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|Cunard Queen Victoria 2012
A Magical Mystery Tour of the Ancient Wonders of the World - Part 1
This is our sixth voyage on the Queen Victoria and the Voyage to the Ancient Wonders was only 7 weeks after we returned from her voyage to the Black Sea and Turkish Splendours. In the intervening time the ship had been into dry dock for repairs to her Azipods, the complex units which contain the Electric Motors and Propellers which are also rotated to steer the ship (like giant outboards). She had then been off on three cruises including a long trip to the Caribbean. We had been at home celebrating Pauline's delayed birthday and our wedding anniversary. The main reason for buying this extra trip was to get away to better weather and take advantage of the really cheap GetAway fare from Cunard. When the ship is not full, as is often the case at this time of year, the aim of Cunard is to sail with all their staterooms occupied and so there are really special offers which are for a guaranteed grade of room and which have to be paid in full at booking. They are often under half the normal price and so is really good value if you can be flexible. Usually we book our future cruises on board ship because there are significant 'on board credits', but these do not apply to the GetAway fares nor to the World Voyages.
We had booked an outside stateroom and were pleased that our allocated room was again on 4 deck with its view of a lifeboat, and that we had the same excellent cabin steward Ernest.
The voyage was supposed to visit Vigo, Palma, Valletta, Rhodes, Alexandria, Port Said, Athens, Olympia and Malaga. It started with an interesting passage through the Bay of Biscay and the first scheduled formal night was cancelled. We had always wondered how the Queen Victoria and her sister the Queen Elizabeth would handle rough weather and we found out with winds of over 60 knots and big seas. The answer was surprisingly well and Pete got to the gym which has the worst location, high and right forward during the worst period of weather – it was however hard work hanging onto the cross trainer. After that it looked as if everything was going well, although the weather in Vigo and Palma was not as good as 2 months previously. Everyone we met was looking forward to Alexandria and Port Said for tours to visit Egypt and the pyramids. We had been informed in the beginning that the berth in Port Said was 'unsuitable' and the new plan was to spend two days including an overnight in Alexandria. This looked excellent for everyone, especially the staff who could get ashore in the evening. Then the news showed images of riots and demonstrations in Alexandria and as we left Malta it was announced that we would not go to Alexandria and the time there would be replaced by a visit to Cyprus and then to Kusadasi in Turkey. Arriving at Rhodes the weather was bad and we waited for several hours outside the port and then the port closed. This meant our plans changed again and we steamed away and arrived in Cyprus one day early, and then had an overnight in Kusadasi. By then even the staff were referring to 'The Magical Mystery Tour'. The list of actual ports was Vigo, Palma, Valletta, Cyprus, Kusadasi (overnight), Athens, Katakolon for Olympia and Malaga.
Changes to the ports meant changes to the dress codes, and instead of 6 formal, 6 semi-formal and 9 elegant casual we now had 5 formal, 6 semi-formal and 10 elegant casual. It did not really matter because most of the men wore ties, and the ladies wore long elegant dresses even if it was a casual evening. Another minor change we noticed was that birthday cakes are now for sale, and we never heard any waiters singing 'Happy Birthday' in our restaurant. Pauline was pleased she had celebrated her birthday on the previous cruise, under the old rules. There is also a new 'Behind the Scenes' tour which includes visits backstage in the Royal Court Theatre, the Engine Control Room, the Galley, the Bridge and 'many more' which costs $120. There have been free tours backstage in the theatre and to the Galley, but the other areas are not open to general visits so the new tour should sell well.
We departed from the Ocean Terminal which is the best of those at Southampton and everything went very smoothly so we were onboard not long after 1200. Once aboard we rapidly found familiar faces and were greeted by name by many of the staff who remembered us from previous cruises. Our dinner table was in different place - we had requested one of the tables above the double-down circular stairs from the upper to the lower level which has excellent views into the restaurant and was good for listening to the music. Our cabin was just down the corridor from the one we had 6 weeks before and we had the same excellent room steward who already knew our foibles so we had good start. We will not say a lot about the Queen Victoria as we have written at length already about previous cruises and in the page which is specifically an Introduction to Queen Victoria
The main problem on Cunard ships is putting on weight, the food is generally very good both in the main Britannia restaurant and in the self service Lido where we usually have breakfast and often lunch as well. The answer to this is the gym and Pete always goes to the Gym when it opens at 0600 for an hour or so and tries to average a 500 calorie burn on the cross trainers or other machines along with stretches and a few weights. On the last trip he exceeded that by quite a margin as there was very little competition for machine time unlike on world cruises when people queue at 0600 and you are rationed to 30 minutes on a machine and he actually found he had lost a couple of pounds by the time he was home. He was not quite so enthusiastic this time but only missed one morning completely when we had a very early start to meet up with a friend in the other half of Cyprus. Pauline's foot has largely recovered from the Bunion operation so she also came up many mornings for a half an hour on the rowing machine or treadmill if it was not available.
