Naples: A City of Contrasts

Ask any well-cruised persons if they’ve ever been to Naples, and the chances are they’ll say that the ship docked in Naples, while they went on to visit Pompeii or Capri or the Herculaneum.  Few will say that they explored Naples itself.  For that reason, when we found ourselves docked in Napoli (to give it its proper name) early this morning, we decided to do our exploring on foot, particularly since we’d already been to the lost city of Pompeii, on the Carousel way back in 1998.

After breakfast, Trevor and I therefore went up onto the pool deck to have a look around and take in our immediate surroundings.  On one side our view was almost wholly taken up with a monster of a cruise ship, the Symphony of the Seas which only went into service last month and which is officially the largest cruise ship in the world, over 228,000 tons and nearly 6,700 passengers.  It looked absolutely horrendous; a towering block of flats with a point at the front, with water slides and other gimmicks (including an open stern, showing the inside balcony cabins).  The Queen Victoria is fairly large at 90,000 tons and with 2000 passengers, but she looked like a little pup next to this behemoth.

We met up with Billy and Carole and disembarked the QV, looking disdainfully up at the Symphony.  Then we set off through the thronging streets to have a look round the town centre.

There were a lot of building works going on in the immediate vicinity, and some of the footpaths were closed, which meant we had to walk at the side of the road where there wasn’t even a barrier separating us from the traffic.  A lot of people seemed to be on scooters or motorbikes, and these roared past seemingly every few seconds, winding their way in and out of the traffic and pedestrians.

What were our first impressions? Chaotic and stressful, beautiful and lively, polluted and gritty all describe Naples. Naples is a city, there is nothing quaint about it. Look one way and you are looking out over the beautiful Bay of Naples, turn around and you are looking at urban sprawl.

Eventually we arrived in the main streets, full of shops, bars, restaurants and commercial buildings, as well as a market square containing rows of stalls.  I enjoyed looking at the produce stalls the most; the colours, textures and smells.  There were olives, onions and juicy plum tomatoes on the vine, as well as herbs; I could smell the evocative scent of basil.  Of course, there were also vendors selling different types of pasta; some coloured green with spinach or even black, where octopus ink is used for the colour.

There was also a large fish stall, with boxes of crushed ice on which many different types of fish, calamari, octopus and shellfish were displayed, gleaming freshly.  I always think the fish stalls abroad have much more variety than ours at home; for some unknown reason the British don’t seem to be as big fish eaters as other Europeans.

We walked along the bustling streets and alleyways, keeping an eye and ear out for the many scooters which could suddenly appear from around the corner.  There were lots of little boutiques and shops with a difference; one of them had an interesting window display full of boho, ‘hippy’ style clothing – floral, floaty dresses, crinkle-cotton skirts, off-the-shoulder peasant tops and espadrille shoes, in an amazing array of bright colours and textures.  I spent some time browsing in there, but didn’t find anything suitable.

It was certainly an experience walking through the streets, and our senses were assaulted from all directions, the sights, the noise, the smells – there was a certain shabby-chic about the place.  Of course, being in Italy, every two or three shops seemed to be selling pizzas, with appetising smells emanating from the wood-burning ovens in which the pizzas were baked.

After a while B & C decided they’d seen as much as they wanted to, so we therefore parted company while they returned to the Queen Victoria.  They asked us to join them in their cabin for a G&T later on.  🙂

Trevor and I continued on our way, however, and after we’d explored a large square which we discovered was called Piazza del Plebiscito, we decided to go back down the street on the opposite side, and look for a bar on the way, as we were ready for our usual cold beer.  🙂

We soon spotted a likely place up a little side street, with some tables and chairs outside under a canopy, so we decided to go there.  The owner greeted us effusively and showed us to a table outside; we were the only customers there.  We ordered two large beers and he brought us out some 660ml bottles of Peroni, which were twice as large as the usual bottles we see at home.  We obtained the bar’s WiFi code which enabled us to check our emails while we enjoyed our drinks.

In fact, we enjoyed the beers so much we ordered another one each, and the owner brought us out a complementary plate of fried squid, which was quite enjoyable although I’d imagine it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.  As we lingered over our beers, we thought it must be workers’ lunchtime, because all of a sudden the bar seemed to fill up, and most of the customers seemed to be well-known to the owner, judging by the handshakes and double-kisses on the cheeks that we noticed.

Once we’d finished, we decided we’d take a slow stroll back to the Queen Victoria, as we’d seen all we wanted to see.  Once again it was the case of dodging around the scooters and people and stalls, and we arrived back at the ship about 1.30pm.  We weren’t really hungry, so we thought we’d make a start with some packing (boo!) so we dragged one of the cases out from under the bed and put some stuff in that we knew we wouldn’t use again before we got home.

Around 3.30pm we decided to take up Billy and Carole’s offer of a G&T, so after calling 5123 to see if they were ‘at home’, we went along to their stateroom armed with some highball glasses, into which Carole dispensed a generous measure of Tanqueray, ice, tonic water and some sliced lemon she’d procured from the Lido buffet.  We then spent the next half hour enjoying our drinks and trying to put to the back of our minds that tonight was the last night of our cruise, and we’d be back in our own beds tomorrow night.  😦

Afterwards we returned to our own stateroom and did some more packing, then I got showered and shampooed and ready for dinner at 6.00pm.  I just put on a green, navy and white dress with a green crocheted shawl, knowing that later on we’d have to change into whatever we were travelling home in, as our cases had to be outside our stateroom doors by 11.00pm.

It was a delicious dinner as usual, and we finished off the bottle of wine we’d ordered yesterday.  At some point the Queen Victoria put to sea once more, and we looked out from table #501 at the darkening sky and the calm sea passing by our window.  As we left the Britannia Restaurant we thanked our waiters and sommelier for their excellent service, then we made our way to the Golden Lion to get a drink to take into the show.

Once again Trevor and I had front-row seats, and we thoroughly enjoyed the second performance by ‘Troubadour’.  Then the cruise director came onto the stage and advised that, at 10.30pm, it was the passengers’ turn to take the limelight, as once again it was karaoke night in the Golden Lion.  🙂

Off we went back to our stateroom, where I changed into jeans and a floral top, and put my flip-flops on.  No-one should complain about the dress code tonight, as all our gladrags were put into the cases and we checked to make sure that the only things that remained would be those items we needed in the morning, and would carry off the ship ourselves.

Once the cases were locked and labelled up, we placed them outside our cabin door then made our way back to the Golden Lion.  As it was the last night and everyone would be packing, I expected the place to be quite empty, but I was wrong – it was absolutely jumping and it took a while for us to be served with our drinks.  Meanwhile I got up and sang Back to Black again, then enjoyed a few more glasses of prosecco before getting up and singing It’s a Sin, by the Pet Shop Boys.

Similar to the other night, there was quite a variety of singing abilities, and one bloke who got up to sing noticed that the four lads who made up ‘Troubadour’ were in the pub, so he enlisted them to be his backing singers!  Once again it was a fun, entertaining night and it was after midnight when we returned to stateroom 5130.

No sitting out on the balcony tonight as it was quite late and we had to be up early, so we just got ready for bed and settled down for our last night on board, as the fabulous Queen Victoria sailed on towards Civitavecchia and the end of our cruise.  😦

 

 

Navigating to Naples

Got up this morning just after eight o’clock as usual, and went out on our balcony for a look around.  As expected, we could see miles of blue sea, with one or two ships passing as distant entities on the horizon.  The sea didn’t look as calm as it had been, there were tiny cresting wavelets although no “white horses” as such.

We breakfasted with B & C in the Lido as usual, and extended an invitation to them to join us in our stateroom at 11.00am to enjoy the chilled bottle of Lanson’s champers they’d brought us on Monday.

