Tuesday 30 April 2019

Other people's Portable Wargame battle reports: Action at Permez

When I woke up yesterday morning, the cold which seems to have been slowly developing over the past few days finally decided to go full-blown. I had itchy eyes, a sore throat, and a runny nose ... and felt very sorry for myself.

That soon disappeared when I took a look at Archduke Piccolo's blog and saw a battle report he had written about a brigade-level Napoleonic battle he had fought using my PORTABLE NAPOLEONIC WARGAME rules. My spirits rose ... and I'm sure that other regular blog readers will enjoy reading the Archduke's battle report as much as I did.

What follows is a small selection of some of his photographs.

Please note that the photographs featured above are © Archduke Piccolo.

Monday 29 April 2019

The Battle of Edgcote 1469: Re-evaluating the evidence

Before I begin my review of THE BATTLE OF EDGCOTE 1469: RE-EVALUATING THE EVIDENCE, I need to make the following things clear:
  • Firstly, that before reading this book I knew very, very little about the Wars of the Roses other than the basically Victorian view that I was taught as a child ... and absolutely nothing about the Battle of Edgcote
  • Secondly, that I would probably not have bought this book if I had not known the author for many years

The book is divided into the following sections:
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 – A Tale of Two Historians
  • Chapter 2 – A Lack of Sources?
  • Chapter 3 – The Numbers Game
  • Chapter 4 – Location, Location, Location
  • Chapter 5 – Naming the Day
  • Chapter 6 – "I am Robin of Redesdale"
  • Chapter 7 – The Most Mighty Battlefield
  • Chapter 8 – Retribution and Reckoning
  • Chapter 9 – Aftermath and Afterthoughts
  • Appendix – Primary Sources
  • Bibliography
  • The Battlefield Today
  • Northamptonshire Battlefields Society
Now I am a great fan of detective fiction and real-life crime stories … and in some ways this is a very similar to books of that genre. It sets out the evidence (much of which is included in the very detailed and useful Appendix) that is available to tell the truth about the battle. Where it really scored points with me was the fact that Graham Evans managed to make it both very informative and very readable … and that is not something that I could say about a lot of similar academic books. Make no mistake, this is a book for academics as well as enthusiasts, and only the most curmudgeonly reader could find fault with it.

It has not turned me into an enthusiast for wargaming the Wars of the Roses (although I can certainly say that I can now understand why people find it such a fascinating period of English history) but it has made me want to see more of Graham’s stuff in print. He is a very talented wargamer designer – as a quick Google search will show – as well as a blogger of high repute, and I look forward to seeing some of his excellent rules on sale in book form in the very near future.

PS. So, who is Robin of Redesdale? Having read Graham's book, I have my own ideas who it might be ... and I'm sure that other readers may well have their particular candidates for the role. I recommend that anyone with even the vaguest interest in the Wars of the Roses to read this book, if only to come to their own conclusions as to who he is.

THE BATTLE OF EDGCOTE 1469: RE-EVALUATING THE EVIDENCE was written by Graham Evans and published in 2019 by the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society (ISBN 978 1 794 61107 8). It is currently on sale in paperback for £9.99 from the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society or via Amazon.

Sunday 28 April 2019

Miniature Wargames 433

Very, very belatedly, I have finally managed to get around to reading the latest edition of MINIATURE WARGAMES. It was delivered whilst we were on our recent cruise, and I have been so busy since then, this weekend has been the first time I've had a chance to do anything other than flip through the magazine.

The articles included in this issue are:
  • Welcome (i.e. the editorial) by John Treadaway
  • Forward observer
  • Send three and fourpence: Storage: The Hand Maiden of Wargaming by Conrad Kinch
  • Hickstown: A Scenario for Dead Mans Hand by David Tuck, with photographs by Malc Johnston
  • Rorke’s Drift: Natal Province, 22 – 23 January 1879 by Jon Sutherland, with photographs by Diane Sutherland
  • Show Report: Back on Track: The Editor goes to Hammerhead 2019 with text and photographs by John Treadaway
  • Darker Horizons
    • Fantasy Facts
    • Pulling the Strings: We go behind the scenes to talk with Puppetswar about all things miniature by James Winspear, with photographs by Puppetswar
    • Into the Void: A History of a Lost Future: Behind every commercial wargame is the story of a company and the people who comprise it. Here, we trace the story of John Robertson and Void by James Winspear, with photographs by John Robertson
  • Quick of the draw: Guns and Gunfights in the Old West by Chris Swan, with illustrations by Mike Blake
  • (Gender) Balanced Armies: Women in Wargaming: We talk to miniatures sculptor Annie Norman about her journey and her thoughts on female representation in wargaming by James Winspear, with photographs by Bad Squiddo
  • Show Report: Cavalier: The Editor makes a trip to the Kent show with text and photographs by John Treadaway
  • Recce
  • Eggscellent Tee Pee: The continuing tales of a wargames widow with text and photographs by Diane Sutherland
  • Club Directory
So, what did I think of this issue:
  • Conrad Kinch's article about storage reminded me of the many and varies methods I have used over the years to store my figures, although unlike me, he seems not to have yet reached the IKEA wooden draw unit/Weston Boxes/REALLY USEFUL BOX stage!
  • I'm a sucker for anything vaguely Colonial, so I enjoyed reading Jon Sutherland's Rorke’s Drift article.
  • (Gender) Balanced Armies: Women in Wargaming made for interesting reading as well, and although we live in more enlightened times today, I was a bit saddened to read that Annie Norman and Bad Squiddo were not as well-received when they started out as I would have hoped and expected.

Saturday 27 April 2019

Italian warships seen in habour in La Spezia

Last October Sue and I visited La Spezia, and I was able to photograph some of the Italian warships that were in harbour on the day of our visit.

