Saturday, 13 September 2014

I have been to … Spain, Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Gibraltar

Sunday 24th June 2014: Southampton
As it was the August Bank Holiday weekend we decided to set off as early as possible in order to avoid any possible delays to our journey. We set the alarm clock to wake us at 6.00am, and after getting dressed, eating breakfast, and loading the luggage into the car, we set off for Southampton just after 8.00am. By 8.45am we had reached junction where the A2 interchanges with the M25, and just over thirty five minutes later we were driving along the M3 towards Southampton.

We made such good progress that we were able to stop for a refreshment break at the service area near Winchester, and by 11.00am we had arrived at the Queen Elizabeth II Cruise Terminal in Southampton Docks. A porter unloaded the luggage from our car, which I then handed over to the valet parking service. Sue and I then made our way to the check-in desk, passed through the security checks, and made our way aboard P&O's Arcadia. The whole process took less than thirty minutes, and by 11.30am we were seated in the upper tier of Meridian Restaurant enjoying a refreshing drink and eating a snack lunch.

At 12.30pm we were told that our cabin was ready for us to occupy, so we made our way there. As none of our luggage had arrived, we went up to the deck area by the Aquarius Bar on Deck 9 Aft to have a look at what other ships were in the docks. Alongside the military port at Marchwood we could see two Point-class military transport ships, including the Anvil Point ...

… whilst P&O's smallest cruise liner – the Adonia – was moored next to the Mayflower Cruise Terminal.

Another small cruise liner was alongside the City Cruise Terminal ...

… and Cunard's Queen Victoria was just visible behind the bulk of the vehicle transporter Glovis Condor.

Southampton handles the import and export of a large number of road vehicles, and it was not surprising to see two other vehicle transports in the docks. These were the Morning Lena

… and the Baltic Breeze.

We could also see the old steam tug Challenge which was moored just astern of Arcadia.

We returned to our cabin just after 2.00pm, and our luggage had still not been delivered. This was somewhat disconcerting as we are entitled to priority luggage handling due to our membership of the highest tier in P&O's Peninsular Club. (This is P&O's loyalty scheme and membership entitles you to a variety of on-board benefits and privileges.)

By 3.00pm we were getting very concerned that our luggage was still missing, and our cabin steward searched the whole deck for our bags. He reported back on his progress at regular intervals, but by 4.00pm – when we had to go to our muster station to be briefed about the ships’ emergency procedures – none of our bags had been delivered.

When we returned to our cabin after the safety briefing three of our suitcases had arrived, but the others were still missing. As we did not want to begin unpacking until we had everything to hand, we went up to the Aquarius Bar to take part in the sail-away from Southampton.

We were back in our cabin by 5.30pm, by which time the last of our bags had been delivered. Unpacking took us quite a while, and by the time we had finished Arcadia was sailing along the coast of the Isle of Wight towards the English Channel. As we did so we passed another of the Point-class ships, Hurst Point.

We returned to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and just before 8.15pm we joined the queue of passengers who were waiting outside the Meridian Restaurant. This wait lasted only a few minutes, and by 8.20pm we were sat down and talking to two of the people who will be sharing a table with us for the duration of this cruise. After dinner we were both feeling rather tired, and decided to go to East Bar – which is located on Deck 11 Midships – for a quiet drink before going to before going to bed.

Monday 25th August: At sea
By the time we woke up, Arcadia had turned around Ushant and had left the English Channel and entered the northern part of the Bay of Biscay. The weather was very overcast and the ship sailed through a number of heavy rain squalls and banks of sea mist for most of the morning.

After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, we spent some time on deck in the undercover area near the Aquarius Bar before returning to our cabin to rest and read. I began reading HALFHYDE AT THE BIGHT OF BENIN by Philip McCutchan. I read this book many years ago and remembered enjoying it at the time, and when I saw that it was available in Kindle format, I bought it and several others in the series. The hero of the stories is St Vincent Halfhyde, a late Victorian Royal Navy officer.

Just after midday we received a visit from the Deck Housekeeper, who explained why our luggage had not been delivered to our cabin at the time we had expected. It appeared that when our luggage had been unloaded from our car it had been scanned and then placed in a separate priority luggage container … which had then not been loaded aboard Arcadia when it should have been. By mistake other containers had been placed in front of it, and as a result the priority luggage had been loaded last rather than first.

At 2.00pm we went to the Palladium Theatre to watch a port presentation about Catania. This lasted for just over thirty five minutes, after which we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a late snack lunch. We then had a drink in the undercover area near the Aquarius Bar before returning to our cabin for the rest of the afternoon.

We returned to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and just after 8.15pm we were sitting in the Meridian Restaurant talking to our table companions. We returned to the Aquarius Bar with the intention of having a quick drink before going to bed … but we began chatting to some other passengers, and before we knew it the time on our watches was showing past 1.00am. As the ship's clocks were being advanced overnight to conform with the local time at our first port-of-call, this meant that we did not get to bed until some time after 2.00am!

Tuesday 26th August: At sea
We both felt very tired when we awoke just after 8.00am. Luckily the weather was somewhat better than it had been on the previous day, and after eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we were able to spend an hour sitting near the Aquarius Bar. I finished reading HALFHYDE AT THE BIGHT OF BENIN and began the next book in the series, HALFHYDE'S ISLAND.

