The cruise aftermath

Well we’ve been home almost a week now, and are just about getting back to normal again.  I’ve done about six or seven loads of washing, managing to get it all dry in between rain showers, and ironed everything that needed ironing.

BUT – and it’s a big but – we arrived home to find that a couple of days after we left there had been a lightening storm which had tripped our electricity supply off – meaning we were greeted by the sight (and smell/stink) of a large chest freezer full of defrosted and rotting food.  I spend most of last Friday afternoon clearing it out, draining the liquid from the bottom, and giving it a thorough clean.  Of course the fridge had also been switched off, so stuff that normally would have been okay, such as cooking fats and opened bottles of sauces, also had to be binned.

George took it all to the local dump the next day, but he had to keep the car windows open all the way!

Still, an emergency trip to the local supermarket has begun the restocking process, and for our first evening home we went to a local pub for a meal.

There’s also been the garden.  It’s pretty big, around 1/3 of an acre I’d guess, and both front and back lawns had grass knee-high.  It was also very wet from all the rain the area’s had while we were away, and it’s taken George three goes to get it cut back to anything like tidy.  I don’t think he’s yet got the lawnmower blade back down onto the lowest cut, so there will doubtless be another attack on it soon.

The rhubarb, raspberries and strawberries have been running away with themselves, in spite of our neighbours picking and eating them in our absence.  There’s a load now in the freezer as well as plenty in the fridge for immediate eating.  And as for the courgettes – I’ve made two lots of stir-fry and a huge batch of courgette soup, and there’s still half a dozen of the little beasts in the fridge (plus one huge beast that has morphed into a marrow).  The potatoes of course are wonderful, and we’ve been eating those all week.

But the garden was the cause of a bizarre accident George had on Monday.  He went out to pick some lettuce for our salad lunch, stepped onto an inspection pitch cover – and dropped into the hole.  The cover had given way.  Fortunately it doesn’t look like he’s done any serious damage, but he’s very bruised and sore.

I went to our GP on Monday to see about the alleged bronchitis diagnosed by the on-board doc.  I’m now on antibiotics which are clearing my sinuses and so reducing the sinus headaches I was getting, and also the chesty cough it vastly improved from how it had been.

We’ve also been down to Weston-super-Mare to babysit our grandson on Tuesday while both his parents had to go into work.  That was a tough call!  He’s a real live-wire, typical two-and-a-half year-old.

We got home from that at around 7.00 pm on Tuesday evening – and I immediately jumped back in the car and drove the 70+ miles back again, as I’d left my prescribed antibiotics there.  Being part the way through the course I didn’t want to miss taking any, even though it meant about three hours in the car that I hadn’t expected.

So that’s about us up to date again.  And as a bonus, we still both have our holiday tans – or is it now just rust?

Aurora Cruise – Final Part

Aurora Summer 2016 – Cruise Overall Review

Well, we have been home for two days and the strange feeling of ‘land sickness’ has stopped.

Deb reported that the laundry basket has just one more load to be washed and most has been washed, dried, and ironed. This is a major drawback of going cruising that because you can take a lot of clothes, there is a lot of washing to be done when you get home. At least we don’t allow our holiday to be interrupted, or spoilt, by visiting the on-board launderette unless it is really necessary.

I have cut one of the lawns that was much closer to being a field of hay than a beautifully manicured stretch of grass. The ‘crop’ was at least 20 cm tall and it was wet so I could only trim it on the highest setting initially. Hopefully over the next couple of days I can attack the other lawn and then start to reduce the length until the two of them look acceptable.

Thomas Cook contacted us about the two cruises we booked on the ship. Our future trips have been allocated to them and they have discounted them for being quite loyal customers over the last few months. I also had a feedback survey from Thomas Cook and this time I really did praise the service I have had from our contact. Thanks and well done Judith (Hereford Branch).

After two days my thoughts about the cruise on Aurora have come down from the euphoria and I am now able to review the 18 nights at sea a little more rationally.

Overall it has been a wonderful holiday. Aurora is a ship that we love and the improvements made during the recent refit are really quite positive. Generally the passengers we came into contact with were friendly and positive about the ship and the cruise, but of course there are always hardened moaners who struggle to enjoy life. These people must find some sort of masochistic pleasure in complaining about what a bad time they are having. This pleasure seems to be increased when their views are aired in public. The problem is that they never share their issues with the ship’s crew who might be able to resolve their problems.

For Aurora fans the refit has resulted in a much better layout and look in the Horizon buffet. It means there are far more tables for two which allows more couples to find seats to eat without the need to “Are these seats free?” The serving area is a little congested and it took me a while to discover where things were for a day or so. A big improvement in the buffet at breakfast time is that they have a proper grill to make the toast. Finally the toast looks, feels, and tastes the way it should be. I hope the other ships take note.

Another positive here is the introduction of a sink to wash your hands at each entrance….as well as the gel squirts. Not many were using them but at least it is available, and triggers a little reaction in most people to consider cleanliness.

Out between the two swimming pools, the old fast food bar was busy at lunchtimes. It now offers far more choice with sandwiches as well as the usual grab and go snacks. We never used it but I think it could be a place we will visit as an alternative when on the world cruise in January 2017.

We enjoyed our two evening visits to the Beach House at the stern end of the Horizon Buffet. The waiters were great and food delicious. Perhaps I would have liked to see a good steak on the menu but the choice was sufficient to titillate the taste buds.

I am not so positive about the other select dining options. Sindhu is popular across the fleet so it was always going to find a place on Aurora. This was only achieved by moving the library to the old cyber café room up by the Crow’s Nest. This has seriously reduced the number of books on offer, and the space to walk around while looking for a suitable book.

Perhaps it was the age profile on this particular cruise, but Sindhu was not very popular until late in the cruise when the passengers were trying to spend the large amounts of on-board credit that many (like us) were given. For most evenings the restaurant was far from busy. It was busier on a couple of sea days when the weather was bad as an overflow for Costa coffee customers.

The Glasshouse also has a very good name on the other ships, but it didn’t appeal to many on this cruise. Perhaps an age profile thing again, and perhaps the pricing per meal idea was not so popular as the one off per meal cost. Several Aurora fans were unhappy that the very popular Café Bordeaux had to be sacrificed for the Glass House. The menu looked interesting but I didn’t think it was as good as the old Marco Pierre White offering. The layout does look rather good but the furniture wasn’t tested by many passengers during the cruise. The staff hung around looking bored for many hours.

They were hardly ever without customers at any time of the day when it was Café Bordeaux.

The main dining rooms continue to be the most popular evening meal spots. We were on traditional dining with six other people that we got on with and chatted and laughed each night. The quality of the food was good and the service superb but….

…the choice is not as good as it has been in the past, and portions of vegetables have decreased. Before you shout at me, I know if I asked, I would have been given more. But this can cause a delay for the rest of the table. One night I had the audacity to quietly ask the waiter for more chips and the table erupted in amazement as I received a bowl of them. I didn’t ask again as I struggled with the glares from the others as I tipped the chips onto my plate.

The chips by the way have improved considerably since our last cruise.

I think it is time to move away from the food side of the ship. The main entertainment venues are the same as they have always been. The theatre is one of the best (in my view) but the show lounge Carmens, needs to be rethought. The banquette sofas and spinning barrel chairs are far from the most ideal layout for this popular spot.

More seriously there is a problem with the evening entertainment in Carmens.

