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|Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2007
This is the start of two consecutive but very different cruises. We had initially booked the 8 day cruise round Great Britain to celebrate the Queen Elizabeth 2's 40th anniversary, the date of which coincides with Pauline's Birthday. Eight days seemed very short so we later added the previous cruise which was a fortnight round the Mediterranean. The first cruise 'Mediterranean Splendour' took us to both familiar and new places and the ports are described in detail on this page. 'The 40th Anniversary Cruise' is written up separately.
We often get asked what is so special about the QE2 and why do we go back so often so perhaps it is time that we once more described a typical day at sea rather than concentrate on the ports. This was our first day after leaving Southampton and the previous evening Pete had been down to the Gym and booked time on a cross-trainer so the day started at 0645 when we got up and took our fancy filter mugs, loaded with real coffee to the Pavilion to top up with boiling water - even the QE2 does not have good coffee available that early. Pete then went down and did 45 minutes (worth 500 calories) on the cross-trainer and had a quick circuit at a modest level round the 'machines' to work his way back in gently. It was then into breakfast in the Mauretania. Breakfast is a free sitting so we went to our regular table from previous trips so we could have a chat with Phil who is now one of the Assistant Maitre D's. The service was excellent and there was no problem getting extra fresh pineapple on the fruit plates and our Multi-grain toast to go with the smoked salmon was sent back by the waiter as it needed an extra pass through the machine to be brown enough. Pete went down to the computer centre to register for the Wifi service by swiping the bar coded identity pass and then checked email. It was a good start to the day as Pauline had received her authorisation to act as a publisher and her first set of ten ISBN numbers.
We went to the first of three 'Enrichment Lectures' by the Captain of HMS Coventry which was lost in the Falklands; he subsequently returned with the survivors on the QE2 which played such an important role in the Falklands war just 25 years ago. The QE2 took many of the troops down in a non-stop unescorted run at an average of 29 knots. No other vessels were fast enough to maintain that speed to escort her or to catch her. It was a replay of the story with the original Queens who transported a million troops across the Atlantic in WW2, unescorted and un-intercepted.
We went on to listen to Colin Bryant's Hot Rhythm Orchestra in the Golden Lion pub. We were very glad to see they were back. They have always been the best of the Jazz bands but only like to do the round trip cruises out of Southampton. We were a bit later than usual into lunch where we had smoked duck followed by one of their classic style dishes, Oxtail, and which turned out to be the best I have ever had, finished off with a simple fruit plate.
We adjourned to the cabin where we asked the cabin stewardess to cool the first of the bottles of sparkling wine and Perrier Jouet champagne we had found in our cabin, along with flowers, on our arrival. It seemed appropriate to celebrate Pauline being able to take the next step in publishing her book. The inevitable happened and not surprisingly we missed tea. We fortunately dine in the second sitting in the Mauretania where it was one of the Captain's Gala Dinners, formal as one would expect. We decided to miss out on the Caviar, which tends to be fairly small and have a small Entree Lobster as a starter followed by the Prime Rib which is always superb. All the steak is American and the Prime Rib was very rare and very tender; exactly as we requested. We finished with a Grand Marnier Souffle, another favourite. As always they ply one with homemade truffles and Crystallised Ginger, an old remedy for sea sickness but totally unnecessary as the Bay of Biscay had been like a mill pond.
We just finished in time to get into the Balcony of the Theatre for the 'Celestial Stings', three Ukrainian young ladies playing Piano, Violin and Cello and playing old favourites such as Brahms' Hungarian dances along with less well known Russian and Ukrainian music. It was then time to catch the main show in the Grand Lounge, a Uruguayan Harpist playing a Patagonian harp supported by the QE2 orchestra who were too loud as usual partially drowning her excellent performance. We then ambled along to listen to the last set of Colin Bryant's Hot Rhythm Orchestra in the Golden Lion taking us through to midnight which seemed late enough as the gym was booked for the next morning and coffee was now under seven hours away.
When we got back to the room we found that yet another bunch of flowers had arrived and a bottle of cooled champagne awaited us in an ice bucket, we are not sure why but are not complaining even though it will have to wait for another day at sea. Reading the above as we await the next bottle of champagne to arrive, it seems awfully decadent, totally true but perhaps not completely typical.
Lisbon is the largest city and chief port of Portugal. The city lies on the northern shore of the Tagus River, about 8 miles from the Atlantic. We got up to see the last of the journey up the Tagus river where one goes under The Bridge of 25 April - where we berthed in its shadow. The bridge is two-storied, with a railway bridge below, and a road bridge above. On the southern side is the huge Christo Rei statue modeled on the statue in Rio de Janeiro. We have been to Lisbon several times before on the QE2 and comprehensively explored Lisbon City and the Waterworks Museum in 2001 and on the Lisbon visit in 2005 took a tour along the banks of the Tagus on the scenic coastal road and into the area known as the Portuguese Riviera to the 18th-century Palace of Quelez.
We thought we ought to get some exercise and walked along the lively waterfront area under the The Bridge of 25 April past the marina to the Discoveries Monument - it was constructed for the 1940 exhibition but was erected on its present site only in 1960. It is built in the shape of the bow of a caravel. Led by Henry the Navigator, stylised over-sized figures look out on the Tagus. We did not go in as it looked very commercialised although there was a viewing platform at the top.
We instead continued to the Tower of Belem a five storey fort which some say looks like a giant chess piece and is one of Lisbon's most recognised landmarks and the silhouette appears on many official publications. The masterpiece of Manueline Architecture was built on what was once an island in the middle of the Tagus between 1515 and 1521, since medieval times the river has changed course and the tower is now on the North bank. We spent some time visiting and climbed the many narrow spiral staircases which were barely wide enough for the average tourist and a nightmare passing those traveling in opposite direction. It was full of interesting information boards and offered great views form the top. Entry was free because it was Sunday, and lots of tourists were taking advantage of the free entry. We had also been told that the local trams were free on a Sunday too, although we did not catch one.