A change in wind direction brought with it a drop in air temperature, and we returned to our cabin where we both had a much-needed doze. We were both fully awake again not long after midday, and we decided to go back to the Aquarius Bar for a drink. Apart from a short break for lunch at the Neptune Grill, we remained there until 3.30pm.

We returned to our cabin, and whilst Sue stayed there reading and resting, I went to a Masonic meeting in the Viceroy Room. The meeting decided to hold a morning social event later in the cruise, and it was agreed that any money raised would be donated to the Captain's charity.

The meeting ended at 5.00pm, and not long after returning to our cabin I glanced out of the cabin balcony door and saw a very unusual sight … an old British warship under tow.

It was obviously a Type 12M Rothesay-class Anti-submarine Frigate, and as I knew of only one that was still in existence – HMS Plymouth – and that it had recently been sold for scrapping, I quickly grabbed my camera and took a photograph.

It had been hoped that HMS Plymouth could be preserved as a memorial because of her service during the Falklands Conflict, but despite several attempts to do so, this had proved impossible. It was very sad to see her on her way to be scrapped … but I am pleased that I did so.

From about 5.45pm onwards we began to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. This was preceded at 7.15pm by the Captain’s Gala Reception, which was held in the area around the Neptune Pool. The Captain – Captain Aseem Hashmi – gave a 'welcome aboard' speech and introduced the ship's senior management team to the assembled passengers. Once that was over we went down to the Meridian Restaurant to eat. After dinner we had a short walk along the Promenade Deck before going to bed for a much-needed sleep.

Wednesday 27th August: Cadiz, Spain
As we had booked an organised trip to Jerez, we were up somewhat earlier than normal in order to have breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant in time to go ashore to join our tour by 10.15am. In fact we were up earliy enough to see whole of the older part Cadiz in front of us as Arcadia sailed towards the harbour.

We finished breakfast in plenty of time and were seated aboard our coach by 10.10am, and the last of the people travelling with us arrived not long afterwards. As a result we left ten minutes earlier than scheduled, which meant that we ended up having a little more free time in Jerez.

We got off the coach near the old Moorish castle – the Alcazar – in the centre of Jerez, and walked a few hundred yards to the Plaza Arenal.

The temperature in the centre of Jerez was well above what we have been used to in the UK this summer, and we decided to have a drink before we did anything. Our drink over, we walked back to the Alcazar.

The entrance fee was 5€ each and was well worth it. I shall be writing a blog entry about our visit to the Alcazar is due course.

We walked back to the Plaza Arenal and on into Larga, which is one of the main shopping streets in the centre of Jerez. We bought a few small souvenirs, one of which was the obligatory bottle of Sherry. (Neither Sue nor I like Sherry … but we know someone who does, and they are having a birthday soon.)

As we still had an hour left before we had to reach the coach pick-up point in Plaza Arenal we decided to return there and to have lunch in one of the numerous cafés and restaurants that line two sides of the square. As we made our way across Plaza Arenal I photographed the victory monument that dominates one end of the square.

Sue and I ate a very nice meal in the Café Arenal 15. We both ate the three course set menu and had a couple of drinks each, all for the sum total of 22€.

Everyone was back at the coach pick-up point before the time we had been asked to get there, and our journey back to Cadiz took a little over forty minutes. As a result we were able to drop our stuff off in our cabin and get up to the Aquarius Bar for a cold drink by not long after 4.00pm.

We were back in our cabin by the time Arcadia began to sail out of Cadiz at 5.45pm. As Arcadia passed the Spanish Navy's base near Cadiz, several warships were just visible, including the SNS Juan Carlos I (L61) – Spain's large amphibious assault ship/aircraft carrier …

… and two amphibious landing ships of Galicia-class.

As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar before eating dinner in the Meridian Restaurant. We had a very interesting conversation with our table companions and discussed our respective experiences of our trips ashore in Cadiz.

After dinner we went up to the Promenade Deck to watch Arcadia's passage through the Straits of Gibraltar. It was difficult to make out the coastline of Spain, and we decided to move higher up the ship to see if the visibility improved. We made our way up to Deck 11 Midships, where it was just possible to see the lights and the outline of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Having watched Gibraltar pass astern of Arcadia, we decided to have drink in the East Bar, which is located next to the East Restaurant on Deck 11 Midships. We took the opportunity to pay a visit to East Restaurant to book a meal for a few days hence. (East Restaurant is one of Arcadia's alternative dining venues, and having a meal will make a nice break from eating in the Meridian Restaurant. It also happens that the newly-promoted Head Waiter of East Restaurant is someone we have known for quite a few years, and we had promised to visit their restaurant at some point during this cruise.)

We were back in our cabin preparing for bed by just after 11.30pm, and I managed to finish reading HALFHYDE'S ISLAND before going to sleep.

Thursday 28th August: At sea
When we woke up at 8.20am the air temperature on our balcony was already rising, and by the time we had eaten breakfast and gone up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar, it was over 25°C/77°F. It stayed like that for the rest of the morning, and we spent a couple of hours on deck enjoying the good weather and chatting to other passengers.