With Freedom dining, and the abundance of select dining outlets, timings of shows is becoming an issue. Many seasoned P&O cruisers have seen the Headliner shows so often in the theatre, that they regularly choose to miss them. Hence those on first sitting will go straight to Carmens after eating to get a good seat for the late show by cabaret artists. When those who did go to the theatre arrive there are few, if any, seats left. Some stand at the back for 45 minutes, but the majority miss these shows altogether. They learn from their error and so more people decide to miss the theatre show and get to Carmens early. So the problem is compounded more.

Of course if you are a second sitting diner this is not a problem. Your Carmens show is early enough to watch, have a pre-dinner cocktail, and get your food on time. When your meal is over it is a leisurely stroll t the theatre for the late night show.

Only the first sitting diners are affected.

I suggest the entertainment team need to look at this issue seriously. Sadly unless the venue seating can be increased to match the audience numbers, the only option is three shows (no chance) or tickets for each performance.

Of course a radical option would be to increase the popularity of the Headliners’ shows with new material.

By the way the Headliners were generally very good. The five singers were brilliant and the dancers also top notch. The only slight issue was that there appeared to be a male dancer missing. There was just one boy with six girls. The lone boy sometimes looked exposed.

I have talked about the visiting cabaret artists already. Suffice to say there was quite a good choice, and they were very good. Personally I think there were too many vocalists. It is easy to find a singer, but many of us prefer more comedy, magicians, or novelty acts.

Now it is time to talk about the entertainment team. I was disappointed, and so were many others. From day one the cruise manager admitted the team was short by one person. He eventually turned up with about a week to go and spent most of his time watching how things were done. Worse than this there were three out of the team of five who were new to the ship, and I believe new to the role. One was American, and another Mexican. All three were very limited in what they could do and apart from deck games were limited to quizzes. Even the quizzes were awful as the questions all started deadly easy until they realised we were not thick, then they steadily became more and more difficult, or rather obscure. Some questions were a little dodgy as well.

Example: Who was the first Pope?

Answer – Saint Peter

Most people answered it as Peter but were not allowed a point. Our question was when did Peter (first pope) become a Saint when this honour had to have been bestowed by a Pope?

For the seasoned cruisers, you will know there are usually some evening game shows…but not on this cruise. I asked one of the two experienced members of the team about this and she said that the new ones were not trained for them so they could not be put on.

To be honest we may not have missed them very much, but they do make an alternative thing to watch over a drink.

Bands and pianists around the ship are up to the usual standard. The theatre orchestra is again very good and played in the different venues. A three piece band featured for dance nights and is very accomplished but the drummer is rather enthusiastic with the strength of his bashing. Fir the strict tempo ballroom dancing he overpowered the sound a little, and the band seemed to make the tunes rather long at times.

The cruise coincided with the beginning of the European Football tournament. I like football, but I like my holiday more. Games were shown in the Champions Bar which has also had a makeover with better furniture and a better layout. The bar was busy for the games as expected but many people asked for the large drop down screen in Masquerades to also be used. This went down well with football fanatics but the rest of us now had one less evening venue to relax in. There was quite a rumpus one evening when a quiz was scheduled in there while a football match was on. It got a little heated but the quizzers won on penalties.

The Crow’s Nest still proves to be very popular spot in the daytime or evenings. It has also had a good makeover and we enjoyed many hours there. I just wish they would sort out the double glazed windows that have misted over because the vacuum has failed.

The ports we visited were all very good except Messina which has little to offer those not going on a tour. Yes we had weather issues in Corfu but when Nature decides to be angry, the ship’s crew can’t do anything about it. I really enjoyed the overnight stay in Venice although the tour we booked for a private evening tour of the Doges Palace was cancelled. I think the tour’s team could come up with more ideas like this when a ship has an evening in a port. A simple organised meal out, or a trip to a theatre could give the unsure a chance to sample what a city has to offer in the evening.

Well that is another cruise over. Deb and I had a lovely time and it was good to return to Aurora again.

What was our overall feeling about the cruise compared to those in the last few years?

Well it still remains our holiday of choice. P&O are still the company we trust and we will continue to use them. The ship is delightful, the destinations were generally wonderful but somehow something was missing.

I don’t know what it was but even though each day felt right, each meal tasty, each show enjoyable, the overall experience of the cruise just didn’t sparkle. It just felt a little flat.

Maybe the lure of Venice is decreasing after being there so many times or perhaps the sad times we have had over the last few weeks and Deb’s cough took the shine away from the holiday.

On a more positive note we have come back relaxed and ready to enjoy the summer. We have another cruise booked in a little over two months and then the world cruise three months later. Meanwhile we have lots of things to do, and lots of places to visit including a trip to see my family in Cornwall.

For now I hope the weather improves so I can get those lawns cut, and the vegetable plot weeded.

Thanks to all those who have read the blogs about our holiday, and I will speak to you again soon.

Deb’s view of our cruise on Aurora

 

OVERALL

Possibly because we’ve done almost the identical cruise before, this one felt a bit ‘flat’ somehow.  Nothing wrong with it at all, just nothing amazing – apart from it being a cruise!  And  cruise on Aurora, to boot!

Maybe the fact that I wasn’t too well for about half the time has coloured my thoughts, but certainly I didn’t have my usual energy, and spent more time than usual lying around on sun loungers.

I bit the bullet and went to the medical centre, where the doctor diagnosed viral bronchitis.  Ironic that the day after I qualified for free prescriptions I had to see the private medic!

Yes, I turned 60 on board.  Got a card from the captain, and a dish of chocolates, and we ate that evening in the Beach House, which was lovely.

But P&O are still doing it for us, and we managed to book two more cruises while on board – Oriana to Scotland in September,  and Arcadia to Norway a year later.

We had generally fantastic weather, apart from in Corfu and a few hours crossing back past Tunisia when the seas became a bit lumpy.  Otherwise it was so calm it was hard to realise we were actually at sea.

 

ARRIVAL AND EMBARKATION

We drove down to Southampton the day before sailing, as we usually do.  Checked into Holiday Inn and sorted out the cruise parking stuff, before walking to Pizza Express, where we had a free bottle of prosecco with our meal – it’s good to have a birthday sometimes!

Next morning after breakfast we walked into West Quay to kill some time before getting our taxi to the Mayflower terminal.  It was pretty busy when we got there, probably due to this being a Peninsular Club cruise, so loads of us entitled to priority embarkation.  Even so, we were on board well before 1.00 and quickly having our ‘welcome on board’ drinks and nibblies in the Alexandria restaurant.  After muster, unpacking and dinner (first sitting, table for eight), we watched the ‘welcome’ show before turning in.

 

CABIN

We’d booked the cruise late and the only standard balcony cabins left were those with a shower (no bath).  Ours was on ‘C’ deck aft, and was perfectly fine.  The mattress and pillows, though, felt extremely hard, which meant we didn’t sleep too well at first.  But Nixon, our steward, changed the pillows to thinner and softer ones, which helped.  He told us that all the mattresses, pillows and duvets were brand new for this cruise, which was nice to hear, and probably explained the lack of ‘give’ in them.

Nixon also told us that he had 17 cabins to look after, which is surely far too many.  He said the pressure from the hotel department to have cabins ready on turn-around days is extreme.

Around the time we were approaching Messina we kept hearing a repeating noise that at first we thought was the fog horn.  But with no fog anywhere it obviously wasn’t that, so we reported it which resulted in a visit from a reception bod to try and work out what it was.  Fortunately it went off while he was in our cabin: he instantly identified it as something to do with the hydraulics that keep the lifeboats steady.  Problem sorted, identified – and resolved.

 

OUR FELLOW PASSENGERS!