In the meantime, we went up on deck in the fresh sea air, and did our mile (3 laps) around the promenade deck, stopping every now and again just to watch the Queen Victoria gliding through the waters, and watch the hypnotising view of her white wake stretching out far behind.  No matter how many times I’ve seen that sight, it is one that I’ll never tire of.  There is something simply wonderful about the vast expanse of sea and sky; the way it makes us feel so tiny and insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

We wandered around for a while, then returned to our cabin to put some things into the suitcases that we wouldn’t be using again.  Then we looked at the programme for today to see what we fancied doing, but it was great not having any particular plans, just taking the day as it came.  🙂

At half past ten, Trevor went down to Deck 2 to take part in a tour of the ship’s galley, while I just stayed behind in the cabin, read my Kindle and did some of this blog.  Shortly after Trevor arrived back there was a knock on our door, and we opened it to welcome Billy and Carole with their champagne flutes, as Trevor opened the champers and dispensed it into the four glasses.

With a sense of déjà vu, we toasted each other and sat and chatted, while we quaffed the champers and Billy agreed with me that it is difficult to stop at just one glass.  🙂  Thus we passed the time in the pleasant sunshine; Trevor had wedged the balcony door open with the small table so we enjoyed the gentle breeze and the sounds of the sea.  At noon we heard the Captain broadcasting the navigational information from the bridge; he advised us that the Queen Victoria was at 37º 53′ N, 15º 49′ E and we were on course to arrive in Naples at 7.00am tomorrow.

Shortly afterwards, we went our separate ways; B & C back to their cabin, and Trevor and I along to the Golden Lion for one of their delicious pub lunches.  When we got there, the friendly Romanian barman made a beeline for us and brought us our regular drinks of a prosecco for me and an Old Thumper for Trevor.  While we were in there, we listened to the relaxing background music as we enjoyed our meal, and chatted with the barman when he wasn’t serving other customers.

The afternoon passed in its pleasant way, and at two o’clock we made our way to the Royal Court theatre to watch a play put on by member of the theatre company.  It was called “California Suite” is a 1976 play by Neil Simon. It is a comedy composed of four playlets set in Suite 203-04, which consists of a living room and an adjoining bedroom with an ensuite bath, in The Beverly Hills Hotel.

Each 30 minute section told the story of guests who had stayed in the suite; a divorced couple bickering over custody of their daughter; a married man who has a terrible shock when waking up after a party; an Oscar-nominated actress who tires of the act that is her marriage, and two couples finding out that holidaying together can be disastrous.

After the first couple of acts, there was an interval of 15 minutes, and Trevor took the opportunity to go to the Golden Lion and get a couple of glasses of prosecco.  🙂  Then we watched the second two acts; it was after four o’ clock before we left the theatre, after an entertainingly-different way of spending the afternoon.

As tonight was the Royal Cunard Ball, and therefore the last of the formal evenings, I took my time getting ready and dressed in a long Gothic gown made of black velvet and lace, and a copper satin ruffled skirt, which I teamed with a black sequinned wrap.

In the restaurant I started with a chicken liver parfait before enjoying a delicious lobster tail served with breaded king prawns, rice and griddled tomato, courgette and asparagus.  We washed it down with crisp rosé wine, and our sommelier advised us that the Benedictine was on half-price special offer, should we wish to indulge afterwards. 🙂

After the coffee and petits fours were brought round, we did indeed order a Benedictine each, then followed it with some crystallised ginger pieces as we left the restaurant fit to burst.

Show time tonight consisted of Allan Stewart, who was a singer, comedian and impressionist.  He was mildly amusing but I wondered what the non-British passengers thought of him, as some of the impressions he did were of British TV personalities, game show hosts etc. who may have been unknown outside Britain.  He did seem to be a throwback to the 1980s but nonetheless it was an entertaining 45 minutes spent.

After the show we went along to the Queen’s Room, where the ballroom dancers filled the floor to the sounds of the live orchestra, and it was the usual glitzy and glamorous occasion.

Finally, we returned to cabin 5130 where I divested myself of my long, formal gown and high heels and enjoyed a gin and tonic from the minibar on the balcony before retiring for the night.  As usual, we’d had a lovely day, and we were feeling quite sad that our cruise was fast coming to an end.  😦

Magical Montenegro

While we were still asleep this morning, the Queen Victoria boarded her pilot and was navigated through the winding Bay of Kotor, before being manoeuvred alongside her berth.  The Bay of Kotor is approximately 28 kilometres long and only 340 metres wide at its narrowest point.  Many people who have sailed into the bay liken it to sailing in the Norwegian fjords.

Kotor was founded by the ancient Romans as ‘Acruvium’ and remained under Roman rule until the break-up of the Roman Empire in AD 476.  For the next 700 years, many different powers ruled or occupied the city.  Kotor was a free city of medieval Serbia from 1186 until 1371, but Venetian and then Hungarian dominance followed for brief periods. Once again, from 1393 to 1420, Kotor was an independent republic, only to revert to Venetian rule for almost 300 years. Many of the city’s magnificent public buildings date from the long period of Venetian control, but the sixteenth century in particular was one of the great hardships for the inhabitants on several occasions.

By the time we got up at eight o’clock, the Queen Victoria was at anchor, and we looked out, on our balcony, to another sunny day and cloudless sky.  We could see a P&O ship docked a short way across the bay; a quick look at the Marine Traffic app identified it as Oriana.  Further out at anchor, away to our left, was the Tui ship Marella Celebration.

In the Lido self-service restaurant we sat with Billy and Carole at breakfast, and agreed to go ashore together in the liberty boat together.  As they would land us right into the Old Town, we didn’t have any excursions booked today, as we’d be able to see and do a lot on foot, and we looked forward to exploring our 86th country.  🙂

Back in our stateroom we gathered together camera, money, credit cards, water bottles etc and made our way to the Royal Court theatre to await the call for our liberty boat.  We then went down to Deck A for the short ride across, passing right up next to the Oriana as we did so.  She looked a lovely, elegant ship, the shape a ship should be, with tiered aft decks, and it’s a pity we’ll never get the chance to cruise on the Oriana as P&O have announced she will be leaving the fleet in August 2019.

The boat arrived dockside and we disembarked and walked along the water’s edge, heading for the old town in this ancient walled city.  It was fantastically picturesque, the shimmering sea against the blue-grey mountainous backdrop, with many small boats tied up and at anchor.  In fact, it looked a bit like Norway with palm trees!  🙂

We soon found ourselves in a large square, the stone paving underfoot worn smooth by the passage of thousands of feet.  An immense church dominated the square, with the dates 1166 on the left tower, and 2016 on the right tower, commemorating the 850th anniversary of the building.  A quick look at our Kotor Guide told us that this was The Cathedral of St. Tryphon.  St. Tryphon – the patron saint of Kotor – was executed in Turkey in AD 251 for his Christian beliefs, on the orders of Emperor Trajanus Decius.  His remains were brought from Constantinople to Kotor in the 9th century and are now in a chapel here.  This magnificent cathedral was consecrated in 1166, having been built on the site of a 9th century church.  Like many buildings in Kotor, it suffered extensive damage in the earthquakes of 1667 and 1979, but has since been restored to its former glory.

As we walked about the square, looking at the buildings and shops, our attention was drawn by a number of stray cats, in particular a large, friendly ginger tom, who quite happily enjoyed the stroking and petting he received from many of the passers-by.  When I put out my hand to him, he rubbed his head against me, purring ecstatically with his tail in the air.  He was a handsome chap, and he sat there placidly, not in the least bit bothered by the crowds of people.

We saw a great many cats, and in some areas bowls of water, milk and food had been put out for them.  In one souvenir shop, a family of cats seemed to be in residence, and we looked through the window at a large desk containing the counter and checkout; one of the drawers was open and from it peeped the heads of two tiny kittens – it was so cute.

In fact, cats are so ubiquitous to Kotor that they have taken on a symbolic meaning. The official symbol of Montenegro is the Venetian lion, but the cat is like a little lion and is now the unofficial symbol of Kotor because the locals believe that cats are a sign of good luck.  As I am a cat lover, I couldn’t resist stopping to pet a lot of the cats, and in one case I briefly cuddled a tiny kitten, so small I could pick it up with just one hand.