At midday we made our way down to the Meridian Restaurant to attend the Peninsular Club Lunch. We were luck enough to be seated with Captain Hashmi and two other couples, and he proved to be a very genial and informative host. After all of us had a photograph taken with the Captain, we introduced ourselves to our lunch companions. The food and the company were excellent, and the two hours we were at lunch seemed to slip by very quickly. Upon reflection it was probably one of the most enjoyable of these lunches that we have been to.

After lunch we spent some time on the Promenade Deck sitting and talking to other passengers, and we did not get back to our cabin until just before 3.30pm. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and resting before getting ready for our evening meal. I also began reading HALFHYDE AND THE GUNS OF ARREST.

We had our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and before going in to dinner we visited the Ship's Photographers to buy a copy of the photograph that had been taken at lunchtime. When we went to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner we found that we had been joined by two new table companions. After introductions had been made all six of us had a very enjoyable meal together. After dinner Sue and I went out onto the open deck for some fresh air before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Friday 29th August: At sea
By the time we awoke Arcadia was sailing eastwards along the coast of Algeria. After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar, and remained there enjoying the very pleasant weather until 10.45am. At that point we made our way along Deck 9 and down to Deck 3 Forward to the Palladium Theatre, where Captain Hashmi was presenting a virtual bridge tour.

The presentation covered all aspects of the way the ship is handled, including:
  • The use of the two azipods to both steer and propel the ship
  • The way in which the ship's stabilisers work
  • The use of sea water tanks to compensate for the potential effects upon the ship's stability due to the expenditure of fuel oil during the cruise
  • The methods used to navigate the ship using manual and visual inputs, radar, electronic charts, GPS, AIS, and the automatic steering system
  • The collection and use of weather data from a variety of sources
  • The command structure on the bridge during normal cruising conditions and the performance of evolutions such entering and leaving harbour
Captain Hashmi did the whole presentation without notes, and it was obvious that he is extremely knowledgeable, skilled, and very enthusiastic about his work.

The Captain finished his presentation just before midday, and we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a cold drink and some fresh air before returning to our cabin to cool off before lunch. I read some more chapters from Philip McCutchan's HALFHYDE AND THE GUNS OF ARREST and wrote up my blog, and just after 2.00pm we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a snack lunch.

After lunch we went out to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar to have a drink and relaxation. At 4.00pm several of the senior officers and members of the crew took part in an 'Ice Bucket Challenge' on behalf of the Macmillan Cancer Support charity. Once that was over we returned to our cabin in time for me to get ready for a short Masonic meeting in the Viceroy Room at 5.00pm. We were informed that we will be holding a coffee morning at 10.30am on 4th September, and that the venue will be the Upper Tier of the Meridian Restaurant. The charge will be £10.00 per head, and the majority of the money raised will be given to a charity of the Captain's choice ... Macmillan Cancer Support.

On returning to our cabin, it was time for us to begin getting ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise. As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar before going to the Meridian Restaurant to eat, after which we went to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Saturday 30th August: Catania, Sicily
Because we had not booked a trip and wanted to avoid the rush of people who had to get ashore early, we took our time getting ready and having breakfast. As a result we had time to stand and look out over Catania towards Etna.

We disembarked just before 10.00am and took a taxi from the Cruise Terminal to the centre of the city, where our driver dropped us off in Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) …

… which is dominated by the famous Fontana dell 'Elefante (Elephant Fountain).

The Piazza del Duomo contains the Duomo di Sant'Agata (St Agatha's Cathedral), …

… the Palazzo del Municipio (Town Hall), …

… the Seminario del Chierici (Chierici Monastery), ...

… and other Baroque-style buildings.

Having had a good look around the square, we left it via the southern exit in which was situated a fountain.

We walked through a crowded street market …

… and along some side streets …

… until we reached Via Vittorio Emanuele (Victor Emmanuel Street), where it widens out to form the Piazza S. Francesco d'Assisi (Saint Francis of Assisi Square). There we saw a statue that had been raised in honour of Cardinal Dusmet.

Just behind the statue was an interesting bridge across the Via Crociferi (Crociferi Street).

From there we made our way to the Via Etnea (Etna Street) where the local university buildings are located.

After some retail therapy in some of the shops in and around the Via Etnea we returned to the Piazza del Duomo, where we both had a cold drink in one of the bars that line one side of the square.

By this time it was gone midday, and the temperature was over 30°C/86°F. We decided to take a taxi back to the ship, and by 1.00pm we were in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant eating lunch.

After lunch we went out on deck for a short time, and from there I could see two interesting vessels. One was a Guardia di Finanza patrol boat …

… and the other was the Teliri, a cable ship.

We then returned to our cabin to cool down and to rest, but just after 3.00pm we went up to the Aquarius Bar and stayed there until Arcadia set sail for Corfu at 3.55pm. As we were going to eat dinner in East Restaurant – one of Arcadia's alternative dining venues – we made sure that we had plenty of time to relax and read before preparing to go to dinner. I managed to finish reading HALFHYDE AND THE GUNS OF ARREST and to begin HALFHYDE TO THE NARROWS. I also managed to photograph something that I did not expect to see … an antique steam-powered yacht!

Arcadia passed this rare vessel at a distance of about two miles, and I was only just able to take a reasonable photograph of it thanks to my camera's excellent optical zoom lens.