I’m no skinny lizzy, but on this cruise I felt THIN!  There were a vast number of weeble-women on board, and I don’t think I’ve ever before seen so many men needing bras and/or about to give birth to twins.  Shocking.

And I think the title of this cruise should be ‘Invasion of the Mahogany People’.  I’ve never understood how folk can crash in the sun for literally hours on end, their skin must be like leather.

The age profile was clearly pretty high, with quite a few couples who’d been married more than 60 years, which is impressive.  There were a handful of children on board, mostly pre-school age, including twins not quite two years old: not sure how much of a holiday their parents got, even with grandparents to share the load!

Loads and loads of wheelchairs and walking frames in evidence, at least one extra-wide one for one of the weeble-women which barely got done the cabin lines.

One good thing: we saw almost zero evidence of peeps avoiding the hand gel as they went into the dining venues.

 

DINING

We’d opted, as usual, for first sitting on a table of eight, and it was fine – nothing spectacular, but nothing dreadful either.  Portions were a good size and service was efficient as always.  Our table-mates were friendly and chatty, and no-one had any disgusting eating habits, which is always good!

Breakfast and lunch we took in the Horizon buffet, and I have to say we’re both very impressed with what’s been done here following the refit last year: it seems much more spacious, despite the addition of sectional ‘walls’ everywhere.

We ate twice in the Beach House, having a table outside on the first occasion though it was too windy to eat al fresco the next time.  Lovely food and service, and a very reasonable cover charge of just £5.00 pp, although a few of the menu items incurred a small supplement on top of this.  Worth it, though.  And you know it must be good when the Captain takes his guests there!

We didn’t try Sindhu as the menus did nothing for us, and the £16.00 pp cover charge we thought a bit steep for food we weren’t sure about.  The refitted venue looks good, though.

As for the Glass House – well, words fail me.  Okay, you pay per item rather than having a cover charge, and there’s no need to book, but really – what a waste of a perfectly good space.  The menus were like glorified fast food restaurants, and we could have got burgers anytime from the Lido Grill.  And the place was deserted 90% of the time!   The busiest we saw it was one evening when there were as many as – ooh gosh – ten people eating!  Unlike the old Cafe Bordeaux, where you often had to queue for a table as it was so good.

Bring back Cafe B!

The Peninsula Club lunch was fine, but maybe my memory is rose-tinted as I’m sure it was a bit more ‘spectacular’ (not the right word, but I can’t think of a better one) than it is now.  The Peninsular Club cocktail party was held round the Terrace Pool, which was nice, tho’ we had a lot of passengers on the higher horseshoe decks trying to see what was going on!  I heard one woman rather loudly asking why had she not been invited!

 

DAYTIME ACTIVITIES

We listened to a series of four talks gives by a criminologist, about Ruth Ellis.  These were very interesting, even though his Belfast accent made the speaker hard to understand sometimes.  Other guest lecturers’ subjects didn’t interest us, so we didn’t go to hear them. Likewise we gave the port presenter a miss, but this was because we knew where we were going!

There were the usual array of quizzes – individual, progressive, name that tune and battle of the sexes.  Not much to say here really, except that if they are running a quiz as an individual effort, shouldn’t they monitor it? One couple regularly did it as a team, often winning, which caused much muttering.

Deck sports, short tennis, cricket and table tennis were held daily, and were popular as always.  Daily classes included watercolour art, whist and bridge, and there was also a passenger choir who put on a performance in the Curzon Theatre two days before we arrived home.

The crew put on ‘Aurora Uncovered’ in the atrium one morning, which is an interesting way to see a little of what goes on behind the scenes.

The usual interview with the Captain was missing, which was a shame.  But the entertainment team didn’t seem to do very much at all (apart from quizzes), so maybe that’s not so surprising.

The library doesn’t seem to have had any new books since it was moved up to Deck 13.  As someone who’s not a fan of fiction I struggled to find much of interest – and the two I did find both had big sections of loose pages in them.  But you’ll be happy if you enjoy books about the royal family or biogs of footballers and reality telly people.

 

EVENING ENTERTAINMENT

Oh how I wish the Headliners would throw away their scripts and come up with an entirely new set of shows.  Yes, the performers are very professional, but we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve seen some of their offerings. Having said that, passengers who’d not seen them before were full of praise.

There were quite a lot of opera and classical performers, which are not to our taste at all, but they seemed to satisfy those who like that sort of thing.  I do wonder if P&O equate Peninsular Club high-tier members with classical fans?  Just a thought….

One act that impressed us a lot was a Four Seasons tribute act – ‘Walk Like A Man’.  Some slightly dodgy dance moves, but both shows were excellent and had the audiences up on their feet bopping and singing along.  More like this please!

We did go to see one pianist, who was advertised as being a bit of a comedy act – Maria King.  She was certainly a tremendous player, and yes her shows were amusing.  She even gave us Victoria Wood’s ‘let’s do it’ song.

Apart from that there were two shows from magician Matthew McGurk, which we enjoyed.  We’ve seen him on two previous cruises, but at least he changes his act!

A comedian, Micky Zany, joined us in Hvar and did two well-attended shows, mixing stand-up with musical impressions.  Apparently he’s been working the cruise ships for 20 years or so, but we’ve never come across him before.  Really enjoyed his performances.

The syndicate quiz remains popular.  However, we were ‘adopted’ by three people we just couldn’t get on with, so only went to a couple of nights, and spent the rest of the cruise hoping not to run into them around the ship.

We had outfits for the 60s/70s night as our local pub’s new year party was on the same theme.  I guess around a dozen of us dressed up, which was okay.  George got pulled up to dance to ‘Hey Baby (oo aa)’ and was a given a Marguerita cocktail for his pains, which I enjoyed!

The tropical night party was held on the aft terrace deck.  We wandered over to see what was happening, but the lack of any atmosphere and nowhere to sit sent us back to Andersons instead.  A few people were having a bop, but not many.

One thing missing was the P&O version of TV game shows – Weakest Link, Deal or No Deal, and the like.  Not that we missed them, just noticed their absence.  There was also no Venetian masked ball, which there’s always been after previous visits to that city.

The formal dancing in Carmen’s was fine, but we didn’t do much as my alleged bronchitis left me pretty knocked out much of the time.  And occasionally the band seemed to go on a loooong time: George commented on one waltz “surely it’s time to stop this tune soon?”   It did go on a bit!

 

SPA AND SHOPS

As ever, Hardings fail to impress, with absolutely nothing worth shelling out for – they seem to excel at producing overpriced tat.  I did, though, have a couple of spa treatments (lash and brow tint, and a 20-20-20 selection treatment), and George had a massage – not because we needed them, but because we had a shed-load of on-board credit to use up.  Wouldn’t have bothered otherwise.

One major criticism of the spa: why do they advertise one price, but add an additional 10% tip automatically?  Yes, I know you can ask for it to be removed, but that’s a bit embarrassing.  I’d rather they priced it with the tip included to begin with.

 

DISEMBARKATION

(NOT ‘debarkation’ – we’re British, not American!)

A fairly painless process, begun by ‘booking’ our disembarkation time slot.  We know from previous cruises that you have to do this a.s.a.p. if you want an early time, as the slots fill up very quickly.

Our group, the earliest time slot, were assembled in the Crow’s  Nest, and were actually on our way downstairs well before our expected time of 8.45 am.

The only annoyance was having to get all our luggage outside the cabin before 8.00 pm the previous evening!  A lot of passengers hadn’t even gone to dinner at that time.  They’ve always managed in the past to collect cases left later (usually before midnight), so why the change?