Pauline had spotted a flea market in Belem, which she managed to explore by expressing an interest in visiting the famous 16th century Jeronimos Abbey of Santa Maria and Monastery opposite. The direct route from the Discoveries monument to the monastery involved passing down the main line of stalls. Henry the Navigator built a small chapel on the site at the time of the great voyages of discovery and it is thought that work on the monastery began on the initiative of Manuel I, in 1502, and was finally completed in 1572. We first had a brief look in the Abbey after a short wait, there was a service in progress so we could only look quietly from the back but even so it was obviously an impressive building, tall and open with lavish decoration of the six huge pillars supporting the roof. The ceiling is equally heavily decorated with unusual vaulting with a complex structure of ribs and sub-ribs forming predominantly eight-point intersections. The whole concept was to allow very large congregations during religious services and matching opulent displays of regal power in its wider use.
We spent a long time round the monastery which, as a museum, was also free to enter on a Sunday. The masonry has been recently and comprehensively restored and the architecture was as rich as anything we have seen anywhere in the world and on a huge scale yet with an incredible wealth of fine detail. It defies description with words and we will have to let some of our pictures give some indications of the scales and level of detail in the two story beautiful cloistered design. We dragged ourselves away from the cloisters with dozens of pictures and had a brief look through a 'time line' exhibition showing the development alongside major developments in the world and Portugal which again would have taken hours to take in fully.
This left us with little time to visit the adjacent Maritime Museum. Some of the highlights were the Royal Barges and early amphibious aircraft in a huge new display hall, a complete contrast to the other fascinating halls of conventional exhibits and vast numbers of models in a corner of the monastery complex. We were particularly interested in the aircraft, a 1940s Grumman Widgeon, a 1917 FBA H amphibious biplane and the first aircraft to cross the South Atlantic in 1922, a Fairey IIID flown by Admiral Gago Coutinho and Commander Sacadeba Cabral. What was not mentioned was that it was the third attempt, the first two Fairey IIIDs were lost. We then had to rush back to the ship ready for departure.
The trip down the Tagus was spectacular, the tugs turned us just upstream of the bridge and we slid under with, what always looks so little to spare. The noise of the traffic on the open mesh of the bridge is deafening. It was nice to see the places we had just visited gleaming golden in the evening light.
Cagliari, the capital city of the island of Sardinia, is a very old city founded by the Phoenicians. Sardinia itself is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean with 900 miles of spectacular jagged and rocky coastline, with beaches of very fine sparkling sand located about 125 miles from the Italian mainland.
Cagliari is located on the southern end of Sardinia and has an excellent very sheltered port. Sited thus in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea it developed into one of the most important trading centres for East-West trade along the Mediterranean.
The old part of the city (called 'Castello', the castle) lies on top of a hill, with a wonderful views out over the Gulf of Cagliari. Most of its city walls are intact, and feature two 13th century white limestone watch-towers, St. Pancras tower and the Elephant tower. The local white limestone was also used to build the ramparts of the city and many of its buildings. D.H. Lawrence, in his memories of a trip in Sardinia, "Sea and Sardinia", described the impressive effect of the warm Mediterranean sun-light on the white limestone city and compared Cagliari to a "white Jerusalem".
We first climbed the Torre dell'Elephante, a 1307 watch-tower with carvings of an elephant and is one of the bastions on the city approaches, then later the St Pancras. The watch-towers were much higher and bigger than we realised when we started and commanded magnificent views and were well worth the 4 Euros entry.
We continued to the Duomo, Cagliari's 13th century cathedral that had been rebuilt in ornate Baroque style in the 1600s. Comprehensive repairs in the 1930s changed the former Baroque facade into a Medieval Pisan style facade, more akin to the original appearance of the church. The inside is now virtually clear of the restoration which limited the access last time we visited. We went down into the crypts where the decoration and tiled surfaces were stunning.
Our route took us next to the Palazzo Viceregio (or the Palace of the Provincial Government) which used to be the Island's governor's (viceroy's) palace before 1900. Last visit we found that as individuals we were welcome to enter and we were given a guided tour along with another two couples - it was unpublicised service and we had a first rate 15 minute tour which was most informative and interesting by one of the staff, and all in impeccable English. This time we were earlier in the day and were left to look round by ourselves. The entry had portraits of the 24 Savoy Viceroys. The various sumptuous rooms we walked through were named after the primary colour of their decoration. The council chamber was especially memorable for the richness of decoration and the modern microphones and electronic voting boards contrasted strangely with the magnificent old wall and ceiling paintings by Domeneco Bruschi.
We climbed higher still to the museum complex - the Cittadella dei Museo which has been built in the old armouries and now contains in a mix of old buildings and new concrete extensions, the Museo Archeologica, the National Picture Gallery, the Communal Arts Centre and the Stefano Cardu Museum of Siamese Art. We got a multiple ticket to the Archeological Museum and the Picture Gallery for 5 Euros - the Archeological Museum had a vast number of exhibits and we could not do it justice in an hour or so. The main feature is probably the little understood Nuralgic items from about 3000 BC although the exhibits go right back to the Neolithic Age.
We walked back down to the local market that we had looked into on the way in - it was a classic covered market with fish, meat and fresh local produce stalls. It however closed at 1300 and it was obvious we were going to take a lot longer on our visit. Last visit we had found a stall selling cheese and they had four different ages of Peccorini, a local cheese we had heard was the classic from Sardinia - we had tried the two most mature examples and bought small pieces. The most mature was much like a Parmesan in texture and taste and broke rather than cut - we bought a piece for a picnic lunch and also a small local wholemeal loaf. Last time we took some back you could smell it as soon as you entered our cabin so we sealed the remainder well before we returned and kept it in ice to go with our next bottle of champagne. We also bought a couple of bottles of local red wine from Jerzu, pleasant drinking and very good value at just under 4 Euros a bottle.
