Wednesday, 7 May 2014

I have been to … the Western Mediterranean

Saturday 19th April 2014: Southampton
We awoke just before 6.30am, and after getting ready, eating breakfast, and loading the luggage into the car, we set off for Southampton at 8.40am. The journey around the M25 to Junction 12 – where we took the turning for the M3 – was uneventful, and we decided to stop at Winchester Services for a mid-morning coffee break at 10.30am. We then continued our journey to Southampton.

We had been advised by P&O that there were major roadworks at the entrance to Dock 4 – the location of the Ocean Terminal – and although were took the route they recommended, we ended up stuck in a traffic jam. This delayed our arrival alongside MV Azura until after midday. Luckily the embarkation process was not too irksome, but the security checks did take longer than normal, and we were not aboard and sat down having a glass of champagne and lunch in the Oriental Restaurant until just after 1.00pm. By 2.00pm we were informed that our cabin was ready for us to occupy, and during the course of the afternoon our cabin steward managed to find and delivered our luggage.

In the intervals between each bag arriving, I managed to go out onto our balcony to see what other ships were alongside in Southampton.

They included Fred Olsen’s Balmoral

… and P&O’s Oceana

I also had the opportunity to watch the stevedores loading luggage onto Azura using brute force as well as a conveyor belt …

… and small forklift trucks.

We had done most of our unpacking by the time we had to go to the safety briefing at 4.20pm at our muster station in the Glass House Bar. As usual the Captain went through the ships’ emergency procedures and then members of the crew checked that all of us knew how to put our lifejackets on. This briefing ended not long after 4.40pm, and by the time we had returned to our cabin with our lifejackets, Azura had already cast off and was moving away from the terminal. As she did so she passed the Calshot (a preserved former passenger tender) …

… and the steam yacht Shemara.

Azura was followed out of Southampton by Balmoral.

We spent about twenty minutes on deck as the Azura sailed towards the Solent, but as the air temperature was quite cold we eventually returned to our cabin to finish unpacking and to prepare for dinner.

We decided to go to the Blue Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and just after 8.30pm we joined the long queue of passengers outside the Peninsular Restaurant waiting to be shown to their table. We had been allocated seats on a round table for eight near the rear to the restaurant, and we were soon joined by another couple, with whom we had a very pleasant meal.

After dinner we were both feeling very tired, and decided to return to our cabin to sleep. The gentle rocking of the ship helped us both to fall asleep very quickly, and I had my first night of uninterrupted in many weeks.

Sunday 20th April 2014: At sea
The ship’s clocks had been put forward an hour overnight and so we ‘lost’ an hour of sleep. Luckily this did not stop us from getting up in time to go for breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant. Having eaten, we then made our way – via our cabin – to the Planet Bar which is situated on Deck 18 Aft. We sat there for well over an hour before going down to the area near the Coral Pool on Deck 15. Whilst we were there we had a drink and used our iPads to access the P&O website so that we could discuss some possible future cruises that we might book.

Unfortunately the place we had chosen to sit was in the shade, and after about forty minutes or so we both began to feel rather cold. As it was already past 1.30pm we decided to go to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for a snack … and to warm up! Once we had eaten we returned to our cabin to rest and to read. I began reading the first chapter of the Kindle edition of Robert K Massie’s DREADNOUGHT (published by Head of Zeus Ltd [2013] ISBN 978 1 78185 668 0). I also spent some time drafting this blog entry and beginning work on the first draft of a lecture I hope to deliver in December. The lecture is about the ten members of my Mother Lodge who fought during the First World War, and I have – as a result of research carried out by my wife and me – so much information about the men that it may well form the basis of a book.

During the latter part of the afternoon we began to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. This was preceded by the Captain’s Gala Reception, which was held in the ship’s atrium. These events used to be known as the Captain’s ‘Welcome Aboard’ Cocktail Party, but of late the name has been changed.

At the reception we met and talked to several of the ship’s officers, including the Second Engineer, the Chief Electro-Mechanical Engineer, and the Head of Human Resources. We already knew the latter very well indeed, having met her before on several of our recent cruises.

