Wednesday 31 October 2018

Stalled ... but only briefly

I was making slow but steady progress on my PORTABLE NAPOLEONIC WARGAME book right up until a few days before we went away on our recently cruise ... and then I seemed to stall. I suspect that one of the reasons was the need to get everything packed and ready before we left, but another was a mental brick wall that I had come to regarding one particular game mechanism.

As a relative novice when it comes to the Napoleonic period, I have been relying on feedback from various people regarding certain aspects of the rules, and the one thing that seemed to stand out was the outcome of cavalry fighting infantry in line in Close Combat. As the rules stood, if cavalry engaged infantry in line, there was a high possibility that the infantry would not only survive the encounter but might even cause the cavalry to retreat.

Now this is not an unrealistic result for later in the nineteenth century when the infantry would have been armed with breech-loading rifles and would have probably shot the cavalry to pieces well before the latter got close enough to engage in Close Combat ... but infantry armed with the slower-firing and less effective smooth-bore muskets of the Napoleonic era would have almost automatically formed square to face off a threat from cavalry, and infantry that did not would have stood a serious chance of being overwhelmed and destroyed.

The problem was how to incorporate this into my rules without making the whole process complex and clunky. Whilst on the cruise I was able to spend some time thinking about the problem, and I have come up with a solution that seems to work. I have vigorously tested it, and the mechanism seems to work.

What I have done is to add a specific results table in the RESOLVING HITS ON UNITS section of the rules for cavalry who engage in Close Combat with infantry in line. It looks like this:

Whereas an Elite infantry unit caught in line stands some chance of surviving the encounter (albeit at the cost of the loss of one Strength Point), a Poor-quality infantry unit is very likely to be overwhelmed and routed.

I seem to have overcome my brick wall, and progress on the book is again being made. Whether or not I manage to get it published before Christmas (which was the goal I set myself) is in the balance ... but I am definitely going to try to.

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Warships in Toulon

Toulon is one of the French Navy's main naval bases, and during our recent visit we saw the following warships in harbour.

Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91)

Landing Helicopter Dock Tonnerre (L9014)

Air Defence Destroyer Chevalier Paul (D621)

General Purpose Frigate Aconit (F713)

Air Defence Destroyer Cassard (D614)

Anti-submarine Destroyer Languedoc (D653)

Offshore Patrol Vessel (originally a Corvette) Jacoubet (F794)

Replenishment Oiler of the Durrance-class

Former Anti-submarine Destroyer of the Georges Leygues-class

Monday 29 October 2018

Nugget 312

The editor of THE NUGGET sent the latest issue to me on Saturday afternoon and I hope to take it to the printer later today. With luck it should be ready for me to collect later this week so that I can to post out to members by the weekend.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the third issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2018-2019 subscription year. If you have not yet re-subscribed, a reminder was sent to you when the last issue of THE NUGGET for 2017-2018 was posted out. If you wish to re-subscribe using the PayPal option on the relevant page of the website, you can use the existing buttons as the subscription cost has not changed.

Sunday 28 October 2018

I have been to … Spain, France, Italy, and Gibraltar

Friday 12th October: Southampton
Because the M27 around Southampton had been subject to closure on and off for the previous couple of weeks, Sue and I decided to make sure that we left home well before 9.00am in order to avoid any possible hold-ups. We set the alarm for 6.30am … but for some reason it did not go off. Luckily, we both woke up by 6.45am, and by 8.35am we had washed, dressed, packed the luggage in the car, eaten breakfast, and were driving off our driveway.

The journey around the M25 took slightly over an hour, and we were able to stop for a break at Winchester Services at 10.30am. After a drink and a snack, we continued our journey, and by 11.15am we were parking alongside the Ocean Terminal in Southampton. We handed our car over to the valet parking service after one of the porters had collected our luggage, and within fifteen minutes Sue and I had booked in and were waiting to go through the security checks.

Once aboard the MV Britannia, we were directed towards the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships) where we were given something to eat and drink whilst we waited for our suite to be ready for use to occupy. We only had to wait about ninety minutes before we were able to make our way to our suite, which was located on Deck 11 Forward. (It was the situated at the foremost part of the ship’s superstructure, just below the bridge.)

From our balcony we had a wonderful view across the docks, …

... and could see two other cruiser liners, the Royal Caribbean Cruises ship MV Navigator of the Seas

… and P&O’s MV Azura.

Moored just ahead of Britannia was the PS Waverley

… which was making one of her periodic visits to Southampton.

Our luggage had already been delivered, and by 2.30pm we had unpacked and were able to go up to the self-service restaurant – the Horizon Restaurant (Deck 16 Midships) – for a drink and another snack. We then returned to our suite until it was time to go to our emergency muster station – the Headliners Theatre (Deck 6 Forward) – for the safety briefing. This finished at 5.45pm, but the sheer number of passengers trying to use the lifts and stairs afterwards deterred us from trying to get back to our suite straight away. Instead we went out onto one of the open deck areas on Deck 7 Midships. We stayed there for twenty minutes, by which time the crowds had almost disappeared and we were able to go up to our suite to get ready for dinner.