We climbed backup to a set of seats at a view point, admired the views out over the bay and into the port where the QE2 was visible then settled back to enjoy lunch. Whilst we sat there two long tired looking wiggling strings of QE2 tourists on tours walked by, briefly looked at the view and faded without noticing or acknowledging us. We continued the climb back up to Castello, which must be about 250 foot above sea level and bought an ice cream to cool down at the top. Refreshed we walked on past the Roman Amphitheatre where audiences of 10,000 used to watch the spectacle of Christians being martyred. It is now set up for less exciting entertainment with a series of summer concerts. Like many of the shops and attractions they were closed for an extended lunch, which seems to vary from an hour and a half to three hours. We continued hoping for a cool and relaxing break looking round the famous Botanical Gardens we went round last visit, but found it was also closed for lunch. We walked through the more modern shopping areas, again closed, before yet another climb back up into some of the the older areas we had missed before returning somewhat weary after four and a half hours walking and climbing in temperatures in the low thirties.
We did not know what to expect on our arrival at Corfu - our information sheets had conflicting messages. One said we would be docked at the New Port, the other said we would be at anchor. We finally found QE2 was going to be at anchor, and we were going to have to use the tenders. It had been a bit choppy the day before but was OK today. There were queues and we left late, with tender ticket 45, and boarded at 1100 for the short journey. We arrived at the New Port where shuttle buses were supposed to take everyone to the main Spianada Square. We joined line number 4 and there were no buses in sight. We could see the New Citadel and it was a gentle flat stroll to town along the waterfront, so we abandoned the queue and set off on foot. It was a good decision because only two shuttle buses passed us, and they were going in the opposite direction.
The original plan was to walk along the waterfront to the Old Fortress but at the Platia Georgiou II we spotted the Greek Orthodox Metropolis Corfu cathedral, dated 1577, and decided to detour inland to visit. There were a few friendly cafes and souvenir shops. We had forgotten that the area was famous for olives and olive wood, as well as for kumquats. The cathedral door was open and it seemed too good an opportunity to pass by. It might be closed later. Inside it was smaller than we expected. We walked around and admired a solid silver casket which contained the relics of St Theodora. Then we retraced our steps to the waterfront. There were supposed to be two museums, but although we saw distinctive buildings flying the Greek flag the doors were closed. Then the road turned to the right and ahead of us we saw an archway, and the green expanse of the Spianada or Esplanade beyond. This was the terminus for the QE2 shuttle buses, and the large central park is edged with colonnaded cafes, the Liston, and on the north side we passed the Palace of St Michael and St George and the Museum of Asiatic Art. The weather was too nice to spend time indoors in museums.
Sitting with a Magnum ice-cream to refresh our spirits, we were passed by a bride with her parents, driven in a decorated horse-drawn carriage. This made us look towards the old town, and we wondered whether it was a civil wedding in the Town Hall or at one of the beautiful churches. We walked across to the Old Fortress, paying 4 euros each for entry. The shop provided a useful free leaflet, and Pauline bought a leaflet about Spinalonga near Crete; the QE2 Reading Group will be discussing the novel The Island by Victoria Hislop on 13 September, and the story is set on the island of Spinalonga. Entry to the Old Fortress is across a bridge over the sea moat, which is a narrow canal used as moorings for small craft. Passing through the Main Gate there is a Chapel on the right which has a display of religious pictures and votive items, before crossing the land bridge and being confronted by the British barracks.
The form of the fortifications is due to the Venetians who ruled Corfu from 1386 to 1797, although the twin peaks of the rock had been fortified much earlier, when Corfu was part of the Byzantine empire. Indeed the name of Corfu was given in the 6th century and is derived from Koryfo, meaning Summit. After the Venetians, the British were here from 1815 to 1864, until Corfu became part of Greece. Old buildings were destroyed during the British Protectorate and again during WWII. The site is therefore very empty, with the exception of one occupied building which contains the Music Department of the Ionian University. The British Hospital is derelict, and the Church of Saint George with its row of ornate pillars is under restoration. We climbed up steps from the lower level to the fort, and then found an open gate with a warning that it was dangerous to go further. By then we had already scrambled up the slope, so the warning was too late. The path up to the light house was easier, although the rounded stones were slippery. It was harder going down than climbing up. Having been everywhere and seen everything it was time to head back towards town.
Remembering the bride and the decorated carriage we aimed towards the Town Hall Square. Here is the Roman Catholic cathedral of St James, which was closed, and the Town Hall built in 1663 as a private club for the elite. We collected leaflets from the Tourist Information Office, wandered around the many little shops, guiding our route by glimpses of the sun to make sure we were heading west, and back to QE2. We were advised to visit the church of St Spyridon, built in 1859, which was very crowded and again had a silver casket containing the relics of the saint. This is the most famous church in Corfu town, being the town's patron saint and also having a distinctive campanile bell tower.
We wandered around the narrow cobbled streets looking for souvenirs - particularly the jars of preserved kumquat, a local specialty. We purchased some and then were offered samples which resulted in our purchase of an extra jar. It should be very good with ice cream, if it is not eaten before we get back home. Our route back took us in front of the Orthodox cathedral, which was closed. We were glad we had visited earlier. Our final visit was to the New Citadel, within ten minutes walk of QE2. Here it was 3 euros to visit, but the views from the summit were good. Many of the rooms were empty but there was a small display of pottery. We passed a number of ferries disgorging their vehicles and passengers as we walked to the entrance of the port, and back on board.