Carlo Begamini-class/FREMM General Purpose Frigate Luigi Rizzo (F595)

Carlo Begamini-class/FREMM General Purpose Frigate Carlo Begamini (F590)

Maestrale-class Anti-submarine Frigate Grecale (F571)

Maestrale-class Anti-submarine Frigate Maestrale (F570)

This ship appears to have been decommissioned.

Soldati-class Patrol Frigate

This ship appears to have been decommissioned.

Two Sauro-class Submarines

Electronic Surveillance Ship Electra (A5340)

The ship is moored near two Carlo Begamini-class/FREMM General Purpose Frigates.

Ponza-class Coastal Transport Ship Tavolara (A5367)

Friday 26 April 2019

Nugget 317

I have collected the latest issue of THE NUGGET (N317) from the printer, and hope to post it out to UK, EU, and Overseas members later today or early tomorrow. It has already been uploaded to the website so that it can be read online.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the eighth 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.

Thursday 25 April 2019

I have been to … Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar

Sunday 7th April: Southampton
It was quite foggy when Sue and I left home at 8.30am, and it was over an hour later that we reached the junction of the M25 and M3 and heading towards Southampton. We stopped for a coffee and a comfort break at Winchester Services, and joined the queue for the valet parking at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal in Southampton at almost exactly 11.30am.

Within fifteen minutes of arriving we had booked our car in and the luggage had been taken away by a porter. Sue and I then made our way inside the terminal building and joined the priority embarkation queue. This took somewhat longer than usual, and we did not make our way aboard P&O’s Azura until 12.30pm. Once we were on the ship, we were directed to the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 6 Midships), where we were served drinks and snacks until our suite was ready.

After sitting in the restaurant for ninety minutes, we made our way up to the Promenade Deck (Deck 7) for some fresh air. By 2.15pm Sue and I were in our suite, surrounded by our luggage, which we then unpacked. During this lengthy process, our cabin steward – Valens – paid us a visit to introduce himself and to remind us to go to the safety briefing at 4.15pm. I managed to have a quick look at the cabin’s onscreen navigation channel …

… and what was around Azura in Southampton Docks. It was still quite misty, and I could only see a small coaster and a large container ship in our vicinity.

Knowing that we would not finish unpacking by the time the safety briefing was going to take place and feeling in need of a drink and something substantial to eat, Sue and I went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a break. Suitably refreshed, we returned to our cabin, picked up our lifejackets, and made our way to our Muster Station (the Manhattan Show Lounge on Deck 7 Aft) in time to get a seat for the safety briefing. This started promptly at 4.15pm and lasted thirty minutes. Once the briefing was over, Sue and I went out onto the Promenade Deck to wait for the crowds to disperse. We then returned to our suite to complete our unpacking.

Azura set sail just before 5.00pm, and as she sailed towards the Solent, she passed P&O’s MV Oriana and MV Britannia and was followed by Fred Olsen Lines’ MV Braemar.

Soon after we had set sail, our butler – the wonderfully-named Elvis! – arrived at our cabin door to introduce himself. Sue and I had quite a long chat with him before he left, and he promised to keep us up to date with the results of the Indian Premier League cricket results.

Our suite was neat and tidy by 6.30pm, and after taking a short rest, Sue and I began to get ready for our first dinner aboard Azura. We went for a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar (Deck 7 Forward) before walking along the Promenade Deck towards the stern. At 8.40pm we went down to the Oriental Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), and within a matter of minutes we were sitting at our table and were reading the menu.

It took us just over an hour to eat our dinner, and by 10.00pm Sue and I were out on the Promenade Deck having a breath of fresh air. It was quite cold, and it was not long before we returned to our suite to get ready for bed. Both of us read for a short while, but by 11.15pm we were fast asleep.

Monday 8th April: At sea
Sue and I slept well, and it was a good idea to set our alarm clock to go off at 8.00am, otherwise we might have missed breakfast!

By the time we were ready to go to the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft) for breakfast, Azura was off Ushant and about to enter the northern part of the Bay of Biscay.

Once we had eaten, Sue and I went down to the Promenade Deck, where we were somewhat surprised to see Oriana towards the horizon on the starboard side of the ship.

We watched her for a while and then went down to the Future Cruise Desk (Deck 5 Midships), where we booked three cruises that will take place during 2020! (P&O were offering a special deal by which the price of each cruise was reduced by 10% and each passenger was allocated additional onboard spending credit.)

After a quick trip back to our suite to collect our Kindles, Sue and I went up to the Planet Bar (Deck 18 Aft) to find somewhere to sit and read whilst we had a drink. We listened to the daily midday announcement from the bridge and stayed in the bar until after 1.00pm, by which time we needed some fresh air. After a short visit to the area around the Coral Pool (Deck 15 Midships), we returned to our suite to read and to rest.

By 3.00pm we were both feeling hungry and thirsty, so we went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for a snack and a drink. We were back in our suite by 4.00pm and were reading and resting when the Captain of Azura – Captain Stephen Howarth – made an announcement over the in-cabin speaker system. Apparently bad weather (and in particular, high wind) was predicted to affect our first port-of-call – La Coruña – and this would make it dangerous to dock there. As a result, Azura was going to an alternative port, Vigo.

Although Sue and I were disappointed at not going back to La Coruña, we had not visited Vigo for some years and knew that it was an excellent alternative. Furthermore, as the ship was not going to arrive in Vigo until 11.00am, Azura was not going to leave until 10.00pm, giving us the opportunity to go ashore during the evening.