Despite the fact that the ship had sailed and the wind over the deck was quite strong, at 8.00pm Sue and I went for a pre-dinner drink in the Sunset Bar (Deck 16 Aft). From there it was a simple journey down to the Oriental Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) at 8.45pm. Once in the restaurant, we met our four table companions for the first time, and spent the meal introducing ourselves to each other and discussing our experience of cruising.

Once the meal was over we all went our separate ways. Sue and I returned to the Sunset Bar for a breath of fresh air before going to our suite to sleep. By this time the weather had deteriorated, and it was obvious that we were going to experience some bad weather overnight. Before going to sleep I began reading Len Deighton’s SS-GB, a book that I last read just after it was published.

Saturday 13th October: At sea
Sue and I had a somewhat disturbed night’s sleep thanks to the noise of the ship as she sailed down the English Channel through heavy seas. As a result, we were both feeling rather tired when we woke up. Britannia had almost reached the end of the Channel …

… and the weather seemed to have abated slightly. We took care whilst getting ready, as every so often, the ship would suddenly lurch without warning.

Sue and I were ready to go to breakfast by 9.00am and went up to the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 16 Forward) to eat. The restaurant was rather crowded, and we did not leave until nearly 10.00am. We went down the Reception (Deck 5 Midships) to collect a spare copy of the ship’s daily programme and then returned to our suite. After a short chat with our cabin steward, we collected our Kindles and went up to the Crow’s Nest Bar and Lounge (Deck 16 Forward) to sit and read.

Sue and I listened to the captain’s midday announcement, and by the time he had finished we were both feeling the need for some fresh air. We walked along Deck 16 to the Sunset Bar where we were able to find somewhere to sit. The wind was quite fierce, but we persisted and stayed there chatting to other passengers until 1.00pm.

We then returned to our suite, where we stayed reading until 2.30pm, when we went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for lunch. After lunch we decided to go back to our site to read and rest for a couple of hours. At 4.30pm Sue and I went back up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for a drink and a cake, following which we went out onto the open deck area near the Sunset Bar for some fresh air.

Suitable reinvigorated, Sue and I made our way back to our suite to take our time getting ready for the evening meal. We went up to the Sunset Bar for a pre-dinner drink and returned there after dinner for a short time. Despite predictions to the contrary, the weather had not improved and the wind had intensified. On our return to our suite, it was obvious that we were going to have a second night of disturbed sleep.

Sunday 14th October: At sea
After several interruptions to our sleep, Sue and I finally got up a little after 8.00am local time. (The ship’s clocks had been put forward by one hour at 2.00am.) Although Britannia had left the Bay of Biscay and turned south after passing Cape Finisterre in Galicia, Spain, the weather had not improved. It was raining quite heavily, and the ship had a pronounce roll.

One thing that had changed for the better was the reduction of noise caused by the ship trying to drive through the heavy seas. Until she had turned, Britannia had been hitting the troughs in the waves at an angle, and this had caused a very loud slamming noise every time she did. Turning had reduced that angle, and the slamming had all but stopped.

We had a relatively quiet morning. After breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I went for a walk around the ship. We visited the Reception area, looked at what tours were still available, picked up a copy of the most recently published P&O brochure, and went out on deck near the Sunset Bar. We decided that it was too cold to stay there very long, and after a short time in our suite, we went to the Headliners Theatre to listen to the port presentation talk about Toulon. This was most informative as it is the only port we had not previously visited.

The talk finished at midday, and after another visit to our suite, Sue and I went up to the Crow’s Nest Bar and Lounge for a drink. We stayed there until 2.15pm, at which point we walked along Deck 16 to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant to eat lunch. Once we had eaten Sue and I went to the open deck area near the Sunset Bar, where – thanks to a general improvement in the weather – we were able to sit in the sun for the first time on this cruise.

We had returned to our suite by 3.30pm, and we remained there reading and resting until it was time to get ready for the first formal events of the cruise … the Captain’s ‘Welcome Aboard’ Cocktail Party which was followed by a black-tie dinner in the Peninsular Restaurant. After what turned out to be a very good meal, Sue and I ended our evening sitting in the open deck area near the Sunset Bar chatting with other passengers. We were back in our suite by 11.30pm and were in bed before midnight. I finished reading Len Deighton’s SS-BG and began reading Kim Newman’s MORIARTY: THE HOUND OF THE D’URBERVILLES before going to sleep.

Monday 15th October: At sea
Sue and I woke up just after 8.00am, having had not interruptions to our sleep during the entire night! The weather had calmed to the extent that the ship appeared not to be moving, even though she was going at nineteen knots.