Just before 7.30pm we went up to East Bar on Deck 11 Midships for a drink before going to East Restaurant at 8.00pm. The meal was excellent, and afterwards we spent some time out on deck before going to our cabin to sleep.

Sunday 31st August: Corfu, Greece
Overnight the ship's clocks were advanced by one hour to bring them into line with the time-zone Greece is in. We decided that this – in combination with the large number of tours that were leaving almost as soon as Arcadia was secured alongside – meant that the Meridian Restaurant was likely to be very crowded for breakfast. As we had nothing planned other than to go for a walk around Corfu Old Town, we ordered a room service breakfast. This arrived on time, and we sat on our balcony eating it and watching the world go by.

We finally disembarked at 10.30am, and walked along the quayside to the Cruise Terminal. We then took the shuttle-bus from there to the Spila area of the Old Town, which we reached just before 11.00am. We walked up towards the Old Fort through the colonnaded streets of shops …

… which were intersected by narrow streets of houses.

The closer we got to the Old Fort, the wider the streets became.

When we got to the Cricket Ground, which is situated in a park near to the entrance to the Old Fort, we decided to have a rest and a drink in one of the colonnaded cafés that face the Old Fort.

We sat there for well over thirty minutes watching the people walking past whilst we sipped our cold drinks. Suitably refreshed, we walked through some of the nearby shop-lined streets …

… until we reached some of the oldest parts of Corfu Town.

Our walk had taken us uphill somewhat, and as we descended towards the sea, we came across a small family-run restaurant …

… where we ate a very nice lunch.

We walked a few hundred years further on, and arrived at the shuttle-bus pick-up point, which took us back to Arcadia ... via the duty-free shop in the Cruise Terminal! As we walked back to Arcadia we passed her near-sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth. (Both Arcadia and Queen Elizabeth are members of the Vista-class of cruise liners.)

Corfu has always attracted the very rich, and this was evident on the day of our visit. There were two large motor yachts moored nearby …

… one of which had a helipad and helicopter ...

… as well as an older, smaller – and more traditional – motor yacht that arrived during the late afternoon.

Corfu is also popular with naval ships who wish to give their crews a run ashore, and on the day we were in Corfu the USS Vella Gulf (CG72) was moored offshore. (USS Vella Gulf is a Ticonderoga-class Aegis guided missile cruiser.)

Although we were back aboard Arcadia not long after 3.00pm, she did not sail on time due to the late return of one of the tour coaches. It was supposed to have reached the port in time for the people on the tour to re-embark by 4.30pm … but the coach did not arrive at the Cruise Terminal until nearly an hour later. As a result Arcadia's sailing was delayed until 5.45pm, and the Queen Elizabeth left first.

We had our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, where we saw the sun setting.

After our drink we went down to the Meridian Restaurant for our evening meal. Over dinner we exchanged anecdotes about our visits to Catania and Corfu, and this kept us talking until well after 10.00pm. We then went out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air just as Arcadia sailed alongside the Queen Elizabeth.

We then returned to our cabin, and before going to sleep I finished reading HALFHYDE TO THE NARROWS.

Monday 1st September: Dubrovnik, Croatia
During the night Arcadia sailed through a number of thunderstorms, and at one point it seemed likely that she would not be able to moor alongside in Dubrovnik. Despite the high winds and thanks to the Captain's skill, Arcadia did manage it … unlike a Holland-America Line cruise ship, which had to drop anchor over a mile from the dockside.

We have visited Dubrovnik many times, and as a result we took our time eating breakfast and getting ready before going ashore. This meant that we missed the worst of the ship's 'rush hour' when people who are going on an organised tour – or who have never been to Dubrovnik before – rush to get off the ship.

Just before 10.00am we disembarked, and by 10.30am the shuttle-bus had dropped us off near to the Pile Gate entrance to the Old City. As several other coaches had arrived at the drop-off point at the same time, we stood to one side and took some photographs of the St Lawrence Fortress …

… and a fountain.

Once the crowds had diminished somewhat, we passed through the outer part of the Pile Gate …

… and down the slope to the inner part of the entrance.

Once we were inside the Old City (the Stari Grad) we walked down the main street (the Placa or Stradun) towards the harbour.

We did not stay long in the square at the end of the main street. The Sponza Palace, the Bell Tower and Loggia, the City Hall, and the Church of St Blaise are all located in the square, and attract large numbers of organised tours as well as independent tourists.

We passed through a gateway next to the Sponza Palace, and walked toward the Ploće Gate.

Passing through the Ploće Gate we reached the Revelin Fortress, which afforded us a wonderful view across the harbour.

Just a single cannon remains on the fortress walls …

… and the once formidable gateway no longer has a working drawbridge.

We decided to have a drink in the nearby Revelin Club Bistro …

… before walking back to the harbour. From there we passed through a gateway near St Gospa's Cathedral.

At this point it became obvious that the weather was beginning to change and that rain was on the way. We made our way back to the Pile Gate via some of the narrower side streets, and were queuing up to board the coach just as the rain began to fall. This did not last very long, and by the time we got back to the dockside at 12.35pm, it had stopped. Whilst Sue did some retail therapy in the shops and kiosks that lined the quayside, I photographed the Regal Princess – which had moored behind Arcadia – and the Holland-America ship that was at anchor some distance away.

