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|Marco Polo 2013-14
A Christmas Cruise from Tilbury to the Canary Islands & Madeira - part 2
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Brochure route is in red, actual outward journey in green and return in blue
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We came a day early for the 'Welcome Aboard Dinner with Overnight Accommodation' which was on a Saturday when travel to Tilbury was easier. There were 4 such functions in the two days she was in port, two lunches with afternoon entertainment and two evenings with entertainment and the ability to stay overnight for a small extra sum depending on the level of cabin one choose. We came for the Evening Meal at £69 and had an upmarket (class 12) room which was an additional £40 - the basic cabins were £10 with breakfast.
We had intended to come by car but we had been in London at the Nutcracker Ballet at Covent Garden the previous day and had learnt that all the major London Stores and the out of town shopping malls were starting there sales early and there were predictions of gridlock. We found a route which we hoped would get us across town with the minimum of hastle and stairs to drag our suitcases up. We changed from rail to the District line at Ealing Broadway rather than Paddington - flat and the end of the line so we were assured of seats and suitcase space and that took us right across so we could change at West Ham where there were lifts. In the event we found most of the overground trains were being diverted via the the West Field shopping mall and not stopping at West Ham so we re boarded and went on to Barking. It was then a fast run on a spacious train to Tilbury Town from which a connecting bus ran to the terminal. The end to end time was under 4 hours. There were hundreds of people for the dinner but even so the check in only took minutes and they managed to put our suitcases through a scanner!
This was not an enjoyable time - we normally enjoy our time at sea but conditions were exceptionally bad. We found out afterwards that the lowest pressure for 127 years was recorded in Stornaway at the centre of the depression and the worst conditions for 16 years in the Channel near Southampton. There is a good Wikipedia article on Cyclone Dirk with many references. We made it through but were slowed to 6 knots for much of the exit from the channel and across the Bay of Biscay. We kept the TV tuned to channel 5 which displays a webcam and a plot of position with speed and location from the GPS. We could see water breaking over the bridge and in the middle of the night we could see lights on the front deck and latter found that one of safety rails had been broken and parts swept away despite efforts to secure things. Drawers were flying open and closed and at one point a retractable shelf broke free and shot between the beds - fortunately we both had our legs up. Eventually we were told the decision had been made to go into La Coruna at the top of Spain for Christmas day. We have put up the plots of the conditions below.
After the slow and rough progress through the Bay of Biscay it was obvious we were not going to get to Gibraltar on time and if we did we would miss other ports. It was to most of the passengers relief that it was announced that we would be going into La Coruna for Christmas Day including an overnight and Boxing Day morning. We would however miss out on Gibraltar and Lanzarote. We were not too worried about Gibraltar but La Coruna would be a repeat within 3 weeks as we had just left there on the Queen Victoria. Lanzarote was also a major loss as we had not been there for a long time. Even so it was nice to get out of the gales and get our feet on dry land.Up till now we have always enjoyed our days at sea but it was difficult to do anything in the seas we had experienced and some passengers gave up and went home and others had medical problems causing them to depart. The weather the first day had not been too bad but by day two the winds were rising again.
This was our second visit in a month to to La Coruna which is located on the top left corner of Spain, in Galicia. One of our cruises next year is also going to La Coruna. It is also the port closest for tours to nearby Santiago di Compostela. La Coruna is smaller than Vigo, and is the second largest city in Galicia. It was the capital of Galicia from 1563 to 1982. We arrived at 0800 when sunrise was at 0856, so decided there was no need to rush out. La Coruna is called the 'Crystal City' because of the glass-enclosed balconies, miradores, of the 19th century buildings facing the harbour and in the old town. One could see the Castillo de San Anton from the ship - it contains a museum which was closed on last visit and we held little hope it would be open on Christmas day
We started off in the opposite direction to our last vist going first past the shopping mall (which has free Wifi which even leaks as far as parts of the ship). It was all very quiet and we walked on towards the main avenue passed by Kiosko Alfonso and La Terraza. Again it was very quiet but we admired the the typical large silver conical Christmas tree, next to a weather column which also acts as a memorial. We then continued into the narrow shopping streets before working our way across towards the Plaza de Maria Pita.
We looked into one of the local churches where a lady was singing carols as a preliminary before the main service, the name escapes us but hopefully we can find out from our maps or pictures. We slipped out when the service proper started but when we got to the Plaza de Maria Pita we went into the service in the church of St George in the middle and stayed to the end. We were fascinated to see that people did not only go up for the communion but at the very end went back up to kiss the foot of the baby Jesus in the crib. There were several other couples from the Marco Polo who had come looking for a service as there was nothing planned on the ship. We walked past the Town hall which is a very ornate building which looked magnificent in the brief sunlight.
It was then on to the old walled part of the town where we toured round many of the narrow streets and went into several more of the churches. St Dominic's church provided a leaflet in English, and we were reminded that the first Dominicans arrived in La Coruna about 1280. The present church was built between 1763 and 1787. The chapel of the Rosary was started in 1676 and finished in 1684. The carving of the Virgin and Child dates from the 16th century. The church of St Barbara was hidden nearby -- it is a Nuns convent. All had elaborate nativity scenes.
It then seemed a good idea to go to the Torre de Hercules lighthouse. It is believed to be the only Roman lighthouse still in existence. We had missed it on our last visit. It is a fair walk and we decided to cross over to the beaches and walk round the coast - a big mistake. Once we got over the middle of the istmus we began to realise how strong the wind was - it was howling between the buildings and when we got in sight of the beach we could see the size of the waves . It became almost impossible to make progress against the wind and we were having to hang on to things to avoid being blown back in the gusts - if you look at the picture of Peter leaning into the wind it looks blurred - that was the clothing thrumming in the wind! Pieces of debris and sheets of plastic were whistling past smashing into the parked cars while we sheltered in doorways. We gave up.
We walked back towards the ship and found a park area we had missed last time which was just to the side of the Military Museum which, not unexpectedly, closed on Christmas Day. We walked down past some of the old guns which used to protect the fort area and looked at the foundations of an old convent which had moved into what is now part of the museum complex.
We diverted back up the road to have a second look at the tomb of the British General Sir John Moore, who died in 1809, which is in the walled San Carlos Gardens. The Archive of Galicia, set up in 1775, is the building behind the tomb. The park was however closed because of the high winds and risk of falling branches so any pictures you see here are from our visit a month ago.
Back down at the waterfront we passed all the glass-fronted balconies and crossed the road to the Gardens of Mendes Nunez, and then walked to the ship which we could see ahead of us. By then the clouds were black and it was spectacular with sun still on the buildings - then we got very very wet.
Once we had dried out we discovered that the Marco Polo has very good scones at tea time but could not indulge too much as Christmas dinner would follow shortly.
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