Before we woke up, Britannia had reached the southern tip of Portugal and had turned eastwards towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

As usual, Sue and I ate breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant before going down to the Tours and Excursions Desk (Deck 5 Midships) to check on the details of the tour we had booked to go on whilst we were in Barcelona. One that was finished, we went up to Deck 7 Midships to go out onto the open deck area there, but because it was very wet, we decided to go up to the area near the Sunset Bar instead.

The weather was very pleasant, and we stayed there talking to other passengers until just after 11.00am, at which point we went back to our suite to get ready for the special Peninsular Club Lunch. This took place in the Oriental Restaurant and started at midday.

Our table was hosted by the ship’s Bar Manager, who was an American from California. There were four other passengers seated at the table, and it transpired that we had cruised with two of them before.

The menu for the meal was as follows:

Poached and Smoked Salmon Terrine, Brown Shrimp Butter, Cucumber and Horseradish
Salad of Watermelon, Feta Cheese and Basil, with Toasted Seeds
Roast Sweetcorn Soup, Sour Cream, Smoked Paprika and Popcorn
Raspberry Sorbet
Main Courses
Roast Cod with Crayfish Butter, Herb and Spelt Risotto and Poached Duck Egg
Roasted Fillet and raised Short Rib of Beef, Truffled Potato Mousseline and a Carrot and Yuzu Purée
Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake with Marzipan Ice Cream
Baked Ricotta Cheesecake with Blackberry Jam
Rhubarb and Custard Tart with Honey and Ginger Ice Cream
A selection of Regional, British and Continental Cheese with Biscuits
Tea or Coffee with Marzipan Fruits Petit Four

The meal and the company were excellent, and we did not leave the restaurant until 2.30pm. Sue and I decided to find somewhere in the open air where we could sit, and eventually ended up sitting near the Sunset Bar. The air temperature and low wind speed made it a very pleasant place to sit, and we spend over an hour there talking to other passengers.

We returned to our suite a little after 4.00pm, and we stayed there reading and resting until it was time to go back to the Sunset Bar for a pre-dinner drink. By then the wind speed had increased, and it was much colder than it had been earlier that day, and we did not go back there after dinner. Instead we went to the open deck area on Deck 7, which was more sheltered and nowhere near as cold.

As we were arriving in Alicante next morning, we made sure that we had got our going ashore bags ready before we went to bed. Sue and I read for a short time before going to sleep, and we were both asleep by midnight.

Tuesday 16th October: Alicante, Spain
I woke up at 7.00am, and Britannia was already approaching the entrance to the harbour.

Once I had made Sue a cup of tea, I got washed and dressed. This gave me time to watch Britannia’s progress towards her berth, which she reached by 8.40am.

Sue and I were eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant by 9.00am, and by 10.00am we were on our way ashore. We took the shuttle-bus to the Plaza Puerta del Mar, where we were dropped off.

Sue and I had a short walk around the area, which forms one side of the local yacht marina.

Our position also gave us and excellent view of the Castillo Santa Barbara.

There was also a memorial bust of Captain Archibald Dickson, whose SS Stanbrook evacuated thousands of people from Republican Spain in March 1939.

We crossed over the main road that runs along Alicante’s seafront, passing a monument dedicated to the Spanish Armed Forces.

We then walked along the Explanada

… until we reached the Rambla de Mendez Munez.

This long thoroughfare led inland, rising as it did. Once we reached the Avenida Alfonso X el Sabio, we turned left, and walked past the Mercado Central.

(The Mercado Central was undergoing renovation work and was partially covered in scaffolding. It was used as an air raid shelter during the Spanish Civil War.)

We eventually turned left again, and after following a route through several minor streets, we returned to the Explanada. By this time, we were both feeling rather thirsty, and stopped for hot chocolate and churros at the famous Valor chocolate café.

Sue and I then walked back along the Explanada, passing a small street market along the way …

… until we reached the Plaza Puerta del Mar, where we caught the shuttle-bus back to Britannia. It was almost 1.00pm by the time we had returned to our suite, and after dropping of our bags etc., we went up to the Sunset bar for another drink.

We stayed there for nearly an hour, and at 2.15pm we walked the short distance along Deck 16 to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant to eat lunch. Once our meal was over, we returned to our suite to read and to rest. Thanks to the general improvement in the weather, we were even able to spend some time on our balcony.

At 4.30pm we went down the Future Cruises Desk (Deck 7 Midships) where Sue and I booked a cruise around the British Isles … for August 2020! We then went out to sit on the open deck area on Deck 7 for a short time before returning to our suite in order to get ready for dinner.

Before going to eat in the Epicurean Restaurant – one of Britannia’s fine dining venues – Sue and I went back to the Sunset Bar for a pre-dinner drink, but the wind was very strong, and although we managed to have our drink, we did not sit there very long.