The first thing we did when we got on board (after lunch that is!) was to go down to the Pursers office and book Boxes for two of the shows - 'Celtic Heartbeat' and 'Victoriana'. We then went to the Todd English Restaurant to book for our free lunch there - a benefit of being regulars with Diamond status (over 150 days), in our case by quite a margin. Luca who we have known for a long time is now the Maitre d' of Todd English. We found there was a special offer fixed price for dinner for the first three days so we booked for day two, and booked lunch for 6 days later on another sea day. Cunard Line has a strong Cunard World Club of repeat passengers, and this cruise had 161 Diamond, 275 Platinum and 539 Gold members.
After one day at sea we reached Vigo, a major Spanish seaport and shipbuilding centre with a strong fishing fleet and mussel farms. We have visited Vigo several times before including a few weeks ago when we were on a cruise to the Black Sea - we should not have visited that time but there had been a last minute change in schedule. It is possible to take a tour to the famous pilgrimage town of Santiago di Compostela from Vigo but we had already been there and had no wish to repeat the trip - it is a very long day and even when the ship is berthed for a full day the bus tours leave early. Last visit we were given maps and information on the nearby town of Pontevedra and our intention had been to walk across town and take a train - unfortunately the weather was far from good and the views would have been restricted and we were also a bit late in mooring so it would have been difficult to catch the train we had intended to. The first train departs Vigo at 0849 and we would have been lucky to be able to rush across for the 0940 and the next at 1033 would have not left us a lot of time. We therefore decided to stay in Vigo and fill in a few things we had missed last time. We ended up covering a lot of the same ground that we wrote up at qv12bs-p1.htm so we will keep this part short and only cover the truly new in any detail.
Our first target was the local market - last visit we had bought some local cheeses which had been very very good and had proved to popular at Pauline's party so we needed to restock! The same cheeses were available from the same lady so that was easy. We spent a while looking round at the local fish and meat before leaving. We then started off to climb up towards the El Castro Fortress, passing the Santa Maria cathedral which was open so we had a quick look inside before a service started. The shop opposite was still selling almond shortbread of Santiago - we had bought several last visit and used them at the party and other entertaining so they were not on our shopping list this time. The buildings had pretty iron balconies and we took a few more pictures.
This time we did not go right up to the park and fortress as our main intention was to go into the outdoor museum, where the remains of the Oppidum of Vigo have been excavated and three buildings of the original style have been constructed which portray the site as it would have been in Roman times. To the south a network of channels have been found indicating some type of manufacturing was taking place there. Entry is free and there are board-walks to prevent damage of the ground. Unfortunately it was again closed and once more we could only look through the fence!
We then turned across towards the railway station and came upon an area with a lot more shops for locals and including a small Dia supermarket where we bought some water and some ridiculously low priced sparking wine, a method champenoise, for 1.7 euros a bottle and another cheese in case we entertained over Christmas. By now we were getting quite loaded down so we started slowly downhill towards the ship, reaching the MARCO Contemporary Arts Museum on the corner of the Calle del Principe. This wide road was full of interesting expensive shops and gave a new route back to the El Sireno, a stunning statue on top of two tall granite blocks - very difficult to photograph well but this time the light seemed better. We turned towards the Theatre and then walked through narrow streets to the Jardines de Elduayen and along the waterside to the ship.
Once we had a quick lunch in the Lido we decided to go out again for a quick walk round. Most of the shops were shut - it was siesta time. We went up to one of the best viewpoints short of going right up to the fort with good views down on the harbour and container port and out over most of the huge natural harbour. We had taken pictures from up there before but had not noticed the bronze statue of a nymph playing two flutes whilst flying on a Griffin just behind the viewpoint. It was installed in 2006. As we were taking pictures a local came up and gave us bit of history of the area as a centre for fishing as well as the statue. The centre of the town was now deserted, except for a few people in the cafes.
