelaria), and from there we walked south west along the seafront to the Castillo de Santa Catalina (Castle of Saint Catalina).

During our walk we saw two Spanish warships sailing out to sea. They appeared to be an Anaga-class patrol boat …

… and some form of transport or supply vessel, possibly the Contramaestre Casado.

At this point it began to rain, and we took shelter in a nearby café – the Quilla – where we drank café lattes and used the free WiFi.

Once the rain had stopped we continued our journey – this time southwards – and as we did so we passed the former La Palma Spa and the entrance to the Castilla de San Sebastian (Castle of Saint Sebastian).

Our path then turned eastwards towards the cathedral, but before we got there were turned north and walked through the Mercado Central (Central Market).

Once we had passed through the market we turned eastwards again, and eventually reached the Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Place). One of the buildings that form the edge of the plaza had a very interesting plaque fixed to it. The plaque is dedicated to the memory of those Spaniards who took part in the Battle of Trafalgar, and was put up on the two hundredth anniversary of the battle.

The cathedral dominates the plaza, and it is a fine example of Baroque and Neo-classical architecture.

We then walked through some of the main shopping streets of Old Cadiz from the Plaza de la Catedral to the Town Hall, which is situated in the Plaza de San Juan de Dios (Saint John of God Place).

It began to drizzle as we walked northwards from the Plaza de San Juan de Dios towards the Arcadia’s berth.

We were back aboard Arcadia just before 2.00pm, and by the time we were eating lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant, the rainfall was heavy. We sat in the covered area near the Aquarius Bar for a time after lunch, and then were returned to our cabin to rest before getting ready for the evening meal.

For a change we had booked a table in one of the ship’s select dining venues, the Ocean Grill. We had eaten there on previous cruises, and knew that we would enjoy the experience. The meal lived up to our expectations, and afterwards we returned to our cabin to sit and read before going to bed. I finished reading James Dorrian’s SAINT-NAZAIRE: OPERATION CHARIOT 1942 and began THE BAGHDAD RAILWAY CLUB by Andrew Martin. This was the latest of his ‘Jim Stringer – Steam Detective’ novels, and it was published in 2012 by Faber and Faber Ltd (ISBN 978 0 571 28202 9).

Wednesday 23rd October: At sea
Not long after midnight Arcadia passed through the Straights of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean Sea. When we woke up at 8.30am the weather had improved considerably, and although it was cloudy – and remained so all day – the sea was much calmer and the air temperature had risen.

After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we paid a short visit to the ship’s shops and to the Peninsular Club Loyalty Desk. We then went back to the cabin to collected our stuff together (Kindles, iPads etc.). Whilst we were doing this a warship sailed past Arcadia on a reciprocal course. It was too far away to see what ship it was, but her silhouette suggested that it was a Dock Landing Ship of some type, possibly a member of the United States Navy's Harpers Ferry-class.

After photographing the unknown warship we went up to the Orchid Bar. This is situated on Deck 11 midships, and has a commanding view of sea around Arcadia. The bar was run by a member of the crew that we had met on many previous cruises, and we spent a pleasant time talking to her before she had to take her break. We stayed in the Orchid Bar until just after 1.00pm, and I used the time we were there to begin watching the English soundtrack edition of the Swedish film version of Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE.

For a change we had lunch in the Meridian Restaurant. The big advantages of doing that are that you do not have to serve yourself, the meal can be eaten at an unhurried pace, and the portions are smaller than one might be tempted to serve oneself in the self service restaurant!

After lunch we had a stroll along the ship’s Promenade – which was now open – before returning to our cabin to read and to write. The view from our balcony was dominated by the coast of Algeria, which was only a few miles away. During the afternoon I finished reading Andrew Martin’s THE BAGHDAD RAILWAY CLUB and began TWILIGHT OF THE U-BOATS by Bernard Edwards. This was published in 2004 by Leo Cooper (eISBN: 978 1 78337 945 3) and describes the climax of the Battle of the Atlantic when the U-boats began to lose their dominance and increasingly became the hunted rather than the hunters.

After getting ready for dinner we had our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and then met up with our dinner companions in the Meridian Restaurant. We returned to the Aquarius Bar for a breath of fresh air before going to bed, and had the opportunity to chat with people who we had met earlier during the cruise.

Thursday 24th October: At sea
Overnight the weather continued to improve, and by 8.00am the sea was calm and the sky was criss-crossed with light clouds. After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we sat and relaxed in the covered area by the Aquarius Bar. By 11.00am it had become much warmer, and we decided to go inside to cool off.