As the afternoon turned into the early evening, we began to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise, which took place immediately after the Captain’s ‘Welcome Aboard’ Cocktail Party in the ship’s atrium. The party started at 8.00pm, and after queuing up to get in, we enjoyed our free drinks and listened to the Captain’s welcome talk and introduction to Azura’s senior officers.

Once the party was over, we took a short walk along the Promenade Deck towards the aft of the ship, and then to our restaurant. The menu was one that had been devised by Marco Pierre White, and it was well cooked, nicely presented, and superbly served.

As we were eating our dinner, the pitching and rolling of the ship began to get more noticeable, and by the time we had finished, it was obvious that the bad weather the Captain was trying to avoid was beginning to affect Azura. This was confirmed when Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck, where heavy spray was making the outside area of the ship very wet, and that – despite the dark – we could see the white crests of large waves going past.

When we returned to our suite – which was at the very back of Azura – in order to get ready for bed, we found that trying to stand upright was difficult due to the sudden lurches the ship was making. This movement was not as difficult to cope with when one was sitting or lying down, and it was reasonably easy to read in bed.

Tuesday 9th April: Vigo
Overnight the pitching and rolling of the ship got worse, and Sue and I were both woken several times by the sound of something in the cabin moving or the sudden crash of the ship hitting a particularly large wave. In the end we gave up trying to sleep, and by 8.00am we were getting ready for breakfast. By this time Azura had begun to turn towards Vigo, and the movement began to abate.

After breakfast, Sue and I went for a short walk along the Promenade Deck, after which we returned to our suite to wait for Azura to moor in Vigo. At 10.30am the Captain announced that the bad weather had delayed our journey to Vigo, and that we would not be docking until midday rather than at his predicted arrival time, 11.00am.

By 11.00am Azura was entering the mouth of the estuary, …

… and soon afterwards she picked up the local pilot. The ship then slowed down as she approached the dockside, and at 11.45am she began to use her thrusters to manoeuvre alongside. This process took another fifteen minutes, and it was not until just after midday that the Deputy Captain announced that passengers could go ashore.

Sue and I waited until everyone going on an organised tour had disembarked before going ashore. This did not take very long, and we were leaving the cruise terminal well before 1.00pm.

Vigo is an old city and built on the steep slopes leading up from the docks. We wandered about its narrow streets, looking at the sometimes odd-looking old and new buildings, some of which had been considerably altered and extended over the years.

By the time we had returned to the square where the local church was located …

… it had begun to drizzle, and as this became heavier, we made our way back towards the seafront. Not yet wishing to go back aboard Azura, we had a walk around a small shopping mall near the cruise terminal …

… where we found a pizzeria, the Pizzeria Napolitana. As it was lunchtime, we decided to eat there … and Sue and I both agreed that we had not eaten better pizza anywhere else …including Italy.

Inside the shopping mall was a cabinet containing model ships, including one of the small Spanish aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias

… and the amphibious assault ship/aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I.

This was an unexpected bonus, and I was very impressed by the quality of the two models.

The rain had become quite heavy by the time we left the shopping mall, but it was only a short walk to the cruise terminal. We had to wait undercover until we could pass through the security checks and boarding control, but this did not take too long, and by 3.30pm we were back in our suite. By this time, we were both feeling the effects of the previous night’s interrupted sleep, and we spent the next couple of hours reading and resting (mostly resting!).

The rest of the day was quite uneventful. We had a chat about cricket with our butler, Elvis, who showed us highlights of the most recent Indian Premier League match on his Asus smartphone. We then went to the Glass House bar for a pre-dinner drink and then walked aft along the Promenade Deck to go to dinner. As neither of us was feeling very hungry (we had eaten very large pizzas for lunch!), we did not eat much, and had finished our meal by just after 9.30pm. We then had a chat with the couple sitting at the next table in the restaurant before returning to the Promenade Deck.

Azura was supposed to leave Vigo at 10.00pm, but that time came and went, and it was well past 10.30pm before she began to move away from the dockside. As she did so, Sue and I returned to our suite to get ready for bed, and by 11.30pm we were both asleep.

Wednesday 10th April: Porto
When we awoke at 7.30am, Azura was already turning in towards the docks that serve the city of Porto.

The weather was overcast, but it was not raining … which was good sign.

After eating breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I spent some time on the Promenade Deck watching other passengers streaming ashore. We waited until the initial rush was over, and then made our way back to our suite to pick up our coast and cameras. By 10.30am we were aboard the shuttle-bus into Porto … and just before 11.10am we were getting off on the south bank of the River Douro.

During our previous visit to Porto, the shuttle-bus drop-off point had been outside the Palace of Justice, which is located on the edge of Porto’s central district. This time the drop-off point was on the other side of the river, in the midst of the Port wine district.

The promenade alongside the River Douro was extremely pleasant to walk along and gave us excellent views of the north bank.

Moored near the south bank were examples of local barges. These now serve as advertising for the main Port wine suppliers but are a reminder of the amount of river traffic the Douro used to carry.

Sue and I walked as far as the bottom part of the Ponte Luis I (Luis I Bridge) …

… but decided not to cross it and to remain on the south bank of the river. We retraced our route back towards the shuttle-bus pick-up point, stopping along the way to buy some small souvenirs and to have a coffee and pastries in a locale café.

The pastries supplied by the Casa Cardoso were a mixture of sweet and savoury and included a custard tart … one of Portugal’s national dishes!

Having eaten this hearty snack, we had a look around some of the small side streets …

… before boarding the shuttle-bus back to the cruise terminal.

The journey back took longer than the journey into Porto, and it was just past 2.00pm that we finally re-joined Azura. After dropping off our coats, bags, and cameras in our suite, we went for a drink, after which we returned to our suite to rest and recuperate. We stayed there for the rest of the afternoon, although we both took the occasional break out on the suite balcony when the clouds parted, and the sun managed to shine.