 

PORTS

CADIZ

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve visited Cadiz, and there’s really not much we wanted to do here.  We wandered into the city and had a mooch around the shops, and bought a couple of items before returning to the ship to spend the afternoon topping up the tans.

MESSINA

We were on a ‘San Michele Wine Tasting’ tour today (to use up some of our on-board credit), which took us half way up Mount Etna to the end of the recent lava flows, before we stopped at the vineyard.  After seeing how the wine is processed, we had a chance to try six varieties (red, white and rose, both still and sparkling) and try some of the local produce.  All in all, a really nice tour.

CORFU

We had a tour booked here too, but all tours ended up being cancelled as there was the most terrific thunderstorm from midmorning.  At one point our gangways were closed, as it was deemed too dangerous to step ashore in the high winds.  And the Holland America ship ‘Oosterdam’ completely disappeared from view, even though she was docked just beyond our bow!  Amazing weather, which fortunately cleared up a bit in the afternoon.

For people on Saver fares who ventured into town here, the shuttle bus charge was £4.00 pp per trip (not us, as we paid full whack so get them free).

DUBROVNIK

The  shuttle charge here was a bit more expensive: £5.00 pp per trip.  We went in and walked through the Old City to the harbour, where we found a boat about to leave for a trip around Lokrum Island, a little way off shore from Dubrovnik.  We paid €10 each, and had a lovely trip which lasted about 50 minutes.  Lokrum is beautiful.

As I was suffering with the alleged bronchitis, we didn’t do much more than wander around the little market, buying earrings and ice creams (as you do), before getting the shuttle bus back ‘home’.  I would have liked to walk the walls again, but what with my chest and George’s hip, that was a non-starter, but probably for the best once we’d seen the crowds up there!

VENICE, DAY ONE

Although we’ve been to Venice maybe six times now, this is the first time we’ve had an overnight stop.  We sailed in at round noon, and when I went down over to the starboard side of the ship to see how busy St Mark’s Square was, there was a young bloke down on one knee, presenting his tearful girlfriend with an engagement ring!  Sooo romantic!  I just hope he treated her to a gondola ride later on!  (She said yes, by the way!)

We got the water shuttle to the pontoon just beyond St Mark’s Square (cost was £28.00 pp for unlimited trips on the two days.  One day was £15.00 pp).  From there we reacquainted ourselved with the back lanes and bridges, window shopped a lot, and bought ice creams.  After about an hour and a half we shuttled back to the ship, where we showered and changed before going back into the city (on the water shuttle again).  This time we searched out a back street trattoria, where we had a pizza each, and a carafe of red wine.  Finally returned at about 9.30 on one of the last water shuttles of the day.

VENICE, DAY TWO

We took the water shuttle back into the city, intending to check out the queue for the Doge’s Palace, and join it if it wasn’t too long.  But luckily we were there early enough that there was no queue at all – we went straight in!  This was something we’ve wanted to see for a long while now, and we weren’t disappointed.  It’s a stunning building, with a fascinating sting in the tail – the prison.  We had the chance to go across the Bridge of Sighs, which of course we took, meaning we can now tick that off our bucket lists!

We spent around two hours in the Palace, during which time the queue to go in was back up to its usual long snake-like length.  Getting there early is definitely to be recommended.

After another wander round the back streets, we got the water shuttle back to the ship where we crashed on deck for an hour or so.  We sailed at 5.00 pm, so we stayed on our cabin balcony with a bottle of bubbly and room service (spag bol and apple pie for two, thank you very much!) watching this most beautiful of cities disappear into the distance.

HVAR, CROATIA

The only tender port of the cruise, so we weren’t off the ship especially early.  But there was no waiting around for tenders, the whole process was very smoothly done.

We visited Hvar last year, so knew there was not a lot to see in the harbour town.  But none of the tours on offer appealed, so we just wandered around the shore, eating ice creams and people watching.  It really is a very pretty place.

GIBRALTAR

Not a lot to say about Gibraltar that hasn’t already been said.  Over the years we’ve done most of the tours and today they seemed pretty well booked up, so that’s good.  We just walked into Casemate Square and along Main Street, looking for a birthday present for our son-in-law.  Had an ice cream as well, of course!

By the time we walked back to the ship NCL’s Independence of the Seas was docked next to us, dwarfing poor little Aurora and casting shadows on us.  I really don’t understand the attraction of the mega-liners.

 

Aurora – Part 10

Homewards

It is just after 9:00 am on Thursday 23rd June and we are just about half way across the Bay of Biscay and heading for Southampton.

On Tuesday we had a brief stop In Gibraltar where we were joined later in the morning by the massive Independence of the Seas. There were a lot of comments from P&O passengers about how beautiful she was, but I was not smitten by her, and still prefer the rather smaller ships that we have grown up with.

We only had the morning in Gibraltar and Deb and I went for our usual stroll in this rather unusual port. I know those who live there believe it is a little part of Britain, and I know the history, but I just can’t feel any positive passion for it. The first conversations we heard were in Spanish, and in fact I recall very few English words being used except when the British passengers were involved. A couple of shops displaying Union Jack flags to show their patriotism but they were both upside down. Many shops had “Vote to Remain” stickers for today’s referendum on our EU status, but the street was full of Hispanic, Indian, and North African people whilst Northern European looks were in the minority, except for the hundreds of Aurora’s passengers.

Gibraltar remains a favourite with visiting ship crews and many of P&O’s youngsters were off to Morrisons to restock their bits and pieces, while some would be going to the Trafalgar Arms pub to get a (more) Traditional English Breakfast.

I couldn’t get enthused with the Main Street shops with possibly low priced jewellery, electrical goods, and duty free tobacco and liquor. There was a major change since our last visit just a couple of years ago. Many of the cafes have encroached onto the pavement areas outside of their premises, making the already narrow street even more congested as the occasional delivery vehicle tried to come along.

Sorry, I will stop my rant about this beautiful spot on the edge of the Mediterranean. This is one thing I do agree on with my fellow Brits. The distinctive Rock and nearly always wonderful climate is spectacular.

There had been a cooling wind all morning and as we left the port it increased, and the seas began to get a little bumpy as Aurora turned towards the Straits and out into the Atlantic. It was an obvious moment of change in the weather that was a warning that we were on the way home.

During the evening we had a second visit to ‘The Beach House’ for a lovely meal, and this venue proved to be the most popular of the three select dining venues on the ship. It was too windy to eat outdoors but the food and attention by the waiters was wonderful.

After that we went to ‘Carmens’ for the Queen tribute by the Headliners. Yes we have seen it before, but it is one of the best they perform. After leaving there we rushed the theatre to catch the second show by a piano player who mixes a little light comedy into her act. Marie King has fingers that go faster than many pianists we have seen and she doesn’t try to be too serious.

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On Wednesday morning the ship was moving a little more although the television channels said the seas conditions were ‘Slight’. Deb was quite comfortable but I was just aware that my stomach and head were arguing about which way up I was. I don’t take chances in this situation and took my little white pill to try and convince my senses that all was well in the world.

The weather for outdoors was over and we spent most of the morning in the ‘Crow’s Nest’ along with many others attempting to find a dry warm place to sit and read.  After lunch we had the penultimate Progressive Quiz where we came second equal on the subject of maritime animals. I am amazed how much we know about weird fish.

I then went to watch the Aurora Singers who have worked hard for two weeks to learn a handful of harmony packed songs. I have always enjoyed singing in the past, but my voice seems unable to achieve little more than a whisper nowadays. Apparently this is a common side effect of Gastric Reflux which I have suffered from for many years.