The old town was lovely; there were a lot of narrow alleyways with steep steps going up the hillside, and several narrow streets with quaint little shops either side; in some parts they reminded me of The Shambles in York.  Many of the shops sold hand-crafted goods; we saw a shop selling Christmas decorations and a large number of intricate papier-mâché theatrical masks, giving a hint of the city’s Venetian influence.  Other shops sold paintings of local scenes, and one of them showed the artist outside his shop, putting the finishing touches to a country scene he’d been working on.

After we’d done a circuit we found ourselves in small square off the main square, and the four of us decided to sit in the sun with a cold beer.  We came to a bar outside which  there were a couple of guys playing the guitar and singing lively local songs; all the tables and chairs were occupied and the nearby bar was doing a roaring trade.  There was nowhere for us to sit, so we returned to the main square and found a café/bar with lots of canopied tables and chairs outside which seemed suitable for the purpose.  We each enjoyed our beers as we sat and people- and cat-watched; our ginger friend had wandered over to the tables and was making the most of any titbits it was offered.  He also slunk into the square and made some half-hearted attempts to stalk some of the many pigeons strutting about.  🙂

After the beers, Billy and Carole decided they’d start heading back to the Queen Victoria, but Trevor and I were happy to explore further, so we said we’d see them later on.

We then set off on another circuit, just meandering along and soaking up the atmosphere.  What a lovely place Kotor was!  We walked towards the harbour and climbed up some steps to walk along some of the city walls.  From up here we had great views over the harbour, and I took a number of photos with the bow of the Oriana in the foreground.

As we walked along the wall, we came to a path with some trees forming a welcome shade from the hot sun.  As we paused to watch a half-grown cat which was attempting to climb one of the trees, the half-door of a nearby cottage opened and a bespectacled woman frowned at us, and spoke sharply to us in her own tongue.  Eventually we heard the words “Pree-vat, pree-vat” and she pointed at a sign (which had its back to us) hanging from one of the trees.  As we passed the tree, we saw that the sign said “Private”, which would have been visible and obvious to anyone coming from the other direction, but not to us.

As we walked away, another couple of people came along, a few minutes behind us, and the upper half of the woman’s body appeared again over her half-door, as she glared at them over the top of her glasses.  We watched in amusement as yet more people came along.  By this time the woman had banged open the lower half of her door, and she stood solidly in the doorway with her arms folded, admonishing anyone who dared to come along.  She had her work cut out all right!  🙂

We strolled along and returned to the main square by another route, and decided to go back to the same bar and have some more beers.  As we sat down and placed our order, the four lads who we’d seen singing last night (“Troubadour”) came along and sat down at a nearby table, obviously to make the most of some time off.  Several people went up to them and said how much they’d enjoyed their performance last night.

We weren’t in any particular hurry, so we enjoyed a nice cold refreshing pint of beer each then, when I saw someone at an adjacent table order a glass of chilled white wine, I decided I’d finish off with one of those too.  We therefore summoned the waitress again and placed our orders.

Afterwards we made use of the bar’s toilet facilities, and started to make our way back to the liberty boat landing stage.  We didn’t have too long to wait and we were back on board the Queen Victoria just before 3.00pm.

As we’d missed our lunch, we just went along to the Queen’s Room at half-three for afternoon tea, served as usual by attentive, white-gloved waiters as a harpist played a selection of tranquil tunes.  We then returned to stateroom 5130, had an afternoon power nap, then started getting showered, shampooed and changed before pottering around on the balcony and just whiling away the time until the Queen Victoria weighed anchor around 5.45pm, and slowly started her way back along the picturesque Bay of Kotor, which was indeed like cruising the Norwegian fjords.

Down in the Britannia Restaurant we noticed our waiter had moved our table round slightly, so that none of us had our back to the window.  This enabled us to enjoy the ever-changing scenery beyond the window as evening descended and the ship proceeded towards the open Adriatic sea once more.

After dinner we just did the usual: along to the Golden Lion for a drink before the show, and another unsuccessful attempt at the Wipeout Trivia, then along to our ‘regular’ front row seat in the Royal Court theatre to see tonight’s performance by the Theatre Company, called “Hollywood Rocks”.  This was billed as a “roller coaster ride through the history of the silver screen” and was the usual high-energy, all singing and all dancing extravaganza.

Then it was up to the Commodore Club with Billy and Carole, where we enjoyed some cocktails as we talked over the day’s events.  We were trying hard not to think that we only had one more day at sea and one more port of call to visit before the end of our fabulous cruise.  😦

Once Trevor and I returned to our stateroom, we sat out on our balcony in the cool night air, looked at tomorrow’s programme of events, and enjoyed a nightcap.  We had a full day at sea to look forward to tomorrow and as usual we slept very well in our big comfortable bed, where we were still unable to discern any motion at all from the Queen Victoria, on what has to be one of the calmest voyages we’ve ever done.

Walking the Wall

The weather was bright and fine when we looked out on our balcony this morning; hopefully there’d be no more rain for the remainder of our cruise.  The Queen Victoria had recently docked in the port of Dubrovnik.  We’d last been here in 2003 on the Norwegian Crown, so were happy to be back in this magical walled city.

Dubrovnik was the capital of the former Yugoslavia and gained most of its prosperity as a major maritime trade port.  In 1991, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik was besieged by Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army for seven months and suffered significant damage from shelling. After repair and restoration works in the 1990s and early 2000s, Dubrovnik re-emerged as one of the top tourist destinations in the Adriatic.

By 2018 however, the city had to take steps to reduce the excessive number of tourists, especially in the Old Town. One method to moderate the overcrowding was to stagger the arrival/departure times of cruise ships to spread the number of visitors more evenly during the week.  Therefore, we couldn’t see any other cruise ships in port today other than the Queen Victoria.

When we went up to breakfast we couldn’t see Billy or Carole anywhere, so we assumed they’d already had theirs.  After we’d eaten, we therefore went to their cabin and knocked on the door to see what their plans were for the day.  However, Billy answered and said Carole wasn’t too well; she was obviously going down with a cold and/or cough, and hadn’t slept very well at all last night.  He therefore just advised us to do our own thing today, and they’d catch up with us later on.

Trevor and I therefore disembarked the Queen Victoria and joined the nearby queue for the shuttle bus into the Old Town.  We decided that today we’d walk the city walls, a total distance of 1.25 miles.  We arrived at a large square, containing the Pile Gate and St Saviour’s Church; access to the wall was up a fairly steep flight of steps.

It cost 150 Kuna (about £17.65) each to do the complete circuit.  Apparently it used to be free, but this charge was now being levied to go towards ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the wall, some of which harked back to the 10th century, although there were extra fortresses and towers added in the 13th and 15 centuries as a defence against the Ottoman Turks.

We set off at a leisurely pace; after all, there was no hurry and we had all day. Also, there were a lot of steep steps to climb to get onto the wall, and I had to stop several times to catch my breath.  🙂

As we climbed up higher, the panorama of orange-tiled rooftops spread out below us, with the glittering Adriatic sea in the near distance.  We could see several rocky promontories with fortifications atop them; they must have had fantastic vantage points during the many wars and conflicts that Dubrovnik has suffered.  We could see several small boats and even a group of people making good progress in canoes.

It was certainly good exercise walking the wall.  Even though we were going quite slowly, there were steps going down, then steps going up, and even the path itself sometimes rose in a steep incline.  At several points along the way, business-savvy people had set up rest-stops, cafés and bars, and many people were seated at the chairs and tables outside, enjoying cold drinks and snacks.  The prices, predictably, were quite expensive.  Trevor and I decided we’d wait until we’d finished before going for a beer; in any case we’d brought bottles of water with us, from which we took frequent draughts.