After a brief visit to our cabin we them made our way to the Palladium Theatre, where a guest speaker – Mike Harvey – was giving a talk about the life of Princess Margaret. This would not have been my first choice of what to do, but my wife was keen to go … so I went. He turned out to be a good speaker, and it was obvious that he knew a lot about his subject and was able to communicate that knowledge in an interesting way.

After the lecture we went for a drink in the Aquarius Bar, and then had a snack lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant. We then returned to our cabin, and after a spell on our balcony – which was south-facing and therefore very warm – we went back inside to cool off. I read so more of Bernard Edwards’ TWILIGHT OF THE U-BOATS and watched the second half of THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and the whole of THE GIRL WHO KICKED OVER A HORNETS NEST.

The dinner was the second formal one of the cruise, and after getting ready we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink. Because we expected to have an early start on the following morning, we returned to our cabin after dinner and read until it was time to go to sleep.

Friday 25th October: Valletta, Malta
Arcadia sailed into Grand Harbour, Valletta at 8.30am, and as the sun came up and began to burn away the cloud cover, it was apparent that we were going to have a day of warm weather.

As she sailed in we passed a number of the harbour’s numerous fortresses, which looked quite menacing in the early morning light.

On her way towards her mooring place, Arcadia was passed by the MV Quest for Adventure, which was sailing out of the harbour.

After eating an early breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, we went ashore and joined the coach tour we had booked. This was called ‘Free Time at Three Sites’ and involved visits to three very different parts of Malta.
  • Vittoriosa
  • Marsaxlokk
  • Silema
Vittoriosa is situated just across the Grand Harbour from Valletta. The Malta Naval Museum is located there …

… and we spent the hour we had in Vittoriosa visiting it. (I will be writing a detailed blog entry about the museum in the near future.) The harbour outside the museum is used as a marina …

… and we saw examples of local small craft alongside the quay.

We then drove to Marsaxlokk, which is a fishing village on the south coast of Malta.

We spent a very pleasant hour walking along the seafront, where we each had an excellent café latte and chocolate doughnut in a small café.

On our way back to the coach we passed a statue that had been erected in memory of the fishermen of Marsaxlokk, …

… the local church, …

… and a Roman statue of Hercules …

… after whom the village had been named during the Roman era.

The final part of our tour was to Silema, which was described to us as being the main ‘commercial’ (i.e. shopping) area. It is situated on a separate inlet from the Grand Harbour but is still near to the centre of Valletta.

We decided to sit in a quiet, shady square …

… which was named after Saint Anne, a statue of whom stood in one corner of the square.

We then went for a short walk along the nearby promenade …

… where we passed a sailing ship that was used for coastal cruises.

When our coach returned us to the Arcadia, we found that she had been joined alongside the Cruise Terminal by two Costa Line ships, the Costa Voyager and Costa Favolosa.

After returning aboard Arcadia, we paid a short visit to our cabin to freshen up before going to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant, where we ate a late lunch.

Arcadia was supposed to set sail at 3.30pm, but due to a delay in refuelling and the sudden illness of a passenger who had to be disembarked and rushed to hospital, she did not depart until 4.45pm. On her way out of Grand Harbour, Arcadia passed the same fortifications she had passed on her way in.

These were Fort St Michael, …

… the Fort St Angelo, …

… and Fort Ricasoli.

Once the Arcadia had sailed out of Grand Harbour and into the open sea, we spent the next couple of hours resting and reading (I managed to finish reading Bernard Edwards’ TWILIGHT OF THE U-BOATS) before getting ready for that evening’s dinner. As was our custom, we had a drink in the Aquarius Bar before going to the Meridian Restaurant to eat … and had a further drink in the Crow’s Nest Bar after we had eaten.

Saturday 26th October: At sea
By the time we woke up the Arcadia had already turned into the Adriatic, and as she did so the weather changed somewhat. Although the sun was shining when we got up, by the time we had eaten breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant the cloud cover had increased and the air temperature had dropped. The sea remained very calm, but a stiff breeze was blowing from astern.

For some time after breakfast we sat in the covered area by the Aquarius Bar, but the cooling wind made it too cold to sit there for more than thirty minutes, and in the end we returned to our cabin. We stayed there until midday, at which time we went up to the Crow’s Nest Bar to sit and read. Unfortunately the ship’s choir was just beginning to practice for its forthcoming concert, and in the end we went up to the Orchid Bar … which was almost empty and very, very quiet.