Sue and I had booked dinner in the Epicurean Restaurant – one of Azura’s select dining venues – and we decided to have a break on the Promenade Deck for some fresh air before going to the Planet Bar for a pre-dinner drink. We arrived at the restaurant at 8.30pm and remained there until 10.30pm.

The menu that was available was one of our favourites and we ate:
Alaskan Snow Crab, Langoustine and Salmon Caviar Cocktail, with Pea and Chervil Custard, Parchment Bread and a Cucumber Mojito (Sue)
Jamón Pata Negra Ibérico de Bellota, with Aged Manchego Cheese, Fine Spanish Olives, Country Bread and Freshly Pressed Almond Oil (Me)
Main Course
Olney Grounds 14oz Beef Rib Eye Steak for Two, with Madeira and Béarnaise Sauce, Fried Onion Rings, Baby Tomatoes, Sliced Field Mushrooms and Thick Cut Chips
Crêpes Suzette, with Vanilla Pod Ice Cream
By the time we had finished eating, we were both feeling very full and were in great need of the break we took on the Promenade Deck before going back to our suite. Sue and I then had a chance to rest for a time before getting ready for bed.

Thursday 11th April: At sea
Overnight Azura had sailed down the coast of Portugal, and by the time we woke up at 7.30am, she was west-south-west of Lisbon.

After breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I had a walk along the Promenade Deck before paying a fleeting visit to the ship’s shops. We then returned to our suite, where we spent until 11.30am reading and resting. We then got ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch, which took place in the Oriental Restaurant from midday onwards.

The lunch was arranged for regular cruisers who are in the upper two tiers of the P&O Loyalty Scheme, the Peninsular Lunch. Each table is hosted by a senior officer, and the menu is one that permits the ship’s Executive Chef and his galley brigade to demonstrate their ability to produce top quality food for a large number of people.

On this occasion, our host was the ship’s doctor, Dr Farouk Parker, a South African from Capetown, and the choice of dishes on the menu was superb. Sue and I ate:
Poached and Smoked Salmon Terrine, with Brown Shrimp Butter, Cucumber and Horseradish (Sue)
Roaster Sweetcorn Soup, with Sour Cream, Smoked Paprika and Popcorn (Me)
Raspberry Sorbet
Main Course
Roasted Fillet and Braised Short Rib of Beef, with Truffled Potato Mousseline and a Carrot and Yuzu Purée
Cheeseboard, with a selection of Regional, British and Continental Cheese with Biscuits (Sue)
Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake with Marzipan Ice Cream (Me)
Petit Four
Marzipan Fruits
We did not leave the restaurant until after 2.30pm, after which we spent until 3.00pm talking to two of our table companions on the Promenade Deck. Whilst we were there, whales were sighted off the starboard side of the ship, but other than the occasional feather of vented water some distance off, it was impossible to see how many there were.

By 3.00pm Sue and I were feeling rather weary and returned to our suite to have a post-lunch nap. This was very welcome, and both of us slept on and off until nearly 5.00pm. We then spent the rest of the late afternoon and early evening reading until it was time to get ready for dinner.

Sue and I had a stroll along the Promenade Deck before having a pre-dinner drink in Glass House Bar … and then walked back along the Promenade Deck towards the steps that led down to the Oriental Restaurant.

After a very pleasant dinner, Sue and I returned to the Promenade Deck for a time before going up to our suite to get ready for our visit to Gibraltar next day. We then read for a time before going to sleep.

Friday 12th April: Gibraltar
Azura was already entering the harbour at Gibraltar when we woke up at 7.30am.

By the time we had eaten breakfast, the ship was secured alongside the quay and the sun was rising.

As Azura was going to be in Gibraltar until midnight, we decided to take our time getting off and going into town. We disembarked at 10.30am and began to walk towards Casemates Square.

Along the way we decided to turn off and take a look at the Ocean Village Marina.

This area has been under development for some time as a marina and location for luxury housing and hotels. One of the latter is a five-star floating hotel.

The local shops are also up-market, seeming to be mainly occupied by estate agents, coffee shops, and interior designers.

We emerged from the far end of the marina onto a road …

… that led us to the entrance to Casemates Square.

Once inside the square …

… we began a leisurely walk up Main Street.

The weather was much hotter than we expected, and Sue and I took a break for a cold drink in The Angry Friar …

… which is situated opposite the Governor’s Residence.

We then continued our walk southwards and passed through the gates that have been cut into the wall neat the South Bastion.

Just the other side of the gateway is the Trafalgar Cemetery …

… which is always well worth walking around as it is a quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets.

On the opposite side of the road from the cemetery is a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson.

Sue and I continued walking towards Europa Point, but after another half mile or so decided that we were both beginning to feel hot and tired. We therefore decided to return to Casemates Square to rest and recuperate.

We did not get back to the square until nearly 1.30pm, having undertaken some retail therapy along the way. Eventually we found a table in area outside The Tunnel Bar/Restaurant, where we had a drink and ate lunch.

This took us until nearly 3.00pm, and by 4.00pm we were back aboard Azura. Sue and I then had another drink – this time in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) – and returned to our cabin to rest before returning to town for dinner.

Our plans did not come to fruition, as both of us fell asleep almost as soon as we had returned to our suite and did not wake up until well after 6.30pm. By the time we had showered and changed, it was close to 8.00pm, and in the end we decided to go to the Glass House Bar and have a snack meal and a drink.

One change had occurred whilst we had been out; a replica sailing ship had moored across the harbour for Azura. On closer examination, it appeared to be a replica of a Russian sailing frigate from the early eighteenth century.