Dubrovnik is one of the prettiest cities we have seen and one we were looking forward to re-visiting. Our first visit was in 1998 not long after war in 1991/2 had split the old Yugoslavia asunder and the city was still showing the scars. Most had been healed by our second visit seven years later. There are two harbours and we were delighted that the QE2 was able to moor off the old harbour allowing a short tender ride and the finest approach to the town. The quay is only a stones throw beneath the city walls. Dubrovnik has a remarkable history. An independent, merchant republic for the 700 years up to 1806, it traded with Turkey, India and Africa - it even had diplomatic relations with the English court in the Middle Ages. Its status was such that even the powerful and rich Venice was envious of this Croatian-Slav city.
The old town was completed in the 13th century and remains virtually unchanged to the present day. The port's sea fortifications rise directly from the waters edge, and a massive fort dominates the city. Tall ramparts surround the city that is a maze of narrow twisting streets with two 14th-century convents at the ends. Dubrovnik has a wealth of cultural and historic monuments and is sometimes described as one of Europe's greatest outdoors museums. In 1991/2, the Serbs shelled the city during the homeland war causing considerable damage, but thanks to local efforts and international aid, the old town has been restored to its former beauty. The few bullet marks on the buildings which we reported in 2005 have gone. It is a remarkable reconstruction. On our first visit many of the roofs were missing but they have now been replaced and the city gleams with bright clean walls and glossy roof tiles. The churches are now open once more - we could see virtually no sign of damage in any of them much to our surprise. The unchanged character of the town and the intact medieval walls has led to the old city being included as a whole in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Our tenders were held up by a swell and we were late ashore. We waited for an hour after we had been allocated our tender ticket, which is very unusual. Down at the landing stage every passenger had to be helped across the watery gap from the ship and into the tender. Even us! The tiny bit of video taken on the camera shows we were moving up and down by two foot relative to the ship. Hence the delays. We noticed some with walking sticks still managed to make the transfer, with lots of help from the crew. This visit we took few pictures as last time we had been more fortunate and got ashore before the crowds started to build and could stroll the length of the wide main street without impediment and take clear pictures. This time you could hardly move for people. There was only one spot for our tenders so we had to wait in the choppy water until the previous tender had unloaded and was clear. Along the quay, directly beneath the wall, were new bars and restaurants. Artists were selling their paintings and old women were selling hand made embroideries, and filling in their time making tablecloths between serving customers. Prices were in local kuna and euros (7 kuna to 1 euro), and we were able to spend euros and get euro coins as change. Last time we were forced to go to an exchange to convert money to enter the museums; now they accepted euros. Even the checkout lady in the little supermarket spoke English, and accepted our euros.
The ramparts are one of the most visible features of the town. Construction started on the ramparts and forts in the 12th century and continued for 500 years. The walls are 20 feet thick and soar to 80 feet. One can still walk the entire circumference of 6,350 feet past and through the various towers and fortifications and enjoy magnificent views over the port, out to sea and into the town. The route is narrow and the steps often steep and it is essential to get there before noisy guides start to drive their flocks of tourists in slow moving herds round the ramparts. We decided there were too many people to walk round the ramparts as we had done last visit.
There are only two entrances to the old town that lead to the Stradun or Placa, the city's promenade. Most tourists arrive by motor coach at the Pile Gate, on the west side. We arrived by tender on the opposite side, at Ponta. On the north side narrow streets, so narrow one can reach from one window across to the other, lead up so steeply that they quickly change to steps. Check to jowl with these houses, unchanged for hundreds of years, one finds garish signs and Internet access, tourist junk and street cafes full of tired visitors take vicarious enjoyment emptying their wallets in the belief they are absorbing the true atmosphere - such is progress. There were many more pavement cafes now, many serving the inevitable Pizzas. Cats prowled between the tables outdoors, acting as organic hoovers, in competition with flocks of pigeons whilst near St Ignasius Church a kitten called Jimmy played with a feather and stalked the pigeons looking for a replacement.
We wanted to visit different places to previously, and began at the Cathedral and the Treasury. There was a small charge to visit the Treasury, which contained a number of relics including St Blaise's skull. According to legend he saved Dubrovnik from Venetian attack in the 10th century. We planned to pay and look inside the Treasury but there were too many crowds queuing. Opposite we spotted an interesting building, the gothic style Rector's Palace, which was not open last time. The building was designed in 1435 and is said to be the finest building in Dubrovnik. It was 35 kuna (5 euros) each to look around. The building is now the Cultural-Historical Museum and is a mixture of museum and art gallery, set on two stories around a central courtyard with an impressive stone staircase and a maze of rooms full of interesting artifacts. Next door is the National Theatre, and then the Town Hall with its proud flags billowing in the breeze. Beyond them we were facing the 16th century Sponza Palace, also once the residence for the Rector. It is Dubrovnik's oldest building and is now the home of the State Historical Archives. There was a charge to visit the archives but there is an excellent small display at the entrance about the 1991/2 homeland war which is free. Each man who died has his picture on the wall with a short description, and there are lots of war photographs presented as a video sequence.
We continued along the wide Placa until the temptation to escape from the crowds became too strong and we climbed up one of the stepped streets. It was a different world, with washing hanging on the lines above our heads, and the varied chaos of little pavement cafes clogging the narrow streets. It was lunchtime and the smells of fried fish and pasta were tempting. We turned our backs and returned to the Placa, emerging near to the church of St Saviour and the Pl Milicevica with its impressive Onofrio Fountain that still supplies water. It was built in 1438 and the 16-sided fountains carved heads still dribble water.