After taking my photographs I rejoined Sue and just as we began to board Arcadia it started to rain again. We went back to our cabin, dropped off our bags, and went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for some lunch. We must have timed our arrival there just right, as it was relatively empty when we got there but full by the time we left.

Rather than go back to our cabin we decided to go to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar to sit and wait for Arcadia to leave port at 2.30pm. We had been sitting there for about thirty minutes when the rainstorm turned into a thunderstorm. Torrential rain – accompanied by some spectacular lightning – soon meant that the deck was awash and everyone was under cover trying to keep dry.

Not long after 2.30pm the Captain announced that the ship was about to sail, and within minutes Arcadia was slowly making her way past Regal Princess towards the open sea. By then the rain was running down the stairwell from Deck 10 Aft onto some of the seats in the covered area on Deck 9, and we decided that it was time to go back to our cabin.

We stayed there for most of the afternoon reading and resting, although we did return to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for afternoon tea at 4.00pm. As the afternoon turned into evening and we began to get ready for dinner, the weather improved slightly. The clouds cleared somewhat and the rain fell less heavily, but we could still see the occasional flash of lightning and hear the odd clap of thunder. We then saw a very unusual phenomenon … a water spout! This formed astern of Arcadia

… and gradually grew larger …

… before it disappeared from view. (The Captain later informed us that he had never seen one as large and long-lasting during his twenty years of service at sea.)

By the time we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink, the weather had improved somewhat, but when we went back there after dinner the wind had veered and was hitting the ship from the starboard quarter. This caused the ship to develop a slight list and a slow roll … all of which made movement about the ship more difficult than usual.

As we wanted to be up early to watch the sail-in to Venice, we went to bed early. I began reading HALFHYDE FOR THE QUEEN, and managed to finish a couple of chapters before falling asleep.

Tuesday 2nd September: Venice, Italy
We were awake just after 7.00am, and by 7.30am we had eaten a very quick breakfast and were on our balcony watching Arcadia's sail-in to Venice. The weather was mild and overcast, and it felt as if it might rain in the very near future.

By 7.45am we were passing the centre of Venice – St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace – and were making slow progress up the Canale della Giudecca (Giudecca Canal).

On the way we passed some interesting examples of water-borne commercial deliveries, ...

… several luxury motor yachts, …

… and a fire-boat.

We disembarked from Arcadia

… just before 10.00am and made our way by motor launch to the dropping-off point near the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II near the Londra Palace Hotel.

From there we walked towards St Mark's Square, where we sat and rested for a while under the colonnaded walkway that forms part of the Doge's Palace.

This vantage point gave us some interesting views of the nearby Campanile (bell-tower) …

… and the columns that mark the canal-side entrance to the Square.

We walked across St Mark's Square …

… to the western end …

… where we each drank a café latte in the Museo Corre's café.

We then walked through a number of narrow streets …

… and across numerous small canals …

… until we reached the Rialto Bridge.

From there we could see our favourite canal-side restaurant …

… so we crossed the bridge to the San Polo side …

… and thence to the 'Riva del Vin' Restaurant.

After a splendid lunch we paid a visit to a shop that sells a particular type of Murano glass that Sue collects. To reach it we had to walk down a number of interesting and very empty streets.

Our purchases completed, we crossed back over the Rialto Bridge and walked along the canal-side for some way. We eventually had to turn inland …

… and walked through a number of squares that contained a very interesting – and very obviously out of kilter – bell-tower …

… and some wonderful examples of Venetian architecture.

We eventually reached St Mark's Square again, and made our way back to the pick-up point for the motor launch back to Arcadia.

Once back aboard Arcadia we went up to the Aquarius Bar – via our cabin – for a much-needed drink. It gave me the opportunity to take photographs of the two other cruise liners that were also in Venice, the Norwegian Spirit

… and the Grand Celebration

By the time Arcadia cast off and began to move back down the Canale della Giudecca it was just after 6.00pm and we were already back in our cabin getting ready for the evening meal. We did manage to watch most of Arcadia's sail-out from our balcony, but as we were on the starboard side the only place of note that we sailed past was the church and monastery on San Giorgio Maggiore.

By the time we went up to the Aquarius Bar for our usual pre-dinner drink, the weather had changed somewhat. The wind was coming from astern and this made it quite cold out on the open deck. We decided not to return there after dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, and instead we went onto the Promenade Deck to sit and have a breath of fresh air before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Wednesday 3rd September: Korcula, Croatia
Sue and I love Korcula, and were looking forward to returning there for a visit. We were woken up by the change in Arcadia's motion as she slowed down to pick up the local pilot.

Because Korcula's harbour is quite shallow, Arcadia had to anchor offshore. This gave us an excellent view of the Old Town ...

… although part of the view was obscured by the presence of a small cruise liner – the Corinthian – that was moored alongside part of the dockside.

After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant and a spell on deck near the Aquarius Bar, we went ashore in one of the ship's tenders. The trip took about ten minutes … but the wait for the tender to a bit longer and we were not ashore until almost 11.00am.

From the tender landing place we walked uphill …

… towards the centre of the Old Town.