It was our final Formal Evening and the Gala Dinner included the traditional march through by the Galley Team, as well as getting a copy of the cruise’s menus from our waiters.

After dining we dashed off to ‘Carmens’ again for the second cabaret from Micky Zany. It was superb once again and I haven’t laughed as much with a comedian’s act for many years. Our evening was completed with a glass of Prosecco in the Crow’s Nest and we are most definitely into reflective mood now as Aurora headed up the cast of Portugal.

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Thursday morning and this is Referendum Day for Britain. My personal sadness is that the majority will vote to remain in the EU but at least we have a democratic opportunity to decide the future while many countries still have to accept what they have.

We are in the Bay of Biscay and the sea is not too bad at all. It is cold but the sun has just come out as I sit in the ‘Crow’s Nest’ clicking on my keyboard. There is a talk about the Ealing Studio films later and the horrid moment of packing is a major chore for the day.

It has been a wonderful cruise and it is only three months before we will be back on the sea again aboard Oriana.

Over the next few days I will post a few more reports from the cruise with some more thoughts, and I hope to add a few photos as well to enhance the previous reports. Thanks to all those of you who have been reading my electronic scribbles for the last fortnight, and also thanks for the positive comments received.

Speak to you again soon.

Aurora – Part 9

Three Days Sailing Back across the Mediterranean

When we opened the curtains on Saturday 18th June, Aurora was well on her homeward journey. Overnight we had sailed south (ish) from Hvar with Italy on the right and first Croatia, then Albania on the left.  Rather than going back through the Straits of Messina the ship carried on across the Ionian Sea to the east of Sicily and then around the bottom of the island in the Sea of Malta. We then turned westwards as we re-joined the Mediterranean with Tunisia to the south.

There were now three full days at sea.

The wind had got up while we slept and finding a sheltered spot on deck to sunbathe was not easy, but we found somewhere to maintain the tanning for an hour in the morning.

After lunch each day we continued the Progressive Quiz and managed to do quite well but the early rounds of flags and African animals had left us too far behind to ever catch the leaders.

Saturday night was formal dress with a singer called Victor Michael in the theatre. We had seen him before, and although he was very good we didn’t bother. Instead we went to ‘Carmens’ quite early and took the opportunity to have a few dances. After a pleasant hour of waltzing and quickstepping I was pretty exhausted and my leg was aching. It didn’t help that the room was extremely hot, especially as the men were in jackets.

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As we slept the wind that had been a pesky annoyance increased to something more worrying for stomachs. By Sunday morning the ship was beginning to move far less predictably than it had done for the rest of the cruise. The less than steady passengers were beginning to zig-zag down the corridors, and the staircase handrails had become a little more important.

We ignored the sunshine and spent an hour in the ‘Crow’s Nest’ with books and laptops.

After lunch I treated myself to a 50 minute massage to ease the aches in my neck. By the time it was over I wasn’t sure if I had done the right thing. My neck was now painful rather than just aching.

…as the saying goes, “No Pain, No Gain”.

By dinner time I had already been chewing the sea-sickness pills and the sick bags had appeared on the stairs. Aurora was really moving now and the pitching and rolling was making the ship feel a little deserted as many people took to their cabins to lie on the beds.

There was a planned cocktail party for the Peninsular Loyalty Club before dinner, but this was abandoned because of the conditions. It was re-scheduled for tomorrow.

At dinner I now wished we didn’t have a huge window table. The view of the wake was less pleasant as it highlighted the tossing and turning with quite serious waves. Two of the men gave up the fight after the starter course, and although I completed my meal I was no longer a happy bunny.

With a second white pill to try and control my stomach we went to ‘Carmens’ early to get a good seat for the cabaret from a comedian called Micky Zany. We had never seen him before, and he turned out to be very good…in our opinion. The act was clean, and a mixture of gags and observational comedy. A few passengers didn’t enjoy him, but we are more than happy to go back and see his second show in a few days’ time.

The captain promised the weather would be better tomorrow but I was glad to get to my bed and concentrate on sleep rather than doing anything else more tonight.

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Monday, and as promised the weather had improved when Deb and I went to breakfast. The ship was still very quiet with many passengers having a bit of extra sleep now as the motion had subsided.

With breakfast over it was time for the sunshine again. On the Port side we had the Algerian coast all day. Although the view was misty we saw the capital city of Algiers in the morning plus the seemingly endless range of mountains for the day.

My neck was in serious pain from the massage, and I feel rather bruised. I kept myself topped up with painkillers during the day.

At midday we lined up for the Peninsular Loyalty Lunch and had a very nice hour of good food, good chat and a few glasses of wine. Our table host was Coral from the entertainment team that used to work at Ty Mawr in North Wales where we had a static caravan for several years. Goodness she can talk!

Deb and I had another session in the sunshine before having a rest in the cabin to allow the food to digest. Then it was time to put on the formal kit again for the postponed cocktail party with more booze and canapes. We spent most of the time chatting to a female ‘second officer’ before Captain Hall appeared to give his speech. His new black uniform jacket dwarfs him, and makes him look even younger than he really is. After he thanked us for spending lots of money with P&O, the Loyalty team took over the party with a raffle for a photo album, which we didn’t win. This was rather fortunate as we don’t intend to buy any of the overpriced photos on the ship. At dinner we were all back to health again, except for my aching neck.

Victor Michael was back on stage in the theatre, but we simply sat on the Promenade Deck for half an hour and then moved to the ‘Crows’s Nest’. It was wonderful up there with a glorious sunset over the Spanish hills in the distance. There was a young singer/pianist called Lauren Casey entertaining us up there and she sang a number of old and new songs very well.

That was enough for the day that had involved a lot of booze and a lot of food. It was bedtime and hopefully a much better night with the calm seas and little wind to disturb us.

BY tomorrow morning we will have completed the crossing of the Mediterranean and we will wake up in our final port of Gibraltar.

There is just three days left of this rather lovely holiday.

Aurora – Part 8

Croatian Island of Hvar

“Where,” I hear you ask “is Hvar?”

Well it is a small Croatian island in an Archipelago just north of Dubrovnik. Last year we were one of the first P&O ships to visit the island and rumour is that this was Aurora’s first time. There is a constant search for new ports and islands for cruise ships to visit, and Hvar will probably be in favour for a while.

My personal thoughts are that these places offer cheap docking fees, or in the case of Hvar, cheap anchorage administration. But in a couple of years, the costs will increase as they milk the riches of cruise ships and then somewhere else will be targeted.  Croatia is a country with a lot to islands to offer and is very popular, but their economy is quite dependent on tourism. They must be mindful that cruise companies are in a cut throat business and will quickly change their minds if costs start to increase.

Anyway, that’s not my problem, and today the sun is shining and the view from our balcony is spectacular. As I hinted, this is a tender port where Aurora is anchored in the sheltered waters of Hvar and several other smaller islands. Aurora is just a little way from the landing site, and we will be using lifeboats to get us ashore. Nearby there is another cruise ship called Boudicca from the Fred Olsen line. She is far smaller than Aurora but between the two ships there are in excess of 2500 passengers to swell the economy of Hvar.

Tours are available but none really appealed to us, so this was an opportunity for a walk and to stretch our legs in the warm morning sunshine.