After the Reception we went to the Peninsular Restaurant for dinner. On this evening there were only the two of us sitting at the table, and towards the end of the meal we were approached by the restaurant manager, who asked us if we would like to move to another table. After a short discussion we agreed, and as a result we were moved to a nearby empty table for two for the remainder of the cruise.

We decided to go for a short walk on the Promenade after dinner. We then returned to our cabin for an early night, and I read another couple of chapters of DREADNOUGHT before going to sleep

Monday 21st April 2014: At sea
Azura had reached the north-west coast of Spain by the time we awoke, and the sea was remarkably calm. We ate breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant, and then went to the Future Cruise Desk … where we booked two more cruises for later in the year!

We then spent some time having a drink on Deck 15 at the stern of the ship before returning to our cabin to read. The sun was shining onto our balcony, and despite the light wind caused by the ship’s movement it was pleasantly warm and comfortable sitting there.

During our time on the balcony Azura passed quite a few other vessels, and the horizon seemed to be dotted with the outlines of other ships all day.

Just after 1.30pm we went to the Poolside Grill for lunch, and then spent some more time in the sun on Deck 15 near the ship’s stern. We then returned to our cabin, and whilst my wife rested I wrote some more of this blog entry and continued work on my lecture/potential book.

When we first come aboard Azura at the beginning of the cruise we had booked two evening meals at ‘17’, one of the ship’s select dining venues. Not long before 6pm my wife and I began to get ready for dinner, and after a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar on Deck 15 Aft, we were being shown to our table not long after 7.00pm. The meal was – as usual – excellent, as was the service and the restaurant’s ambience. Although we finished eating not long after 9.20pm, neither of us felt like doing very much more that evening, and so we took a leisurely stroll back to our cabin to just sit and read a little before turning in for the night.

Tuesday 22nd April 2014: Cadiz, Spain
Azura did moored alongside in Cadiz harbour just before 9.00pm … just as we were on our way to the Peninsular Restaurant to eat our breakfast.

After breakfast we went out on deck for a breath of fresh air and to wait for the organised tours to go ashore. From where we sat on the ship’s Promenade, the Cathedral dominated the city’s skyline.

We had been to Cadiz on a recent cruise, and already knew our way around the older, seaward part of the city. This time we decided to take a different route around the city, although we had to pass through the Plaza de España as usual.

We walked through numerous streets …

… and squares …

…some of which contained some rather heroic statues.

Along the way my wife managed to indulge in a bit of retail therapy, but by the time we reached the Central Market …

… we were beginning to feel the need for some refreshment. Despite the temptations of the local sausage shop …

… we made our way to the Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square) …

… where we had a refreshing cold drink in the Bar Terraza.

Suitably refreshed we walked down some narrow streets next to the Cathedral and joined the Campo del Sur (the main road that runs along the southern seaward side of the city) going eastwards.

Our walk took us past the site of the recently excavated Roman Theatre, which was built at some time around 50BC.

Eventually we reached the site of the old gates of the city …

… where we turned north – and then west – and followed the Avenida Ramón de Carranza back towards our ship.

Whilst we had been out, the Minerva – a ship belonging to Swan Hellenic Cruises – had arrive in Cadiz and moored near to the Azura.

We returned aboard Azura at about 1.30pm, and after dropping off our bags and camera in our cabin, we went to the Glass House Bar for a drink and a snack lunch. We then spent the rest of the afternoon resting, reading, and writing – with the odd interruption for some refreshment – until the Azura set sail from Cadiz at 5.30pm. At that point we began the leisurely process of getting ready for dinner, which we ate in the Peninsular Restaurant after having had a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar. We returned to the Terrace Bar after dinner, and sat there until we felt that it was time to go back to our cabin to sleep, although we waited until the Azura had passed Gibraltar before turning the lights out.

Wednesday 23rd April 2014: At sea
Overnight Azura passed through some rain squalls. This change in the hitherto fine weather did not wake either of us, but when we got up and opened the balcony door curtains it was very damp outside.