In the evening we had our first dinner in the Todd English restaurant. It was even better than we had expected and it is worth occasionally paying the supplement to get a meal which is better than any of the places we go to in the UK. The choices are not huge, unlike the portions and richness, so it is for special occasions - once or perhaps twice a cruise.
We took the recommendation and Pete tried Todd's Truffled Potato Love Letters, Burro Fusso, Parmesan and Madeira Glaze whilst Pauline had the Scallop Tart - Sliced Sea Scallops, Roasted Cepes and Bacon Rosemary Tart. Pete followed with a Sirloin Steak with Sunny Side Quail's egg, Fava Bean, Garlic Chive Pesto and Chanterelles. Whilst Pauliine had a memorable Paella, the best ever she said.
Usually Pauline adores the Chocolate Fallen Cake with Vanilla ice-cream and Raspberry sauce but after the paella she was looking for something smaller - the banana creme brulee with toffee caramel and fried banana fritter. Pete who is not keen on dark chocolate had the White Chocolate Bread Pudding with home made Strawberry Ice cream and White Chocolate Fudge. Having completed our meal our neighbours who were celebrating a 60th birthday received their large chocolate birthday cake and offered us a slice. We had already eaten too much but had no choice, even Pete who does not really like dark chocolate. Overall it was an excellent meal. Fortunately the next day was a sea day!
Pauline spent the morning at the Watercolour classes leaving Pete to go to the cooking demonstration in the Grand Lobby. This time it was a Pastry demonstration by the Executive Pastry Chef Renato Dizon and Ronald Patajal. Ronald produced a number of decorative pieces in 'pulled' sugar while Renato prepared several popular sweets including the Fallen Chocolate cake which Pauline adores. They gave out recipes and Pete who has never been that keen on dark chocolate has sworn not to ever touch it again now he knows the contents and calories involved.
Recipe for QV Chocolate Fallen Cake
Ingredients for 8 portions: Manjari Chocolate (185g), Dark Chocolate (100g), Melted butter (290g), Sugar (260g), Flour (180g), Egg yolks (130g), Eggs (6).
Method: Melt chocolate and butter together. Whip sugar, egg yolks and whole eggs until double in volume. Add melted chocolate and butter and continue mixing. Add flour. Put into a lined mould and bake at 175C for 14 minutes. Serve with raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream.
As we are writing this at the end of the cruise Pauline is trying to work out which dress if any she can squeeze into for the Senior Officer's Party and Formal Dinner.
This was our second visit to Palma this year as we had also come on the Queen Victoria on our cruise to the Black Sea. Majorca is the largest of the Balearic islands, and Palma is the capital city. It is one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain. The Queen Victoria arrived after breakfast and berthed in a different berth so we had a much more direct access to the shuttle buses, instead of the long walks on overhead walkways to access them, so we were away quickly once the ship was cleared.
The shuttle buses went to the Cathedral area which could be seen in the distance. The estimated time of the journey was 25 minutes but in practice it was nearer to 15 minutes. It was just too far for us and most other people, to walk. The journey along the waterfront is scenic, and eventually we reached the hotels we remember from our previous holidays in Palma – including the Melia Victoria, then the Paleas Athena and finally the Costa Azul.
The Cathedral La Seu, is a significant and beautiful Gothic building and we spent a long time inside on our last visit. It was founded in 1235 by King James I of Aaragon who vowed to erect the finest Christian church, showing that christianity had replaced Islam in Majorca. Construction began in 1306 and was completed in 1601. It is on a cliff with just the coastal road separating it from the ocean and is clearly seen when arriving by sea. From the drop-off point it was directly ahead. Tourist horse-drawn carriages waited in line by the Almudaina Palace which was nearby and originally the residence of the Moorish rules. The museum comprises three rooms; the first is the Vermells sacristy with an enormous silver gilt monstrance in the centre, and an interesting small travel altar that belonged to King James I which is a book containing relics. The next room is the Gothic Chapter House with its gothic art, and then the Baroque chapter house. The latter was restored in 2001. There is a small altarpiece that exhibits the reliquary of the True Cross. There are a number of other reliquaries in display cabinets, including small pieces of bone. On either side of the room are two enormous silver candelabra with seven arms, made in Barcelona by Joan Matons between 1704 and 1718.