After about a ten minute ride in the tender we landed on the dockside of the town of Hvar. It is a busy ferry port as well as having a multitude of tourist boats offering trips around the islands. The town itself is quite small and built around a small bay. It has a wide dockside to walk the less than 100 metres to the main square, and central point of the town. While most of the town is quite crowded with houses and shops, the square is quite a large open space with the cathedra at one end and small shops and house to the side. The cathedral is very pretty with a tall bell tower to one side which has multiple open window spaces revealing a steep open ladder climb to the bell area. I don’t think British Health and Safety rules would be very happy with the arrangement.

To the side of the cathedral is a little lane that leads to a supermarket and the car park. This is where the ship passengers have to walk to when getting on their tours, as the town does not allow motorised transport beyond that point. The only moving machines to worry about are small golf buggy style delivery vehicles, and cruder versions of an electric platform with a driver standing at the front controlling direction by two levers.

It was hot, and the predominantly white buildings reflected the sunshine making me dazzled as we walked.

Having explored the area to the side and rear of the square we returned to the dockside where the town continues around the bay with more shops, houses, and hotels plus a small open air market. It seems to specialise in selling jewellery and lavender in various shapes and sizes of bags. Deb found a pair of earrings that was the only thing we bought…apart from ice-cream of course.

Sufficiently satisfied with a stroll we made our way back to the tender landing area. There wasn’t one ready yet so we carried on further and found a lovely smaller bay with a little pebbled beach where a few people were swimming and many more sunbathing. We even spotted some Aurora blue towels with passengers relaxing next to the clear blue waters of this Adriatic island.

We were back on Aurora in time for lunch after less than two hours ashore. Like many others we find Hvar a beautiful place that is still very friendly and inexpensive. I recommend this place to you if your travels take you to the Adriatic.

During the afternoon we had a good long session in the sun and then retired to the cabin and the shaded balcony. There was a steady stream of boats passing by all the afternoon ranging from the sleek expensive motor vessels through to quite small yachts and speedboats. There was even one lone canoeist paddling in the delightful calm waters.

As Aurora quietly slipped away from Hvar late in the afternoon we prepared ourselves for the evening. We watched a show called ‘My Generation’ from the Headliners. It is a 60s themed show that we have seen before, but it is still fresh enough to be enjoyable.

After that there was a ‘Tropical Deck Party’ on the stern’s Terrace Bar area. We took a look but it was a bit breezy, and the area is quite dark except for the small disco area. When on Aurora before, these parties were held around the Riviera Pool that was far more sheltered and brighter. I wonder if the choice of venue is down to the individual cruise manager’s or if this is a permanent change.

We didn’t stay long at the party and went to Anderson’s for a nightcap before a bedtime read.

The cruise is into its final phase and we are well and truly on the way home. There are three days at sea now as we return across the Mediterranean for the final stop at Gibraltar on Tuesday.

Aurora – Part 7

Two Days in Venice

Wednesday and we have a noon arrival into Venice. Deb had an early appointment in the Spa for a 50 minute session of pampering and prodding. On this cruise we have had a lot of on board credit to use and with the cancellation of two planned tours we can afford to enjoy a few treats.

While Deb was busy I sat in the Crow’s Nest with my laptop. Bits of Italian coastline were already visible and the room was filling up with people trying to get a good viewpoint to watch are sail-in along the Lagoon into this beautiful city. The port presenter (Sam) was allowed to give a running commentary on our approach and while I wasn’t listening too carefully, the comments about the tidal barrier construction triggered my interest a little. One of the jobs I have on my list is to update my book on Venice (A Cornishman cruises to Venice).  When I wrote it initially there were serious plans to limit the size of ships entering the Giudecca Canal. It seems that making money has a louder voice than preserving the ancient city so my comments are now out of date. The tidal barrier was little more than being planned at that time so it is time to make the book for readable for people trying to find out about visiting Venice on a cruise ship.

Deb came to find me once her session was complete and we went in search of a coffee, before the serious business of watching the major sail in views.

Being on Port side (left hand side of the ship going forwards, if you are unaware) we were only able to see the slightly less touristy areas along the canal but even that is sensational. The buildings built on the canal side are a paint-box of pastel shades of pink, yellow, green, blue, and red. Although the styles of the buildings vary, they are usually topped with red tiles except for the multitude of churches and clock towers. Every now and then a side canal with beautiful bridges for pedestrians branch off to the sides like streets in our towns. The canal traffic increases as you arrive near the main intersection of the Grand Canal and Giudecca Canal with Vaporetti, tourist boats, private launches and yes gondolas criss-cross the waterways to remind you that this city exists on boats and not cars. Some of the craft are like lorries carrying supplies, while others serve as fire-engines, police vehicles and ambulances. But by late morning it is mainly tourist transport with so many different nationalities making the most of the sunshine to see the sights of one of the most amazing cities in Europe.

Virtually on the dot of noon we were nudging up against the dockside where we would be staying for the next two days.

Romantic Moment – Just as Aurora was passing St Mark’s Square this morning, the multitude of passengers on Promenade Deck witnessed a lovely scene:

 A young man went down on one knee, and while offering a small box with a ring in it to his girlfriend, he proposed to her. The moment was a huge surprise to his partner who of course said “Yes” and shed tears of joy for all around them to see.

After an early lunch we were ready to go and explore the city. We had purchased a private launch service for the two days (costing us far too much probably) which was providing a continuous 20 minute service to and from a nearby terminal and St Mark’s Square. The terminal turned out to be a fair walk from Aurora in the hot sunshine, and while Deb and I enjoyed the stroll some were already considering a letter of complaint about being forced to walk such ridiculous distances.

We were soon getting off about three bridges down from the Square and making our way along the absolutely packed walkway to the tourist attractions. We have been here five times before and still enjoy the atmosphere as well as the wonderful buildings and scenery.  As we approached the photo spot for the Bridge of Sighs we decided to avoid the hundreds of tourists attempting to get a good spot for a picture. Deb and I went down a narrow lane and discovered little bridges over the canal with views of the gondolas below carrying their excited (or romantic) passengers on, what for many, is a trip of a lifetime.  Using common sense we turned in what we perceived as the direction of St Mark’s Square and as expected another canal crossing gave us a view of the Bridge of Sighs from the opposite direction from what most people see.

It was time for an ice-cream as we strolled on simply enjoying the atmosphere while trying to avoid the crowds. Of course that was impossible, but unlike last year, most seemed to be taking photographs of the scene in front of them, rather than ridiculous ‘selfies’ of the view behind. After much turning left and right we came to the Rialto Bridge and struggled across it.

…well you just have to do these things.

We had a cup of coffee in a little square to give ourselves a little refreshment as well as a few minutes of sitting down. From there we meandered our way down more narrow streets, over several beautiful arched canal bridges. Deb looked in a few shop windows for possible souvenirs but our visit was never planned as a shopping trip.

As we approached the point where our launch would be waiting we saw a procession of mainly young Chinese tourists coming towards us. There was well in excess of 50 of these excited visitors and were walking with purpose and not considering anyone else. We ended up in the middle of the column with smiling youngsters on either side of us. It was quite an experience as we broke through this Great Wall of China…sorry!

Back at the launch docking point we were quickly on the way back to our ship and enjoying the view of the water traffic mayhem that is Venice.

Back on the ship we took refreshing showers, had a little rest, and then changed into more tidy clothes. It was almost 6:00pm and we were returning to the city to have dinner in a backstreet café. There was a bit of a shock as while we waited for the launch the skies blackened, there was thunder and lightning, and it rained. It was only a passing shower, and wasn’t going to ruin our evening.

