Sunday, 17 December 2017

I have been to … Germany, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands (almost!), and Belgium

Wednesday 6th December 2017: Southampton
Despite oversleeping thanks to faulty alarm clock, Sue and I were ready to leave home by 9.15am, and by 10.00am we were driving around the M25 towards the M3. Our journey was uneventful, and just after 11.00am we stopped at Winchester Services for a cup of coffee and a toasted sandwich.

The service area was relatively empty, and we were back on our way towards Southampton by just after 11.30am. Traffic was much lighter than usual, and by midday we had reached the Mayflower Cruise Terminal and were booking our car in with the valet parking service.

Our luggage was unloaded and whisked away by a porter, and almost as soon as we entered the terminal building we were in the queue to be processed by the booking-in staff. Once that was done we had to wait for less than five minutes before we were called to go through the pre-embarkation security checks. These checks were done very efficiently and quickly, and by 12.20pm Sue and I were aboard P&O’s MV Aurora and in the Alexandria Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) having a very welcome drink.

At 1.00pm an announcement was made that cabins were ready for passengers to occupy them, but as we knew there would be a lot of passengers trying to get to their cabins as soon as the announcement was made, we remained in the restaurant for another fifteen minutes. When we arrived at our cabin on Deck 10 Midships, our luggage was waiting for us, and we spent the next hour or so unpacking.

As we knew there would be a compulsory safety briefing at about 4.00pm, we decided to go up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant (Deck 12 Aft) at 3.00pm for a drink and a snack. We were back in our cabin by 3.40pm, just in time to hear the announcement that we should be in our muster station (Anderson's Bar, Deck 7 Midships) by 4.00pm. Sue and I were in the muster station well before the start of the briefing, and managed to find a couple of nice armchairs to sit in.

The briefing lasted until just before 4.30pm, and after paying a short visit out onto the Promenade (Deck 7), we made our way back to our cabin to finish the last few bits of unpacking. Sue and I then spent the next couple of hours reading and resting before it was time to get ready for dinner.

Aurora set sail just before 5.00pm from Southampton, and headed towards the open sea.

Sue and I decided to go for a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar, and despite it being the first night of the cruise, it was relatively empty, and we had no trouble finding somewhere to sit.

We joined the queue for dinner at 8.20pm, and within ten minutes we were sitting at our table in the centre of the Alexandria Restaurant. We were soon joined by our four table companions, and spent a very pleasant evening eating, talking, and getting to know each other.

After dinner we went out on to the Promenade Deck again for some fresh air, but it was rather cold, and we only stayed there for a few minutes before deciding to go back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Thursday 7th December: At sea
Overnight the ship’s clocks went forward by one hour, and both of us were still feeling rather tired when we got up and began getting ready for breakfast. Aurora had made good progress during the night, and by the time it was getting light she was already well into the North Sea and off the coast of the Netherlands.

The sea was quite rough …

… and as we went to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant (Deck 6 Midships), Aurora was passed by a ship carrying parts for the Airbus 380 aircraft towards Hamburg.

After breakfast Sue and I went to the Shore Excursions Desk to book a tour to visit the town of Drøbak, which is not far by road from Oslo in Norway. We also had a look around the onboard shops and Sue bought some duty-free cigarettes.

We had already decided that we would go to the first of several talks being given by the former Chief Executive of the Anne Frank Trust UK, and by just after 11.00am we were sitting in the Curzon Theatre (Deck 6 Forward) waiting for it to start. The speaker was Gillian Walnes Perry OBE, …

… and although the talk was worthy, it was not very interesting as it told us very little that we did not already know.

The lecture finished just after midday, and Sue and I decided that before doing anything else we needed a drink. We went up to the Crow’s Nest Bar (Deck 13 Forward) where we had our drinks and sat reading until not long after 1.00pm.

Whilst we were there, a frigate (probably Dutch) sailed across Aurora’s bows at relatively high speed, and despite the bad weather (it had begun raining whilst we were in the theatre), I managed to take a photograph of her.

After eating a snack lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant, Sue and I returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. This was preceded by the Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, which was held from 8.15pm until 8.45pm in Carmen’s Show Lounge (Deck 7 Aft).

We were slightly late getting into the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner, but as almost everyone else had also been delayed, it created no problems for our dinner companions or our waiters.