We were now in the shadow of the Pile Gate, and checked the map which indicated those properties which had been destroyed during the war, or had their roofs destroyed. Underneath the entrance bridge there is a pretty park, which leads down to a small pebble beach. We climbed back to the Pile Gate and entered the town again. Instead of the direct route along the Placa we turned to the right, hoping to explore different streets and find less crowds. This is a popular area for artists. We passed the house of Marin Drzica, which was a museum. Next time we would buy a multiple museum ticket which would give entrance to 4 museums at a reduced price. We continued south, stopping to shop in a little supermarket, and then visited the Church of St Ignasius, next to the Jesuit monastery. Again we saw lots of old women doing embroidery and selling their produce. Dubrovnik has found even more ways of parting the tourist from their spending money.
We decided it was time to leave. The crowds were thick, the temperatures high and the main sights had been seen in the town so we took the tender back in time for the afternoon tea ceremony before we risked becoming disenchanted. The first visit in 1998 had been truly memorable - one saw a proud people rebuilding the city and their lives after war, despite not really ready for tourists. This time we felt just slightly disappointed as the character and culture is being eroded by the need to pander to and exploit the tourists - even so it is an absolute must to visit if you have not previously had the opportunity. Try to choose a day to visit when there are not any cruise ships. The following day we were kept at anchor outside Dubrovnik while the port steering gear was repaired, and there were two other medium sized ships anchored alongside us - Costa Serena and ex-Celebrity cruise ship Horizon now renamed and owned by Pullmantur and registered in Valletta, with all their tenders buzzing to and from the port. We understood why we were not able to use our tenders and go ashore too.
When we knew there was a problem with the steering, and a spare part had to be flown out from Leeds, we wondered what impact the delay would have on the original itinerary. Losing one day meant that we would certainly lose a visit to a port, and the Captain decided we would continue as planned to Trieste and Valletta, although we would be one day later than planned. We would then go directly back to Southampton, not stopping at Gibraltar. To many people on board Trieste was just seen as the port from where one could catch a fast train to Venice. Even crew were planning to go to the railway station and catch a train so they could have a few hours in the famous watery city. We had been to Venice several times and the thought of the crowds and heat in September put us off and we were very glad we decided to explore Trieste itself instead. It is a very historic city, once a boundary of the Roman Empire and now full of Churches, over forty Museums and with one of the largest and finest central squares of any city in Europe yet without the crowds. We heard many people saying they must come back as we were leaving in the evening. Not everywhere was open on a Sunday. Most shops were closed, museums were only open in the morning, and many of the churches had services which seemed to be on for most of the day - however we still found plenty to do. The atmosphere was good, the people were friendly and the market stalls selling local foods such as cheese and salami expected one to sample their wares.
We were in the container ship port, possibly because we were a day late and space at the cruise terminal was not available or perhaps because we are a big deep draughted liner. Shuttle buses were laid on and there were no queues. We were quickly transferred along the waterfront to the centre of town, passing the Railway Museum and the Museum of the Sea. A small cruise ship, Costa Marina, was moored at the cruise terminal near to the Aquarium. Glancing towards the main square, the Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia, there seemed to be a red carpet and a crowd applauding runners. We guessed there was something between a Fun Run and a half marathon taking place. Our shuttle bus deposited us down the next street, in the Piazza della Borsa.
We had already Our first stop was only decided to work our way up to the Castle and cathedral on top of the Capitoline Hill, before the middle of the day when the temperatures get too hot. a couple of hundred metres away at the Roman Amphitheatre which was built in 1 AD and is an unusual brick and marble construction. Still used as an open air theatre, it used to seat 6000. Originally decorated with statues, the remnants have been removed and are displayed in one of the many museums. The proportions are so good that it looked small until one looked down from the top to the distant stage!
We continued uphill, passing the remains of the Tor Cucherna, and eventually emerging just below the Monument Al Caduti, commemorating those who died in the wars. Entering the cathedral of San Giusto just after 1100 we found the Mass was in progress and we could only stand at the back and admire the building quietly. It was formed in the 14th century by joining two basilicas erected between the 9th and 11th centuries on a Roman area of worship. It has a gothic rose window. There is also a campanile, a bell tower, which cost 1.5 euros to climb but which was closed until 1130. We did not realise that the little shop at the cathedral, and the postcard stalls outside, were the only places we would find to buy souvenirs.
Leaving the cathedral we hoped to admire the statues from the Roman Amphitheatre but the Archaeological Museum, with its stone monument garden, was closed. On the very summit, the castle of San Giusto is the symbol of Trieste. Built between 1470 and 1630, only the chapel and two rooms could be visited, but a ticket only cost 2.5 euros. There was some furniture on display from author Giuseppe Caprin's mansion, in the Caprini Hall. The ramparts and the armoury were closed for restoration. Some of the footpaths around the outside of the ramparts were marked as being in bad condition but local families were ignoring the warnings so we followed them. The green space to the north of the castle is a park of remembrance. Instead of the narrow streets we took the Scala dei Giganti staircase down to the Piazza Goldini. We had discovered that Trieste is very quiet on a Sunday morning, and completely closed after 1330.
From the Piazza Goldini it is only a few minutes walk to the sober neoclassical church of Sant Antonio Taumaturgo, designed by Pietr Nobile, which is an impressive building at the northern end of the Grand Canal. We entered just as the Mass was ending, and listened to the final piece of organ music - Johann Sebastian Bach Fugue in C major, opus BWV 574. If we had realised that the service would be accompanied by organ music we would have made an effort to go there earlier. As we left the final door was closed and locked behind us. We had hoped to visit the Serbian Orthodox church of San Spiridione nearby, but it was closed for restoration. Designed in neo-Byzantine style by Maciacchini, its distinctive features are its fine domes. Certainly between all the scaffolding the outside was very richly decorated and gilded.