We stayed there for some hours, and then went to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a snack, after which we returned to our cabin to rest, read, and sit on the balcony. During the late afternoon we began the leisurely process of getting ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise, and by 8.00pm we were in the Aquarius Bar having a pre-dinner drink.

The dinner was very enjoyable as the food, the company, and the service were excellent. (Our table companions had turned out to be very sociable people who were easy to talk to and we were very lucky in being served by an excellent team of waiters.) As we wanted to be up early on the following morning to watch the sail-in to Venice, we decided not to have an after dinner drink, but to go to our cabin for an early night.

Sunday 27th October: Venice, Italy
We both woke up at 7.15am, but when we opened the cabin curtains we were greeted by the sight of nothing but fog! Arcadia was stationary and we could see nothing except a local car ferry that was also stopped nearby.

At 8.00am the ship’s Captain made an announcement that explained the situation. It appeared that the overnight fog had caused the Venice harbour authorities to close the port, and that Arcadia – along with all the other ships hoping to enter the harbour – had been ordered to moor a mile or so outside the harbour entrance. We were to wait until the authorities deemed it safe to enter the Venice harbour area, which includes the narrow main channel from the sea that passes through the centre of the city. Captain Lane also told us that he had requested that a pilot be sent out from the shore so that as soon as the fog cleared enough for the harbour to be opened, Arcadia could proceed in.

We went to breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant at 8.45am, and Arcadia was still moored outside the harbour entrance when we came out at 9.30am. We went up on deck and stayed there for fifteen minutes … and whilst we were there the Cruise Director announced that extra entertainment was going to be laid on to fill the time we spent waiting to go into Venice.

At 10.00am Captain Lane announced that the fog was beginning to lift inside the harbour, and that Arcadia should be able begin to make her way in at about 10.30am. If this was the case, then the Arcadia should be alongside her berth by 12.30pm … nearly four hours late.

We decided to sit in the Crow’s Nest Bar until the situation – and the fog – became clearer, and I spent the time downloading and sorting out the numerous photographs we had taken so far.

At 10.35am the Arcadia’s engines were started, and the Captain announced that we were about to make our way into the harbour … and that he had managed to organise matters so that our stay in Venice had been extended by four hours (i.e. until 7.30pm). By 11.00am the ship was passing through the outer entrance to the harbour and by 11.15am Arcadia was passing the most easterly of the main islands that make up Venice (Isola di S Elena).

On our way up the main channel, Arcadia passed the finishing post for the Venice Marathon, which was taking place on the day of our visit.

The fog was beginning to clear by the time we reached St Mark’s Square …

… at which point Arcadia was ‘buzzed’ by a couple of camera-equipped helicopters that were covering the Venice Marathon for some Italian TV channels.

Once the helicopters had departed, Arcadia continued her passage towards the Cruise Terminal. Along the way we saw the leaning bell-tower of Venice(!), …

… an very luxurious private motor yacht that was the size of a World War II Flower-class corvette, …

… and some of the leading runners in the Marathon.

As predicted, Arcadia was moored alongside the Cruise Terminal by 12.30pm, and by 12.40pm we were on our way to catch the shuttle boat into the centre of Venice, which dropped us off halfway between St Mark’s Square and the Naval Museum. Thanks to the help of a local police officer we managed to get across the route being taken by the marathon runners, and thence – via a number of back streets – past the Bridge of Sighs …

… and some more back streets …

… to the Rialto Bridge.

We then did some shopping in the area to the west of the bridge (we bought a very nice piece of Murano glassware that matches and compliments some that we already own) before having lunch in the Canal Grande Restaurant, which is situated right next to the Grand Canal.

After lunch we made our way back to St Mark’s Square through the many narrow streets that link the Rialto Bridge …

… to the Square.

Once in the Square it was impossible not to photograph the Campanile, …

… the twin columns (one is topped by a statue of St Mark and the other by a statue of the winged Lion of Venice), …

… the Basilica of St Mark, …

… and the Doge’s Palace.

By the time we caught the shuttle boat back to the Cruise Terminal it was already getting dark and the overcast sky threatened the possibility of rain. Once back aboard Arcadia, we went straight to our cabin, where we found a letter from the Captain informing us that the Ship’s itinerary had been changed due to our late arrival in Venice. As Arcadia was not leaving Venice until 7.30pm, it was going to be impossible to reach the berth that Arcadia had been allotted in Dubrovnik – our next port-of-call – in time. As a result, Arcadia would spend the next day – the day we were supposed to be in Dubrovnik – at sea, and visit Dubrovnik on Tuesday 29th October – the day she was supposed to be in Corfu. The knock-on effect of this was that the planned stop at Corfu had been cancelled.