After dinner we did try to get some fresh air on the Promenade Deck, but although we found a sheltered spot, the air temperature and spray made it too uncomfortable to stay there very long. We were back in our cabin soon after 11.15pm, and were in bed before midnight.

Friday 8th December: Hamburg
During the night Aurora sailed past the Frisian Islands, and by 2.00pm she had entered the estuary of the River Elbe. By the time we awoke at 7.45am, Aurora was slowly approaching her berth at the Hamburg Cruise Terminal.

By 9.05am Sue and I had eaten breakfast in the Medina Restaurant. The Aurora was already tied up alongside …

… and was awaiting clearance to begin landing her passengers. This took longer than normal, and it wasn’t until 9.35am that the first passengers began to go ashore. As they went ashore the weather began to take a turn for the worse, and Sue and I decided to wait until the heavy rain had subsided before making our way to the shuttle bus pick-up point. We only had to wait about ten minutes for a shuttle bus to arrive, and despite the heavy traffic on the road we were in the centre of Hamburg by 11,05am.

The drop-off point was only a few hundred yards from the Town Hall (Rathaus), where the largest section of the Christmas market was located.

We spent some time walking around the market …

… looking at what was on sale on the various stalls. One stall specialised in carving large wooden sculptures, and Sue and I found them very impressive.

Although the rain had abated during our journey to the centre of Hamburg, it began to fall heavily as we walked around the market. Sue and I therefore decided to walk towards another part of the market via the colonnaded shopping area that connects the Rathausmarkt with the road that runs along one edge of the Binnenalster.

Once across the busy main road, we were in the Alster Markt. Unlike the Rathausmarkt – which is entirely made up of wooden stalls – the Alster Markt stalls are all white tents.

At first, we took a leisurely stroll through the Alster Markt, but by the time we were half way towards one end, the heavy rain began to change into sleet, and I decided that I needed to buy a hat to keep both warm and dry. Luckily one of the stalls was selling hats, and I bought a peaked cap of the sort quite a few of the locals wear.

It was midday, and both Sue and I were feeling cold and thirsty. As we were close to a large café, …

… we stopped for a large hot chocolate each. This was extremely good, and it both warmed us up and gave us some more energy and enthusiasm to continue our walk.

Once we had looked around the rest of the Alster Markt we began to make our way back towards the shuttle bus pick-up point. We decided to make a short diversion through the Europa Passage Shopping Centre, …

… which proved to be a good choice as I was able to buy Sue part of her Christmas present in one of the shops!

When we left the shopping centre we discovered that the sleet had turned to snow, and even though we had to walk through the Rathausmarkt to get back to the shuttle bus pick-up point …

… we did not spend any further time looking at the stalls. Sue and I were able to board a shuttle bus just after 1.15pm, and by 1,45pm we were back in our cabin taking our hats and coats off and beginning to thaw out.

Once we were warm we went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a late lunch, and whilst we were sitting there we watched the snow going horizontally past the windows!

Although little of the snow settled, as we returned to our cabin we did see some the sunbeds had a light covering of snow on them.

Sue and I spent the rest of the afternoon resting in our cabin. At 7.50pm we made our way to Anderson’s Bar for a pre-dinner drink, followed by dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant. It was interesting to compare impressions of Hamburg with our table companions, some of whom had been ashore until 7.30pm that evening.

A little after 9.00pm we could see a tug coming astern of Aurora, and soon afterwards she began to move away from her berth and to make her way down the River Elbe towards the sea. By the time we all left the restaurant at 10.20pm, she was already about a third of the way to the river’s estuary, and when Sue and I went to bed at 11.30pm we could see very few lights on the horizon.

Saturday 9th December 2017: At sea
Aurora reached the open sea not long after 2.00pm … and as she made her way northwards along the west coast of Denmark the weather began to make itself felt. The pitching and rolling woke both of us up several times, and when the door of our bathroom swung open with a crash at 6.00pm, we knew that we were in a for a few hours of rough seas.

We both managed to get back to sleep, but were awoken again at 8.00pm by an in-cabin announcement that requested the duty medical team to attend an emergency in a cabin on Deck 6. Sue and I decided that as it was almost time to get up, we would do so, but the erratic movement of the ship made getting ready for the day quite difficult. (Moving about when a ship is rolling takes a bit of time to get used to, but once you have, it isn’t too difficult. Likewise, when the ship is pitching, moving about safely can be mastered relatively quickly. However, when a ship is doing both and the movement is jerky and erratic, even trying to walk from one side of the cabin to the other can be hazardous.)

We ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant and then tried to go out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. Unfortunately, all the doors out to the deck were closed due to the weather, so we went up to Deck 12 Forward instead. It was so cold and windy there that we only stayed for a few minutes, after which we went back to our cabin.

Sue and I remained in our cabin reading until 11.30am. It was then time for us to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch at midday, and we were changed and queueing outside the Alexandria Restaurant a few minutes before midday. Our table was hosted by the ship’s Head of Security, who turned out to be an ex-police officer from the Metropolitan Police who had served for some years in the area where we live.

The lunch – and the people we shared the table with – was very enjoyable, and Sue and I both left feeling rather full. After the meal we again tried to go for some fresh air, but as the Promenade Deck was still closed, we had to return to Deck 12 Forward. Although it was not as cold as it had been earlier in the day, it was much wetter. This was partially due to the large amount of water that was being ejected from the nearby swimming pool by the ship’s erratic rolling and pitching, and partially due to the occasional rainstorm the ship was passing through.

We managed to stay outside for slightly less than ten minutes, but as we could see that Aurora was about to sail into another rainsquall, we returned to our cabin to read and rest for a while.

By 4.00pm Sue and I were both feeling in need of a break, and we went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a drink. It was very quiet in the restaurant, and we both felt that the bad weather was encouraging passengers to stay inside their cabins rather than to venture outside. This was further borne out when we went out onto Deck 12 Forward, where only a few hardy and well wrapped up people were sitting or standing wherever they could in places that were sheltered from the wind and spray.

After a brief spell on the open deck area, Sue and I returned to our cabin to warm up and begin preparing for the second formal dinner of the cruise. By 7.50pm we were being served pre-dinner drinks in Anderson’s Bar, and just after 8.30pm we made our way to our table in the Alexandria Restaurant. Only one of the other couples joined us for dinner, the others had decided to dine in one of the alternative dining venues.

The menu was a special one to celebrate the 180th anniversary of the foundation of what became the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company, and included several of our favourite dishes. We ate very well indeed, and were feeling even fuller than we had done after lunch. Once the meal was over, Sue and I decided that we had to get outside and in the fresh air prior to going to sleep, and we did manage to spend some time on the Promenade Deck before going to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Sunday 10th December 2017: Copenhagen
Aurora had already turned around the northernmost point of Denmark before dinner on the previous evening, and this had been marked by an improvement in the weather. Overnight this improvement continued, and Sue and I had a much better night’s sleep as a result.

When we awoke at 8.00am, Aurora was beginning to manoeuvre alongside the dock in Langelinie.

After getting dressed we ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, and once that was over ventured outside to see what the weather was like. As it was bitterly cold and there was a threat on snow, we returned to our cabin to put on some of our cold weather clothing. Sue and I then went ashore and took the next available shuttle bus into the centre of Copenhagen.

The shuttle bus stop (and pick-up point) was just off one side of Kongens Nytoty and on the opposite side of the road from a large department store, Magasin du Nord.

From there Sue and I walked along Holmens Kanal

… from where we could see the distinctive candy twist spire on Holmens Kirke.

We then crossed over the road towards the Christiansborg Palace, and passed through the archway …

… which took us into a courtyard.

Sue and I crossed the courtyard, and after walking though another arch, we reached the entrance to the Tojhuismuseet or Royal Arsenal Museum.

The museum has been expanded since our last visit, and we spend an enjoyable hour or so looking at the new exhibits.

Once our visit was over, Sue and I retraced our step past the front of the Christiansborg Palace, and crossed over the nearby canal towards the St Nikolaj Contemporary Art Centre.

We then headed towards a small Christmas market we could see.

After browsing our way through the market, we found ourselves in the main pedestrianised shopping area, the Strøget.

We eventually returned to Kongens Nytoty, where there was another Christmas market.

From there we made our way to Nyhavn, …

… where after looking at the Christmas market stall there, we had a drink of hot chocolate in the Skipperkroen bar/restaurant.

Sue and I then decided to return to the shuttle bus pick-up point to return to the ship, and we did so by crossing over a bridge across one end of Nyhavn

… and walking back past Det Kongelige Teater and one side of Kongens Nytoty.