As usual, the meal Sue and I ate in the Epicurean Restaurant was on exceptionally high standard. I ate:

24-Hour Slow Cooked Ox Cheek, in Bone Canoe with Parsley Sponge and Beef Flavoured Mayonnaise
Olney Grounds 14oz Beef Rib Eye Steak, with Madeira and Béarnaise Sauce, Onion Rings, Mushrooms, Twice-Cooked Chips, and Wilted Spinach
Crepe Suzette, with Vanilla Pod Ice Cream

Sue and I both felt very full after our meal and decided that we needed a breath of fresh air before returning to our suite. We decided to go to the open deck area on Deck 7, and although it was still windy, it was not very cold, and we were able to sit there for about fifteen minutes before we went back to our suite to get ready for bed.

Wednesday 17th October: Barcelona, Spain
Britannia arrived in Barcelona slightly ahead of schedule, and by 7.30pm she was already alongside her berth and was in the process of being moored.

As we had booked a trip that was scheduled to leave at 9.00am to visit several of Antonio Gaudi’s buildings, Sue and I set our alarms to go off at 7.00am. As a result, we were eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant just before 8.00am and had disembarked by just after 8.30am. Despite one person only arriving seconds before we were due to leave and therefore delaying our departure for some minutes, our coach was able to negotiate its way through the Barcelona Rush Hour and get us to our first stop – Gaudi’s famous Segrada Familia (Holy Family) church – by 9.30am.

The coach had to stop some streets away from the church, and we had to walk to it. Our guide then gave us our individual entrance tickets, and after a sort briefing, we made our way to the entrance.

Surprisingly, the inside was far less ornate than the outside, and in comparison, it was very understated.

Sue and I were able to wander around inside the church for over half an hour, and after a short visit to the church’s shop, we re-joined the other members of our group. We all walked back to the coach pick-up point, which then drove us through Barcelona to Gaudi’s Park Güell. Along the way we had the opportunity to see (but not to photograph) two building that were designed by Gaudi.

After our coach had arrived and parked at Park Güell, we all disembarked and made our way through the public part of the park. Along the way we passed the house that Gaudi and his family lived in …

… and a section of the viaduct he designed to ease pedestrian movement around the park.

Our group then entered the privately-owned section of the park. Amongst the buildings we saw was the house Gaudi designed for the Güell family, which is currently used as a primary school.

We them walked down the stairs from the upper level …

… and ended up by two pavilions that were intended to be used as gatehouse for the park.

Our group was then allowed fifteen minutes to look around the lower section of the park before we had to make our way back to the tour coach. The latter left the park at 12.45pm and took over forty-five minutes to make its way through the city’s very heavy traffic to the cruise terminal.

Once back aboard, Sue and I went up to the Sunset Bar – via our suite – for a drink. We then ate lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant before going back to the open deck area near the Sunset Bar for about thirty minutes. We then returned to our suite, where we stayed until it was time to go to a special Peninsular Club Reception in the Marlow Suite (Deck 16 Forward). This reception had been laid on for the most travelled members of the Peninsular Club, and we were amongst the top forty on board Britannia.

After the reception, Sue and I went to dinner in the Oriental Restaurant, after which we spent fifteen minutes near the Sunset Bar before going back to our suite to sleep.

Thursday 18th October: Toulon, France
Britannia arrived outside Toulon ahead of schedule, and at 7.30am she was well inside the harbour.

Sue and I did not intend to rush ashore as soon as the ship had docked, and after a leisurely breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, we went up to the open deck area near the Sunset Bar to sit. We chatted with other passengers until the long queues to use the shuttle-ferry from Britannia’s berth to the centre of Toulon had shrunk, and by just before midday we were approaching the town’s seafront.

After disembarking from the shuttle-ferry …

… we walked along the seafront promenade …

… towards the Naval Museum.

Sue and I spent quite some time in the museum, and by the time we had finished, we were both feeling very thirsty. We walked only a few hundred yards before finding somewhere to get a drink, the Terre & Mer Brasserie Restaurant.

Feeling much refreshed after our drink, Sue and I wandered around the seafront promenade area …

… looking in the various shops, bars, restaurants, and luxury yachts.

We eventually stopped for lunch in a small pizzeria called Chez Geppetto.

Sue ate a Margarita pizza and I had a calzone … both of which could have fed several people! Once we had eaten, we slowly made our way back to the shuttle-ferry. There was no queue, and by 3.00pm we were back aboard Britannia.

After a short visit to our suite, Sue and I went up to the Sunset Bar, where we had several cold drinks before it was time to returned to our suite to get ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise.