We continued on our way, and several times the wall passed right next to people’s dwellings; we could reach out and touch their red roof tiles, and we often saw washing lines strung up between windows, their colourful clothes flapping gently in the breeze.  From our high vantage point we could look down into private yards and gardens, and we saw several stray cats walking around, or basking in the sun.

Also, along the route of the wall, we came to several small museum-type buildings, containing statues, sculptures and other works of art, as well as the occasional small place selling souvenirs.

It took us about 90 minutes to complete the full length of the wall, then I thankfully descended the last of the steep steps back down to street level.  We then set off in search of a bar and a well-earned freezing cold beer. 🙂

We walked along the harbour wall for a bit, looking at the boats and a three-masted ship further out to sea.  Then we made our way into the newer part of the town where a number of alleys branched off the main streets; it was in one of these that we found a bar, with tables and chairs outside sheltered from the now-hot sunshine.

We ordered a large beer each, and sat and relaxed and enjoyed them, so much in fact that we ordered a third pint and shared it between us.  We then had to go and find a loo because, strangely, the bar didn’t have one.

In the main square where the church was we spotted a public restroom, so we went in there before deciding to take a slow stroll back to where the shuttle bus was.  There was one already there when we arrived, so we were able to board straight away and we found ourselves back on the Queen Victoria in nice time for lunch.  A quick stop-off at Billy and Carole’s cabin told us that neither of them was feeling particularly brilliant; apparently they had ventured ashore for a short while, but they had no energy and so returned to the ship.  We hoped they would pick up soon; after all it’s no fun spending all that money to come on a cruise then being too unwell to enjoy it properly.

We had a light lunch in the Lido self–service, then walked around the decks and just pottered around on the ship, before returning to our cabin and enjoying sitting out on the balcony for a while.  I then enjoyed a 30 minute power nap, did some of this blog and read my Kindle for a while.  Thus we passed the time in pleasant relaxation before it was time to get ready for dinner.  Shortly before we left to go to the Britannia restaurant, Billy called our cabin to say they’d be eating in the Lido, as neither had much of an appetite for the full four-course job. Oh dear!

Therefore, for Trevor and me it was just mange à deux on table #501 tonight and we enjoyed the usual delicious meal.  Afterwards, in the Golden Lion, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find Billy there; Carole had just gone back to their stateroom after dinner. We had the usual drinks; a bottle of Old Thumper beer for Trevor and a glass of prosecco for me, before taking them into the Royal Court Theatre for tonight’s show, which was billed as a “four part male harmony group”.

In fact, they were four lads who called themselves “Troubadour” and they were excellent; the three of us really enjoyed their performance from our front-row seats.  One of the lads, called Lewis, had an accent that was instantly-recognisable as Geordie (we found out later he was from Alnwick in Northumberland).  The four of them were fantastic singers, individually as well as together, and their harmonising was perfect.  They also did an excellent à capella rendition which reminded me of the 1980s group The Flying Pickets.  Their show was also touched with quite a bit of humour and, all in all, they were very entertaining.  A lot of people stood up for them at the end, and we were pleased to hear that they’d be performing again on Friday night.

After the show Billy went up to the Commodore Club while Trevor and I returned to the Golden Lion for the quiz, agreeing to meet Billy later.  As usual, we were atrocious; in fact we scored a pathetic 3/20 but we weren’t last – the team whose paper we marked only got 1/20!  (Just goes to show how hard the quiz was).

Afterwards we adjourned to the tranquil and dimly-lit Commodore Club and enjoyed a drink and chatter over the day’s events.  As we descended back to Deck 5 in the lift, and returned to our respective staterooms, we hoped that Carole would be feeling a lot better tomorrow.

Trevor and I then sat out on our balcony with a nightcap, but there was quite a brisk sea breeze blowing so I didn’t stay out too long.  We then settled down in our big, comfortable bed and looked forward to whatever tomorrow would bring,  We both slept very well.

 

Moët and Masks

OUR PEARL (30th) WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

Masquerade! Paper faces on parade
Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you
Masquerade! Every face a different shade
Masquerade! Look around, there’s another mask behind you
– Andrew Lloyd Webber

Trevor and I were married on 15th October 1988, so today we were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, and the Queen Victoria was a great place to be doing it.  However, looking out of our balcony doors all we could see was grey sea and sky, and it looked as if it was raining.

After we’d exchanged cards, we put the bottle of Moët & Chandon into the refrigerator to chill, then went up to the Lido where we were joined by Billy and Carole for a leisurely breakfast.  We extended an invitation to them to join us in our stateroom at 11.00am, the time that we were married.  🙂

After breakfast we ventured out on deck, but it was still raining so we couldn’t go out and do our laps.  Instead, we went along to the Grand Arcade, the row of shops that overlooks the Queen’s Room, and bought a pack of three ‘Queen Victoria’ t-shirts and a fridge magnet, and looked at some of the (expensive!) designer gear.

Returning to our stateroom, we each put on a t-shirt; Trevor chose a black one and I picked the red one, in matching designs.  Erwin, our cabin steward, had been in so the place was nice and tidy to receive our guests.  We then called Billy and Carole and asked them to bring a couple of champagne flutes.  🙂

It was a pity it was too wet to sit out on our balcony,  but once B & C arrived, we popped the cork on the chilled Moët & Chandon, dispensed it into the four flutes, then toasted ourselves and each other and gulped the cold, gorgeous fizz.  Billy and Carole had come bearing a card and gifts; another bottle of champers (this one Lanson Black Label) as well as a wall plaque for me which declared “Champagne Queen” – very appropriate!  I hung it up in the cabin straightaway, and we drank and chatted and laughed for an hour or so.

Trevor and I then decided to go along to the theatre to listen to another of Johnny Beerling’s interesting presentations; this one called “Tom Jones, the Winner from Wales”.  It featured sound clips from interviews with Sir Tom, accompanied by picture stills and video footage, in which he talked about his life and close friendship with Elvis Presley.  The talk was very interesting and finished with musical clips from some of Sir Tom’s many great hit songs.

This brought us nicely up to lunchtime at 1.00pm, where once again we went to the Golden Lion for a pub lunch.  I enjoyed the ploughman’s lunch again, which comes with a small jar of a delicious duck and Madeira mousse, as well as chunks of cheese, pickles, ham and home-baked crusty seeded bread. We were served quickly which was just as well, because we were going along to the Britannia Restaurant at two o’clock to participate in a wine-tasting session.

Cunard World Club members who are Platinum or Diamond receive invitations to attend complimentary wine tasting (which costs $30.00 if you don’t have a free ticket).  Trevor and I got our invitations last week, but missed our session because we had something else on instead. However, Billy and Carole gave us their invitations, so we were going instead of them.  Cunard are so stingy when it comes to giving anything away for free, so we made sure we weren’t going to miss out this time!  🙂

So we went down to the restaurant for 2.00pm and joined another dozen or so people for the wine tasting.  Today, all the wines were from Australia; we tried a Chardonnay, a Reisling (which was not as nice as the proper German Reislings), a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot – two reds and two whites.  A selection of cheeses accompanied the reds but, to be honest, you only got a mouthful of each of the wines – I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to pay 30 bucks for it.

Afterwards we returned to our cabin, where it had stopped raining outside and the sun was attempting to peep through.  We pottered around for a but before I took a long, leisurely shower and washed and blow-dried my hair, as tonight it was formal night once again.  Billy and Carole would be getting their Captain’s Cocktail Party before dinner, but we had more time to get ready for tonight’s theme, which was a Venetian Masquerade Ball.

I dressed in a gorgeous purple and black velvet and lace Gothic ballgown, with a black velvet bolero jacket.  The purple and gold Venetian mask I’d bought the other day went fantastically well with it, and my outfit got a lot of comments and compliments as we made our way to the Britannia Restaurant for dinner.