On our return to Langelinie and before going back aboard Aurora, Sue went for a walk around the small shops that line the quayside and I walked further up the dock to take some photographs of a Dutch frigate – the Tromp – that was moored there.

Once back aboard Aurora, Sue and I went back to our cabin to get rid of our coats, hats, and bags. Once that was done we went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a hot snack. This was followed by a short spell in the open air on Deck 12 Forward, after which we returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for dinner.

As Aurora was staying in Copenhagen overnight, quite a few passengers had chosen to return to the centre of the city to visit places such as the Tivoli Gardens. As a result, Anderson’s Bar was emptier than usual when we went there for a pre-dinner drink. It was a similar situation in the Alexandria Restaurant, where many table were empty or only half full. Our table was one of these, and we shared it with only one other couple.

During dinner a very light dusting of snow fell, but by the time we went out on deck for some fresh air, it was already melting, and it had almost completely gone by the time we went to bed.

Monday 11th December 2017: Copenhagen
There was no more snow overnight, and although it was cold, Sue and I planned to walk into the centre of Copenhagen after breakfast. However, by the time we had eaten breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, it looked as if it was about to rain, and we decided to pay a visit to the Future Cruises desk (Deck 5 Midships) … where we booked a cruise for 2018!

We finally made our way ashore at 10.30am, and took the shuttle bus into the centre of Copenhagen. From there we made our way through the Magasin du Nord department store and into the Strøget. We walked toward the Pandora store – which is about half way up the Strøget – paying a visit to the Illum department store along the way.

Having spent some time in the Pandora store undertaking some retail therapy, we began to make our way back towards Kongens Nytoty. Sue and I took a minor diversion down one of the side streets, where we found a shop selling board games. I was able to buy a few items including a camouflage-coloured leather dice cup, four dice with Roman numerals, and two dice bags.

When we got back to the Magasin du Nord department store Sue and I decided to have lunch in the fifth-floor brasserie. This did not cost as much as we had expected, and we left feeling that it was the perfect way to end our time in Copenhagen.

It took us less than three minutes to cross the road to the shuttle bus pick-up point, and after a short wait it dropped us back at Langelinie. Sue and I then had a very quick browse through the shop that line the quay, and we were back aboard Aurora by 2.15pm.

Once we were back on board, we went straight back to our cabin to get rid of our coats, hats, and bags. We then spent the rest of the afternoon getting warm, reading, and resting. Just after 5.00pm Aurora cast off and began her passage out of Copenhagen’s harbour, which we watched from our cabin windows.

At just after 6.00pm Sue and I went to the Glass House Bar/Restaurant (Deck 8 Aft). We had booked what they term a ‘Tasting Dinner’ for a change from eating in the main restaurant. The fine dining menu had four courses, and each course was accompanied by a wine that had been specially chosen by wine expert Ollie Smith. We were seated with two friends who were travelling together, and spent a very enjoyable few hours chatting and eating.

We had finished eating by 10.00pm, and after a very short visit to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air, we returned to our cabin to rest before going to sleep.

Tuesday 12th December 2017: Oslo
Overnight Aurora made a fast run towards our next port-of-call, Oslo. It was still dark when we woke up at 7.30am, but the onscreen map showed that Aurora was well on her way up Oslofjord.

At 8.20am Captain Turnbull announced that due to high winds overnight, Aurora was running slightly late, and would not be alongside until approximately 9.15am, and not 9.00am as planned. This did not concern Sue or I as we had booked a trip to the village of Drøbak that was not leaving until midday.

Aurora eventually docked alongside at the predicted time, and the berth was next door to the Akershuis Fortress.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant and a very short walk along the Promenade Deck, Sue and I returned to our cabin to read and keep warm until it was time to go ashore. From our balcony we were able to watch some traditionally-clad dancers perform several Norwegian folk dances, but their performance only lasted for about half an hour.

At 11.20am we decided to go ashore to have a quick look in the cruise terminal, but as we descended the gangway onto the docks we discovered that our tour bus had already arrived. We were not the first to board, and by 11.45am everybody was aboard, and we set off on a panoramic tour of Oslo before taking the road to Drøbak.

The coach reached the centre of Drøbak just after 1.00pm, …

… and after getting off we went to visit the famous Christmas House.

After buying a couple of items there, Sue and I walked past the local church …

… and down to the edge of Oslofjord. From there we had an excellent view across the fjord towards the Oscarsborg Fortress.