Just after 9.15am we ate breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant, and went up to the area near the Terrace bar to get some fresh air. It was still quite damp on deck and the clouds were only just beginning to thin out. After about twenty minutes we decided that it was too cold to stay there, and went up to the Planet Bar on Deck 18.

We stayed there reading and admiring the sea view until 1.30pm, at which point we went down to the Verona Self Service Restaurant for a light lunch. We then returned to the Terrace Bar area … and discovered that the sun had come out and it was very warm indeed. After a cold drink and a chat with another passenger we returned to our cabin just before 3.30pm. We then spent the rest of the afternoon reading, resting and – in my case – writing.

Before the second formal dinner of the cruise (this one was held to celebrate St George’s Day) we made our way back up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and we returned there after dinner as well. (The dinner was excellent, and the menu had a strong British flavour to it.) We had a reasonably early night as we were about to start four days of port visits, starting with Barcelona.

Thursday 24th April 2014: Barcelona, Spain
Although we were not going on any organised tour, we planned to get up early so that we could have breakfast and be ashore by soon after 10.00am. In fact we were awake well before Azura reached Barcelona’s harbour, and we watched the Costa Riviera coming into port astern of Azura

… and that at least two other cruise ships were already moored alongside the Cruise Terminal.

The closest of the two cruise ships we could see was the Insignia, and the one furthest away was the Norwegian Spirit. (Two other cruise ships – including the AIDA Mar – were moored alongside the dock next to Barcelona’ World Trade Centre.)

Rather than walk the considerable distance from the Azura to the main dock gates, we took the shuttle-bus. This dropped us off in the open space in front of the World Trade Centre.

It was a short walk from there to the Columbus Column …

… where we crossed the road towards our planned destination, the Museu Maritima de Barcelona (The Barcelona Maritime Museum). On the way we passed a sculpture dedicated the Battle of Lepanto.

This was located near one of the outer walls of the museum, and was impossible not to notice. We followed the wall and eventually arrived at the entrance to the museum.

The entrance cost was €12 each, and this included access to the special Viking exhibition and free entry to a preserved schooner – Santa Eulàliax – which was moored in the harbour. I took a considerable number of photographs during our visit to the Museum, and these will form the basis of a future blog entry.

By the time we had finished our visit it was time for lunch. We discussed trying to find a nearby restaurant or café, but in the end we decided to return to Azura. After dumping our bags and cameras in our cabin, we went up to the Poolside Grill, where we both had a drink and ate fish gougons, chips, and salad.

The weather was very warm, and we went back to our cabin to rest and read for a couple of hours. Not long after 4.30pm we went up to the area near the Terrace Bar for a drink and some fresh air, and we stayed there until Azura set sail and had reached the outermost breakwater of Barcelona’s harbour.

The dress code for the evening dinner was casual, so we did not have to rush to get ready. Although a light sea mist had developed as Azura sailed out into the Gulf of Lions, it was warm enough on deck for us to have a leisurely pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar. We did not return there after dinner as the air temperature had dropped quite a bit, so we went to the Promenade a short time before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Friday 25th April 2014: Cannes, France
Because we had booked a tour to Nice and landing from Azura was by tender, we had to be up somewhat earlier than we had been on previous days. We set the alarm for 6.45am and booked a room service breakfast for 7.00 to 7.30am. I went onto the balcony just after 7.00am, and the harbour at Cannes was clearly visible.

Breakfast was delivered just after 7.10am, and we had eaten and were in the ship’s theatre waiting to go ashore by 7.50am. We were on the first passenger tender to go ashore, and by 8.45am our coach to Nice was leaving Cannes. The traffic was rather heavy, but we reached Nice by 9.30am. Our tour guide took us to the flower market, where we had an hour of unguided time.

My wife and I had a look around the flower market, and then walked through some of the streets of the Old Town …

… before returning to the rendezvous point in the market. We had plenty of time to stop for a drink in a local café – Le Café des Fleurs – before re-joining the tour.

We then walked along the Quai des Etats-Unis

… and the Promenade des Anglais

… to the pick-up point for The Little Train. On the way we passed a miniature Statue of Liberty …

… and the memorial that was erected to commemorate the centenary of the return of Nice to France.