If it is what it appears to be, it is probably the Shtandart(Standard), which was built in 1999 by a Russian organisation devoted to youth development.

She made an interesting comparison with a large motor yacht – the Lady Moura – which was moored some distance away alongside one of the harbour’s outer moles.

After eating in the Glass House, Sue and I spent some time on the Promenade Deck chatting with other passengers. We discussed going back into town, but in the end decided to remain on board. We were back in our suite by 10.00pm, and by 11.00pm we were both sound asleep.

Saturday 13th April: At sea
Azura left Gibraltar at just after midnight but did so with such little noise and movement that Sue and I slept through it undisturbed. The calm sea must have helped, and by 7.45am the ship was well on her way towards Valencia, the next port-of-call.

Once we had eaten breakfast in the Epicurean Restaurant, Sue and I went for a walk around the ship before finding somewhere on the Promenade Deck to sit and enjoy the excellent weather. We stayed there until 10.30am, when we returned to our suite. I sat on the balcony for some time …

… watching a pod of dolphins follow the Azura. They stayed with the ship for over an hour, and my last sighting of them was at 11.45am.

At noon the Officer-of-the-Watch made the usual midday announcement, and informed us that the ship was twenty-five miles from the coast of southern Spain in the Sea of Aldoran, that the ship still had just over two hundred and fifty nautical miles to sail before she reached Valencia, and that the current air temperature was 22°C.

Just after 1.30pm, Sue and I went down to the Promenade Deck and after walking along it we went inside and had a drink in the Glass House bar. We then discussed where we would go for lunch, and eventually we ended up in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant. It was quite quiet in there because a special pizza and pasta event was taking place outside by one of the ship’s pool areas, and it seemed as if the majority of passengers had decided to go there for their midday meal.

Sue and I were back in our suite by 3.00pm, and we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on our balcony enjoying the sun. By 6.30pm we had returned inside to get ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise, which took place in the Oriental Restaurant. We went for a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House bar, after which we had a stroll along the Promenade Deck before going down to the restaurant.

After dinner it was still warm enough to enjoy some time on the Promenade Deck before going back to our suite to get ready for our visit to Valencia next day.

Sunday 14th April: Valencia
Azura was about fifteen minutes later docking in Valencia as she had to wait for another cruise liner - AIDA Sol – to dock first.

As Sue and I went up to the Epicurean Restaurant to eat breakfast, passengers were already streaming ashore to join organised tours or to catch the shuttle-bus into Valencia. We decided to wait until the initial rush was over and did not disembark until just after 10.15am. As a result, we did not have to wait to catch the shuttle-bus and were on the bridge leading towards the Serrans Tower by 10.45am.

Once through the arches at the bottom of the tower, Sue and I began to walk towards the centre of the older part of Valencia.

We soon reached the square …

… where the cathedral is situated.

As it was Palm Sunday, the doors were closed to casual visitors as a special Mass was being held. We therefore walked to the far side of the cathedral, where vendors had set up stalls to sell ornate palm crosses.

Although the whole place was very crowded, very few shops were open, although the bars and restaurants were … and were doing good business!

Sue and I wandered around the streets, and during our stroll we saw some wonderful examples of local architecture …

… and small squares, some of which had fountains in their centre.

By chance we found the world-famous L’Iber Museo de Los Soldaditos De Plomo (L’Iber Museum of Lead Soldiers) was open.

The museum had been shut during our previous visit to Valencia, and we expected that it would be closed as it was Palm Sunday. It was not … and after paying our entrance fees (8 Euros each), Sue and I took the lift to the first floor, where the exhibition was located.

The museum has over 900,000 figures in its collection, and these are on display in a warren of rooms. The displays are thematical, and included several stunning dioramas, including one of the Battle of Waterloo.

Sue and I took hundreds of photographs, and I hope to share them online at some time in the future. We also bought an illustrated guide book, which we thought was excellent value as it only cost 5 Euros.

After spending some considerable time in the museum, we were in desperate need of a drink. We managed to find somewhere to sit outside a local bar and were able to refresh ourselves before returning to the shuttle-bus pick-up point.

We did not have to wait for a shuttle-bus to take us back to the ship … which was probably just as well as there was little shade to be had at the pick-up point and the temperature was over 31°C. We were back aboard Azura by 2.30pm, and after dropping off our bags and cameras, we went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for a snack lunch and something to drink.

Sue and I then returned to our suite, where we cooled down and rested until it was time for Azura to set sail for Cartagena at 5.30pm. We then took our time getting ready for dinner, which was preceded by a stroll along the Promenade Deck and a drink in the Glass House bar.

Over dinner we had quite long chats with the couples occupying the tables on either side of ours. After we had finished eating and talking, Sue and I returned to the Promenade Deck for a short time before going to our suite to sleep.

Monday 15th April: Cartagena
I was awoken at 7.00am by the sound and movement of the Azura turning as she passed through the outer and inner moles of Cartagena’s harbour. She then slowly manouevred alongside the quay that runs parallel with the seafront before mooring. This took until 7.55am.

By this time the sun was beginning to rise over the surrounding hills.

Whilst we were getting ready to go to breakfast, a cruise liner – the Pullmantur Horizon – belonging to the Spanish-based Pullmantur Cruises moored astern of Azura, …

… on the opposite side of the quay from Arctic

… a former ice-breaker that was re-built as a super-yacht by the late Kerry Packer.

After breakfast, Sue and I went ashore. It took only a couple of minutes to walk from the ship to the seafront.

We then walked towards the Naval Museum, passing as we did the memorial to the Heroes of Cavite ...

…and a column dedicated to the memory of Cartagena’s important role in the history of both the Carthaginian and Roman empires.