We were both rather disappointed to read this as we had been looking forward to visiting Corfu, and had already been to Dubrovnik many time before … but as a majority of the passengers had not, it was the natural choice for the Captain to make.

Arcadia did not set sail from Venice until after 8.15pm, and we were able to sit in the Aquarius Bar having a pre-dinner drink and watching the lights of Venice as the ship moved away from her berth. We then went to dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, after which we went to our cabin to read for a while before we went to sleep.

Monday 28th October: At sea
The sun was shining when we awoke, and after breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar to sit and enjoy the sun. Unfortunately the temperature was not as warm as we had expected, and after just over thirty minutes we went back to our cabin to collect our stuff before going to the Orchid Bar to sit, read, and write.

Just after 1.00pm we went to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for lunch, after which we were able to sit out on deck for some time as the air temperature had improved somewhat. By mid-afternoon the temperature had begun to drop again, and we returned to our cabin to rest and read. I began reading THE ROAD TO RUSSIA: ARCTIC CONVOYS 1942 by Bernard Edwards. The book was published in 2002 by Leo Cooper (eISBN 978 1 787337 921 7) and tells the story of the ships and men who took part in the extremely dangerous Arctic convoys to and from Russia.

For a change we had booked a table at one of the ship’s select dining venues, the Orchid Restaurant. This specialises in what P&O term as ‘Asian fusion’ cuisine … and the food turned out to be extremely good, so good – in fact – that we booked to go there again later in the cruise.

We both felt very full after eating in the Orchid Restaurant and rather than go for an after-dinner drink, we went straight back to our cabin to recover! In the end we had an early night, which was just as well as Arcadia was supposed to be arriving at Dubrovnik very early next day.

Tuesday 29th October: Dubrovnik, Croatia
The sun was already shining when we woke up at 6.45am. Arcadia was already tied up at her berth and the coaches that were due to take passengers on excursions were parked along the quayside.

We decided to get off as soon as possible after the excursions had departed, and after an early breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, we went ashore. The shuttle-bus took over twenty minutes to make the two mile journey from the Cruise Terminal to the Old City (Stari Grad) of Dubrovnik. We got off the bus just outside the Pile Gate, where we crossed the bridge …

… and passed through the outer part of the entrance.

We walked down the slope and through the inner entrance …

… and into a square at one end of the main street – the Placa or Stradun.

The square is dominated by a large fountain (Onofrio’s Great Fountain) …

… as well as being the location of the Church of the Holy Saviour (Sveti Spas Church).

We decided not to walk down the the Placa/Stradun, and instead we walked towards the Old Harbour via a narrow backstreet known as Od Puca.

This led to a square called Gunduliceva Poljana which is the location of a small market.

We carried on walking through the market, past the Cathedral of Sv. Gospa (Sveti Gospa Cathedral) …

… and out into the Old Harbour (Stara Luka) area.

We stopped in a quayside café for a drink before making our way out towards St John’s Fortress …

… which we walked around on our way out to the entrance to the Old Harbour.

From the end of the stone pier that formed part of the harbour entrance we could see the hilltop fortress that was defended members of the Croatian Militia during the War of Independence …

… and the much older fortifications that make up the Revelin Fortress.

We then walked back into Old City, again passing the Cathedral of Sv. Gospa (Sveti Gospa Cathedral) …

… and into the Pred Dvorom, which leads towards the Sponza Palace.

Before going any further we had a light lunch in a nearby restaurant, the Bistro Teatar.

We then walked towards the Sponza Palace …

… past a statue of Marin Drzic (a sixteenth century Croatian playwright and writer), …

… a fountain (the Little Onofrio Fountain), …

… and the Church of St Blaise (Sveti Vlaho Church).

This brought us to the end of Placa/Stradun

… which we walked up towards the Pile Gate. On our way along the Placa/Stradun we did buy a few small souvenirs, including a Croatian flag. We passed through the Pile Gate and were almost immediately able to catch a shuttle-bus back to Arcadia. The journey only took ten minutes, and by 1.15pm we were back aboard.