The cathedral is a large open space with three apses. The Central Apse is where the Eucharist is solemnly celebrated, and is the old Royal Chapel. The single nave was reworked in 1904-1914 by Antonio Gaudi who moved the original choir stalls and the altarpieces. The right apse, the Adoration of the Eucharist, contains a ceramic mural and five stained glass windows by Miquel Barcelo. It dates from 2007. The left apse contains the Corpus Christi alter-piece by Jaume Blanquer (1626-1641) and the central theme is the institution of the Last Supper. As well as known as the Cathedral of Space, it is also the Cathedral of Light with 87 windows and 8 rose windows. The two main rose windows at each end of the central nave, bring multi-coloured light into the nave. The window near the main altar is the largest Gothic rose window in the world.
Although there was already a line waiting to enter the cathedral through the Alms House next to the Portal de l’Almoina (the Alms Door) and the entry was 6 Euros we wondered whether to have another quick look round but finally decided to miss it out this time, mainly because it was very overcast and we felt we would be disappointed without the marvellous light from sun shining through those rose windows. Likewise we saw little point in revisiting the Arab Baths which date back to the 10th century or the Museo Can Morey de Santmarti where a selection of original graphic works by Salvador Dali are displayed in an elegant 16th century house - we spent far too long last time looking at memorable images including La Mythologie, Goethe ‘faust’, La Tauromachie (bullfighting) with the Giraffe on Fire and the Tiroir (drawer in the brain).
Instead we explored the old areas of narrow streets just to the west of the Avgda d'Antoni Maura, weaving our way back and forth to avoid the main streets as much as possible - fascinating but we have no idea of exactly where we went! We surfaced at the Avinguda Jaume III, full of people and tourists going into the El Corte Ingles department store. There are two in Palma but this is the easiest to find. We walked beyond to the Passeig Mallorca which is bisected by a shallow canal, formerly the city moat. It looked interesting and the ship was just visible in the far distance. There were signs to the Es Balaud Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art sited in the fortifications which had some interesting large sculptures in steel outside - Pauline was very taken by one which she thought echoed the lines of a bucket dredge. We did not go inside but explored the ramparts which gave good views across the city to the Cathedral. Then we dived back into the narrow streets towards the Placa Major and its underground shops and supermarket. Reaching the broad Passeig des Born we hesitated, then continued to the Pl Rei Juan Carlos 1.
Here the two stone sphinxes guard the end of the main promenade. Then Unio runs eastward to the Placa Mercat with two identical Modernist buildings, commissioned by a wealthy banker, Josep Casasayas in 1908. Each is a masterpiece of flowing, organic lines, with balconies and decorated with fern-leaf and butterfly motifs. They were glorious, but difficult to photograph because of the overhanging trees in the park. The contrasting sturdy is nearby and then further down the street is the magnificent Gran Hotel, also Modernist, and built in 1903. It reminds us of home with its turret tower, balconies, columns and bay windows although we do not have the same brilliant colourful ceramics.
The Placa Major was just a short walk ahead. There is a small useful supermarket here and many more market stalls, all hidden underground. We bought some more cheeses including a Mahon cheese made in Minorca which we had enjoyed when we had stayed there. We also bought some local speciality cakes , the first called an Ensaimada which was made in the form of a spiral (like an overgrown cumberland sausage), sprinkled with icing sugar and with a sweet pumpkin filling. We were keen to try it and it looked tremendous value at 2.5 Euros but it was far to big for us eat by ourselves so we distributed slices to several of the staff who we knew had sweet tooths. We also bought a Coca de Turron Duro which looks like slices of nougat with a fine white wafer on top and bottom which was sealed and long dated which is joining the Christmas gastronomic collection.
Our return to the ship was a copy of the previous cruise, along shopping streets to the Placa de Cort with the olive tree and Town Hall, displaying giant carnival figures. The main entry of the Parliament building was nearby. This neo-gothic building was designed by Joaquin Pavla in 1882 and was constructed over the old city prison. The direct route took us behind the Parliament building and down the steps between the Palau March Museum and the Palau de l'Almudaine, and then down through the Horf del Rei gardens past the cathedral.
The voyage continues with a visit to one of our favourite destinations Valletta - Malta