Despite being armed with obsolete weaponry, the fortress engaged and sank the German heavy cruiser Blücher during the 1940 invasion. The ship had been carrying troops who were tasked with capturing Oslo, and particularly the Royal Family, the senior politicians, and the national gold reserves. The sinking threw the German plans out of kilter, and allowed for the Royal Family, the politicians, and the gold reserves to escape capture.

Sue and I then walked back into the centre of the village …

… and found a local bakery that was also a café. As it was already almost 2.00pm and we were feeling thirsty and a little hungry, we sat in the café and drank hot chocolate with cream and ate cinnamon and current rolls.

By 2.30pm we had joined the queue of people waiting to re-board the coach, and less than fifty minutes later we were disembarking back in Oslo. As the ship was not leaving for another couple of hours, we did spend a short time in the cruise terminal before going back aboard Aurora. Once back in our cabin we stored away our cold weather gear before going up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a hot drink and a snack.

Suitably refreshed, we then returned to our cabin, where we stayed until it was time for our pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar. The bar was very crowded, but we were very lucky and were able to sit with one of the couples with whom we share a table in the restaurant.

We went into the Alexandria restaurant with them, and soon afterwards we were joined by the second couple, who we had not seen for a couple of days. The conversation during dinner was mainly a discussion about what we had all seen and done during our time in Copenhagen and Oslo, and the time slipped by very quickly.

After dinner Sue and I ventured out onto the Promenade Deck for a short while, and we were both surprised to find that it was not as cold and windy as we had expected. We then returned to our cabin to read for a while before getting ready for bed.

Wednesday 13th December 2017: At sea
During the night Aurora left the relatively calm waters of the Baltic and entered the North Sea. Almost immediately the weather and sea state began to change, and by the time Sue and I woke up at 7.30am …

… the ship was battling her way southwards through Force 8 winds that were coming from the south-west. Her speed was just over 13 knots and she was pitching and rolling enough to make movement around the ship awkward.

After eating breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, Sue and I paid a short visit to the Future Cruise desk to check on the booking we had made earlier in the cruise. We then had a walk around the ship’s shops, where we bought several small items.

As our cabin steward had not finished cleaning our cabin by the time we returned to it at 10.30am, Sue and I went to Anderson’s Bar to sit and read until it was time to go to the Curzon Theatre to listen to Gillian Walnes Perry’s talk about Royal Families of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium. This ended at 12.15pm, at which point we decided to go to the Crow’s Nest Bar to read and for a drink.

At 1.00pm, just as we were getting ready to leave the bar, Captain Turnbull made a long announcement about the planned visit to Amsterdam. The weather forecast predicted that winds of 40 knots and more would prevent Aurora from passing safely through the locks on the North Sea Canal, thus making it impossible for her to sail into Amsterdam. Possible alternative ports-of-call – including Rotterdam – did not have berths available, with the result that Aurora would have to spend most of the day in the Thames Estuary riding out the worst of the weather. It was then planned that the ship would sail to Zeebrugge and moor alongside at approximately 5.00pm, and that tours to Bruges and Ghent would be available that evening as well as a shuttle bus service into nearby Blankenberge.

Sue and I had half expected that such an announcement would be made as several recent cruises had not been able to make planned visits to Amsterdam, and this decision was therefore not that surprising.

We returned to our cabin once the Captain had completed his announcement, and stayed there reading until it was time to go for lunch at 3.00pm. We ate a leisurely light lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant, followed by a short spell on the port forward side of the Promenade Deck. The latter proved to be less windy that any other open deck area on the ship, and we stayed there over twenty minutes having a chat with several other passengers.

On our return to our cabin, Sue and I spent a couple of hours reading and sorting out some of the clothes that we were going to have to pack on the last day of the cruise. Captain Turnbull made a further announcement at 5.45pm, but this was basically a repeat of what he had said earlier in the day.

At 7.30pm Sue and I went down to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air and then into Anderson’s Bar for a pre-dinner drink. An hour later we went down to the Alexandria Restaurant for the last formal dinner of the cruise, and it gave us a chance to talk to our table companions about the change in the cruise itinerary. We all agreed that depending upon what time we docked in Zeebrugge, we might all go ashore to eat rather than go to the restaurant. One couple hoped to make it to Ghent, and the others thought they might try to go to Bruges. Sue and I had already decided that we would probably only go as far as Blankenberge where we knew there were several small restaurants and bars – some of them on the seafront – where we could eat.