Because Arcadia had to make a very fast passage to Messina she had to leave Dubrovnik at 3.00pm …which she did. As soon as Arcadia was out of the harbour and had entered deeper water the Captain increased speed to 22.5 knots, the ship’s maximum speed. Arcadia had to maintain this speed all night if she was to reach Messina by 11.00am next morning.

We watched the sail-away from Dubrovnik from the comfort of our cabin balcony, and we sat there on and off until the sun reached the horizon at 5.00pm. We then began getting ready for the evening meal, which was supposed to have a tropical theme … but did not!

After dinner we were feeling so tired that we went straight to our cabin, and after sorting our cameras and bags out for the following day, we went to sleep.

Wednesday 30th October: Messina, Italy
During the night Arcadia maintained her high speed, and at 8.00am she began to enter the Straits of Messina. Just after 8.15am she picked up the pilot …

… and with mainland Italy on her starboard …

Arcadia then began to proceed towards the narrow end of the Straits.

The entrance to the harbour of Messina is narrow, and is dominated by a statute of the Virgin Mary which sits at one end of Fort Salvatore.

The statue was erected in 1934, but Fort Salvatore has a much longer history as it dates back to 1537. The Fort is now the main base for the Coast Guard (Guardia Costiera)

Arcadia was moored by 10.30am, and we disembarked a little after 10.45am. We crossed the main road and found ourselves in the Plaza Municipio (Municipal Square), where a military parade was being held …

… next to the local war memorial.

All the Armed Services were represented, but the reason for the parade was unclear.

Once the parade was over we walked northward and eventually found ourselves near to the Villa Mazzini, where we sat for a while in a small park.

We them walked back southwards towards the Plaza Duomo (Cathedral Square), and during our walk we saw an extreme example of car parking, …

… an apparently unfinished building, …

… and a typical Italian traffic jam!

(The traffic jam was caused by the small car on the extreme right of the picture. It had stopped in the entrance to a garage. The driver had got out and walked off, and the car behind it – which was also trying to get into the garage – could not get past it. They were therefore left blocking the main road.

We could still hear the sounds of blaring car horns five minutes after we had left the scene.)

We reached the Plaza Duomo at 11.40am, and were in plenty of time to get a good spot to see the famous Cathedral clock in action at midday.

At midday the clock strikes, and then a series of moving tableaus – with sound effects – can be seen.

The lion moves its head, waves its flag, and roars … then the cockerel crows three times and flaps its wings. A dove of peace then flies above a model of a church that emerges slowly from behind what looks like a pile of sand. Next a statue of an angel passes in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary; the angel is followed by a further statue – said to represent an ambassador from Messina – and statues of the three Magi, each of whom nods to the Virgin as they pass her. This ‘show’ takes about ten minutes from beginning to end, and the latter part is accompanied by music.

After watching the clock perform its evolutions, we went for a much needed drink in a local café/restaurant, the Dolce Vita Ristorante. Suitably refreshed we then had a look at the Cathedral’s magnificent main doors …

… and the Fountain of Orion, which is also located in the Plaza Duomo.

We then visited the nearby Church of Annunziata del Catalani (the Church of the Annunciation of the Catalans).

This is an example of Byzantine-Norman architecture, parts of which date back to the twelfth century.

Our walk then took us back to the Plaza Municipio

… and then on to the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele (Victor Emmanuel Theatre).

By now we were feeling quite tired, and we walked back to the dock and were aboard Arcadia just after 2.15am. We had a snack lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant before returning to our cabin to have a much-needed rest.

It was dark by 5.30pm when the Arcadia set sail from Messina …

… and by the time we went for a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, she was well on her way along the north coast of Sicily. At 8.30pm we went for dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, and when we returned to the Aquarius Bar after dinner, it was still warm enough to sit in the nearby covered area and to have a post-dinner drink. We returned to our cabin soon after 11.00pm and I managed to finish reading Bernard Edwards’ THE ROAD TO RUSSIA: ARCTIC CONVOYS 1942 before going to sleep.

Thursday 31st October: At sea
During the night Arcadia passed through a storm, and the thunder was so loud and lightning so bright that it woke us up. After half an hour or so we managed to get back to sleep, but neither of us slept particularly well after that, and we were awake by a little after 7.00am. By then the really bad weather was behind us, but the sky was very cloudy and the sea was very grey.

After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar for a breath of fresh air. Despite the weather, it was so pleasant there they we stayed until 11.30am, when we went back to our cabin in order to get changed.

At midday we went to the Peninsular Club Lunch, which was held in the Meridian Restaurant. This was a special event put on by P&O’s loyalty scheme – the Peninsular Club – to reward and thank regular cruisers like us. It is always an especially good menu … and this was no exception.

