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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2014
Mediterranean Cruise -  Part 1
Map Toulon, France Barcelona, Spain Civitavecchia for Rome, Italy Monte Carlo, Monaco Monte Carlo, Monaco Livorno for Florence and Pisa, Italy
Map Civitavecchia for Rome, Italy Corfu  - Greece Dubrovnik - Croatia Kotor, Serbia and Montenegro Kotor, Serbia and Montenegro Venice - Italy

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Friday 14 November Flight Heathrow - Rome and on to Civitavecchia, Italy

Saturday 15 November - At sea

After departing Civitavecchia on Friday at 20.30, the slow and indirect cruise to Livorno was a surprise. At times the QE was only making 6.8 knots and then in the wrong direction. We calculated that she could have gone directly to Livorno overnight, it is not far, but assumed that there was no berth available until Sunday,we latter found that there is a company requirement for at least two days at sea during a week cruise!

Sunday 16 November - Livorno for Florence and Pisa, Italy

Livorno is the gateway to Tuscany. It is ideal for visiting Florence and Pisa. Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance and home to the Duomo, the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio. Here the Medici fostered a city-state whose cultural legacy is as great as classical Athens. Giants like Dante, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Galileo infused the West with a new creative spirit. Then there is Pisa, Florence's rival for political power. Pisa was a brash, commercial seafaring town rivaling the great maritime powers of Venice and Genoa. The city was a leader in art and architecture second only to Florence. On a previous voyage on the Queen Victoria in 2010 we had taken a train to Florence, which was very enjoyable. This time our target was Pisa.

We arrived at Livorno just before 0800 and were greeted by rain, heavy rain, more rain and lightning. Fortunately we only planned to go to Pisa today; Most visitors on organised tours were going to Florence, a longer journey and a more spread out city.

It is not possible to walk from the port and there was a free shuttle bus to the Via Cogorana, close to the Tourist Info Office and the Piazza Grande. The shuttle bus crossed and re-crossed little canals with rows of small boats. There are two choices for the trip from Livorno to Pisa - the CPT bus No 10 from the Piazza de la Republicca or a Train. The Tourist Office recommended the train because they were more frequent, quicker, and only cost 5 Euros return. First we bought a Livorno Card for 3 Euro, which permitted unlimited travel on the buses in the town for the day, and so it was easy to catch the no 1 bus from H&M in the Via Grande to the railway station. Single journey tickets are 1.20 Euros in advance or 1.70 Euros on the bus, so the Livorno Card was a similar price to two bus trips and much more convenient giving us flexibility to go round Livorno if we had time on our return.

Arriving at the station at 1010 we discovered there had been problems with trains so we easily caught the 0919 regional train to Pisa which was running one hour late! It is less than 20 kms by train, but would have been 30 kms by bus along the coast and hence more expensive as tickets seem to be priced into distance bands. The journey time by train is under 20 minutes; regional trains are much cheaper than InterCity or Frecciabianca and we were warned to avoid the train to Torino which was first stop Pisa because it was at a supplement. Tickets have to be stamped by a machine before travel, otherwise there is the possibility of a large fine from the inspector. Note, one must stamp the tickets before boarding otherwise there may also be a fine.

 

It was still damp in Pisa and we bought a cheap umbrella (4 Euro) to replace the one Pete had lost en route. There are buses in Pisa too but it was a pleasant stroll to the tourist sites. Starting from the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II with its Post Office, there are two alternative routes to cross the River Arno and reach the famous Campo dei Miracoli. We chose the shorter route along the Via Fr. Crispi and the Ponte Solferino. This gave a good view of some of the Palaces on the Lungarno Pacinotti and Gambacorti quays. Continuing along the Via Roma, we passed the Orto Botanico gardens and were soon confronted by the Cathedral, and its scaffolding. The fortifications of the city wall were beyond.

Entry to the Piazza del Duomo UNESCO World Heritage site is free but tickets have to be obtained to climb the Leaning Tower (expensive at 18 Euros), enter the Cathedral (free), the Baptistery (5 Euros), the Camposanto cemetery (5 Euros), the Museo delle Sinopie and Museo Opera del Duomo. Tours to climb the Leaning Tower are every 20 minutes and any bags have to be left in lockers. There were no queues and so we immediately joined the next group at 1120. Construction began in 1173 and was completed much later, in 1319. The problem was the foundations and with only 3 stories built it leaned because of being built on waterlogged sand. The rest was built on top to try and compensate. In 1993 it was reported leaning by 5.4m, compared to 3.8m in 1817 and just 1.4m in 1350. Major repair work was needed and in 1990 it was closed until 2001, and is now open again. Inside the tower there is a line hanging with a weight to show the difference from the vertical -it almost touches the wall 3 metres up whilst central at the top. There are over 300 narrow marble steps to climb to gain around 180 feet in height, so only the fit should attempt it especially as the steps are polished marble and very well worn. There are two viewing floors, at the top with the 7 bells tuned to a musical scale and on the floor below. There are 4 large bells dating from 1262, 1572, 1654 and 1719 and 3 small ones.