Outside, and along the banks of the canal, there was a long line of white tents, with stalls selling local produce and handicrafts. We strolled along slowly and at the very last stall we bought some cheese and bread, but only after tasting several cheeses and salamis. The Peccorini cheese from the final stall boasting a stuffed wild boar was even older and stronger than ours from the Sardinian market and as we write this back on the QE2 its aromas is escaping its wrapping of tied polythene bags and through the sealed ice-cream tub full of ice and closed wardrobe door - a true cheese of magnificent strength and character. If we had known there would be the coop stall waiting for us back at the QE2 dock then we might not have purchased it, which would have been a pity. In spite of its grand name, the canal only had small boats, the bridges were too low, but we estimated the water depth was 15 feet or more. One canal side building caught our eye - the Palazzo Gopcevic, a stunning red and cream chevron design constructed by Spiridione Gopcevic in 1850. We found it housed the Theatrical Museum of Carlo Schmidl, on the first and second floors, as well as a free exhibition on the ground floor about the Parisi shipping company going back to 1807. We walked quickly around the free exhibition before continuing our stroll outside, and back to the waterfront and the Piazza Unita' d'Italia.
The Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia, a large and spectacular square, opens directly onto the sea, with impressive palaces on the three sides. In sequence on the left they are the Palazzo del Governo which is the headquarters of the prefect, the Palazzo Stratti and the Palazzo Modello, then there is the magnificent Palazzo del Municipio or Town Hall with its distinctive clock tower which faces the sea, and on the right the Palazzo Pitteri which is the only palazzo dating back to the 18th century, the former Palazzo Vanoli, and the Lloyd Trestino Palazzo. Trieste is famous for its historic cafes, dating back to the 18th century and where time seems to have stopped in the Belle Epoque. Of these, the renovated Caffe degli Specchi is in the Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia. The square is also home to the Fountain of the Four Continents built by Mazzoleni in 1751, and Emperor Charles VI's column built by Fusconi in 1728. It is a perfect place to stop, sit and relax.
Continuing our walk we exited the square on the south side, and came upon steps leading up to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, which to our surprise was open. It is one of the biggest churches in Trieste and owes its construction to the Jesuits who arrived in 1619. The first stone was laid in 1627 and the leaflet says the church was completed in 1862. We think they mean 1682. Next door is a much older and smaller church - Saint Silvestro which dates from the 12th century. Unfortunately it was closed. We took a circuitous route back criss crossing the back streets and shopping area between the canal and our final destination in the Piazza della Borsa. The Palazzo della Borsa Vecchia, the old stock exchange and now the Chamber of Commerce, is in one corner of the square, with the Galleria Tergesteo, a pretty pink building, next door. The shuttle bus was waiting for us. This time it was a double decker and we climbed upstairs to take the front two seats and the best views.
On our return to the ship the local cooperative had a big stand with the largest 'salami' we have ever seen, over a metre long and 30 cms diameter, unlimited big glasses of local wine and masses of magnificent parmesan cheese and french bread. We grazed and chatted to them and other passengers for quite a while. The local Merlot was exceptional for a table wine and the Pinot Grigio far better than the example we had paid an unthinkable price for on board and sent back. Nothing was for sale but enthusiasts received an unmarked bag! We went back to our cabin and returned with a QE2 postcard with all the QE2 stamps and a thank you note.
We have been to Malta twice before. The first visit was in 1996 on QE2 on her maiden visit when she actually entered the the harbour at Valletta and docked; previously QE2 had only anchored. That had been one of our most memorable arrivals on the QE2. The entry is difficult with minimal clearance between the breakwaters and the ramparts were lined with thousands of Maltese residents to welcome us, many waving Union Jacks. We then returned for a weeks Holiday in Malta in 2006.
The island has a long history and the prehistoric temples of Malta are unique in all the world. Hagar Qim and neighbouring Mnajdri are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are the oldest free-standing stone structures ever discovered, dating back to 3600 BC. The older parts of the Hagar Qim Temple are said to date from this period, although later additions are more recent, between 3000 BC and 2500 BC. They are therefore older than both Stonehenge and the Pyramids. Excellently preserved, they were covered with soil from early times and only rediscovered in 1839 and restored by European and native Maltese archaeologists in the 19th century.
The capital Valletta also has a long and interesting history. The first stone of the city of Valletta was ceremonially laid by Grand Master Jean Valette on 29 March 1566. It was intended as a fortress town able to withstand any future Ottoman assault. Streets were laid on a strict grid-plan and the town was "embellished" with palaces, auberges, churches and other fine buildings. We got up early to watch her arrival but even so we missed the most interesting 'wiggle' through the breakwaters. The tugs worked hard to spin us round to moor at the new Cruise Terminal, and we admired the new waterfront cafes and shops in the old restored warehouses. We then had an early breakfast, having missed going to the gym for the first time this journey. There was a good reason. We were due to meet the founder and head of the Malta Aviation Museum, Ray Polidano, on the quay side, but first a little background about the Malta Aviation Museum where we spent some time on our last visit in 2006.
The Malta Aviation Museum aims to record all historical aspects associated with aviation in Malta from the very first biplane flight over the island, throughout its colourful and valiant aviation history, to the modern age. Ta' Qali was Malta's first civilian aerodrome. The museum has many old aircraft rescued or donated and waiting for refurbishment, and some which have been restored to display or taxiing condition.
The Air Battle of Malta lasted for almost 2 and a half years during WWII, and on 28 September 2005 a new Air Battle of Malta Memorial Hangar was opened, partly financed by the European Union, to cover Malta's role during WWII. Last visit we had purchased from the museum shop a video of the old black and white film "Malta Story". One of the stars, Muriel Pavlov, was part of the Merlins over Malta project which successfully brought to Malta a Supermarine Spitfire and a Hurricane from the Historic Aircraft Collection at Duxford to celebrate the opening of the hangar and to take part in the Malta International Airshow.