The Starters were:
  • Cornish Crab and Ricotta wrapped in Highland Oak Smoked Salmon, Cucumber Jelly, Shaved Fennel and Melba Toast
  • Asparagus Tips and Poached Quails Eggs, Wild Mushroom Duxelle, Butter Pastry Wafer and Hollandaise Sauce
  • Sweet Potato Soup, Vegetable Crisps and Coriander Oil
This was followed by a Pink Grapefruit Sorbet.

The Main Courses were:
  • Fillet of Plaice with Crayfish Tails, Orange Beurre Blanc, Panache of Garden Vegetables and New Potatoes
  • Prime Grass Fed Beef Fillet with a Porcini and Peppercorn Crust, Truffle Creamed Potatoes and a Red Wine and Balsamic Jus
  • Potato Gnocchi with Sweet Red Pepper Coulis and Genovese Oil, Marinated Zucchini Ribbons, Tomato Petals and Parmesan Crackling
The Desserts were:
  • Trio of Orchard Desserts: Poached Red Plum and Rice Pudding Brûlée, Pear and Blackberry Clafoutis, Apple Beignet with Quince Sorbet
  • Peanut Butter and Chocolate Torte, Coconut Ice Cream and Praline Wafer
  • Selection of British and International Cheeses, Walnut Bread, Black Grapes and Vegetable Crudités
This was followed by Tea or Coffee, served with French Macaroons.

We were sat on the table hosted by the ship’s Human Resources Manager – Michelle – who we had met on a previous cruise. There were six other people on the table with us who were all experienced cruisers. Most of the conversation revolved around our experiences of different cruises and the places we had visited.

Not surprisingly, after lunch we retired to our cabin to rest and recover. I began reading THE NECROPOLIS RAILWAY by Andrew Martin. This was the very first of the ‘Jim Stringer – Steam Detective’ novels, and it was published in 2002 by Faber and Faber Ltd (ISBN 978 0 571 25222 0). I read this book some years ago, but as I now owned an electronic version on my Kindle, it seemed an ideal opportunity to re-read it.

During the afternoon the weather began to deteriorate, and by 6.15pm Arcadia was experiencing movement that made walking about the ship difficult. The Captain explained that she was passing through the edge of a depression that was centered on the Balearic Islands, and that overnight the weather would improve.

Before dinner we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink – where the rain was falling very heavily at times – and afterwards we made our way to the Meridian Restaurant to eat. Despite the bad weather the restaurant was reasonably full and we had a great time talking to our table companions. After dinner we went back to the Aquarius Bar, which was still open even through water was sloshing over the sides of the nearby Aquarius Pool and running across the deck and into the deck-side scuppers.

I read some more chapters of Andrew Martin’s THE NECROPOLIS RAILWAY before going to sleep.

Friday 1st November: At sea
I awoke several times during the night when the ship hit a particularly bad patch of weather and the movement became more noticeable than normal, but after 3.30am this did not reoccur. When we got up at 7.40am the sea was much calmer, the sky was clearer, and the bad weather was behind us.

We took breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant and then went up to the covered area next to the Aquarius Bar to grab a breath of fresh air. It was so warm and sunny on deck that we stayed there until 2.00pm … and I managed to finish reading Andrew Martin’s THE NECROPOLIS RAILWAY.

We then went into the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a light lunch. After lunch we returned to our cabin for a short while, and then we went to the Palladium Theatre to watch the Crew Talent Show. This turned out to be superb, with representatives from almost all of the main departments aboard Arcadia taking part.

The show ended just after 4.00pm, and we decided to go back to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a drink … and a couple of small cakes! Having satisfied our thirst (and desire for confectionery!), we went back to the cabin to read and rest before getting ready for the Peninsular Club Drinks Party (to which all members of the Peninsular Club were invited) and the last formal dinner of the cruise.

Just before 8.00pm we made our way to the Crow’s Nest Bar for the Peninsular Club Drinks Party. We were greeted by the Deputy Captain and managed to have a chat with the Human Resources Manager – Michelle – and the Club Loyalty and Future Sales Manager – Jackie – who we had also met on several of our earlier cruises. During the party we had a chance to talk to Captain Lane, and discovered that he was born in the same hospital as my wife and lived less than a mile from our home until he was old enough to go to sea.