We also saw one of the several yachts that were moored alongside the naval shipyard. Unlike the others, this was a much older ship – the ninety-year-old Haida – which has been featured in several films and TV programmes.

As we expected, the museum was shut …

… but in the nearby naval base, a special parade was being held. Sue and I were just able to see some of the assembled officers and personnel, most of whom appeared to be members of the Spanish Marine Infantry (Infanteria de Marina).

Sue and I then walked past the main entrance to the Arsenal de Cartagena

… which is ‘guarded’ by a large-calibre smooth-bore cannon.

On the opposite side of the road was a very large and very unusual sculpture …

… that seemed to represent trees and their canopy … although what it was actually supposed to be is a mystery to us!

Sue and I then made our way towards the Calle Ronda, the location of a model shop, Modelismo Stuka. It seemed to cater for most types of modeller and had quite a number of larger-scale military figures on sale. Unfortunately, I could not find anything that I wanted to buy, but it was certainly worth visiting.

It was just after 11.15am when Sue and I began to make our way back to Azura. We walked through the very crowded main shopping streets looking for somewhere to stop for a drink, but the fact that there were two cruise liners in port and that many locals seemed to be on holiday, meant that we could not find anywhere. We did stop at a small supermarket, where were we able to buy some special Easter biscuits to take back with us to the UK.

We finally re-boarded Azura at 12.10pm, and after a brief stop in our suite to freshen up, Sue and I went up to the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant for a snack lunch and a much-needed cold drink.

After lunch we spent some time on the open deck area on Deck 15 before returning to our suite to cool off and to rest and recuperate. During the afternoon we spent some time on our balcony, and it was during one of our spells out there that we saw a local rescue boat come between Azura and the Pullmantur Horizon.

By 4.30pm, everyone was back aboard Azura, and she set sail for her next port-of-call, Lisbon. As she sailed out of Cartagena, it gave us the opportunity to see some of the other vessels in harbour as well as some of the fortifications built to protect it.

These included the Pullmantur Horizon, …

… and the patrol vessels and minehunters moored in the naval base.

The former included the last two Descubierta–class ex-frigates (now patrol boats) in service (Infanta Elena (P76) and Infanta Cristina (P77)) …

… and the latter were five of the Segura-class.

Less easy to see was an unidentified submarine (probably of the Galerna-class) …

… and two patrol vessels of the Meteoro-class.

The Camino Espangnole was moored at her usual berth in the harbour, …

… as were the two members of the Chilreu-class of patrol vessels.

The harbour was also being used by a number of luxury yachts, including Sunrays

… and Prince Abdulaziz.

Numerous fortifications surround the harbour approach and entrance …

… some of which still have a military role.

By 6.00pm, Azura was well on her way, and the good weather we had enjoyed all day began to change as the skies became overcast. We were having dinner in the Epicurean Restaurant, and Sue and I began to get ready not long after 6.30pm.

The news of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris broke as we were getting ready, and we watched the news reports on and off until it was time to go to the Glass House bar for a pre-dinner drink. At 8.30pm we went up to the Epicurean Restaurant for dinner. We ate:
Duo of Cured Smoked Salmon; Aged 21-year-old Malt Whisky Loch Fyne and H Forman & Sons’ Famous London Cure Oak Smoked Salmon
Main Courses
Whole Dover Sole á la Meunière with Maître D’hôtel Butter Sauce (Sue)
Redman Limousin Irish Beef Fillet and Ox Cheek, with Smoked Potato Croquettes, Cabernet Sauvignon Glazed Grelot Onions and Salt Baked Heirloom Carrots (Me)
Elements of Summer Trifle, comprising Blackberry Jelly, Tarragon Meringue, Raspberry Roulade, Clotted Cream, and Fried Custard (Sue)
Banana and Peanut Butter Cannelloni, with Muscovado Sugar Ice Cream, Rum Jelly, and Key Lime Gel (Me)
After dinner, Sue and I were both feeling rather full, and took a break on the Promenade Deck before returning to our suite. Once back there, we continued to follow events as they unfolded in Paris. We finally went to bed at 11.30pm … but were woken up several times during the night by sudden and unexpected movement.

Tuesday 16th April: At sea
After a rather disturbed night’s sleep, Sue and I were awake just after 7.30am. By this time Azura was well on her way towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

Just before we went to breakfast, the Captain announced that Azura was about to pass Gibraltar on the starboard side, so Sue and I went out onto our balcony to watch as the ship sailed past the Rock.

The buildings on Europa Point – the closest part of Europe to Africa – was very visible, even at a distance of about five miles.

After breakfast Sue and I went for a look at the ship’s shops … and for once we actually found something to buy. I acquired a small telescope in a very smart wooden box, and Sue bought some Pandora charms that she had not seen on sale in the UK.

We returned to our suite to drop off our purchases … and we able to see the coasts of Spain and Morocco on the horizon.

After reading for a while, we both felt rather thirsty, and went down to the Glass House bar for a drink. We also took our Kindles with us, and stayed there until 1.30pm, when we returned to our suite.

At 2.20pm the Captain made a public announcement over the ship’s Tannoy system. It appeared that several passengers had presented themselves to the ship’s medical centre with the symptoms of Norovirus. As a result, proactive precautions were being put in place and passengers were asked to assist in whatever ways they could, especially by maintaining the highest standards of personal hygiene.

It was not long after this that Sue and I went to lunch! We had originally planned to visit the poolside grill but chose to eat in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant instead. The proactive hygiene precautions were already in evidence, with all staff wearing rubber gloves and handing diners trays, cutlery, and napkins, and passengers were not allowed to enter the food service areas without first using anti-bacterial gel on their hands.

