|Queen Victoria 2010 Cruises
Baltic Explorer and Jewels of the Mediterranean - Overview
This holiday consisted of two consecutive but separate cruises. We had wanted to go to Tallin and St Petersburg for a long time so we started by booking the Baltic Explorer Cruise whilst we were on the Queen Victoria on the cruise to Canada a year before. But it seemed very short compared to the cruise we were on so we looked at the cruises either side and decided it would be nice to continue for another 12 nights round the Mediterranean on the Mediterranean Jewels Cruise which included three ports we had not visited before, Barcelona, Monte-Carlo and Livorno which gave access to Florence which Pete had never been too. This gave us an overall cruise of 26 nights with tremendous contrasts within an overall theme of historic cities, diverse cultures and opulent buildings.
They were very ‘busy’ cruises with few days at sea and long days ashore. We were exceptionally lucky with the weather and the seas were unusually calm and the temperatures high, even for the places we were visiting. By the time we reached Russia the temperatures were exceptional and fires were raging round Moscow and you could see the smog and smell the smoke even 500 miles away at St Petersburg the first day. In general we prefer to do our own thing rather than use the Shore Excursions which meant we were even more exposed to the temperatures and walked far further than we would have done from an air conditioned coach. The exception were the two days in St Petersburg where one has little choice other than use organised guided trips, Russia still has many restrictions for the independent traveller even if we had arranged less restrictive visas.
It is difficult to compare or contrast the various cultures and places we have seen – we have suffered an overload of sumptious palaces, classic basilicas and churches, magnificent grounds, stunning fountains, not to speak or art and sculptures which one can normally only aspire to read about. We can now begin to understand the concept of ‘The Grand Tour’. If we had to pick a highlight it probably has to be St Petersburg because of the contrasts of the magnificent creations of the Romanovs and their collections to what one thinks of as Russia in the Soviet era is part of it. Another aspect is the investment and scale of the restoration that has and still is taking place. They have recreated the skills which most of the world has lost to restore a city and its magnificent palaces which Peter the Great created as a new capital to equal anything the world had to offer. It is no longer a capital but its Palaces and Museums are already the equal of any others the world can offer and the work continues.
Although St Petersburg may have had the edge on the secular the churches in Rome and Florence were memorable and there was far more historic depth in many of the other cities. The Pantheon in Rome still has one of the largest domes of any Basilica and its age is measured in millennia not centuries – the Romans invented concrete and it is the largest unreinforced structure made and it could not be recreated using current technology. Every city we visited added something and sent us off to the library and internet to understand a little better what we had seen and the cultural background. New capitals and cities to us on the first cruise were Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallin, St Petersburg, Helsinki and Kristiansand. On the second cruise the new destinations were Barcelona, Monte-Carlo, and Florence (from Livorno). Old favourites included Oslo, Rome (from Civitavecchia) and Gibraltar. We should also include Southampton where in transit we spent some happy hours in the aviation museum – one easily forgets Southampton was the home of Supermarine and the Spitfire as well as all the flying boats.
We will say little more about the ship itself here as we have already written a comprehensive Introduction to the Queen Victoria which we have updated with any small changes from this cruise. Life on board was ever bit what we have come to expect from Cunard and the Queen Victoria. There are now even more familiar faces to us from previous cruises, especially those on the QE2 and it is surprising how many times we are greeted, often by name, by staff who have not seen for many years from all levels from room stewards and waiters to bridge officers. The food is still as good as it ever was and the service excellent and attentive. Typical day starts with an hour in the gym before breakfast - for Pete anyway. Often we use the Lido for a light breakfast – have a good selection of fresh fruit although we miss the range of local exotic tropical specialities we had on the last world cruise. When we are at sea we often use the Restaurant for Lunch, if we have been out we may grab a snack in Lido on our return as we rarely find time to stop when ashore for more than the odd ice-cream. The tea ceremony in the Queens room with dainty sandwiches, cakes and, most important, scones with jam and cream all with impeccable white glove service as a harp or string quartet plays is still something to look forwards to, but not too often as there is not enough time in the day to undo the damage in the gym!
On short cruises most formal days have parties, one for new arrivals, one for Cunard Club members and special Senior Officers’ receptions. We almost always eat in the restaurant in the evenings where we have a table to ourselves by a window, another advantage of being a loyal regular with Cunard. We go to the late sitting at 2030 so we do not always go to the entertainment although we have tried to get to a few of ‘production shows’ and have one of the boxes – a extra payment gives one a reserved box, champagne and petit fours before then a half bottle of champagne and chocolates during the show as well as a picture of the cast. It makes a memorable evening.
The following parts cover the various ports in detail with appropriate map showing the route at the top – click on any name on the map to jump to that port or use the links below to start your journey. The details in these pages have been mainly written this time by Pauline with introductions and additional detail filled in by Pete. There is also a link to a comprehensive introduction to the Queen Victoria with many pictures of the inside as well as information on the underpinning technology provided by courtesy of the chief engineer on a previous cruise. All the pages have many pictures – hover over them for details and click for a larger ‘pop-up’ image. If you have a big screen and broadband then double click an image and then all Following images will be larger until you close the browser.