We returned to the Sunset Bar for a pre-dinner drink and went back there after dinner for some fresh air. Whilst in the bar after dinner, we had a conversation with an elderly couple who had recently moved from their home in London to Braintree in Essex. It transpired that they had lived for over eighty years just across the River Thames from Woolwich in an area where several of my paternal aunts and uncles had lived, and we shared our reminiscences of what that part of London had been like before the docks had closed, and the area had been redeveloped.

Friday 19th October: La Spezia, Italy
Britannia reached La Spezia ahead of her predicted arrival time, and Sue and I were woken by the sound of the ship manoeuvring alongside the dock.

As Sue and I had not booked to go on a tour, we were able to eat a leisurely breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant before going up to the open deck are near the Sunset Bar. We stayed there until just after 10.00am, at which point we went back to our suite to collect our stuff and go ashore.

The shuttle-bus dropped us off at the Cruise Terminal which was situated on the seafront road, the Viale Italia. Sue and I then walked along the promenade that borders the Viale Italia

… until we reached the junction with the Via Diaz, where we turned inland.

We followed this route inland …

… until we arrived at the bottom of the lift that took us up to the Via XX Septembre.

We crossed the Via XX Septembre and used the funicular to go further uphill to the Via XXVII Marzo.

The Castello San Giorgio – our destination – was just across the road, and after paying the entrance fee, we entered the castle. The current castle was built between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries and comprises two separate but connected parts.

The castle is located on a hill that dominates the surrounding area and provides an excellent place from which to see the town and bay of La Spezia.

It was very hot, and after our visit to the castle Sue and I retraced our steps downhill until we reached Via de Torretto

… and through a narrow alley that took us to the Via Cavallotti.

One of our favourite restaurants – L’Osteria – is located there, and Sue and I stopped there for a drink and a very nice lunch. (I ate veal steak with roast potatoes, followed by a chocolate and pear tart, and Sue ate turbot cooked with olives and a green leaf salad.)

After lunch we strolled back through a small park and along the Viale Mazzini until we reached a point where we had to cross the Viale Italia to reach the Cruise Terminal. There was no queue in the Terminal, and the shuttle-bus left almost as soon as we boarded it. The journey back to the ship took a matter of minutes, and by 2.30pm we were back in our suite resting and trying to cool down.

Sue and I paid a visit to the Sunset Bar for a cold drink later during the afternoon and spent the rest of the time in our suite reading before it was time to get ready for dinner. As usual, we had a pre-dinner drink in the Sunset Bar, and at 8.30pm we went down to the Oriental Restaurant for dinner.

Only one of the couples we share a table with joined us for the meal, but it gave us a chance to talk to them in some depth, and the time seemed to fly past. As they were going on a long tour to Rome the next day, we finished eating and let the restaurant slightly earlier than usual, and after a very quick visit to the open deck area near the Sunset Bar, Sue and I went back to our suite to go to bed.

Saturday 20th October: Civitavecchia, Italy

Sue and I had decided not to take one of the tours to Rome and booked one to Ostia Antica (Ancient Ostia) which took place during the afternoon. We therefore spent the day doing little other than going for breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant and sitting in the open deck area near the Sunset Bar.

After a snack lunch, Sue and I got ready to go ashore to join our tour coach. This took us to Ostia, which is located on the coast, south of Rome. Ostia was Rome’s port until the River Tiber began to silt up and was – by Roman standards – a small city. The city was eventually submerged by a very high tide that covered it in silt. It remained buried until excavations began in the 1930s, and what we saw in Ostia Antica are the remains that have so far been uncovered by the ongoing archaeological excavations.

The coach dropped us off outside the site, and we approached it along the remains of the road between Ostia and Rome (the Via Ostiensis).

This area was used as the local cemetery, and several decorated sarcophagi can be seen on display alongside the road.

We then approached to main gate into the city, passing a map of the site …

… and the remains of buildings and other Roman remains as we did so.

The remains of the original gateway (the Porta Romana) we less impressive that one would have expected …

… but just inside the entrance was a statute to the goddess of victory, Minerva.

Further along the road was an example of a large, well preserved mosaic floor …

… as well as the lower walls of numerous buildings (including the Baths of Neptune and the barracks of the firefighters [Vigiles]), some of which were located up side streets.

We eventually reached the entrance to the city’s theatre. This was built during 1st century BC and extended during the improved during the 3rd century AD. The walls and ceiling of the entrance had originally been decorated with plasterwork depicting various gods and famous characters, and portions of this still remained in place.

The theatre was very impressive …

… and included the positions from which the actors project the voices of their characters to the audience.

Immediately behind the theatre were the remains of a temple which may have been dedicated to Ceres …

… around whose precinct were the remains of a number of shops (the Square of the Guilds [Piazzale delle Corporazioni]). These were all decorated with mosaic floor, many of which portrayed what the shop sold.

In a small building adjoining the temple’s precinct was a reproduction of an altar dedicated to Mars and Venus, and which depicted the story of Romulus and Remus.