The square in the centre of the Old Town is the location of several churches, the old Town Hall, and a cathedral.

One of the small churches …

… was open when we were there, and had a simple but elegant interior.

Just across the square from this church was evidence of the area's Venetian past in the form of two ancient cannons …

… which flanked a stone carving of Venice's crest.

Nearby the wall showed where parts of the town's ancient fortifications have been incorporated into local buildings.

One very small church was shut …

… but the old Town Hall – which is now used as a museum – was open.

Almost opposite the old Town Hall is St Mark's Cathedral, which has a number of ornate carvings over the main door which makes reference to the town's Venetian connections.

The bell-tower is also very Venetian in style …

… as are the carvings over the cathedral's other entrance.

We did not try to get into one of the other small churches that was open …

… as it was filled to capacity by a walking tour.

From the centre of the Old Town we walked downhill northwards towards the pedestrian pathway that leads around the seaward side of the Old Town. This pathway is lined with cafés and restaurants, and we walked along it until we got to the main gate to the Old Town.

A small market is located nearby, and we had a look around it before heading back along the pathway to find somewhere to have a drink … which we managed without much difficulty.

We continued to walk around the pathway and then back up into the Old Town, but we eventually returned to the café and restaurant area for lunch, which we ate at a table that was next to the water's edge.

After lunch we took a further walk to the nearby beach, from where we had an excellent view of Arcadia at anchor.

We then climbed back up towards the centre of the Old Town, and then downhill again via one of the numerous narrow side streets.

Our walk back to the tender pick-up point led us past one of the ancient towers of the Old Town's fortifications …

… called Kula Barbarigo, and we then took a minor diversion along part of the old fortifications to another of the towers which was build in a somewhat different style.

This tower stands next to a large gun platform …

… and together they dominate one end of what is now the Yacht Harbour of Korcula.

The trip back to the tender was uneventful, and we were sitting in the covered area by the Aquarius Bar having a drink by 3.00pm. We stayed there for about an hour before going back to our cabin to read and rest before Arcadia set sail for Gibraltar at 6.00pm.

It was warm enough to sit under cover by the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink. At 8.15pm we went down to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner, which was – as usual – excellent. The conversation was particularly interesting and the meal seemed to be over very quickly … even though we were there for nearly two hours.

After dinner we went back to the Aquarius Bar, and once we had both had a post-dinner drink and a chat to another couple with whom we have become friendly, we returned to our cabin. I finished reading HALFHYDE FOR THE QUEEN and began HALFHYDE ORDERED SOUTH before falling asleep.

Thursday 4th September: At sea
We both woke up somewhat earlier than usual, and were eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant by 9.00am. Afterwards we went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar for a short while, and at 10.20am we made our way down to the Upper Tier of the Meridian Restaurant to attend the Masonic Coffee Morning that had been organised.

I had originally taken on the role of Director of Ceremonies, but due to the illness of the President I had to take on that job instead. The Coffee Morning appeared to be a great success, and we raised £400.00 for the charity of the Captain's choice … which was Macmillan Cancer Support. Unfortunately Captain Hashmi was unable to attend in person as he was conducting a statutory safety audit, but both the Deputy Captain – Captain Thomas Connery – and the Hotel Services Manager – Alastair Ross – were able to be there and I was able to hand the monies raised over to them. The meeting concluded with a group photograph which was taken in the ship's atrium.

Once the Coffee Morning was over, Sue and I joined two of the other couples who had been there up near the Aquarius Bar for a drink and a chat … and we stayed there until after midday.

During the midday announcement from the Bridge, the Captain informed everyone that Arcadia would be transiting the Straits of Messina at approximately 4.30pm. As this is quite a spectacular sight, Sue and I went back to our cabin, got changed, and had eaten lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant in plenty of time to get out on our cabin balcony before Arcadia began to sail through the Straits.

Arcadia picked up the local pilot at almost exactly 4.30pm … at a speed of 18 knots!

Arcadia followed a large container ship through the Straits ...

… and dodged between the ferries that connect Sicily to mainland Italy.

The narrowest part of the Straits is marked on both sides of the channel by two large red-and-white pylons.

The transit of the Messina Straits took less than forty-five minutes, and the pilot disembarked just before 5.15pm.

Soon after Arcadia left the Straits we began to read, rest, and then get ready for the evening meal. As usual we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink before going to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, during dinner I began to suffer from stomach pains, and I had to leave after eating the main course. Sue and I returned to our cabin, and eventually we managed to get to sleep.

Friday 5th September: At sea
Whatever had caused me to feel unwell on the previous evening seemed to have passed through my system by the time we went to breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant. I took care to eat just enough to satisfy my hunger and to only choose easily digestible food. This seemed to be the most sensible course of action to follow, and the stomach pains did not reappear.

After breakfast we went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar, and we stayed there reading, resting, and talking for most of the time until 4.00pm. (We did take a short break for a snack lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant, where I continued to exercise caution with regard to what I ate.)

Sue and I spent that latter part of the afternoon in our cabin, and at 6.00pm we began to prepare for the third formal dinner of the cruise. We had been invited to the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party which was held before dinner in the area around the Neptune Pool, and we arrived there at 7.45pm as requested. Luckily the covered roof over the pool was open, and it was quite pleasant standing there talking to other cruisers and listening to the Captain's speech about the developments that P&O had planned for the immediate and medium-term future.