The Little Train …

… took us along the Avenue des Phocéens, past the Fontaine de Soleil, …

… along the Boulevard Jean Jaurès and on to the Place Garibaldi. It then went up the small, winding road to the top of the old fortress of Nice.

The viewpoint at the top of the old fortress gave us a wonderful view across the bay.

On our way down we passed the memorial to the local men who died fighting for France during the First World War.

We disembarked from The Little Train and re-boarded our coach at just after midday, and by 12.45pm we were back in Cannes. My wife and I decided not to return to the ship, and after some a look at the luxury yachts in the harbour …

… and some retail therapy we stopped in a restaurant – Cafédès for lunch.

The food was excellent, and made up for having to stand in a long queue to catch a tender back to the ship.

Once we were back aboard Azura we went up to the terrace bar for a drink, and then returned to our cabin in time to watch the ship sail away from Cannes.

We were both feeling rather tired after our early start and took our time getting ready for dinner. We did, however, make sure that we had time for a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar.

After dinner we returned to our cabin to read for a short while before going to bed for a much-deserved sleep.

Saturday 26th April 2014: Civitavecchia, Italy
The overnight trip to Civitavecchia was very smooth, and we awoke just after 7.00am as the ship finished mooring alongside the dock. Civitavecchia is known as the ‘Port of Rome’ as is a very popular place for cruise ships to visit. On the day we were there the harbour contained the Costa Deliziosa, …

… the Rotterdam, …

… the Silver Spirit, …

… and the Wind Star.

Because we were not going on any of the tours, we were able to eat a leisurely breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant. (Most of the tours were going to Rome – a 1.5 hour drive each way by coach – and people had been warned that the journey might take longer as it was the Saturday after Easter and the Pope – and his predecessor – were holding a special pre-canonisation audience in St Mark’s Square.)

After breakfast we spent some time on the open deck area near the Terrace Bar, waiting for the overcast weather to improve. By 10.30am it had, and we made our way ashore to take the shuttle-bus to the dock gates. We had to rely upon shuttle-buses supplied by the Port Authority, and because there were so many cruise ships in port we had to wait nearly 45 minutes until we were able to board one.

There was so much rebuilding work taking place in the area around the dock gates that the shuttle-bus took us to a temporary coach stop nearly a mile from the centre of the town. As result we had to walk quite some way through very crowded streets to get to where we had expected to be dropped off.

My wife was able to do some shopping along the way, but it was nearly midday before we reached the seafront.

We took a slow stroll along the promenade, and along the way we saw numerous statues and memorials, including the local war memorial, …

… Giuseppe Garibaldi, …

… the First Regiment of the Bersaglieri, …

… and the Granatieri Brigade.

We then stopped for light lunch in a local café …

… before walking back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point. We passed the magnificent fortress designed by Michelangelo and built entirely from marble …

… and for part of our journey we walked along a terrace built atop part of the town’s ancient fortifications.

The wait for the shuttle-bus back to the ship was quite short, and by 3.00pm we were sitting in the Terrace Bar having a cold drink. We then returned to our cabin to rest and read before getting ready for dinner.

We returned to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and then went down to the Peninsular Restaurant to eat. After dinner we were both feeling very tired and went back to our cabin to read for a short while before going to sleep.

Sunday 27th April 2014: Ajaccio, Corsica
Overnight the weather changed for the worse. The passage from Civitavecchia through the Straits of Bonifacio was the roughest of the cruise so far, and it was no surprise that it was raining when Azura docked in Ajaccio.

We decided not to hurry ashore, and took a leisurely breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant. We then went back to our cabin to put on our coats and some warm clothing, and just after 10.30am we were stepping onto the quay.

We walked out of the Cruise Terminal and turned left towards the older part of the city. Our walk took us past some very narrow side streets …

… to the Place Foch, where a fruit and vegetable market was being held.

One end of the square was dominated by a statue of Ajaccio’s most famous ‘son’, Napoleon Bonaparte.