Our walk through Ostia …

… then took us to the city’s forum, which was dominated by the Capitolium, a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

From there we made our way to one of the more affluent residential areas of Ostia (the so-called Street of the House of Diana), where the buildings …

… had shops (including taverns) …

… on the ground floor and apartments on the floors above.

The remainder of our walk though Ostia back towards the coach took us past the bath house used the city’s cart drivers (the Cisiarii).

(One of the site’s numerous cats can be seen lying down on one of the walls of the bath house.)

Our journey back to Britannia was uneventful, and we boarded the ship at 6.30pm. We were the last tour to return, and the ship set sail soon afterwards.

After a much-needed shower (for me) and bath (for Sue), we went up to the Sunset Bar for a drink before dinner. The other two couple joined us for dinner, and we exchanged stories of our recent trips ashore with each other. Sue began to feel unwell during the meal (She was developing a very heavy cold) and returned to our suite after eating her main course. I joined her after I had eaten my dessert, and we both had an early night.

Sunday 21st October: At sea

Sue did not sleep very well during the night and we decided to take things easy for the rest of the day. After breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant and a short visit to the Future Cruise Desk and the ship’s shops, we returned to our suite to read and to rest.

At 11.00am the ship’s captain made an announcement regarding a medical emergency that had occurred. This required the ship to alter course towards Majorca so that a helicopter could be used to evacuate a passenger who required shore-base medical treatment. This announcement was followed by further ones at 11.20am (‘Crew prepare for flying stations’) and 11.35am (‘Crew to flying stations’). All the open deck areas were cleared of passengers, and those with cabins on the port side were told to keep their balcony doors closed.

At 11.40am the captain made another announcement to the effect that the helicopter was expected to arrive just after midday, and that the ship would need to alter course and speed to enable the evacuation to take place. Soon afterwards Britannia turned 180° and began sailing back in the direction from which she had come.

The helicopter arrived at 12.10pm, and twenty-five minutes later the evacuation process was completed and the had helicopter departed on a course towards Majorca. The ship secured from flying stations soon afterwards, and life aboard slowly returned to normal.

(I wasn’t able to take any photographs during the evacuation as our suite was on the starboard side of the ship near the bows, and the helicopter arrived and departed on the port side aft.)

By 12.40pm Britannia had begun to turn 180° in order to resume her original course and speed, and soon afterwards Sue and I went up to the Sunset Bar for a drink. We went for lunch in the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant, and then returned to the Sunset Bar.

By 2.30pm Sue’s cold seemed to get a lot worse, and we went back to our suite. Whilst she slept for over two and a half hours, I sat and watched the remade version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN on the suite’s film-on-demand TV channel.

Sue felt a bit better after she had woken up, and after a hot bath she was well enough to go to the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party at 8.00pm. Once that was over, we went to Oriental Restaurant to attend the third formal dinner of the cruise. The food and the company were excellent, and we finally left the restaurant at 10.30pm. Sue and I spent a short time on the open deck on Deck 16 before returning to our suite to go to bed.

Monday 22nd October: Cartagena, Spain
Sue and I had a poor night’s sleep. Sue’s cold was still making it difficult for her to sleep for more than a couple of hours, and I was beginning to develop a high-than-normal temperature. As a result, we were both awake when the Britannia began to make her way alongside the dock in Cartagena.

Cartagena is one of the Spanish Navy’s main naval bases, although there were very few warships in military part of the harbour.

After breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I got ready to go ashore, and by 9.45am we were walking towards the town’s seafront promenade.

We turned right, and walked along the Muralla del Mar

…until we reached the junction with the Calle Gisbert.

We followed the road past the glass life to the Castillo de La Conceptión

… and along the Calle Caridad … and Calle Serreta

… until we reached the Military Museum.

The museum is mainly devoted to the history of artillery and occupies three sides of an open rectangular building.

The museum consists of several large halls that contain a very extensive collection of artillery pieces from a number of nations and covering the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries.

It also has a chapel dedicated to St Barbara, the patron saint of gunners.

By the time we had completed our tour of the ground floor of the museum, Sue and I were both feeling the effect of the heat and the humidity and decided that we would return in the future to visit the upper floor.

We turned right after leaving the museum and walked along the Calle Parque.

Sue and I then walked along the Calle Santa Florentina, the Calle Puerta de Murcia (where we stopped for a drink), …

… and the Calle Mayor

… until we returned to the seafront. We were back aboard Britannia by 12.30pm, and after a quick trip to our suite, Sue and I went up to the Sunset Bar for a much-needed cold drink. By 2.00pm we had eaten a snack lunch and returned to our suite, where we both spent a couple of hours resting.