1st bell: L'Assunta, cast in 1654 by Giovanni Pietro Orlandi, weight 3,620 kg (7,981 lb)
2nd bell: Il Crocifisso, cast in 1572 by Vincenzo Possenti, weight 2,462 kg (5,428 lb)
3rd bell: San Ranieri, cast in 1719–1721 by Giovanni Andrea Moreni, weight 1,448 kg (3,192 lb)
4th bell: La Terza (1st small one), cast in 1473, weight 300 kg (661 lb)
5th bell: La Pasquereccia or La Giustizia, cast in 1262 by Lotteringo, weight 1,014 kg (2,235 lb)
6th bell: Il Vespruccio (2nd small one), cast in the 14th century and again in 1501 by Nicola di Jacopo, weight 1,000 kg (2,205 lb)
7th bell: Dal Pozzo, cast in 1606 and again in 2004, weight 652 kg (1,437 lb)

The Leaning Tower is the bell tower of the cathedral and its beautiful and delicate design complements that of the cathedral's Romanesque white and grey striped marble façade. The Cathedral was a spectacular building, seen from the top of the leaning tower, but its beauty was marred by all the scaffolding when viewed from the ground. Entry to the Cathedral for tourists was indeed free but on Sunday morning there are a series of Masses, and as one service ended then another began. There were not many worshippers, but it was not possible to walk around inside, nor to take any photos. Rather surprisingly there were several police controlling people at the back and on their mobile phones as well as the other staff actively preventing pictures. We admired the Baptistry and the Camposanto from the outside, collected our rucksack from the lockers and continued our explorations. There were now lots of people taking the classic photos with their hands pushing back the side of the leaning tower, and it was good to escape into the quiet streets, past the Archbishop's palace and the church of Sant'Anna towards the ruins of the Roman thermal baths near the Lucca Gate in the walls. They are described as the ruins of Nero's palace and only fragments remain.

Having glimpsed the church of Santa Caterina from the top of the leaning tower it was only a short detour to go inside, and, in contrast, here it was full of worshippers and although it was too dark to walk around there were no security guards. It seemed like a nice family church, and was filled with all ages. It is dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria who was martyred in about 305. It is a large building with a single nave and no interior pillars, and the leaflet (in french) indicates that the remarkable white marble facade was completed in 1326. It was noted that there was a fire in 1650 which destroyed some stained glass and damaged tombs.

The nearby Piazza Martiri d. Liberta with its flowers and memorial statue of Peter Leopold I (1829) led to the Via San Lorenzo which then continued towards the Piazza dei Cavalieri. On all four sides of the large open space are beautiful public buildings, schools, palaces and churches. Palazzzo del consiglio dei Cavalieri dell'ordine di S Stefano (1603). Pisa University dates from 1472 and this is the University area. The ancient church of San Frediano, first mentioned in 1061 and restored in 1964, was full of smiling students. Reaching the River Arno we passed the Agostini palace on our way to the Ponte di Mezzo where we were going to cross the river. The sun was shining and the beautiful palaces were reflected in the waters.

The Municipio is now housed in the Palazzo Gambacortij, which was built at the end of the 14th century by joining together earlier buildings and has the striped grey and white marble facade typical of the region. It overshadows the little white open market hall,. The side road, the Corso Italia, would usually be a busy pedestrian shopping street, but was quiet on Sunday. Soon the railway station was visible in the distance, beyond the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

With plenty of time before the next train at 1412 the La Borsa Gelaterie in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II was too much temptation. We adore Italian gelato. A small supermarket sold local red wine, Ghibellino Rosso Toscana IGT, at 8 Euros which seems expensive but that was for 1.5 litres and everywhere else was closed on a Sunday. The trains were back to normal and our train left exactly on time. In Livorno we waited for bus no 2, as an alternative to the direct return on bus no 1. It took longer, but we saw the Sorgenti and Garibaldi districts which were mainly local apartments, and then the Piazza Garibaldi and the Fortezza Nuova before getting off at the Duomo in the Via Grande. Interesting buildings in the area included the synagogue and the technical college.