When we returned to our cabin to get ready for bed, Aurora was making steady progress southwards, and was off the north-west coast of the Netherlands.

Thursday 14th December 2017: At sea … and Zeebrugge
The weather became worse as the night progressed, and by 8.00am there was a Force 10 gale blowing and Aurora was pitching and rolling quite noticeably. This confirmed the wisdom of the captain’s decision not to try to take the ship through the North Sea Canal locks as it would have been impossible to do so without the very real danger of the ship being damaged.

By 8.30am the onscreen map seemed to show Aurora was still on her way southwards, and was some miles off the coast of Suffolk.

Sue and I ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, but when we tried to go out onto the Promenade Deck afterwards, we discovered that it had been shut due to the heavy winds and spray. In the end we had to go up to the open deck area on Deck 12 for some fresh air, but it was so cold and windy that we only stayed there a matter of minutes.

We then returned to our cabin, where we sat reading until it was time to go to listen to a talk in the Curzon Theatre at 11.00am. At 10.20am Captain Turnbull announced the plans for the day, during which he explained that Aurora would maintain her current course for some hours to avoid the worst of the weather, and would turn towards Zeebrugge not long after midday. He hoped to pick up the local pilot at around 2.30pm, and to be inside Zeebrugge harbour in time to moor alongside by 5.00pm.

The talk was given by Gillian Walnes Perry, and was a history of the British afternoon tea. It turned out to be far more interesting than we had expected, and after it had ended Sue and I went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant … for a cup of tea!

By the time we returned to our cabin, the weather had markedly improved, and Aurora had already turned towards Zeebrugge.

Sue and I ate lunch in the Riviera Grill … the first time it has been warm enough to do so! Whilst we were there, the local pilot came aboard, and Aurora was able to begin her entry into Zeebrugge. This took some time, but by 3.40pm she was approaching the harbour entrance …

… and by 3.45pm she was inside the outer harbour.

Aurora came alongside her berth just after 4.00pm, and by 4.50pm Sue and I were making our way ashore. We took the shuttle bus to Blankenberge, and walked from the drop-off point in Kennedy Square to the end of the main shopping street, Kerkstraat.

The street was decorated with some wonderful illuminations …

… and although many of the shops were closing, we were able to visit two of our favourite chocolate and nougat stores, Moeder Babelutte and Nougatine … and left each with two carrier bags full of goodies. We then walked back to the shuttle bus pick-up point via some of the smaller back streets, and in one square we found a beautifully illuminated Christmas tree.

We were back aboard Aurora in time to get ready for a pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar and to have dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant with one of the other couples we share the table with.

After a very quick visit to the Promenade Deck, we went back to our cabin to read for a while before going to sleep.

Friday 15th December 2017: Zeebrugge
Sue and I both woke up early and spent the time before breakfast sorting out some of the things we would have to pack later in the day.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we went out onto the Promenade Deck, for where we could see the Belgian Navy’s main base. Several ships were moored alongside including a Dutch minesweeper (HNLMS Urk), …

… a Dutch survey vessel (HNLMS Luymes), …

… and a Belgian frigate (BNS Louise-Marie).

After doing some of our packing, Sue and I went ashore at 10.40am and took the shuttle bus to Blankenberge. Overnight Aurora had been joined in Zeebrugge by Cunard’s Queen Victoria.

Once we got off the shuttle bus, Sue and I walked towards the square (Koning Leopold III Plein) outside the train station.

Our walk then took us up Kerkstraat

… towards the seafront. Along the way we did some souvenir shopping before turning down Langestraat towards Manitobaplein, where we knew there was a very nice local café. Unfortunately, it was closed, and as the other cafés in the square we full, Sue and I decided to return to Kerkstraat by walking along Molenstraat.

Directly ahead of us was a large church (Sint Rochuskerk) …

… but as it was beginning to rain very lightly, Sue and I decided not to visit it.

Walking back towards Koning Leopold III Plein we could not find anywhere to stop to have a hot drink (the cafés and bars were either closed or full), and somewhat reluctantly we decided to return to the Aurora by the next shuttle bus. We reached the ship and were back aboard just after 12.45pm.