After eating dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, we went up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink. We had intended having an early night, but in the end we did not get back to our cabin until after midnight as we got talking to other people we have met during the cruise ... and lost track of time.

Before going to sleep I managed to finish reading HALFHYDE ORDERED SOUTH and began the last book in the series that I have on my Kindle, HALFHYDE ON ZANATU.

Saturday 6th September: At sea
Sue and I woke up just before 8.00am and by 9.00am we were in the Meridian Restaurant eating breakfast. We then made our way up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar, where we stayed taking and reading until 2.20pm.

Just before 10.00am Captain Hashmi announced that Arcadia would soon be passing P&O's Aurora, which was on her way from Southampton to Valetta, Malta. The two ships passed each other at 10.00am and exchanged salutes.

Almost as soon as Arcadia and Aurora had passed each other, a large pod of dolphins appeared next to Arcadia, and escorted her for several minutes.

After eating a snack lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant, we went back to our cabin to rest until after 4.00pm, when we returned to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for afternoon tea. This was followed by a further spell in our cabin and on our cabin balcony reading and resting.

Not long after 6.00pm we began to get ready for the evening, and by just after 7.30pm we were in the Aquarius Bar having a pre-dinner drink. At 8.15pm we made our way down to the Meridian Restaurant, where we had a very enjoyable meal with our four dinner companions.

After dinner we were determined to have an early night as we were going to have to be ashore early the next day. As a consequence, we took a brief stroll along the Promenade Deck before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Sunday 7th September: Gibraltar
Sue and I have visited Gibraltar several times before and had always done our own thing. This time we booked a short two-hour tour entitled 'Fortress Gibraltar', and had to be ashore by 9.15am at the latest. As a result we made sure that we were up and ready in plenty of time to eat breakfast before disembarking.

As we sailed towards Gibraltar just after 7.00am …

… the sun began to rise behind the Rock.

The was another cruise liner – Sea Cloud II – already moored alongside, and we were able to have a good look at her as we walked towards the rendezvous point for our tour.

Our tour left slightly earlier than expected, and the 23-seater coach took us along the coastal road towards Europa Point. Along the way we passed the artificial 'waterfall' that is a by-product of Gibraltar's desalination plant.

Europa Point is the location of the southernmost mosque in Europe (which was paid for by the King of Saudi Arabia and used by Gibraltar's Moroccan workers), …

… the only Trinity House lighthouse outside of the British Isles, …

… and a former coastal defence battery.

We spent some time at Europa Point before the coach took us up the very narrow and winding road to the entrance to the section of the World War II tunnels we were going to visit. On the way we encountered two small groups of Barbary Apes, which we stopped and photographed.

The second group was at a point on the road that gave a wonderful panoramic view of the old Royal Naval Dockyard ...

… and was near one of the pylons that support the cable car to the top of the Rock.

It also gave a very good view of the 100-ton Gun at Rosia Bay.

The World War II tunnels …

… were dug by Royal and Canadian Engineers during the period 1940 to 1943, using mainly jack-hammers and muscle power. (The nature of the limestone made blasting with explosive dangerous as it could cause rockfalls.) They were mainly used for storage of supplies and for temporary accommodation in the run up to Operation Torch.

Almost the last place we visited in the tunnels was Jock's Balcony. This overlooks the airport …

… and the border with Spain.

Just off the end of one end of the airport runway we saw a Gibraltarian Police launch alongside a small inflatable boat.

The launch seemed to be patrolling the seaward border, and the inflatable was typical of the type used to smuggle tobacco from Gibraltar into Spain.

On one edge of the airport runway we could see an old RAF Jaguar parked.

The exit from the tunnels was right next to one of the coastal defence batteries that were installed during the Second World War …

… but we did not have enough time left to do anything except photograph them.

Our coach then took us downhill to the border with Spain, and we drove across the airport runway.

We turned around just before we reached the border, but our journey back was interrupted by an aircraft that was taking off for Gibraltar's airport.

The Police waited until the road across the runway was clear before letting the pedestrians begin to walk across it …

… after which road vehicles were permitted to drive over it.

We left the tour just at the entrance to Casemate Square, which was being prepared for the forthcoming celebrations of the result Gibraltar's referendum vote some years ago to remain British.

We had a quick drink in the 'Lord Nelson' pub before walking up Main Street to undertake some retail therapy, after which we had a snack lunch in 'The Tunnel' Restaurant in Casemate Square.

We were back aboard Arcadia soon after 2.00pm, and after a quick diversion to our cabin to drop off our bags, we went up to the covered area near the Aquarius Bar. We stayed there until just after 5.00pm, and enjoyed taking part in the 'Great British Sail-Away' that the Entertainments Manager organised and led.

We had booked dinner in the Ocean Grill – one of the ship’s select dining venues – and spent what remained of the afternoon and the early evening resting and getting ready for dinner. After a very quick pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, we went for our meal at 8.10pm. Whilst on deck I saw what appeared to be a warship some distance away, and on closer inspection it turned out to be a Ticonderoga-class Aegis guided missile cruiser – possibly the a USS Vella Gulf (CG72) which we saw in Corfu – conducting flight operations with one of her helicopters.