When we arrived at table #501, Billy and Carole were already there.  I had to remove my mask as it was a full-face one and I wouldn’t have been able to eat my dinner!  🙂

The meal was delicious as ever, and B & C had brought a bottle of Bollinger with them, on which they’d obviously paid the corkage.  We were therefore able to enjoy our second bottle of champers of the day, and the deliciously-chilled fizz went down a treat.  Here we were, 30 years married today, dressed up to the nines and eating gourmet food and drinking champagne, as the glamorous Queen Victoria transported us in style to our next inspiring destination.  How brilliant was this?!  🙂

Once the coffee and petits fours appeared, we ordered some after-dinner liqueurs; Benedictine for Trevor, Billy and Carole and Amaretto for me.  Thus fully sated did we make our way to the Golden Lion until it was time to go to the theatre.

As usual, Trevor and I sat in the front row, where we were starting to acknowledge the other front-row regulars, including two Australian women who’d been ‘keeping’ our seats for us.  🙂

The show tonight was called “A Stroke of Genius”, by the Royal Court Theatre Company, and in a colourful extravaganza it paired famous works of art with popular music and dancing.  It was certainly original and most enjoyable; in fact we have been well impressed with the evening entertainment all week; we’ve never seen a duff show yet.

After the show there was no visit to the Golden Lion or the Commodore Club tonight; instead we went to the Winter Garden up on Deck 9 because… the football was being shown on big screens. Yes!  Never mind the glamorous masquerade ball or the String Trio playing in the Verandah, Trevor wanted to watch the footie; the UEFA Nations league, England v Spain match.  We’d be able to see the second half.

As Billy and Carole hadn’t been to the theatre, they’d seen the first half in which England were winning 3-0.  We ordered some drinks and watched the second 45 minutes, in which Spain pulled a couple of goals back, making the final score 3-2 to England.  Since we were playing in Seville, England did well to win on Spanish soil, so we were happy with that score.

We then finished the evening off by going down to the Queen’s Room for the Masquerade Ball, drinking cocktails and watching the dancers; a lot of whom were wearing colourful masks with their sartorial splendour.  We didn’t get up to dance (I didn’t want to trip over in my long dress!) but we enjoyed the live music, the gently-swirling lights, and the opulence of the Queen’s Room.  No other cruise line does formal balls quite like Cunard do.  🙂

It was well after midnight when we returned to our stateroom, after a really great and memorable Pearl Wedding Anniversary.  We would be back in Croatia tomorrow morning, this time Dubrovnik.

 

Roaming in Rijeka

When we woke up this morning, the Queen Victoria was docked in another maiden port, that of Rijeka, Croatia.  Rijeka is the country’s principal sea port, located on the Kvarner Bay.  It is Croatia’s third largest city after Zagreb and Split.  Because of Rijeka’s strategic position and deep waters, the port was historically significant, formerly serving as the Kingdom of Hungary’s largest and most important port.  The city is well-known for shipbuilding and maritime transport.

We didn’t have any excursions booked today, preferring to do our own exploring.

Up in the Lido self-service restaurant, we shared our table with Billy and Carole, and enjoyed a good breakfast from the usual large selection of delights.  I had cold meats and cheeses with fresh pineapple and melon, washed down with cranberry juice and coffee and finished off with a bran muffin.  We then decided to reconvene ashore, in half an hour’s time.

After disembarking the Queen Victoria into the bright morning sunshine, we boarded the complimentary shuttle bus into the main town, where there was a wide, fully-pedestrianised street with many shops either side.  However, because it was Sunday, most of the shops were closed or were opening later on.  We were therefore limited to window-shopping, but in any case it was just pleasant strolling along.  The shops and buildings looked modern and typical of those in any developed main town, and we came to a large open market, with rows and rows of colourful stalls selling herbs, fruit and vegetables, doing a roaring trade with the locals buying the fresh produce to eat for dinner later on.  The produce stalls gave out to clothing stalls, but the types of things on sale could be bought anywhere, so we didn’t spend much time browsing there.

We continued on our way and soon found ourselves along the main seafront, where there were many large and small craft moored up, including a number of luxury private yachts.  The four of us spent quite some time looking at the yachts and choosing (dreaming of!) which one we would have if only we had enough money!  Even a jackpot win on the lottery wouldn’t be enough to buy one of these vessels, some of which had five decks and even their own tender dinghies.  Ah well… you can only dream.  😊

The sun was shining hotly so we decided to get a cold drink and sit on a bench in a nearby park.  A small newspaper/concession stand was selling cans of cold beer and bottles of Schweppes tonic water (so Carole could have a G&T on their balcony!), so we bought two of each and made our way into the park.  Sitting on the bench, we just watched the world go by, chatted and enjoyed our beers before taking a slow stroll back to the shuttle bus stop.  We thought we’d go back on board for lunch, then take a swim in the pool and sunbathe up on deck, as we guessed that the Queen Victoria would be fairly quiet as a lot of passengers were away on day trips.

Back on the Queen Victoria we returned to our respective staterooms, dumped our stuff then Trevor and I went to the self-service for a light lunch, just some cold meats and crisp salad vegetables for me.

Afterwards we sat out on our balcony in the sunshine, then I did some of this blog, had a half-hour power nap, then we decided to go and do some laps around the deck to get our step count up.  We then went up to the very top deck to look for Billy and Carole, but we couldn’t find them anywhere.  We therefore just pottered around a bit, whiling away the time with other passengers and just enjoying being on board this lovely ship.

The afternoon passed in its relaxing and pleasant way, until once again it was six o’clock and time to go to dinner.  By this time the Queen Victoria had set sail once again, and we watched the passing shoreline from the Britannia Restaurant window as we set off for our next exciting port of call.

We were out of the restaurant in good time tonight, and we had about an hour before show time.  We therefore went along to the Golden Lion for a post-prandial drink; the pub was packed and we couldn’t find a table for the four of us, so we went and sat on bar stools instead, half-heartedly doing the Wipeout Trivia quiz.  We then made our way to the Royal Court Theatre where we wanted to be sure of getting good seats for tonight’s performance, the “Magic of the Musicals”, featuring classical-crossover tenor Roy Locke, who has appeared in the West End as the Phantom, in the famous Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical The Phantom of the Opera.

Roy Locke was a fantastic singer, and did numbers from Les Misérables, West Side Story, The Lion King and, of course The Phantom.  For the All I Ask Of You song, he enlisted the help of one of the female soprano singers from the show company, and they performed the duet brilliantly.  All in all, it was a great show.

Then it was the nice, relaxing, winding-down part of the day; a visit to the Commodore Club to sit in the comfortable, dimly-lit lounge listening to the pianist and enjoying a cocktail (or two).  Then, around 11.30pm, we returned to stateroom 5130, enjoyed a nightcap on the balcony, read for a short while then settled down for the night.  We had a full day at sea to look forward to tomorrow, as well as a very special day.  😊

Walkways and Waterways

Ah… Venice.  What can I possibly say about Venice that hasn’t already been said?

We got up at the usual time this morning, went up to the Lido self-service and enjoyed a good breakfast as usual, before going out onto the pool deck to have a look around.  As well as the Queen Victoria and the Braemar in port, we could see several more ships; the Costa Riviera again as well as an MSC one and an AIDA one.  It looked as if Venice was going to be busy today.

We decided we’d go out and explore on our own this morning, and be back on board for lunchtime.  The reason was because Trevor’s older brother Billy and his wife Carole were flying out to join the Queen Victoria today, and spend the second week of our cruise with us, so we wanted to be around for their arrival.  😊

We gathered together anything we’d need; camera, currency, credit cards etc, then went down to disembark. The port was extremely busy with people coming and going from the various ships, a lot of them trundling suitcase with them.  We could also see aircraft coming in to land to the airport which was away over to our left, on the mainland.

We fought our way through the crowds in the cruise terminal then followed the main road around to our right, until the people and the traffic thinned out a bit.  We walked through some picturesque narrow streets and came out at the other end of the famous Grand Canal, at the opposite end from St Mark’s Square.  Several gondolas sailed serenely past, their camera-toting passengers being punted along by the gondolier in his striped jersey and straw boater.  There was no-one singing O, Sole Mio though.  😊

We passed lots of little narrow streets, totally captivating with their roads made out of water, spanned by tiny hump-backed bridges.  The shops were colourful and interesting, and sold wines and spirits, handicrafts, clothes, masks, Murano glass items, chocolates and baked goods, and of course ice creams and pasta.  We enjoyed just strolling about in the sunshine soaking up the atmosphere.