We enjoyed our trip to Pisa and were looking forward to a future visit to Livorno to explore the Tuscany region. On board we waited for the planned departure at 1830 and then it was announced that due to the bad weather and the weather predicted for the next day in Monte Carlo at anchor, the Queen Elizabeth would be staying in Livorno for a further 24 hours so we got our wish. We will then sail directly to Toulon.

Monday 17 November - An Extra day in Livorno instead of Monte Carlo

The next morning was cold, dismal and there was more lightning. Pete saw it from the gym at 0600 and it was still going at midday. Fortunately Cunard provide free umbrellas, although that has disadvantages as it marked us as cruise ship passengers whilst we normally dress down. The shuttle bus service began at 0800 and at 1000 we set off into Livorno. Long journeys did not appeal with the cold, rain and bad visibility although tours had been arranged to go to Florence, Pisa and Lucca. We had considered Lucca but in better weather. The cathedral in Livorno, which is open in the mornings from 0900 to 1200, was quiet and peaceful, with only 2 other people inside. They are proud of their painting of the head of Christ crowned with thorns, by Fra Angelico dated 1438.

The small streets behind, towards the Scali Saffi, had open air market stalls selling vegetables and clothes, but the indoor Central Market was better. We like to purchase local delicacies, often cooked meat, cheeses and pastries. Here it was just the start of the white truffle season but no truffles were for sale, only olive oil flavoured with truffles. We did find a local pecorino toscana with black truffles, 25 Euros per kilo, a beautiful and fragrant local specialty cheese. We also bought a couple of different ages of Padano, a local Tuscan cheese which looked to be another hard cheese of the Pecorino and Parmesan type. The older one we bought had, we were told, been aged for 16 months and we do not know about the younger one. We also bought a local artisan hard cheese some of which was vac wrapped for us. All the stalls seemed to provide a vacuum wrapping service which is ideal for taking back home. Unfortunately we already have far too much at home for the time available and if we are not careful we will be taking some with us on the Queen Victoria over Christmas. Even the Verandah restaurant no longer has proper unpasteurised cheeses from France. We wished we could carry wine home too because local red and white wines labeled Central Market Livorno were only 1.60 Euros per bottle, and there were large vats with taps for filling empty wine bottles with cheaper wine. It is always instructive to try the typical wines the locals drink, often very good on the spot, but they never travel well. On Monday the fish market was quiet but that enabled us to better admire the building.

Exiting the market from a different door we saw the Grand Canal, and then continued along the side until reaching the Piazza della Repubblica (yes it has two bs), Piazza Garibaldi and the Fortezza Nuova. This was the area known as New Venice because of all its canals and moorings for small craft, and included the moat surrounding the fortress which was closed for reconstruction. We like the idea of commuting to work by boat. One sturdy tower stood out and this was the church of St Catherine, an unusual design with different building materials at different levels. The weather was not improving and it was time to walk back to the shuttle bus, passing various local government buildings, and then a late lunch.

Verandah Restaurant and the Degustation Menu

In the evening we had booked booked to eat the Degustation Menu in the Verandah restaurant. This is a five course fixed menu, followed by cheese and a tasting plate of four desserts. It costs a supplement of $35 each and we are often tempted instead of the a la carte. This time we asked our sommelier, Lloyd, for his choice of wine by the glass to go with each course. It was more expensive than our usual bottle of wine, but well worth the extra, and the total was equivalent to 7 glasses whereas a bottle only contains 5.

Queen Elizabeth Verandah Restaurant
Degustation Menu 2014

Petite salade de coquillages et de homard, velours de tomate "grappa" et avocat
Lobster and shellfish Salad with Avocado & Vine Ripened Tomato Jelly

Riesling, Carmel Road USA
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Torchon de foie gras de canard mi-cuit a la poire, nougat brulé
Duck Foie Gras with Pears, Cooked "au Torchon", Served with Nougat Brulee

Carmes de Rieussec, Sauternes
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Pigeon roti, enéves, ahatoignes et coings, sauce "Grond Veneur" au chocolat amer
Roast Pigeon Breast, Endive, Chestnuts and Ouince, "Grand Veneur" Sauce and bitter chocolate

Passopisciaro, Sicily
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Poélée de Saint-Jacques et langoustines au beurre de citron vert, pates imprimées d'herbes, emulsion cremeuse de cepes
Scallops and Langoustines, Sauteed in a Lime Butter, with Herb Printed Pasta, Creamy and Truffle Emulsion