We were slightly late getting to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner, but we were not alone in being delayed and our table companions were not too inconvenienced. The meal was of the usual high standard one expects from P&O, and we enjoyed both it and the conversation that went backward and forward across the dining table.

Because we were going to arrive in Gibraltar early the next morning, we did not bother with an after-dinner drink. Instead we went back to our cabin and got ready for an early night. Before going to sleep I began reading THE BLACKPOOL HIGHFLYER by Andrew Martin. This was published in 2004 by Faber and Faber Ltd (eISBN 978 0 571 25223 7) and is the second in the ‘Jim Stringer – Steam Detective’ series. I originally read this book some time ago, but it seemed to be ideal holiday reading, which is why I had bought the Kindle version as well as the paperback.

Saturday 2nd November: Gibraltar
We arrived in Gibraltar at 7.30am, just as the sun was beginning to rise behind the Rock.

Because Arcadia was sailing out of Gibraltar at 1.30pm, we were already up and getting ready to go ashore, and not long after 8.00am we were in the Meridian Restaurant eating breakfast. We disembarked at 9.10am, and walked towards Casemates Square.

From there we walked up Main Street to the Governor’s Residence.

By the time we got to the top of Main Street we were both feeling in need of a drink, so we stopped for one in the ‘Angry Friar’, a pub situated just across the road from the Governor’s Residence.

Suitably refreshed, we walked back down Main Street …

… where we passed a statue erected in 1994 to commemorate the long association between Gibraltar and the Royal Engineers.

We had just left one of the numerous shops that we visited as we walked back down Main Street, when the sound of a fife and drum being played drew our attention to a group of Gibraltarian re-enactors who were parading down the street towards Casemates Square.

They marched up to the point where Main Street joined Casemates Square, where the parade stopped.

They then advanced into the Square, where they re-enacted the handing over of the keys of the fortress from one guard to another. (This used almost exactly the same words as those used for the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London.) Besides the normal challenge, this part of the ceremony involved some members of the group (mainly the fifers and drummers) marching out through the main gates of Casemates Square … and then back in again.

The parade commander was kind enough to allow me to photograph him after the ceremony had ended.

It appears that the re-enactors perform this ceremony regularly on Saturdays throughout the year … and it is an extremely popular tourist attraction.

From Casemates Square we walked back to the docks, and we were back aboard Arcadia by 12.50pm. After a brief visit to our cabin to drop off the souvenirs that we had bought, we made our way up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar so that we could take part in the ‘Great British Sail Away’. This was great fun, and lasted until 2.30pm, by which time Arcadia was well out to sea and turning towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Once the ‘sail away’ had ended we went for lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant, after which we went back to our cabin to rest and read until it was time to get ready for dinner.

We had previously booked a second visit to the Orchid Restaurant, and by 7.30pm we were in the Orchid Bar having a pre-dinner drink before going into the restaurant at 8.00pm. As before, the food was excellent, as was the service and the restaurant’s ambiance.

By the time we went to bed – after having an after-dinner drink in the Orchid Bar – the weather had begun to change as Arcadia moved further out into the Atlantic and turned northwards. Because the wind was coming from the north-east, the Arcadia began to pitch and roll and movement around the ship became difficult than normal. This continued throughout the night, and we were woken up several times when the sea conditions became particularly rough.

Sunday 3rd November: At sea
The sea and sky were both very grey when we awoke at 8.00pm, and although the sea appeared to be relatively calm, the wind had not dropped and Arcadia passed through several rain squalls. The wind direction had also not changed relative to the ship’s course, and the pitch and roll were still quite pronounced.

We managed to make it to the Meridian Restaurant for breakfast … unlike quite a few of our fellow passengers, who appeared to be confined to their cabins. After breakfast we went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar, where we sat until just before 11.00am. We then made our way to the Palladium Theatre to watch the Cruise Director interview the Captain of Arcadia, Captain Trevor Lane. The interview lasted for forty five minutes, and during it he described his early life, his career – including his service aboard Canberra during the 1982 Falklands War – and his life in his adopted country, Canada.

After the interview we returned to the area near the Aquarius Bar, where – despite the very pronounced pitching of the ship – we sat relaxing until 1.30pm, when we went for lunch in the nearby Belvedere Self Service Restaurant. We then returned to our cabin to read and relax until it was time to get ready for our evening meal.