After a while, we came to Piazzale Roma, a large square opposite the bus station.  As it was thirsty work walking in the hot sunshine (!), we decided to go into a nearby café for a cold beer and to write out some postcards I’d bought.  Then we posted them outside in a convenient postbox and started to make our leisurely way back to the Queen Victoria.  As we did so, we noticed a British Airways aeroplane on its final approach into the airport and wondered if it was the one carrying Billy and Carole.  😊

Back in the cruise terminal we once again joined the crowds which were augmented by the new arrivals getting ready to embark the Queen Victoria and start their cruise.  We joined the queue for existing passengers, went through security, then up the gangplank once again.  A lift had just arrived and we were in time to see Billy and Carole disappearing into it; so we ran and joined them just as the door closed.  😊

We found out they were in stateroom 5123, an identical balcony cabin to ours, but on the starboard side of the ship.  We let them get settled in their room then said we’d join them for some lunch in the Lido restaurant shortly.

After lunch we were back in our stateroom when our internal phone rang; it was Billy asking us along to their cabin to share the complimentary bottle of prosecco with them.  They had the sunshine on their side of the ship and it was very pleasant out on their balcony, just chatting, enjoying the cold fizz, and looking at some previous holiday photos they had on their iPad.

By the time we’d finished the bottle, their suitcases had arrived so we left them to their unpacking agreeing to meet up again in the restaurant for dinner at 6.00pm.  We’d been allocated a new table for four this week; table #501 by the window.

We pottered around a bit on our balcony, where we heard the foghorn sound from the Braemar as she set off once more, then I got showered and shampooed and ready for dinner.  I wore my yellow, black and white dress with the black and white shoes and then we made our way to our table; we’d had to explain last night to Ram and Fil, our waiters from table #529, that we were going to be on a different table this week, but we made sure they knew that it wasn’t because we weren’t happy with their service!

Dinner was a scrumptious affair once again, and the wine and conversation flowed as evening descended over Venice.  We weren’t due to set sail until 10 o’clock tonight, so a few people were still absent from the dining room.

We got finished in good time, so we went along to the Golden Lion for a post-prandial drink and to do the quiz, somewhat half-heartedly .  Billy and Carole weren’t too keen on quizzes or on the lively and noisy Golden Lion, preferring the dimly-lit, soothing atmosphere on the Commodore Club upstairs instead.

Show time tonight, in the Royal Court Theatre, came in the shape of internationally-acclaimed flautist Stephen Clark, who regularly performs around 200 concerts a year in 90 countries.  Wow!  He was very good indeed, backed by the fabulous ship’s orchestra.  Several people stood up to applaud at the end.

Afterwards, the four of us adjourned to the Commodore Club, where we enjoyed martinis and cocktails as the pianist tinkled the ivories in the background.  As we did so, the Queen Victoria almost imperceptibly put to sea once more.  This has to be one of the calmest cruises we’ve ever done; you would hardly know you were on a ship.

Around 11.00pm we returned to our respective staterooms for the evening; where Trevor and I had our usual nightcap on the balcony, reading the programme for tomorrow as well as the handy news bulletins they give out each night, called Britain Today.

Tomorrow we were due to arrive in another new port of call – Rijeka, Croatia.  We slept very well.

Heart of Glass

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; A palace and a prison on each hand.
– Lord Byron

Got up this morning as usual just after 8.00am to another bright and sunny morning; this time in the amazing Venice.  We had last been here on the Norwegian Crown in 2003, so we were excited to be back in this unique city.

What springs to mind when you think of Venice?  As well as the famous canals, bridges and gondolas, there is art, theatre, music and beautiful handmade glass, and of course, those fantastic detailed masks.  Today we were booked on a trip to the islands of Murano and Burano.

After breakfast we had to assemble in the Queen’s Room until our number was called for us to board the boat to take us to the islands.  A large pontoon had been attached to the Queen Victoria on Deck A, and we made our way down there and boarded the double-decker boat, choosing to sit inside downstairs where we’d be sheltered from the breeze.  We were advised that it would take about 45 minutes to reach Murano, and in the meantime we looked forward to enjoying the scenic ride in the Venice Lagoon.

Our boat sedately made its way around the bottom of the main island on which Venice and the Grand Canal are situated.  We spotted the famous St Mark’s Campanile, the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica in Piazza San Marco.  To the right of it we could also see the Doge’s Palace, adjoined to a former prison by the instantly-recognisable Bridge of Sighs.  The bridge is so-called because those unfortunates being sent to prison would take a last look at Venice and give a big sigh before being incarcerated.

We continued round, passing the buoys and pilings marking out the route the boat was to take, as well as other small craft. Eventually we arrived at a landing stage in the isle of Murano, which is situated north-east of Venice.  We all disembarked the boat and stood waiting expectantly.

Our guide led us along the short walk until we arrived at the factory where the famous Murano glass is produced.  Inside, we were led into a workshop which was nice and warm due to the furnaces where the glass was fired.  One of the artisans was going to show us how the glass was made.  Our guide explained he was 57 and had been glass-blowing for 43 years, since he was 14 in fact.

We watched, enthralled, as the artisan brought the molten glass out of the furnace on the end of a long pole, added various coloured powdered elements to it, then shaped it with tongs and rollers before blowing it into a bulb shape.  Every now and then he’d return it to the furnace to soften it, and eventually it was shaped into a vase with a fluted rim.

The artisan then spent only a few minutes moulding an apparently shapeless piece of glass into a prancing horse shape, what is known as a cavallino.  He made it look easy, but then again that is the sign of a true expert.  There was also a selection of plates, goblets and other glassware on display, with a large sign demanding that people “DO NOT TOUCH”.

After this fascinating demonstration, we were invited into the shop to look at the amazing array of beautiful glassware, from mirrors to chandeliers to carafes and wine glasses, coffee sets and ornaments.  In particular, I was interested in the jewellery and any glass pendants or beads.

I ended up buying a gorgeous pink leather wraparound bangle, with a large glass bead surrounded by several smaller beads and crystals, for a cost of €70,00.  Some of the larger pieces cost thousands; such as a coffee set with pot, cups, saucers and tray for €5,000 and a wine carafe and six glasses for €2,000.  We also saw a large, ornate and very detailed horse sculpture for over €20,000.  Wow!

Afterwards, we made our way back to our waiting boat to continue to our next stop, the island of Burano.  This was another 40 or so minutes along an equally-scenic route.  On the way, we saw the “leaning tower of Burano”, the bell-tower of St. Martin’s Church, built between 1703 and 1714, and which became unstable more or less immediately, possibly because of the island’s watery foundations.  The problem increased up until the second World War, until an acceleration of the issue forced the City of Venice to carry out static consolidation works, which ended in 1970.

Burano is famous for its beautiful hand-made lace, and we were taken into a shop and shown by one of the ladies how the lace is made.  First of all, the outline of the shape or pattern is stitched by sewing machine onto some waxed brown paper; the thread used for the lace is then started off in the stitching and is then linked back to itself, without ever sewing through the paper.  Once the intricate lace pattern is established and the item finished, the paper is then removed.

Burano has been producing hand-made lace for over 400 years, and we were shown into a room that had lots of examples of antique lace, including the most amazing wedding dress.  There was also a shop where visitors could buy items such as tablecloths, napkins, runners, doilies etc. as well as shoes and handbags decorated with lace.  As expected, they were all very expensive.

After our visit to the lace shop, we had about an hour’s free time to look around the island.  It was a very colourful and picturesque place with a laid-back charm, a small canal with bridges over it, and shops and pavement cafés either side, all of them doing a roaring trade.