Deb and I enjoyed an authentic pizza with a couple of glasses of red wine. It was a lovely way of spending an evening in Venice especially as the crowds were a little less than we had struggled through earlier. After another stroll through the side-streets there was a few minutes to just sit and watch the life on the canals until our launch came to return us to Aurora.

The ship had brought on a local Tenor for the entertainment but we didn’t go and see him. I gather he was a tremendous singer, but the act was a little dis-jointed. All we did was to have a go at the evening quiz before having an early night. There would be no movement, and a lot less noise tonight.

What a lovely day.

Second day in Venice

Overnight Aurora had actually carried out a mandatory test which involved moving away from the dockside (just a few feet) and then gently tilting to one side. This is all about being able to calculate the weight of the ship and tied up with shifting the ballast water….no I didn’t understand either.

We didn’t notice anything and woke up to another day in Venice.

It seems to be the story of our cruising experiences at the moment, but once again we didn’t really have any plans for the day, except to return to the city centre.

It was not long after 9:00 when we arrived on the banks of the canal and making our way towards St Mark’s Square. As we passed by the entrance to the Doge’s Palace we noticed there didn’t seem to be a queue. This was our opportunity to do something on our ‘to do one day’ list.

We spent over an hour and a half walking around this Palace and it is amazing. Starting in a magnificent courtyard with the glorious sight of the walls and windows around us, our cameras went into overdrive. Inside the visit continued up what they call the Golden Staircase, and now the artwork commenced. It seemed like every available bit of wall and ceiling space was covered in paintings, and a great many of them by ‘Tintoreto’ whose work I may not know, but I do recognise the name as someone rather special.

The Doge’s Palace is spectacular and beautiful. One room in particular is 50m long by 25m wide and has no pillars supporting the ornate (painted again) ceiling. It is a huge room and all around us were people just like us with necks stretched backwards looking at the artwork above us.

Eventually we got to the prison area and there is not art down there. It is stark, and dark, with little cells where so many waited to be executed. We also followed their final footsteps and walked across the Bridge of Sighs. Through the little windows we could see the hundreds of tourists on the bridge, where we had been an hour earlier, taking photographs of the outside of this small but historical bridge.

It was a tremendous experience and we were so pleased to have had the chance to look around.

When we came out we looked at St Mark’s Square that was now teeming with visitors capturing the beauty of the architecture around them as well as soaking up the atmosphere of this amazing place. We wandered into the back streets and found ourselves another ice-cream before making our way back to the launch.

The morning was enough for us and we spent the afternoon on board Aurora soaking up the sunshine while the ship was virtually empty.

In the evening we ordered room service (Spaghetti Bolognese) to coincide with our departure. We then ate it on our balcony accompanied by a bottle of champagne as Aurora glided down the Giudecca Canal and onwards into the Lagoon. By 6:30pm we were back in the Adriatic Sea and heading towards the Croatian coast for tomorrow’s stop at the island of Hvar.

Tipsy, and very happy with our visit to Venice, we went to watch Matthew McGurk in the theatre with his second session of magic. After a thoroughly enjoyable cabaret we failed to impress in the evening quiz before a final drink in ‘Andersons’.

This was our sixth time in Venice and the city remains a favourite.

Arrivederci.

Aurora – Part 6

Dubrovnik
Tuesday 14th June and Aurora was just manoeuvring into dock as I opened the cabin curtain to look at the world. Today it was the Croatian city of Dubrovnik which we have visited four times previously, but no matter how often we come here, we never tire of this beautiful place.
The ship was docked at the busy commercial port and for half an hour after breakfast I watched a number of ferries arriving as well as several tourist boats of various sizes leaving. Millionaire yachts and motor cruisers also purred by waving flags from many different countries.
At one end of the size scale I saw two twin sculling boats being rowed from the boathouse across the harbour, and then the huge Oosterdam ship appeared to take up her position behind us. This Holland America ship left Corfu before us yesterday evening but we had overtaken her during the night.
We had no tour booked today and we just wanted to take the shuttle bus to the old town and then look around at our leisure. The tour buses were soon on their way and then, with the rush over, we strolled down to the quayside.
Fifteen minutes later we had squeezed through the busy streets and roads and were getting off the shuttle bus just 50 metres away from The Old Town’s gate. It was time to indulge ourselves in the magic of this sensational piece of history.
As planned we made our way slowly along the marble stoned La Plaka (main-street) looking in the shop windows and glancing up the narrow alleyways where the daily washing hung like flags. The ice-cream vendors were too tempting and we were soon licking the delicious cooling treat like many other tourists. The place was already packed with multiple nationalities, and we knew it would get even more crowded as the morning went on.
At the end of the street we went down onto the harbour area with the simple intention of getting a coffee…but on holiday, plans are made to be broken.
We spotted an old wooden Galleon style boat offering a panoramic cruise around the island just a few hundred metres off the shore, and we decided it was worth the 20Euros for 50 minutes of relaxing sightseeing.
It was well worth the money, and made a real difference seeing the walled town of Dubrovnik from sea level for a change.
Back on land again we wandered through the back-streets and bought a souvenir in the open air market. It was also very tempting to buy some cherries or nuts that were on offer but there is enough food on the ship to enjoy, plus our chocolate stash in the fridge.
It was very hot by late morning so we agreed that we had seen enough. A shuttle bus was waiting by the time we had fought our way through the crowds and soon its air-conditioning was cooling us down.
Back on the ship and with lunch over, we spent more than an hour on deck enjoying the sunshine. The temperature was up into the late 20s and it really was too hot to be out in it for any longer. The cabin balcony was a perfect spot for the remainder of the afternoon with shade and cold drinks in the fridge.
Unusually for a port day the evening dress code was formal so after the individual quiz we dressed in more of our finest clothes in time for dinner.
The evening theatre entertainment was an Irish female singer called Jacinta Whyte. It was her second show and not having heard comments about her, we gave the show a miss again. We read our books for a while and then gave our brains some exercise with the late evening quiz in Masquerades. There was a little bit of minor football rage going on in the lounge bar. The European Cup matches are being televised for the fanatics but showing it in one bar is not enough sufficient for them. Rather than watching the same match in the Sports Bar (Champions) a small number of people were watching it here in Masquerades. A number of passengers watching it were unhappy about the room being used for the scheduled quiz. A vote was taken and the quizzers won, but the moans were obvious as the football fans left and went to the other venue.
Eventually peace was restored.
Defeated by the quiz about which countries of the world various cities are, we had a quick chat with the Mexican entertainment officer about the football incident earlier. He is a lovely guy trying his best to make the correct impression for his new employers but tonight hadn’t been easy for him.
It was time for bed.
Dubrovnik was behind us and we had really had a lovely day. Now it was time for the highlight of the cruise with two days in Venice.
Goodnight.

Aurora – Part 5

Corfu

Monday morning on the beautiful Greek island of Corfu where we have had three previous wonderful sunny and warm visits…

…but not this morning

It was cloudy, and there was quite a strong breeze blowing across the decks. Small boats and yachts leaving the harbour were being blown around with waves breaking over them. This was not right, it is Britain that has the unpredictable weather, not here in the Mediterranean.

Aurora was not having an easy time either as we approached our berth. A tug was alongside and gently holding our ship as it edged towards its concrete home for the day. The blustery wind was trying to blow us away from the dockside making the captain’s job seriously difficult.

…then it started to rain!

Oh boy did it rain. It was like we experienced during the tropical storms in the Pacific on our World cruise. From the cabin we couldn’t see anything.

…and we had a tour booked starting in just 30 minutes time.