After a pre-dinner drink in the Sunset Bar, Sue and I went to the Epicurean Restaurant for dinner. The menu had changed since our last visit and I ate:

Duo of Cured Smoked Salmon (one had been cured in a 21-year-old Loch Fyne Malt Whiskey and the other was H.Forman & Son’s Famous London Cure Oak Smoked Salmon)
Redman Limousin Irish Beef Fillet and Ox Cheek, with Smoked Potato Croquettes, Cabinet Sauvignon Glazed Grelot Onions, and Salt Baked Heirloom Carrots
Banana and Peanut Butter Cannelloni, with Muscavado Sugar Ice Cream, Rum Jelly, and Key Lime Gel

The food was even better than it had been the last time we ate dinner in the Epicurean Restaurant, and the service was as good as we have come to expect. Sue and I both left feeling that we had dined very well, and after a short spell on the open deck area near the Sunset Bar, we returned to our suite to get ready for bed. I managed to finish reading Kim Newman’s MORIARTY: THE HOUND OF THE D’URBERVILLES before going to sleep.

Tuesday 23rd October: Gibraltar
Sue and I were woken up at around 6.00am when Britannia stopped to pick up a local pilot. Neither of us could get back to sleep and just dozed until 7.30am, by which time the ship was approaching her berth.

As expected, Britannia was secured alongside by 8.00am.

Across the dock from Britannia another cruise liner – the SAGA Sapphire – was also moored.

By 8.30am the sun was beginning to rise, although the weather did not look too good, and the top of the Rock was obscured by a dark cloud.

Sue and I decided to go ashore as soon as we could in the hope that we might avoid the worst of the weather. After eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, we collected our stuff from our suite and went ashore at 9.40am … just as the rain began to fall.

Rather than get soaked walking into the centre of Gibraltar, Sue and I joined the queue to take the local taxi-shuttle. Although the queue was relatively long, the wait was less than fifteen minutes, and we were soon walking through Casemates Square.

Despite the persistent rain, we walked up Main Street …

… as far as the Governor’s Residence. We had a drink in the ‘Angry Friar’ and on our way back down Main Street we undertook a little retail therapy. We had intended to have lunch ashore, but the rain became heavier as we reached Casemates Square, and Sue and I decided to return to the ship. We joined the queue to take the taxi-shuttle back to Britannia, and by 12.45pm we were back in our suite.

After a short rest, Sue and I went up to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for lunch, after which we went to the Sunset Bar for a drink and to watch Britannia sail away from Gibraltar.

The ship’s departure was somewhat delayed as the process of refuelling from a bunker ship took longer than expected, but by 2.40pm she was on her way towards the Straits of Gibraltar. As she reached the open sea, the wind speed increased, and it got much colder on deck. As a result, Sue and I returned to our suite to warm up, and to rest for a while. Sue’s cold had not improved during the day, and she was very tired, and I watched HOSTILES on the suite’s film-on-demand TV channel.

Sue was feeling better by the time we had to get ready for dinner, and we were able to go for a pre-dinner drink in the Sunset Bar. After dinner we went back there to sit in the open air for a while before going to our suite to sleep. I began reading 1864: THE FORGOTTEN WAR THAT SHAPED MODERN EUROPE by Tom Buk-Swienty, a book about the Second Schleswig War.

Wednesday 24th October: At sea
After a somewhat disturbed night due to Sue’s cold (She kept waking up to cough violently whilst alternately feeling hot and cold), we awoke at 8.00am. Overnight Britannia had sailed northward along the coast of Portugal.

(It was interesting to note that one place on the map was Torres Vedras.)

By 8.45am, the sun began to rise …

… and soon afterwards Sue and I went up to the Epicurean Restaurant for breakfast.

After breakfast we went up to sit in the Crow’s Nest Bar and Lounge. Watching the sea and ships Britannia passed was very relaxing, and we stayed there for over thirty minutes. We then returned tour suite to get ready for brunch. (We had eaten brunch on other cruises, and it comprised a detailed visit to the ship’s galley followed by an opportunity to sample the wide variety of dishes they prepared.)

We arrived at the Meridian Restaurant at 11.00am and were seated soon afterwards. The Food and Beverage Manager then explained about how many meals the ship’s galleys produce each day (16,000 meals per day!) and her Deputy then gave us a very quick health and safety briefing. We were then split into groups of about twenty and were led into the galley by one of the ship’s Head Waiters.

Once inside, the Deputy Executive Chef explained how the galley functioned, with a one-way system in place for the restaurant waiters to use so that the flow of food from the galley to the restaurant was as smooth as possible.

Our first stop of our tour was in the Bakery, where the Head Baker explained how his department worked a day and night shift in order to produce an average of 20,000 rolls, 800 loaves, and 700 pizza bases per day. He then demonstrated the roll making machine, which takes a disc of dough and turns it into a plate of rolls.

On our way to the Pastry Department we walked past the huge, gimbaled soup boilers …

… which can each produce over 50 litres of soup and gravy per day.

We also saw a member of the Pastry Department making apple tarts for the evening dinner.