We were allowed to serve ourselves food, but all the serving stations were being policed by members of staff. It was also noticeable that the staff who cleared tables after diners had left were also cleaning the backs of chairs as well as the tabletops as soon as a table was vacated.

After lunch Sue and I sat in the open deck area next to the Coral Pool until just before 3.30pm, at which point we returned to our suite to read and to rest. At about 4.45pm Sue went down to the Promenade Deck for a break whilst I chose to sit on our balcony. Although the latter was not in direct sunlight, it was quite warm, mainly due to the lack of wind.

We had expected to go to the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party before dinner, but due to the outbreak of Norovirus, it was cancelled, and Sue and I went to the Glass House for a pre-dinner drink instead.

After dinner we spent some time on the Promenade Deck talking to other passengers before returning to our suite to sleep. Because we were going to Lisbon in Portugal, we had to put our clocks back one hour … to the same time zone as the UK. (During the cruise we had put the clocks forward one hour before going to Vigo, then back an hour before visiting Porto … and forward an hour again before stopping off in Gibraltar!)

Wednesday 17th April: Lisbon
Azura was coming alongside her berth in Lisbon as Sue and I woke up.

As soon as we looked out of the door to our balcony, we realised that the weather had taken a turn for the worse …

… and would could barely see P&O’s Britannia as she moved towards the dock.

By the time Sue and I went to breakfast, the rain had stopped – albeit briefly – and Britannia was secured alongside.

Almost as soon as she was, it began to rain again quite heavily, and after some discussion, Sue and I decided not to go on the trip we had booked as it would have meant travelling around Lisbon in the pouring rain for three hours … a surefire way to catch a cold!

After breakfast we took a stroll along the Promenade Deck – which was surprisingly dry! – before returning to our suite. I went out onto the balcony, from where I could see the Portuguese Navy’s base on the other side of the River Tagus.

I could see a couple of what looked like patrol boats, …

… the Bérrio (A5210), an underway replenishment ship (she was formerly the RFA Blue Rover, a Rover-class tanker that was handed over to the Portuguese Navy in 1993), …

… the Almirante Gago Coutinho (A523), a Dom Carlos I-class survey vessel (she was formerly the USNS Assurance, a Stalwart-class ocean surveillance ship), …

… and four frigates. (Three Vasco da Gama-class frigates [Vasco da Gama (F330), Alvares Cabral (F331), and Corte-Real (F332)] and a Bartolomeu Dias-class frigate, which was formerly a Dutch Karel Doorman-class frigate.)

Soon afterwards, a patrol vessel – the Figueira da Foz (P361), a member of the Viana do Castelo-class – sailed past Azura towards the sea.

Sue and I waited until after lunch before venturing ashore. Although the rain had stopped, we did not go far, and besides buying some of Portugal’s famous custard-filled pastries (which were still warn from the oven!), we bought a few small presents. As we re-boarded Azura, the rain returned, and we were very pleased to return to the warmth of our suite.

At 4.30pm Sue and I went up to the Coral Pool, where the ‘Great British Sail Away’ was taking place. Unfortunately, the weather was not really conducive to an outdoor party, and as Azura moved away from the dock, it became a lot colder and yet again the rain began to fall. As a result, we did not stay very long, and returned to our suite where we could watch the sights of Lisbon in the dry.

The Seabourn Odyssey had been moored ahead of Azura, and as our ship moved out towards the centre of the River Tagus, we were able to see her in all her glory.

Having turned around, Azura sailed past Britannia on her way downriver.

Our route took us past Black Horse Square, …

… under Lisbon’s famous ‘singing’ 25 de Abril suspension bridge (the wind passing through its girders makes a strange whistling sound), …

… and one end of which is the equally famous monumental statue of Jesus Christ.

Once well clear of the bridge …

... but before Azura reached the Belem area of Lisbon, the local Pilot was taken off by one of Lisbon’s Pilot Cutters.

Soon afterwards, the ship passed the monument to the Portuguese explorers who – with the encouragement of Prince Henry the Navigator – did so much to open up the world to trade and commerce.

Moments later Azura sailed past the Tower of Belem.

By this time Sue and I were beginning to feel cold, and we went back inside. The river – which had been relatively calm up until then – began to become rougher, and by 6.00pm Azura was well out into the estuary of the River Tagus, and the ship began to pitch and roll quite noticeably. This continued for some time and had only slightly abated by the time we went for our pre-dinner drink in the Glass House bar.

The Oriental Restaurant was relatively empty, and this probably reflected the concerns some passengers had about contracting Norovirus, although the standard of hygiene we saw in operation around the ship was very high indeed.

After dinner, Sue and I went out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. On the starboard side we could see the lights of towns and villages on the coast of Portugal. Every so often, the horizon was lit up by lightening, although there was no sound of thunder to be heard, so the storm must have been a considerable distance away.

Thursday 18th April: At sea
Sue and I woke up just before 8.00am. The movement of the ship had improved overnight, and although we were aware that the ship was pitching and rolling very gently, moving around our suite was almost as easy as if Azura had been moored.

Overnight Azura had sailed northward along the coast of Portugal and was almost level with Porto when we went to breakfast.

After breakfast, Sue and I went to the ship’s shops to buy some bags of chocolates as a ‘Thank You’ present for the staff of the Epicurean Restaurant. We then spent some time of the Promenade Deck before returning to our suite.

At 11.00am we went to the ship’s theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) to attend a lecture by entitled ‘Operation Overt: The Liquid Bomb Plot’. It was given by Ben Owen, a former Intelligence Officer who took part in the operation.

This was a very interesting lecture, especially as some of the events took place in areas of London and Kent that Sue and I know very well (i.e. Walthamstow and Bluewater).