We enjoyed looking in the shop windows at the various crafts, including the ubiquitous Venetian masks.  A temptingly-delicious smell emanating from a bakery reminded us that it was lunchtime, and we went in and bought a large, almond-flavoured biscuit each.  We then went into an off licence where we bought a bottle of Prosecco, two cans of cold beer and two small bottles of Aperol Spritz, which we’d enjoy on our balcony later on.

We sat by the side of one of the small waterways and enjoyed our cold beer, then made our way back to where our boat was moored.  On the way, we passed several colourful stalls selling papier-mâché, but beautifully decorated, masks for only ten Euros each.  As the Queen Victoria is going to be holding a Masquerade Ball on Monday, I decided to buy one in white, gold and purple, which will go fantastically well with the black and purple ball gown I plan to wear.  I had already brought a mask with me, but this one was so much nicer.

Once we were all back on the boat, we returned to the Queen Victoria in time for afternoon tea in the Queen’s Room, a most civilised affair, wherein cucumber sandwiches were served as well as wafer-thin roast beef and horseradish, egg and cress and ham and tomato, followed by cakes and a selection of warm scones with jam and cream, all served by attentive, white-gloved waiters.

Afterwards we went up on deck to see which other ships were in, and we spotted the familiar red funnel bearing the Fred.Olsen logo as the Braemar manoeuvred into the berth next to Queen Victoria.  We were able to get some great photos of this lovely ship, on which we’ve had the pleasure of cruising three times before.

Soon it was time to start getting ready for dinner after a very full day.  We were staying in port overnight, so there were a lot of spaces in the dining room as people took advantage of the extra time ashore.  Likewise, in the Golden Lion afterwards it was much quieter than usual, but we decided it wasn’t a bad thing as we enjoyed listening to the resident pianist before going in to the Royal Court Theatre to see a show by guest performers “West on Sunset”, who’d flown in to Venice today for a one-off performance on the QV.

They were actually very good; a group of four older guys singing and playing the guitar.  A lot of their music was from the 1960s and ‘70s, and included stuff from The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, Toto and Tom Petty.  We enjoyed the show a great deal.

We finished off the evening as usual; along to the Golden Lion for the quiz (we were rubbish!) then back to our stateroom to sit on the balcony, looking at the lights of Venice while enjoying the Aperol Spritzes we’d bought earlier on.  What an interesting day we had had, and we looked forward to exploring more of Venice tomorrow.

Slovenia and Lake Bled

The alarm woke us with a start at 6.45am, and we went out onto our balcony into the cool morning air and watched the sun rise over the distant mountains and hills of Slovenia – our 85th country.  😊

The Queen Victoria had dropped anchor off the picturesque town of Piran, a maiden port of call for the ship.  Slovenia gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, and is a bilingual municipality, with both Slovene and Italian as official languages.  We were looking forward to exploring and, after breakfast, we eagerly made our way to the Queen’s Room to await the call for our group to board the liberty boat for the short ride ashore.

On arrival at the quayside, those with British passports (and therefore European Union) could go straight through, but those from non-EU countries had to go through immigration.  As we were waiting, we were serenaded by some locals in their national dress.

Once everyone was present and correct, our guide led us onto a large, comfortable coach and we set off along the fantastic Adriatic coastline, climbing up the winding roads so we had superb views of the sea and our ship anchored far below.  Piran certainly looked a most charming little town, with many compact houses built in the hills, and here and there old churches and other medieval buildings.  As Piran had originally been part of the Republic of Venice, a lot of Venetian influence was apparent.

Our coach reached the motorway and the driver put his foot down.  We passed through diverse scenery from countryside to large commercial areas and shopping precincts.  After around 30 minutes we stopped for a comfort break, and alighted from the coach to purchase a bottle of cold water each and to use the restrooms.

Once everyone was back on the coach we continued on our way, eventually arriving along the shores of the famed Lake Bled into the town of the same name.  I had only ever seen pictures of Lake Bled, with its little island in the middle, and had hoped that it would look as beautiful in real-life as it did in the photos.  In this aspect I was certainly not disappointed.

Lake Bled is of mixed glacial and tectonic origin, situated in the Julian Alps. It is 2,120 m long and 1,380 m wide, with a maximum depth of 29.5 m. The lake lies in a picturesque environment, surrounded by mountains and forests.

The bus parked up and we all got off into the bright sunshine.  There were lots of trees and shrubs and grassy banks along the shores of the lake.  At the other side of the expanse of water we could see a turreted edifice, the 11th century Bled Castle, perched high on the hillside.  There was also another fortification and bell tower we could see on the small, but interesting-looking island in the middle.  A row of large, canopied rowing-boats waited shore-side to take us across to the island.

Once we were all aboard, split between two groups, our boatmen positioned themselves at the bow of the vessel and took to the large oars, languidly rowing us across.  It only took about 10 minutes, and was a very pleasant ride, allowing us to gaze out over the lake and enjoy the slight breeze ruffling our hair.

Once we arrived, we were advised we had about 45 minutes until we had to be back at the boat for the return ride across.  We puffed our way up a very steep set of steps to the bell tower, which formed part of the grandly-named Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria; it was hard work but well worth it when you got there, for the views.  We walked all around the edge of the walls, taking in the spectacular scenery, and stopped at a little shop near the church for a large ice-cream; in fact, the vendor was doing a roaring trade as everyone seemed to have the same idea!

We walked around and took loads of photographs, then it was time to come back down to get the rowing boat across to where the bus was parked.

It was then only a short ride into the town of Bled, where our guide advised us that we had an hour of free time to do some shopping or try some of the local cuisine for lunch.  We were surprised, and not a little disappointed, that lunch was not included in the price of the excursion; usually for full-day tours a meal and/or snacks forms a large (and often memorable) part of the trip.  Maybe it was yet another sign of the increased penny-pinching we have noticed from Cunard.  ☹

Nevertheless, we found a pleasant little café with some chairs and tables outside, and we ordered a large, cold beer each as well as a slice of the local cake.  This is the most famous delicacy of the area – the Bled Cream Cake (“kremšnita”) made using an original recipe from over 60 years ago. More than 12 million pieces of this dessert have been sold in Lake Bled so far.  The cake consisted of a layer of flaky pastry, followed by a thick layer of custard, topped with a layer of fresh cream and finished with more flaky pastry dusted with icing sugar.  It was scrumptious.

As we were sitting in the sun, numerous small, sparrow-like birds flitted about, hopping from table to table in search of any stray crumbs.  When I threw some morsels of the flaky pastry down, a large number of the birdies swooped down in the flurry of feathers, fighting over the tiny titbits.

After we’d finished our cake and beer, we made use of the café’s toilet facilities then slowly made our way back to the bus for the return journey to Piran.  It had been a lovely excursion.

We arrived back around 3.30pm, but as we didn’t have to be back on board until five-thirty, we decided to have a walk around the immediate area, looking at the boats bobbing gently in the harbour and browsing the shop windows.  We walked around until we came to a spacious square with many pavement cafés and bars, and some stalls selling local wines and produce.  We decided to sit in the sunshine with a freezing cold beer each and just relax and watch the world go by, a most pleasant way of spending the time.

We ordered a large beer each, which was cold and foamy and just the ticket.  As I sat there, Trevor wandered over to the stalls and purchased a bottle of local white wine for us to enjoy on our balcony.  We were sitting there enjoying ourselves when Trevor glanced at his watch; it was 4.30pm and we had to be back on board within the hour!  We’d nearly missed our plane out to Rome, and at this rate we’d miss the ship!  We therefore had to get a move on and return to the port to queue for the liberty boat back to the Queen Victoria.

Back on board, we returned to our cabin and had just over an hour to get showered and changed ready for dinner at six.  Tonight the dress code was ‘Smart Attire’ so I put on a floaty turquoise and orange dress with high-heeled orange shoes.