Sancerre, Domaine du Nozay
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Grenadin de boeuf poelé aux morilles, legumes primeurs a la truffe, pommes soufllées, jus réduit au modere
Organic Beef Fillet Sautéed with Morel Mushrooms, Baby Vegetables with Block Truffle, Soufflé Potatoes, Madeira Glaze

Quimera, Argentina
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Fromage
French Cheese Trolley
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l'Assiette gourmande
Quartet of desserts

Muscat de Rivesaltes, Languedoc
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Coffee and Mignardise

 

Some other examples of Verandah food from the standard evening menu

 

Tuesday 18 November - Toulon, France

 

Toulon harbour is known as one of the best natural anchorages on the Mediterranean, and is one of the largest harbours in Europe. A naval arsenal and shipyard was built in 1599, and small sheltered harbour, the Veille Darse, was built in 1604–1610 to protect ships from the wind and sea. The shipyard was greatly enlarged by Cardinal Richelieu, who wished to make France into a Mediterranean naval power. Further additions were made by Jean-Baptiste Colbert and Vauban. Toulon is the base for France's Mediterranean fleet and outside our window we saw a row of various ships. As we arrived an aircraft carrier was gently pulled out by tugs, and set off. Queen Elizabeth was berthed some distance from the city, but local free shuttle boats provided a good service throughout the day, a twenty minute run. After two days in Livorno it was a nice change to be in France, Pauline's French is excellent unlike her Italian.

As well as being a naval city, Toulon is also a tourist base with gardens and beaches only a few minutes drive away. The little tourist train waiting at the port confirmed their enthusiasm to satisfy every taste, and there was another one waiting when we disembarked the shuttle boat in the city. It is apparently only 15 minutes to the beach using the tourist train. We preferred to walk around, and set off along the promenade towards the Naval Base. Unfortunately the Naval Museum was closed on Tuesday, unlike the rest of France where everywhere is shut on Monday. The Naval Museum was founded in 1814 during the reign of the Emperor Napoleon. It is located on Place Monsenergue behind what was formerly the monumental gate to the Arsenal of Toulon, built in 1738. The museum building, along with the clock tower next to it, is one of the few buildings of the port and arsenal which survived Allied bombardments during World War II. It contains displays tracing the history of Toulon as a port of the French Navy. Highlights include large 18th-century ship models used to teach seamanship and models of the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle. The Arsenal next door was closed to tourists too. We crossed the Place d'Armes, empty in the early morning, passing the Law Courts to see the War Memorial and the Park of Alexander I of Yugoslavia. This was at the edge of our map and clearly the city was small and we would be able to visit it completely during the day. The town is known for its many fountains in the squares, many have been restored and are now in full flow.

The Avenue General Leclerc is a wide street which leads past the Municipal Art Museum (closed until 1200) and with a useful, if small, Carrefour supermarket opposite. The railway station, glimpsed while waiting at the traffic lights, showed regular trains to Marseille and along the coast, and contained a good newsagent and bookshop. The upper town, between the Boulevard de Strasbourg and the railway station, was built in the mid-19th century under Louis Napoleon. The project was begun by Baron Haussmann, who was prefect of the Var in 1849. One possibility for a future visit is to catch the cable car to Le Faron, where there are fine views of the countryside and coast.

Returning to the Avenue General Leclerc we were obviously in theatreland, and were encouraged by a sighting of the small tourist train. The next highlight was the Fountain of the Three Dolphins, but while searching for it we found a large street market of clothes, fruit and vegetables and flowers and Pete was instructed to purchase 10 Bird of Paradise (for 10 euros) for Pauline - he gave them to her immediately so she had the unenviable job of carrying a huge bunch of sharp flowers the remainder of the day! The market is daily on the Cours Lafayette and is in a pedestrian area, part of the historic centre. There were several fountains, but none with dolphins. However we passed the door of the Cathedral of Saint Mary our lady of Seds, admired the stained glass windows, and then the next square did have the fountain. We knew it had three dolphins, and was covered with greenery, but we were surprised there was so little water. Time had passed and the Municipal Art Museum was open and we looked at the two floors of work by local artists showing views of the town and the waterfront. The Carrefour had a very cheap bottle of water which would become the temporary container for the flowers.

It had been a very pleasant low key day, there had been many interesting buildings to look at as well as the squares and fountains with markets at one end and upmarket shops at the other. For longer stays there are theatres and an opera.

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Content revised: 27th September, 2015