(It is ironic to note that after Napoleon left Corsica when he was nine years old, he only ever returned their once during his adult life. It is reported that he hated Corsica and the Corsican Nationalists who had forced his family to flee from the island. It is also worth noting that on a Sunday – the day we visited Ajaccio – almost all the sites associated with Napoleon are shut or close early.)

We then made our way up to the Citadel to look at its formidable defences.

This is still a military base (it housed a detachment of the 2nd Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment – 2me REP – at the time of our visit) and entry is forbidden. Next to the main entrance gate was a bust of General Pierre Lelong.

Situated on the pavement next to one of the walls of the Citadel there was a bust of the famous Corsican patriot, Pascal Paoli.

From the Citadel we walked to the Place De Gaulle

… and then back to the seafront, where we drank a coffee in the Café L’Aiaccinu. (Aiaccinu is the local Corsican name for Ajaccio.)

By the time we had finished our coffee we were both beginning to feel the need to go back to the Azura, and it took us about fifteen minutes to get back to the ship. Once aboard we went straight to our cabin to drop off our coats and bags, and then up to the undercover area next to the Coral Pool. After another drink we ate a light lunch cooked at the Poolside Grill.

At just after 3.00pm we returned to our cabin to read, rest, and write, and at 4.30pm – just as Azura set sail – the Captain – David Pembridge – announced that the ship was likely to encounter increasingly bad weather as the evening went on. In fact by 5.00pm the ship was sailing through high winds and heavy swells …

… that did not improve as the evening went on.

Not long after 6.00pm we began to get ready for our second dinner in ‘17’, one of the ship’s select dining venues. This was ‘interesting’, as trying to shave and shower when the ship was subject to sudden and quite violent movement made standing upright difficult at times!

As it was cold, windy, and wet on deck we decided to go to the Planet Bar on Deck 18 Aft for a pre-dinner drink. We only had to walk down one deck to reach the restaurant, where the meal was – as usual – of exceptional quality despite the considerable difficulties the staff were experiencing cooking and serving our food. We finished eating soon after 10.00pm, and we then returned to our cabin to rest and to try sleep.

Monday 28th April 2014: At sea
By 3.00am the weather began to improve, and we were able to sleep almost uninterrupted from then until 8.00am. We went to the Peninsular Restaurant for breakfast, and by the time we had finished and gone up to the open area near the Terrace Bar, the sun was shining.

We sat there until it was time to return to our cabin to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch, which was held in the Meridian Restaurant. The meal started at midday, and we sat at a table that was hosted by a senior officer, in this case Michelle, the Human Resources Manager. We had met her on several previous cruises and had already talked to her at the Captain’s Gala Reception earlier in the cruise.

Whilst we were getting ready the Captain announced that due to the earlier bad weather Azura would not be arriving at Gibraltar until 1.00pm the following day, which was five hours later than expected. He also informed us that the ship would not be sailing from Gibraltar until 5.30pm, so that we should have enough time to go ashore and enjoy some of the facilities that the Rock has to offer visitors.

The Peninsular Club Lunch was very good. The food and company were excellent, and the two hours we spent there seemed to go past very quickly. Afterwards we decided to have a quick breath of fresh air on the Promenade Deck before returning to our cabin to rest and read on our sun-drenched balcony.

Because that evening’s meal was another formal dinner, we made sure that we were ready in plenty of time so that we could have a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar. The food was very good – as usual – and after dinner we went back for a walk along the Promenade Deck for some fresh air before turning in for the night.

Tuesday 29th April 2014: Gibraltar
Because Azura was going to be arriving in Gibraltar later than originally planned, we took our time getting ready for breakfast, which we ate – as usual – in the Peninsular Restaurant. We then went up to the open area near the Terrace Bar to sit and enjoy the view before going back to our cabin to get ready to go ashore.

Just after 11.30am we went down to the Promenade Deck to watch the Azura’s passage towards Gibraltar. We had visited Gibraltar many times, but never sailed into the harbour there so late in the day and from an easterly direction. It was interesting to watch the way the Rock appeared to change shape as the Azura approached and then passed Europa Point.

Not long after Azura reached Europa Point …

…a Pilot Boat approached at high speed and transferred the local pilot to Azura.