Eventually Aurora did manage to safely nudge towards it berth and the ropes were holding her steady, but I overheard the Captain say later that it was the third and probably final attempt.

We were ready to get off and go to the coach, but it was still raining with the strength of a super power shower. Deb’s cough was not showing any sign of going away and as the queue started to move towards the gangway she said she didn’t want to go. I was secretly very pleased with her decision.

We informed the tours office and returned our bits to the cabin. There was no way of going onto the decks so we went to the Crow’s Nest to look at the island. Our only problem was that we couldn’t see further than about a metre from the windows because the rain was still like a monsoon and battering against the windows in the wind. Various announcements were made about the state of the weather which had now meant that the gangways were closed for safety reasons.  The rest of the morning’s tours were cancelled and tickets were to be refunded. What we didn’t know at the time was that even the tours we were on didn’t leave the dockside. The passengers were absolutely soaked to the skin on the 100metre walk (or run) to the coaches where the guide refused to move because of the coach rocking around so much. People couldn’t return to the ship because the gangways were closed. So everyone sat (totally sodden) until the wind and rain eventually abated enough for them to get home to the ship.

We all got our money back.

By mid-morning the rain stopped, the wind dropped, and the sun made an appearance. By lunchtime it was warm and after lunch passengers were lying in the sun again and the morning was forgotten.

Our only experience of Corfu was a stroll along the quayside to look at the Holland American ship called the ‘Oosterdam’ that was berthed next to us. It looks to be quite a nice vessel.

Deb rested in the cabin for most of the day as she attempted to shake off the sore throat and cough. As I walked around the ship it was obvious that Deb is not the only one to have been infected. Coughs can be heard everywhere. Sadly succumbing to this annoying, rather than serious illness, is hardly the passengers’ fault. There must be a bug on-board that is being spread via the air-conditioning, but we have to pay to see and be treated by the ship’s doctor. The major issue of Norovirus on cruise ships is a topic of constant discussion, but this ‘cough’ is another common bug that few make too much fuss about. It may not be as serious, but lasts far longer.

Afternoon turned to evening and we returned to the normality of the Individual Quiz, and dinner in the main dining room. There was a bit of a dilemma with the entertainment with a new show in the theatre and a cabaret in Carmen’s from magician Matthew McGurk. Our decision was to watch the magician first and then catch the late show in the theatre.

By the time we got to Carmen’s half an hour before start time, most of the seats had gone. Fortunately we found a decent pair with a good view. We have seen this man before and he is a very entertaining magician.

It was a good as we hoped, and Deb even took a small role in choosing a card for one of the tricks. The show was unusual as it was just close up card dexterity tricks. He had a table with a camera enabling everyone to see his card manipulations and I have no idea how he did his magic. Mark is a very brilliant performer.

With the act over we dashed to the theatre with ten minutes to spare before the new show from the Headliners began. It is called ‘The New Romantics’ and is themed on the music of the 1980s plus the characters of the time. Finally a show where we don’t know what is coming next. It was a really good 45 minutes and I even think the singers and dancers looked as if they were enjoying themselves with a less familiar show.

OK so the morning in Corfu was a bit of a wash out, but the day improved to a delightful finale in the evening.

Aurora was gently sailing northwards to another country. Tomorrow we would be in Croatian waters at the port of Dubrovnik. Hopefully the weather will be better to allow us, and the other passengers, a chance to indulge in the delights of this wonderful city.

Aurora- Part 4

Sunday in Sicily

We had finished crossing the western Mediterranean during the night and we were up early at 7:00 to be ready for our tour at the port of Messina. We had been here before and after half an hour walking around a very quiet and uninspiring city, we decided that if we ever came again, we would take a tour.

The sun was shining and during the day the temperatures would rise up to 26°C. As we went to breakfast we were completing the docking process and across the road from the port gates was the city we remember from last year. It has a beautiful church, or probably a cathedral, with a very ornate clock that has moving figures that revolve at midday while the mechanism plays a classical tune. Apart from that we remember dirty streets, graffiti and the high point which was finding  free WiFi in a café.

But we would not be sampling the thrills of Messina today. At 8:30 we were down on the quayside to catch our tour bus that would be taking us to a wine tasting session at a vineyard on the slopes of Mount Etna.

It was an hour’s drive during which time the guide told us all about her island home of Sicily and the countryside we were passing. She was very good and passed on lots of facts and details that I have sadly forgotten. On the way there was a stop at a service station for a toilet break, but it also gave us a superb photo opportunity of Mount Etna in the distance with steam rising from it. I do remember that this is a good sign, as it means the volcano is releasing pressure and unlikely to erupt anytime today.

While climbing up the slopes of the volcano, we stopped just above a little town called Zefferano where the lava flow from 9 years ago (I think) stopped short of destroying the town. We came here a couple of years ago so it was a simple stretch the legs moment while others thrilled at the black rocky landscape.

There was a honey sales van on the site where we were almost forced to sample the different variants of honey with lemon, or pistachio or various other fruits. Yes Deb bought a small jar to take home. Soon we were back on the coach and very soon we arrived at the Vineyard.

It is a family business and they get paid by the cruise companies to give us a brief show round before feeding us on their local food and, more importantly, sample their wines. Quite surprisingly the lure of food was initially more interesting to most people, but we soon got into the swing of first politely tasting the wine before gulping the rest to have an empty glass for the next wine.

We had a white sparkling one to begin, followed by the better quality Rose sparkling. Most people preferred the more expensive Rose one. Then we moved on to a still white, and finished with a red. As long as the glass was empty they continued to fill it so most of well-trained wine tasters successfully had quite a good drink.

Although tempted, Deb and I decided the wine wasn’t exceptional enough, or cheap enough, to buy any.

Back on the coach and the guide was aware that most of us were ready for a snooze on the return journey.

We were back on Aurora by just after 2:00pm and ready for a sleep until it was time for afternoon tea. While refilling our tummies we spotted three of the singers from the ‘Walk like a man’ group and Deb couldn’t resist saying how much she enjoyed their shows. The lads were waiting to leave the ship for an evening flight home to England. I hope we see them again one day on our travels.

Deb has had a cough for a few days but today it has become very much worse. It was time for her to go and see the ship’s doctor who suspects she has a dose of viral bronchitis. Some £60 later she has a bottle of couch medicine, and instructions to avoid alcohol tonight…

…good thing we went wine tasting this morning then!

We were back in the dining room tonight eating with our table mates, but Deb struggled to enjoy it very much with her cough. There were various Queen’s birthday celebrations going on around the ship during the evening but Deb was not up for any of that so we returned to the cabin for an very early night.

Well it would have been except for our mystery noise.

There has been random burst of noise during the nights for most of the cruise which I suspected was the fog horn. Today it was happening during the day and so the fog horn idea was proved incorrect. As we lay on the bed that evening it happened again. So I went to the reception desk and attempted to describe the noise which only ever lasted for ten seconds, and I thought might be a pump or a motor. They said they would investigate.

Back in the room, Deb was just about asleep, but the noise happened three more times at 30 minute intervals….back to reception.

Half an hour later there was a knock on the door and while I was trying to explain the noise to the engineer…it happened again. He listened and said he would deal with it. Sure enough the noise did not bother us again.

Apparently it was a hydraulic compressor on a lifeboat. They have an occasional problem where the sense a pressure difference in the system and so re-pressurise for about ten seconds.

Finally we would relax without our mystery noise and get some sleep.

Tomorrow we will be on the Greek island of Corfu and we have splashed out some more of our on board credit for  another tour.

…and sleep!