In the restaurant we were allotted a table by the windows, and had a magnificent view of the sea whilst we ate. As usual the food and the service were excellent, and we both left the restaurant feeling full. We returned to the Aquarius Bar for a post-dinner drink and stayed there talking until nearly midnight, at which point we went back to our cabin to sleep.

Monday 8th September: At sea
The sea was glass-like when we woke up at 8.00pm, and the air temperature was already rising by the time we reached the Meridian Restaurant to eat breakfast. After breakfast we went up to the under cover area near the Aquarius Bar to enjoy the good weather, and stayed there until 10.45am, when we went to the Palladium Theatre to watch the Entertainments Manager interview Captain Hashmi. This lasted until just before midday, when we went back up to the Aquarius Bar for a drink.

We sat there until 1.30pm talking to a couple we have met during the cruise, after which we went back to our cabin to cool down before going for lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant. We finished eating just before 3.00pm, and then went back to the under cover area near the Aquarius Bar. Sue and I stayed there until 5.30pm, when we returned to our cabin to rest and get ready for the last formal dinner of the cruise. I finished reading HALFHYDE ON ZANATU, and began re-reading H G Wells' LITTLE WARS.

The last formal dinner of a cruise aboard P&O ships is marked by a special menu devised by Marco Pierre White. There is also a parade of all the members of the ship's galley brigade. Just before 9.45pm the chefs paraded through the Meridian Restaurant to the accompaniment of cheering, clapping, and the taking of photographs.

After dinner we returned to the Aquarius Bar for a post-dinner drink, but whilst we had been eating the air temperature had noticeably dropped, and we only stayed there for about twenty minutes before going back to our cabin to go to bed.

Tuesday 9th September: At sea
When we awoke just before 8.00am the sun was rising, the sea was almost flat, and Arcadia was already halfway across the Bay of Biscay.

We took our time getting ready for breakfast, which we ate – as usual – in the Meridian Restaurant. After breakfast we sat near the Aquarius Bar talking to a couple we have met during our cruise until 11.30am, when we went back to our cabin to begin the process of packing.

Our packing was interrupted just after 12.30pm by a high-speed low-level fly-past by two Rafaele jet fighters. They were moving so fast that I heard the first just as the second went past our balcony at an altitude of less that 200m and at a distance of about 300m.

Although we were by no means finished, we took a break from our packing at 1.30pm. We had a quick drink – and another chat – in the under cover area near the Aquarius Bar, followed by a snack lunch from the Neptune Grill. We returned to our cabin – and our packing – at 2.45pm and remained there until just after 4.00pm, when we took another break. By then we had finished our packing and all but one of our bags was ready to go outside the door of our cabin for collection.

We spent what remained of the afternoon reading, resting, and getting ready for dinner. As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and then went down to the Meridian Restaurant. We had a very enjoyable dinner, and ended by saying our goodbye to the other two couples with whom we had shared a table as well as the staff who have served us so well during the cruise. Once that was over we had one last breath of fresh air on deck near the Aquarius Bar, and then went below to pack our final bag before going to bed.

Wednesday 10th September: Southampton
Arcadia moored alongside the Ocean Cruise Terminal in Southampton just after 6.45am, and by 7.30am we were dressed and had finished packing our hand luggage. We said a final goodbye to our cabin steward on our way to eat breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, after which we made our way ashore.

We collected our bags from the luggage hall, passed through the Customs checks, and had picked up our car from the valet parking service by 8.45am. The journey home was uneventful and it took just under two and a half hours. By 11.30am we had unloaded the car and were sitting down in our house having a drink … and were already thinking about our next cruise.


  1. That was a great post Bob, and it seems you had an interesting trip. I read it over a leisurely breakfast and enjoyed it immensely!

  2. Pendragon Without,

    Thanks very much for your kind comment. I am very pleased to read that you enjoyed this travelblog about our recent cruise,

    Despite the fact that my wife and I have been to most of the places before, we always seem to find something new to see and do.

    All the best,


  3. Bob

    I think this is your antique steam-powered yacht.


  4. More here:

  5. A shame to see the Plymouth go. I served on her from 1969 when she had just been converted from a Whitby Class into a Rothsay Class till 1971
    Deployed to the Far East for 9 months had a happy time in her

  6. Jim Ducan,

    That certainly looks like the yacht that I saw.

    All the best,


  7. Jim Duncan,

    At $395,000 per week, you think that it would have had a decent-sized wargames table aboard, wouldn't you?

    That is a deal-breaker as far as I am concerned!

    All the best,


  8. Johntheone,

    Plymouth could have been saved as a memorial/museum ship, but it just did not happen. When you think about how many Type 12 frigates (and their lineal descendants) were built, it is a crying shame that she was not saved for posterity.

    At least you have your memories of her.

    All the best,


  9. Looks like you missed the Museo Storico dello Sbarco in Sicilia 1943 in Catania - a great museum on the landings and battle for Sicily in 1943. It can be found north of the main railway station in a converted Sulphur works, about 20mins walk from the Place to Dumo

  10. Will McNally,

    Thanks very much for the information. If we ever go back to Catania, I will try to visit the museum.

    All the best,



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