The battery that houses the famous 100-ton gun is situated overlooking Rosia Bay, and it was just visible as we passed it.

We went below to join the queue to disembark at 12.45pm, and by 1.15pm Azura was secured alongside the quay and we were walking down her gangway and on to Gibraltarian soil.

We decided not to join the very long queue to take a local taxi to Casemate Square. We walked … which took us just over twenty five minutes.

From Casemate Square …

… we walked up Main Street …

… towards the Governor’s Residence.

We arrived just before 2.00pm and were able to witness the Guard being changed.

The Old Guard marched from the front of the Governor’s Residence, across the road, and into the Old Guardroom.

We then had a drink in the nearby Angry Friar pub …

… before going up Convent Place to Town Range. This was almost deserted, and was a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Main Street.

We walked along Town Range until we reached Library Ramp, where the Garrison Library is situated. This has only been open to the public for a few years and is a haven for quite study and research as well being a wonderful example of Gibraltarian architecture.

After our visit to the Garrison Library we went down Library Street, crossed Main Street, and then down Bombhouse Lane. The Gibraltar Museum is located at the end of Bombhouse Lane, and was well worth the small entry charge. Unfortunately they do not allow photography inside the Museum, and the building itself was covered in scaffolding and looked rather untidy. The building next door, however, was yet another example of Gibraltarian architecture at its best.

By now it was getting quite late and we were in need of something to eat and drink. On our walk back down Main Street to Casemate Square we did a bit of retail therapy, but this did not delay us too much, and by 3.30pm we were sat outside one of the numerous restaurants and bars in the square eating lunch and drinking a cold drink.

We knew that we had to be back aboard Azura by 5.30pm at the latest, and we arrived at the Cruise Terminal in plenty of time. We passed through the security screening quite quickly and were back aboard Azura in time to drop our stuff off in our cabin and make our way up to the Terrace Bar to watch Azura sail out of Gibraltar at 5.30pm.

She did not.

The bunkering process had taken longer than expected, and at 5.40pm the Captain announced that the ship would not be departing until 6.15pm. We decided that we could not wait that long and went down to our cabin to rest and cool down before getting ready for dinner.

At 6.30pm the Captain made a further announcement. The bunkering had been completed … but someone aboard had been taken ill as the ship had begun to leave the mooring and had to be rushed to hospital. Azura finally left Gibraltar at 7.30pm … two hours later than planned. By then we had given up any hope of watching the sail-out and were in the final stages of getting ready, although I did manage to take a few photographs as we left the harbour …

… including some of Gibraltar’s ‘twin’ on the southern side of the Straits.

At 8.00pm we went up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink … and were able to watch Gibraltar disappearing into the distance as Azura sailed towards the Atlantic Ocean.

We ate dinner in the Peninsular Restaurant, after which we returned to the Terrace Bar for a breath of fresh air. We then went back to our cabin to read for a while before getting ready for bed.

Wednesday 30th April 2014: At sea
After so many days of relatively calm seas, the ship again began to experience some movement during the night as she sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean. The movement was not violent, but it was regular and noticeable, and once or twice it woke us from our sleep.

When we finally woke up at 8.00am the sky was clear but a very distinct breeze was blowing and the air temperature had dropped. We went up on deck after eating breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant, but we only managed to stay there for fifteen minutes before we decided that it was too cold and windy.

We went back to our cabin, picked up one or two things, and then went up to the Planet Bar on Deck 18 Aft, and stayed there until after 1.00pm. On our way to the Glass House Bar for lunch we paid a short visit to our cabin to read and write for half an hour or so.

After lunch we went back to our cabin, and other than a short break for tea and cakes in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant, we stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. Before dinner – which was the last formal dinner of the cruise – we were invited to the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party which was held in the Manhattan Lounge. We met our friend Michelle at the entrance, and she and the Future Cruise/Loyalty Manager Christian joined us for a drink whilst the Captain made his speech of welcome and drew the prize raffle.