After leaving the theatre, Sue and I spent some more time on the Promenade Deck before going to the Peninsular Restaurant (Deck 6 Midships) for lunch. We remained in the restaurant talking to other passengers until 2.30pm, when we returned to our suite … just in time to hear the Captain announce that due to a medical emergency the ship had to divert course towards La Coruña so that a Spanish Coastguard helicopter could evacuate the casualty.

Before the helicopter arrived overhead, all the outside deck areas were cleared, and passengers were requested to close their balcony doors and remain inside until the evacuation was completed. As Azura slowed down to receive the Spanish helicopter, the Britannia hove into view on the horizon.

At 3.05pm the Captain announced that the helicopter was just minutes away, and that all open areas – including balconies – had to be cleared of passengers and non-essential personnel.

At 3.07pm the helicopter arrived overhead …

… and by 3.35pm the evacuation was complete, and Azura resumed her original course.

At 4.00pm Sue and I decided to have our own version of afternoon tea in our cabin as an excuse to eat the last two of the Portuguese custard pastries we had bought in Lisbon on the previous day. Despite being cold (they are best eaten still warm from the oven), they were delicious.

We stayed in our suite for the rest of the afternoon, and by 7.45pm we were ready for the last formal dinner of the cruise. Sue and I took a stroll along the Promenade Deck before having a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House bar. We found it difficult to get in as the queue for the theatre was so long that it obstructed the entrances to the bar. It transpired that a brand-new show was being performed that night and was proving very popular. As a result, Sue and I decided to see the show after dinner.

The show – which was entitled ‘Astonishing’ – turned out to be a mixture of dance, music, magic, and illusions, and was the best show we have seen onboard for some years. It started at 10.30pm and ended forty-five minutes later … and some of the illusions were truly amazing.

We strolled back to the rear of the ship along the Promenade Deck as it was nice to have a breath of fresh air after being in the tightly-packed theatre and were back in our cabin by 11.30pm, getting ready for bed.

Friday 19th April: At sea
Azura was well on her way across the Bay of Biscay by the time Sue and I awoke at 8.00am.

The sky was slightly overcast and misty, and the sea was less calm than it had been on the previous day.

Sue and I went to the Epicurean Restaurant for breakfast, after which we went out onto the Promenade Deck for a while. We then returned to our suite to begin the pre-packing sorting out that needed to be done.

At 10.50am we went to the ship’s theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) to attend a lecture by entitled ‘Hunted’. It was about the Channel 5 TV series of that name, and the presentation was given by Ben Owen and Danni Brooke, a former undercover police officer. Ben and Danni present the programme, and the talk explained how standard surveillance techniques – especially those which access an individual’s electronic ‘tattoo’ (especially their presence on social media) – enabled the ‘hunters’ to find and track their ‘prey’ (i.e. the contestants).

It was very informative, and I’m sure that quite a few people who attended it had no idea how much personal information they generated electronically in formats that other people could view and use.

Sue and I were back in our suite by 12.15pm and began the task of packing our bags. We had completed three suitcases by 1.30pm, at which point we went down to the Glass House bar for a drink and a snack lunch. This took about an hour … and by 3.30pm we had been back to our suite to finish packing two of our large holdalls. (The third holdall will be packed just before we go to bed and left outside out suite door for collection.)

We took a break between 4.00pm and 4.30pm for tea and scones in the Venezia Self-Service Restaurant … although due to the ongoing Norovirus outbreak, we had to be served what we wanted to eat and drink by members of staff.

Our packed luggage was outside our suite by 5.00pm and was collected soon afterwards. Sue and I then had a chance to read and rest until it was time to get ready for our last dinner of this cruise aboard Azura.

Saturday 20th April: Southampton
Sue and I were woken up a few minutes before 6.00am by the sound and vibration of Azura’s thrusters as she turned around to moor alongside the Mayflower Cruise Terminal. We got dressed, packed our hand luggage, and had our last breakfast of the cruise in the Epicurean Restaurant in plenty of time to join the other Priority Disembarkation passengers in the Blue Lounge (Deck 7 Midships). We waited for the predicted time that we would get off (8.30am) … and the time came and went. We continued waiting until nearly 9.00am before we were directed to go down to Deck 5 to disembark.

As we did so, other, non-priority passengers began to join the group, which got larger and larger, and moved forward slower and slower. As there were virtually no staff around to police the situation, tempers began to get more than a little frayed … and things nearly reached boiling point when the security scanners that cruise cards have to be passed through so that passengers can disembark kept breaking down.

We finally reached the baggage reclaim hall at 9.15am … only to discover that a lot of baggage had been placed in the wrong areas. We had been in a suite on D deck, and found three of our bags very quickly. It took us another fifteen minutes to find the other three as they had been placed in the C deck area. It also took some time to get out of the hall once we had all our luggage as the UK Border Force was present in large numbers, and were checking many passenger’s baggage as it passed through the Customs Hall. We saw one couple who were having their bags searched … and they had obviously tried to bring in way over their allowance of tobacco. (Sue had more time to see what was happening than I did, and estimated that they had already removed over a thousand pounds-worth of tobacco for the couple’s luggage … and were still taking packs out as we left the Customs Hall!)

Getting our car back from the valet parking service was quite a quick operation, and by 9.45am we were on our way home … about thirty minutes later than we expected. The journey home was relatively uneventful, although we did have to negotiate two hold-ups on the M25. We finally drove onto the hard standing outside our house at 12.45pm, and by 1.30pm the luggage had been unpacked from the car, out cat had greeted us (I never knew cats could meow with quite so much volume and for so long!), and we were sitting down having a much-needed drink.