Dinner was the usual delicious, calorie-laden culinary delight washed down with chilled rosé wine and finished with coffee and petits fours.  There was no sign of Guy and Tessa tonight, so Trevor and I just sat at our table for two by the window, and watched as the Queen Victoria weighed anchor and set off once again as the daylight faded and hundreds of twinkling lights came on and reflected on the surface of the flat-calm sea.

After dinner we repaired, as usual, to the Golden Lion for a drink and a half-hearted attempt at the quiz before tonight’s show, which was a double bill featuring the previously-seen singer Jacinta Whyte and hilarious comedian Mike Doyle, who once again had everyone splitting their sides.  So far the entertainment on board has been excellent, as is the superb ship’s orchestra and its talented musicians.

After the show we returned to the Golden Lion to participate in an interactive trivia game called Gridlocked, where there were several categories of questions, for example History, Sport, Music etc. and you won points vouchers from 1 to 5 points, depending on the difficulty of the question.  Half-way through the quiz you could wager some or all of your accumulated points (“double or quits”) to increase (or decrease!) your chance of winning.  It was good fun but we blew all our points in the end.

Afterwards we went along to the Queen’s Room to see what was going on; we got up and practised our ballroom dancing, doing the rumba and the foxtrot (badly!)  We then returned to stateroom 5130 and went out on our balcony in the cool night air, enjoying a nightcap and listening to the gorgeous sounds of the sea, looking at other ships passing in the night and using the Marine Traffic app to identify them and see where they were going.

Tomorrow we had another fantastic destination to look forward to – the one and only Venice.

Split – the Difference :-)

We got up around eight o’clock as usual, and eagerly went out onto our balcony to look around. The Queen Victoria was just about ready to dock in the port of Split, Croatia. Split is Croatia’s second largest city after Zagreb, the capital. It was originally a trading post established by Greek settlers and is now the largest passenger port in Croatia, with approximately 18,000 recorded ship arrivals each year.

This was a new port of call to us and we looked forward to exploring. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I breathed a big, contented sigh as I watched the sunlight glittering on the calm ripples of blue sea.

After a good breakfast in the Lido self-service restaurant, we returned to stateroom 5130 and got our stuff together, complete with the Croatian currency, the Kuna. Then we went down to Deck A and disembarked the ship. I was able to get some great bow photos of the Queen Victoria as we waited for the shuttle bus to take us into town.

It was only a short ride into the main square; in fact we could have walked it. We alighted from the bus and looked around us with interest at this pretty little town. In fact, Split seemed to contain many contrasts. On one hand, there was the attractive little harbour with its many colourful boats, the marble-paved square and the mountainous backdrop, but on the other hand there were the slightly-run-down high-rise apartment blocks; at least they would have had the most tremendous view. Old buildings rubbed shoulders with more modern constructions and everything seemed to have a natural, laid-back charm, rather than being a contrived, tourist trap.

We found ourselves in a wide promenade along the sea-front, flanked on one side with ornate modern buildings, one of which was the Town Hall and British Consulate. In front of the buildings there were a few canopied stalls, selling handicrafts, lavender, local produce and other souvenirs.

We strolled along, taking our time, enjoying the sunshine. We came across a very large, ornate building which contained two large wings attached to another building in a square U-shape. We found out it was the Trg Republike (Republic Square),  otherwise known as the Prokurative.  It was constructed during the latter half of the 19th century under the supervision of General Marmont, with the buildings inspired largely by the architecture of the same period in Venice. While relatively unoccupied in the cooler months, the square comes alive in the summer with concerts and cultural events, the most popular being the Entertainment Musical Festival of Split.  In front of it was a water fountain, sending up its dancing spray and creating fleeting rainbows in the bright sunshine.

The main thoroughfare was crowded with tourists, even though the Queen Victoria was the only ship in port. We decided to get some postcards and sit and write them out. We bought the cards and stamps from one of those little tobacconist-type stalls that seem to sell everything, and we noticed they also had a drinks cooler containing cans of chilled beer. We decided to enjoy a beer each as I wrote out the postcards, and we sat down on a nearby large marble block to do so.

The only thing that marred the place for us was an all-pervading stench that was hanging over the harbour and quayside. It wasn’t the smell of seaweed or fish, or even sewage, but it had a sort of ammonia-type stink to it; maybe it was coming from a gas pipe.

We sat and enjoyed our beers and wrote out the cards, then walked along to a nearby postbox to send them on their way. We then walked along one of the wide streets of shops, enjoying the fact that it all seemed to be pedestrianised. The prices were all in Kunas, although some places did take Euros as well. There were 8.5 Kunas to the pound, and things seemed quite expensive.

We window-shopped for a while but didn’t actually buy anything, then we walked along to what was clearly the old town of Split, with its fine old architecture and an interesting church and bell-tower.  As we walked along, our attention was attracted by a spout of water coming out of the top of a building in a graceful arc. Below it was a perfectly-positioned giant teacup to catch the water – an unusual feature.

We then saw some stray cats and kittens and a gentleman had put out some bowls of milk for them; a cardboard sign nearby invited donations so he could help feed the cats. I cuddled a little black kitten then we pressed a coin into the guy’s hand.

Afterwards we decided to take a slow stroll back to the Queen Victoria in time for lunch, rather than spend time queueing for the shuttle bus.

Back on board we enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of a fairly empty ship, as most people seemed to be ashore. We therefore went up to the pool deck for lunch and enjoyed a tasty burger each, washed down with a cold bottle of beer. Then we returned to our stateroom and had a post-luncheon nap, before sitting out on the balcony for a while, then going for a walk around deck. From our high vantage point on Deck 11 we could see right across to the town, including Diocletian’s Palace and the bell-tower we’d seen earlier.

The afternoon passed in its pleasant way until it was time to get showered and changed, ready for dinner. Were we eating again?! Sometimes it can seem that all you do on a cruise is eat and drink, and even the most determined efforts to watch the calories is soon thwarted by the array of delicious meals available.

We made our way to table #529 where, once again, we were on our own – no sign of Guy and Tessa. From our window table we had a great view of the Adriatic Sea as the Queen Victoria slipped her moorings and glided off once more into the sunset.

I enjoyed a delicious sirloin steak for my main meal, washed down with chilled rosé wine and iced water. Although it wasn’t a formal night, Cunard passengers always make the effort to dress a little more smartly, and it was such a pleasure to sit here in these elegant surroundings, enjoying scrumptious food among well-travelled, well-dressed people. This, to me, is what real cruising is all about, rather than the modern propensity for those huge vessels with their “Butlin’s at Sea” culture.

After dinner we adjourned, as usual, to the Golden Lion to do the Wipeout Trivia Quiz. Or rather, to answer the questions amongst ourselves but not actually participate. The reason was twofold; first of all, we only had about 20 minutes before we had to be in the theatre for tonight’s show, and secondly, the questions are really hard so we haven’t done well in the quiz so far. Therefore, we just enjoyed a drink, which we took along to the Royal Court Theatre to finish whilst enjoying the evening’s performance.

The show tonight starred musician Samantha Jay. What a talented performer she was! She played the piano, alto saxophone, oboe and violin, all of them very well. She played anything from classical to pop to rock, and ended her amazing performance with a selection of music from around the world, played to a backdrop of photos on a large screen that dropped down from above the stage. The show was tremendous, and Samantha was well-deserving of the standing ovation she received from the audience.

We finished off the evening as we have been doing all this cruise; along to the Golden Lion where the barman materialised immediately, already knowing what we were going to have to drink. Then we listened to the resident pianist Glenn Monie for a while, before the Big Pub Quiz (which once again we played just for fun).

Afterwards we were flagging a bit, so we decided to return to stateroom 5130 and sit out on our balcony for a short while. We had an early start tomorrow (we had to be up by 06:45 hours) as we were booked on an all-day excursion in Slovenia.

We therefore settled down around 23:00 hours (early for us!) in our crisp cotton sheets, as Queen Victoria glided through the peaceful Adriatic waters towards our next exciting destination.