The last formal dinner of a cruise is always marked by a special menu and a parade of all the chefs. The menu was one devised by Marco Pierre White, and was very good. At 9.45pm the chefs paraded through the Peninsular Restaurant to much cheering and clapping, after which we finished our meal and went up to the Terrace Bar for some fresh air. The Bar was shutting down and the weather was windy and cold, and as a result we only stayed there for about ten minutes before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Thursday 1st May 2014: La Coruña, Spain
We moored alongside at La Coruña just before 9.00am, by which time we were already sitting and eating our breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant. We had finished by 9.45am, and after a short detour to the Reception Desk and the Future Cruises Desk we went up to the open area near the Terrace Bar. Our stay there was quite short as it began to rain soon after we had arrived, and we decided to go back to our cabin in order to get ready to go ashore once the rain had stopped.

By 10.30am the rain had stopped, and within ten minutes we were ashore and walking through the Cruise Terminal. Within minutes we had reached the main road, which was almost empty of traffic …

… but which boasted a substantial police presence.

(It was 1st May, and a large rally was expected to take place later in the day.)

We walked through the main pedestrian area …

… past some wonderful old buildings that all seemed to have balconies. One such building had some unique knitted pot plants adorning its balcony.

We passed through the Plaza de Maria Pita

… one side of which is dominated by the very impressive Town Hall.

In the centre of the square is a statue of Maria Pita …

… a local heroine who resisted the English attempt to capture La Coruña on 4th of May 1589. Our route took us through a very tranquil wooded square …

… to the building occupied by the Captain-General of the Province of Galicia.

In the square outside the building is a war memorial to all those from Galicia who have died for their country …

… as well a flagpole and two cannons.

The doors to the building have smaller calibre cannon barrels on either side to act as bollards.

It was a short walk from the Captaincy-General to the San Carlos Garden, which houses the tomb of Sir John Moore.

This garden is maintained by the local municipality and houses several other related monuments and plaques. These will be covered in a separate blog entry.

Across the road from the San Carlos Gardens is the Museo Histórico Militar de Coruña (Historical Military Museum of Coruña).

We visited this museum several years ago, and were surprised that it was open on a public holiday. We decided to pay it a further visit, and discovered that it has undergone a facelift since we were last there. It is much improved and its exhibits will be covered in a separate blog entry.

Our journey back to the ship took us along a road that passed the location of one of the city’s former coastal defence batteries. It has been ‘restored’ … but not very accurately.

Our route also gave us a wonderful view of the part of Coruña that is known as the ‘Crystal City’ because of its many windowed balconies.

We were back aboard Azura by a little past 1.30pm, and by 2.00pm we were eating a snack lunch in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant. We then went back to our cabin to rest and read for an hour or so, before going up to the Terrace Bar to have a drink whilst Azura sailed away from La Coruña.

The cold wind coming off the sea as Azura turned towards the Atlantic Ocean eventually made it too cold to remain on deck, and by 5.00pm we were back in our cabin. Just before 8.00pm we went up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and at 8.30pm we went to the Peninsular Restaurant for dinner.

It is a tradition aboard P&O ships that the entire galley brigade parade through the restaurants on the penultimate night of the cruise. It was 9.45pm when the first of the chefs entered the Peninsular Restaurant from the main galley, and their parade was greeted with cheers and the waving of napkins from around the restaurant. The head chefs of each of the departments within the galley were introduced by name, and then the brigade left by the entrance to the main galley.

After dinner we made a brief visit to the area next to the Terrace Bar, and then we went back to our cabin to read for a time before getting ready for bed.

Friday 2nd May 2014: At sea
We both awoke quite early, and took our time getting ready for breakfast, which we ate in the Peninsular Restaurant. The weather was quite overcast, and although we tried to sit out on deck, the cold wind made it too uncomfortable for us to stay there and we went to the Planet Bar to sit and read. We stayed there until after midday, but the arrival in the bar of the Passenger Choir for a practice session ‘encouraged’ us to go elsewhere. (There are only so many times one can listen to the same song being sung by a choir over and over again before the desire to stay dissipates!)