The Air Battle of Malta Memorial Hangar presently houses the Hawker Hurricane Z3055 and the Spitfire EN199. Both are local. The Hurricane crashed into the sea off Malta and was discovered by a diver off the Blue Grotto after 54 years underwater. It is being restored to taxiing condition, which means it can move under its own power but not fly. The Spitfire Mk IX (EN199) also fought in Malta. After WWII it sustained slight damage in a storm and in 1947 was struck off charge, then later scrapped. It was the first aircraft to be restored and signaled the birth of the museum. It made its first appearance, at the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the George Cross award to Malta. It is an excellent museum, with lots to see, and we knew they were looking for pictures to add to their reference collection and for their displays which brings us back to our meeting on the quay side with Ray.
Pauline's father had joined the Royal Artillery in 1931, and in 1934 he had been posted to Malta where he served for 13 months. During his visit he took a number of small black and white photographs, which he kept in an album. After his death and subsequent to our visit in 2006 we realised that these pictures would be of interest to historians in Malta, with particular relevance to the War Museum, the Maritime Museum and the Aviation Museum. As well as a few tourist pictures which we recognised to be of the towns of Valletta, Mosta, Mdina, Sliema and Mellieha, there were pictures of the celebrations for the Silver Jubilee of King George and Queen Mary in May 1935, of the processions of crucifixes on Good Friday, of his mates in the Army, and pictures of ships and aircraft. We knew that some of the pictures were unusual and interesting and wanted to donate the album to a good home. Contact was made by email with a consultant at Heritage Malta, Antonio Espinosa Rodriguez, and we arranged to meet. Heritage Malta are responsible for the War Museum and the Maritime Museum.
It was only a few days before we left home that we realised that the pictures of aircraft would also interest the Aviation Museum, and because they were a separate group they needed to be contacted separately. Photographs can't be in two places, and to keep the album intact was important. Now she has a set of ISBN numbers and is therefore a publisher Pauline also wanted to have the option of using her father's memoirs as the basis for a short book, and so we wanted to be able to use the pictures ourselves. We had already scanned the pictures and burned a CD, so we did an extra one for the Aviation Museum. It was interesting to sit with Ray Polidano and listen as he looked at the pictures in turn and talked about Malta and the old ships and aircraft. Now retired, Ray was not a pilot but his career had been in banking with the HSBC before he started on the initial restoration of the Spitfire in his garage at home which eventually led to the formation of the Aviation Museum. The discussion was very useful and we hope to keep in touch with him.
We then went to our meeting with Antonio Espinosa Rodriguez and the official handing over of the album. The easiest route to town was through the Victoria Gate, and then we climbed towards Merchants Street. There was a church on our right, and since we were early Pete suggested we stopped to look inside. It was the Franciscan church of St Mary of Jesus. Originally built between 1595 and 1601, a new facade was added in the 1680s. On the right was a chapel with the Miraculous Crucifix, sculpted in 1630 by Friar Umile Pintomo (1600-39) from Palermo in Sicily. It looked familiar and checking against the photo album it was the crucifix which was shown being paraded through Valletta, lying on a bed of flowers. The procession was led by members of the Confraternity of the Crucifix which had been created in 1646 to propagate devotion towards it. The church was very richly decorated with red hanging drapes, crystal chandeliers and silver. Pete said it was the most beautiful church he had seen and I agreed. We have visited a lot of churches in many countries. I can't begin to imagine my father's reaction to the churches and rituals in Malta compared with those back home. Having taken 5 pictures of the Miraculous Crucifix in procession shows the impact it must have had on him.
We fought our way through crowds of shoppers in Merchant Street. There was a street market and so progress was slow. Eventually we found Heritage Malta in the Old University Buildings and went through the album of pictures with Antonio Espinosa Rodriguez. He added more information and it was clear that many of the photographs were unusual and interesting. He is going to write a letter of thanks for the donation, and was still considering which museum would be the best home. We requested he allow the Aviation Museum to take copies of the aircraft pictures, and hope he doesn't forget. A picture was taken of the Album changing hands.
As we were leaving he gave us complimentary tickets to visit the Palace of the Grand Masters and the Royal Armoury. The imposing castle, built around two central courtyards, is off the central Palace Square. The Palace is small, with only a few rooms on the first floor which can be visited. We saw just two sides of the four. The State Apartments are decorated with scenes that recall the Knights' history. One room with subdued lighting contained the tapestries which were also in the album. Malta's Parliament and President have offices inside the Palace, and we had to stand aside while some famous local politician passed through the corridors, exhorting us to have an enjoyable holiday. There were doors hiding offices for the Opposition Party, and for Whips.
The Royal Armoury is next door, and comprises two large display rooms, one full of weapons and the other of armour. Normal entrance to these is 2 Lm each. Last year there was talk of joining the euro and now we found it was a reality. Every item was priced in both Maltese pounds and euros, with a fixed exchange rate of 1 Lm = 2.33 euros. We were warned that in January 2008 the euro would become legal tender, so we made sure we spent all our maltese money. Pauline had been promised a piece of jewelry for her birthday, and we passed several shops where workmen manufactured silver and gold jewelry. By good luck she spotted a nice gold maltese cross in the first shop; last year it had been difficult to find a present and involved going into 7 or 8 different jewelry shops before finally finding something suitable.