Just after 8.00pm – by which time we had just arrived at the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink – Arcadia reached the Bay of Biscay and changed course from north to north-easterly. By this time the wind had moved and was hitting the ship from a north-westerly direction, and this caused the ship’s movement to become even more pronounced. As a result passengers were advised to take more care than normal when moving about the ship. By 9.00pm – thirty minutes into our dinner – the wind had veered round to the west and was hitting the ship abeam, and the ship began to develop a very pronounced roll and pitch … and the Captain told the passengers that this would get worse soon after midnight, and would persist until midday on the following day.

Despite this problem we had a great dinner, and did not leave the Meridian Restaurant until nearly 10.30pm, but as we made our way back to our cabin walking along the corridors was difficult unless you used the handrail, and moving between decks using the stairs was dangerous.

Once we were ready for bed, we read for a while before turning the lights out … but sleep did not come easily that night.

Monday 4th November: At sea
Neither of us got much sleep during the night. The creaking and groaning noise that all ships make during heavy weather, and vibration caused by the propulsion system trying to cope with the pitching and rolling motion was certainly loud enough to keep one awake, and unless one was lying on one’s back or front, the roll had a tendency to cause you to rock backwards and forwards and to slide across the bed. At one point I awoke just as I was about to fall out of bed. Luckily the next roll caused me to turn back onto the bed rather than off it, otherwise I would have hit the floor.

When – by 8.00am – we had finally had enough of trying to sleep more than for twenty or thirty minutes at a time, the wind was Force 9 and still hitting the ship from just aft of abeam, and the sea state was described as being very rough with a long, heavy swell.

We got ready for breakfast with great care, steadying ourselves against the cabin walls and furniture whenever we moved. Bending over was fraught with dangers, and was to be avoided wherever possible … as was trying to walk up and down the stairs.

We took the lift down to the Meridian Restaurant, and after breakfast we used it to go up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar. We sat there just long enough to have a drink before deciding that it was too cold and wet … and then made our way to Spinnakers Bar (via our cabin) where we sat until 1.15pm. I managed to finish reading Andrew Martin’s THE BLACKPOOL HIGHFLYER before we left Spinnakers Bar, but decided not to start a new book as I was beginning to feel rather drowsy.

When we got back to our cabin Arcadia was passing another cruise ship which was on a reciprocal course. It was some way off, but appeared to be P&O’s Oceana.

Between 1.30pm and when we went for lunch at Neptune Grill at 2.30pm we began the process of packing. We resumed after lunch, and had finished all that we could do by 4.00pm. (We retained one bag – which we intended finishing packing after dinner and just before going to bed – and our hand luggage.)

From then on we had a rest until it was time to prepare for our last dinner of the cruise. We had our final pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and were in the Meridian Restaurant by 8.35pm. The meal was very enjoyable, and the conversation flowed back and forth around the table. At the end of the meal we said our goodbyes to our table companions and the waiters who had served us … and then we went back to our cabin to finish packing our last bag before going to sleep.

Tuesday 5th November: Southampton
At 6.30am Arcadia was manoeuvring alongside the Mayflower Cruise Terminal in Southampton. Just down river and on the opposite bank from the Terminal is the Marchwood Military Port, and the Anvil Point – an RFA roll-on/roll-off sealift ship was moored there.

We went to the Meridian Restaurant for breakfast just after 7.30am. Forty five minutes later we were ashore and on our way through the luggage collection area. Our bags were in the Priority Collection Area, so we found them within a few minutes, and by 8.35am we had collected our car, loaded it, and were on our way towards London. Our journey home was slow due to very heavy rain that seemed to be falling all over southern England – it was so heavy that for most of the journey it was like driving through fog – but by 11.45am we were home and unloading the car.


  1. Some neat pictures in the set there.

    Best tip I was given for travelling is to pack at least one shirt / pair of pants and socks for every person in every bag - then you at least can cope for two days and buy more if the worst happens. Some folk I know cope with the bare minimum (try Leo on )


  2. ADB (Andrew),

    Sound advice.

    I always carry a couple of spare shirts, socks, and underpants - along with my washing stuff - in my hand luggage. That way I know that I can at least be clean and tidy for a couple of days should anything happen to my luggage.

    The problem of being aboard a cruise ship is that they do not always carry large stocks of clothes in my size and they expect you to wear evening dress for formal nights ... and there is one of them on the second night of most cruises.

    All the best,


  3. Splendid trip indeed ,thanks for posting the pictures.

  4. Tradgardmastare,

    It was a very interesting cruise, especially as we went to two places that we had never visited before. I certainly want to return to Malta, if only to see the 100-ton gun that they have there!

    All the best,



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