As a lot of passengers were ashore on trips, Sue and I decided to have some lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant whilst it was relatively quiet aboard. Once that was over we returned to our cabin to complete packing all but our hand luggage and one last bag, which was not going to be left outside for collection until after dinner.

At 4.30pm we placed our packed bags outside the cabin door, and soon afterwards the last of the shuttle buses and tour coaches returned to the ship. Aurora was unable to depart exactly at 5.00pm as planned, as two passengers were delayed and only arrived by taxis as the gangway was about to be lifted away. The delay was not too great, and by 5.30pm Aurora had unmoored and was sailing away from her berth towards the open sea.

As we still had some onboard credit unspent, Sue and I paid a visit to the ship’s shops, just after the ship set sail, and we found it quite easy to spend almost all of the remaining balance. On our return to our cabin we had a short rest before getting ready for our final dinner of the cruise.

After our usual pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s Bar, we made our way to the Alexandria Restaurant. We had a very pleasant time chatting to our table companions, and the time seemed to pass very quickly. At the end of the meal we said our goodbyes and wished them a safe journey home. We also thanked our two waiters – Ashley and Rodney – as well as the wine steward, Aileen.

Sue and I paid one last visit to the Promenade Deck before returning to our cabin to pack our last bag for offloading. Once that was done we got ready for bed and read for a while until it was time to go to sleep. Before we did, we made a final check on Aurora’s position before going to sleep, and she was off the south coast of Kent.

Saturday 16th December 2017: Southampton
Sue and I awoke at 6.15am, just as Aurora was making her final run into the Port of Southampton.

She was due to be alongside her berth at 7.00am at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal, and at 6.40am she passed the Arcadia, which was already moored at the Ocean Cruise Terminal. Aurora was slightly late tying up alongside, and this slowed down the disembarkation process. Sue and I ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant and then made our way to the Curzon Theatre, where we waited until it was time for us to get off. This should have been 8.30am, but did not take place until 8.50am.

We reached the luggage reclaim hall just after 9.00am, and by 9.30am we had collected all our bags, collected our car from the valet parking service, loaded our luggage into the car, and were on our way out of the docks. Our journey home was uneventful, and other than a short stop at Winchester Services for a coffee and to buy some food, we made good time and reached home just after midday.

Please excuse the quality of the pictures of the onscreen map displays shown above. The signal was poor throughout the cruise (I understand that the displays are transmitted to Aurora via satellite from Norway using data automatically supplied by the ship!), and both the colour balance and definition were very variable.


  1. Wow I was exhausted just reading this ... hope you had a good cup of tea on your return and feet up ;)

    1. Geordie an Exile FoG,

      It was quite an exhausting schedule ... but not as much as sorting everything else when we got home! A cup oft tea and putting our feet up will take place soon.

      All the best,


  2. Bob,

    This is totally off the subject, for which I apologize, but I wanted to relate my reaction to "Darkest Hour", the just-released movie regarding Churchill's initial days as Prime Minister. All I can say is extraordinary. Just as Daniel Day-Lewis did what will probably be the best portrayal of Lincoln we will ever see, Gary Oldman's portrayal of Churchill is of the same calibre.

    And this may be sappy, but having read a very great deal about this period, I did not think I could ever admire the English people more than I already did. I was wrong. As I said, this movie is simply extraordinary.

    Very best regards and happy holidays,

    Chris Jonson

    1. Chris (Chris Johnson),

      I have yet to see that film, but as Gary Oldman is one of my favourite film actors (his portrayal oh George Smiley in TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY was magnificent) it is one I will want to see.

      Churchill had a very interesting and complex personality, and he could easily have not become Prime Minister in 1940, in which case the outcome of the war could have been very different. He was the right man in the right place at the right time, and even if he was not the perfect war leader, he was the best we could have had.

      All the best,


  3. Darkest Hour goes on the "must see" film list
    Thanks for the tip-off

    1. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

      It sounds like it is a great film and one worth seeing.

      All the best,


  4. The joys of a winter cruise! Bob, you make it sound delightful!

    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      It was cold and wet almost everywhere we went ... but it was only when we got back to the UK that we began to realise how frantic the Christmas season is here. Other Europeans - especially the Norwegians - seem to take it much more in their stride; here everyone seems to be shopping in packs, arguing about what to buy, and being unnecessarily aggressive when driving.

      There are times when I wish that I had stayed aboard!

      All the best,



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