We next visited The National War Museum which is next to Fort St. Elmo at the end of the Trio Ir Repubblika. We explained that we had just donated a photo album which was likely to be joining their collection and they insisted we had a good look round, free of charge, and allowed us to take a number of pictures to help identify the scenes in the album. The permanent exhibition at the National War Museum contains an ever-increasing collection of war relics which range from one of the three historic Gladiator aircraft, named "Faith", the George Cross awarded to the island for bravery by King George VI in World War II, to various weapons, uniforms and service vehicles. Some of the areas were closed this time, although the main exhibits were still on display. It gave us the chance to look at their displays of ships and aircraft, including the Aircraft carrier HMS Eagle to see if we could tell if the pictures in the album were of HMS Eagle or HMS Glorious. HMS Eagle was the first casualty, sunk just after she got her load of Spitfires into the air to fly into Malta, of the convoy which eventually got through in 1942 with supplies, including aircraft fuel on the Ohio which enabled Malta to keep fighting. The old film "Malta Story" we had bought last visit to Malta at the Aviation Museum included a lot about that convoy.
Before returning we looked into the Upper Barrakka Gardens which have a spectacular view of the Grand Harbour, one of the finest harbours in Europe. From its terrace we could enjoy the unique view of Fort Ricasoli, Fort St Angelo, Senglea, Vittoriosa and Kalkara and Marsa Creek. It also helped us spot the most direct route back to the quay and QE2. We had missed the firing of the Noon Day Gun, which had taken place while we were visiting the Palace of the Grand Masters. The old Saluting Battery stands on the lower part of the St Peter and St Paul Bastion. It was originally built in the 16th century and remained in continuous use up to 1960. The battery functioned as a master time keeper. The gun shots at sunrise and sunset marked the beginning and end of the working day, and the opening or closing of the town gates. The noon gun was fired to signal to mariners in the harbour the exact hour of mid-day which was necessary for the the regulation of watches on board ships for accurate navigation. In May 2005 it was decided to restore the Saluting Battery, complete with eleven original British 24-pounder cannon from the mid-late 19th century, and with volunteers dressed in uniforms of that time representing the Royal Malta Artillery. Last visit we had arrived by chance, just in time to see the firing and we have included a picture we took at that time. The Saluting Battery, Fort Rinella and the 100 ton gun and the Malta at War Museum in Vittoriosa all belong to the Malta Heritage Trust, which is distinct from Heritage Malta and the Aviation Museum. There is a lot of wartime cultural heritage activity in Malta.
Once back at the quay we explored the shops there looking for Meridiana Wines. We had emailed the vineyard to ask where we might buy some in Valletta and were told that it was available at the Cruise Terminal. We visited Meridiana on our last visit and we were fortunate that Josette Miceli-Farrugia herself was able to explain the history of the vineyard and do a tutored tasting of some of their wines. Meridiana set up their first experimental vineyard in the late 1980s and then in 1989 purchased the land in the middle of the old Ta' Qali airfield for the present vineyard of 19 hectares (47 acres). It was planted with chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and petit verdot in 1994 and 1995. The vineyard is drained by a herring-bone system laid by the RAF during WWII and so this collects rainwater which is stored in a large underground cistern. The 91,000 vines each have their own individual drip-feed irrigators. Meridiana's mission is "To produce world class wines of Maltese character". The grapes are all grown within a Maltese climate and soil and state-of-the-art technology is used with rigorous temperature control and some barrel fermentation and we have tasted three wines their the Isis, Nexus and Melqart and were very impressed with the Isis 2005, a chardonnay with tropical fruit flavours.
There were no wine shops on the quay but there was a duty free shop which sold mainly Maltese wines and had a good range of Meridiana's wines including plenty of the Isis 2006 we were seeking and the Nexus. Maltese wines are hand crafted and so are comparatively expensive. We paid 13 euros for the Isis, about £9. Just as we were leaving we spotted a lone bottle of the Syrah 2004 at 16 euros which we had drunk and enjoyed in 2006 at the Palazzo Santa Rosa restaurant in Mistra Bay. Meridiana wines are each named after an ancient god and the Syrah is named after Bel, the Phoenician god of fertility; we may save it for our anniversary.
During our search for the wine shop, we bumped into the pilot from Harbour Air who operate a 1954 de Haviland Otter seaplane and we watched the 1500 flight take off from alongside the ship. We went back down at 1530 in the hope that there was another trip - unfortunately not. The trips last 30 minutes and go past the Diggli Cliffs, the Blue Grotto, the prehistoric temples Hagar Qim and Mnajdri which are parts of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and overfly Gozo. In the morning there had been a longer flight which had landed at Gozo. We wished we had taken the 1500 flight instead of going back to QE2, but we had been very tired and thirsty.
The next day was at sea and was also the day we had chosen to take for our anniversary celebration on board. The anniversary package is available at present if ones anniversary is within two months of the start or end of the cruise. They always bake a cake and all the waiters gather round for birthdays and anniversaries to sing.
There is plenty to see in Gibraltar and we had looked forwards to repeating some of our last visit as well as some new things. Last time we had rushed round and visited St Michael's cave, met the famous apes and explored the Siege Tunnels. There are two colonies of the tail-less Barbary Macaques on Gibraltar. One group lives on the rock face - the other group live at the Apes Den, which can be visited from the cable car. The pictures here are from the last visit in 2005 where there is a lot more about Gibraltar. It was disappointed to only see it in the distance but given the choice between going to Malta or Gibraltar, Malta was our preferred option.
Later in the morning we passed Queen Mary 2, as she steamed towards the Mediterranean, and exchanged signals. Our whistle has much more character than hers.
The next day was at sea and being the last formal day on the schedule had a special dinner with the baked Alaska parade In fact it was a highly gastronomic day as there was also a cookery demonstration in the morning and the Gala midnight buffet to round it off. The Gala Buffet always has beautiful ice carvings and a tremendous amount of time is taken by the chefs in preparing the displays and set pieces. It always opens early for people to look round and take photographs - we always say we have enough photos but end up taking dozens more!
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