In the end, after several attempts to find somewhere relatively quiet, we ended up at the Glass House Bar. We both had a drink, and then decided to stay there for lunch. We finished eating and were back in our cabin by just after 2.00pm … and then we began the process of packing. We took a break at about 4.15pm for some refreshments, and by that time all but one of our pieces of luggage was packed and outside the door of our cabin, awaiting collection.

We spent the rest of what remained of the afternoon reading, writing, and getting ready for our final dinner of the cruise. As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar, and then went down to the Peninsular Restaurant. We had a very enjoyable meal, and spent some time saying our goodbyes to the staff who have served us so well throughout the cruise. Once that was over we had one last breath of fresh air on deck, and then went below to pack our final bag before going to bed. I even managed to finish reading Robert K Massie’s DREADNOUGHT before falling asleep!

Saturday 3rd May 2014: Southampton
Azura arrive alongside in Southampton at 6.30am. By 7.30am we were dressed, had packed our hand luggage, and were on our way to eat breakfast in the Peninsular Restaurant. We then said a final goodbye to our cabin steward, and had made our way ashore by 8.55pm.

We collected our bags from the luggage hall, passed through the Customs checks, and collected our car from the valet parking service. By 9.15am we were driving out of the car park, and were on our way back home. The journey took little over two hours, and by 11.30am I had unloaded the car.


  1. Bob

    Splendid, thanks for taking me with through your post.


  2. Why am I always exhausted after reading one of your travelogues Bob?

    Just as well that I'm off on a cruise of my own soon.

  3. Arthur,

    I am very pleased that you enjoy my travel blogs.

    All the best,


  4. Jim Duncan,

    I look forward to getting exhausted reading about your cruise!

    Have a great time,


  5. Really enjoyed that. A good read . . . until you got to Gibraltar. I went there thirteen times when I was in the navy. I knew it better than Chatham and at least as well as Pompey and Plymouth. :O(

  6. Gary Amos,

    I am glad that you enjoyed reading most of my travel blog.

    We usually only visit Fraggle Rock (aka Gibraltar) for four or five hours at a time, so never get a chance to get bored with it. We do so shopping, a bit of sightseeing, and have some refreshment ... and then it is back aboard ship.

    I should imagine that there might not be a lot to keep you from getting bored if you had to stay there for any length of time ... especially if it was difficult to cross the border into Spain when you wanted to.

    All the best,


  7. Bob

    Time travel, too. Your talents know no bounds. Check the date on top of your post.

    Oh boy, I always wanted to catch a teacher out - lifelong ambition fulfilled. Yeehaa!


  8. I sit on the balcony of our house in Cowes in the summer watching all the cruise liners leave and wondering where they are going. Always wanted to do a cruise but my wife doesn't like being on the sea,eating in restaurants or foreign places! This one looked really interesting. I had no idea Cadiz was so attractive.

  9. Arthur,

    As Captain George Mainwaring would have said, "I wondered who'd be the first to spot that."

    I am very please to have enabled you to fulfill your lifelong ambition.

    All the best,


  10. Legatus Hedlius,

    Cruising is the only way to travel ... as far as I and my wife are concerned, anyway.

    Living in Cowes you must have a great view of all the shipping coming out of and going into Southampton. (How does your wife cope with getting on and off the Isle of Wight?)

    I have been to Cadiz several times, and each time I find something new and different about it. I would certainly like to spend more than a day there if I could.

    All the best,


  11. Thanks for the post Bob. Some great pictures. One of the shots of Gibralter looks like a giant dug in a huge shovel and tipped the divot up onto its side and there it lays with the grass still clinging to the original top.

    The shots of ocean are enough to make one nostalgic about being on the sea instead of beside it.

  12. Ross Mac,

    I am very pleased to read that you enjoyed this blog entry.

    Your comment about Gibraltar looking like someone has dug up a slab of earth and dumped it on its side is a good description of how it looks.

    I love watching the sea ... but much prefer being on it. I always sleep much better than I do at home. I suspect that it is partly due to the constant movement and noise, which seem to help me to sleep and not - as one would expect - stop me from sleeping. In your case nostalgia for working at sea is different ... and something that I envy. (If my eyesight had been better, I would have joined the Royal Navy ... but it was not to be.)

    All the best,