In the Pastry Department, the senior Pastry Chef demonstrated how the plates used to serve desserts were decorated using a chocolate pen.

We then met the ship’s Executive Chef …

… who explained how the galleys were able to not only produce so many meals each day, but also how they were supplied with fresh meat, fish, and other produce, and how they were able to predict what the demands for particular dishes would be … to within very fine margins.

The Galley Manager in charge of hygiene then described the regular cleaning routines used in the galleys, the various chemical used to ensure that every galley area was hygienic and clean, and the processes by which dirty plates etc., were collected and washed, with uneaten food being sent straight to the Environment Department for processing and disposal.

Once our tour was over, we returned to the Meridian Restaurant. We were all given a glass of champagne to drink and then allowed back into the galley to collect our starter …

… and once that was eaten, our main course.

We finally ended our meal with a choice of the desserts that were available. I ate:

A Mini-Smoked Salmon Bagel, Barbequed Salmon, Mozzarella and Tomatoes, and Baked Ham
Roast Strip Loin of Beef with Madeira Sauce, with Chateau Potatoes, Carrots, and Broccoli
Tiramisu and Pancakes with Vanilla Ice Cream and Nutella Sauce

It was nearly 1.45pm by the time Sue and I left the restaurant, and after a brief visit to the open deck area near the Sunset Bar, we returned to our suite to sit and rest. We stayed there until it was time to go for our pre-dinner drink in the Sunset Bar.

It was the last formal dinner of the cruise and after we had eaten of dessert course, the galley brigade that had prepared all the meals we had eaten during the cruise paraded through the restaurant.

This marked the end of the dinner, and Sue and I returned to the Sunset Bar, where we chatted with other passengers until it was time to go to bed.

Thursday 25th October: At sea
During the night a small fire broke out in the galley that serves the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant, and we were awoken at 3.00am by an announcement by the captain that the fire had been dealt with by the ship’s fire crew. Apparently, the fire had started some time earlier and the fire crew had been sent to deal with it. Unfortunately, some passengers had heard the announcement that was made to alert the fire crew, and had become anxious. In order to stop any possibility of an over-reaction by some passengers to the situation, the captain had to wake everyone up to reassure them the fire was out.

Sue and I tried to get back to sleep after the captain’s announcement, but neither of us slept very well, and we eventually got up at 8.00am. Britannia had reached a point a point about halfway across the Bay of Biscay and was making a steady 19 knots towards Ushant and the westernmost part of Brittany.

After eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I went down to Deck 5. Whilst I collected the duty-free alcohol we had bought in Gibraltar from the Meridian Restaurant, Sue went to the Reception Desk to get a printout of our on-board account. (Like most cruise lines, P&O now ‘take care’ of any alcohol passengers buy ashore until the end of the cruise. This is supposed to prevent drunkenness but may well be to stop passengers from drinking their own alcohol rather than that on sale in the various bars aboard.)

We then returned to our suite and began preparing to pack our luggage. We took a break just before midday and went up to the Sunset Bar for a quick drink. Although it was quite sunny, the wind was cold, and we only stayed out on the open deck for about twenty minutes. Sue and I then returned to our suite to continue packing.

At 1.30pm Sue and I went to the Horizon Self-Service Restaurant for lunch, and by 2.30pm we had eaten, spent a short time out on the open deck near the Sunset Bar, and were back in our suite finishing our packing. We finally finished packing five of our six bags at 3.00pm … and then had a much-needed rest!

Our butler paid us a visit at 5.00pm, and we had a short chat before thanking for everything that he had done for use during our cruise. Once he had left, Sue and I began getting ready for our last dinner of the cruise.

As has become our custom, we had a pre-dinner drink in the Sunset Bar before going down to the Oriental Restaurant for dinner. The meal was excellent – as usual – and once it had ended we said our farewells to the other couples we had shared a table with as well as the staff who had served us so well. We then returned to our suite to pack the last of our six bags – which was then left outside our door for collection – and then got ready for bed.

Friday 26th October: Southampton
The sound and vibration of the thrusters being used to manoeuvre Britannia alongside the Ocean Cruise Terminal woke us before 6.00am, and rather than try to go back to sleep, we got up and began to get ready to disembark.

After eating our last breakfast of the cruise in the Epicurean Restaurant, we collected our hand luggage from our suite and went down to Deck 5 to disembark. The queue was very short, and by 8.15am we were entering the Luggage Reclamation Hall. It took us about twenty minutes to collect all our bags, and by 8.45am we had passed through Customs and had collected our car from the valet parking service. Once our luggage had been loaded into our car, we set off for home.

We drove through heavy rain almost all the way from Southampton to the junction of the M3 and M25, and although the rain had stopped, parts of the motorway were seriously affected by water that had not drained away. As a result, the journey took longer than normal, and we did not reach home until just after midday.