|Cunard Queen Victoria 2013
Mediterranean Discovery Cruise - Part 1
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This is our eigth voyage on the Queen Victoria and was only five weeeks after our return from our last cruise to The Black Sea and Turkish Splendours. The Mediterranean Discovery cruise was much shorter and only 12 days, added whilst we were on board last visit as an escape from the winter weather and because the GetAway fare price was so good for one of the cabins with an 'obstructed view'. The main attraction however was the itinery which took us to new places (Cadiz, Valencia and La Coroba) and favourites we wanted to visit again such as Barcelona where we wanted to see Gaudi's famous Basilica of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family). A short cruise meant also meant we needed less luggage, and so could go to Southampton by train.
We departed on Monday 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. Several asked us if we had enjoyed our vacation home and were glad to see us back. Our dinner table was in a slightly different place to the last cruise and was beside a window - we prefer 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 but they can not be reserved as priority is given to those with wheelchairs as they are close to the entry. Our ocean view cabin on 4 deck, had a good view between two small lifeboats. Most of the cabins on deck four have 'obstructed views', that is a window with a perfect view of the side of a lifeboat but no view of the ocean! We liked the cabin and would deliberately choose it next time. 4 deck is a good place to be as it is only one floor down to the restaurants and Grand theatre and a reasonable climb of 4 flights to the Lido, Gym and Coffee making facilities. Regular readers will know we like our coffee and bring our own ground coffee and filter mugs rather than use room service or the machines on 9 deck. We will not say a lot more about the Queen Victoria as we have written at length already aboutprevious 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.
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 one of the shows - 'Celtic heartbeat'. We then went to the new Verandah 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. The meals in the Verandah currently have a fixed price supplement for three courses, $15 for lunch and $24 for dinner, and are well worth the extra once or twice during a voyage. There are only 6 days at sea on this cruise, four of these sea days were formal, so that left only two days which were suitable. A serious long lunch does not fit well with a serious cocktail party and evening celebration menu. We therefore decided to book lunch on our first sea day. Cunard Line has a strong Cunard World Club of repeat passengers, this cruise had 118 Diamond members so one needs to get in early to book lunches on a short cruise! We ended up with just the single lunch and and two evening meal. We will let the pictures speak for themselves!
Monday was a day of cooking demonstrations and exhibitions and eating. First was a demonstration in the Grand Theatre of some of the signature dishes of the Verandah Restaurant by their chef which included some of our favourites, the Lamb Wellington, the Monkfish with scallops and an interesting smoked started which is served under a bell jar full of smoke. Pete arrived early and secured one of the boxes with an excellent view down of the demonstration and caught it all on video when he realised it was covering the food we would be eating. The cooking area has screens on the front to show the view from above to those 'underneath' in the front rows. This was followed by an exhibition of various other dishes with chances to sample some of them in the Queens room where the Verandah dishes were also put on display.
To round this off we had booked lunch in the Verandah that day, before knowing what preceded it - very fortunate.
The Captain's welcome parties were all held on the evening of the second day so it was very much a day of food and drink.
There is usually a stop somewhere down the West coast of Spain or Portugal before passing through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. After three consecutive cruises which all stopped at Vigo we were pleased to go somewhere new. Cadiz is an interesting town, and it is also the port for tours to Seville. It was our first visit and everyone told us that it was an excellent town to walk around, and within easy reach of the cruise terminal.
Cadiz is said to be the oldest inhabited town in the western world, with 3,000 years of history. It is a major port, and is near to Jerez for exporting sherry and brandy. Seville is 80 miles away. Cadiz is a compact city, and is almost an island because it is circular with a narrow join to the rest of Spain. It is easy walking, and the Plaza de Espana is just outside the dock gates. We continued walking along the city walks, through the Alameda de Apodaca and Alameda Marquis de Comillas gardens, and along the Genoves Park, until we reached the Castle of Santa Catalina. It was closed, but maybe we were just too early.
Small fishing boats sat in the Playa de la Caleta, which is a nice sandy beach,overlooked by a naval building (closed) and the derelict Hospital-cum-Orphanage temporarily in use for parking. Rumours are that it might become a new 5-star hotel. At the other end of the beach, a narrow long causeway led to the Castillo de San Sebastian. It is an enormous empty site with a central lighthouse, and would have been a major military defence when its guns were installed. The suggested tourist walk then went inland, but we preferred to continue along the seafront to the Roman Theatre and the old Cathedral, now the Iglesia Santa Cruz.
The new Cathedral next door was built between 1722 and 1838 so is a mixture of different architectural styles. The high altar is in the form of a tabernacle, supported by paired columns. The statue of the Immaculate Conception dates from the 17th century. The choir stalls predate the construction, dating from 1702. The crypt was the first part to be built, between 1722 and 1730. It is made of oyster stone, a local stone excavated from the sea and containing lots of shells. The Chapel of Bishops contains the remains of all the prelates. The famous composer Manuel de Falla was born in Cadiz in November 1876, but died in Argentina in 1946 and was returned to be buried in the crypt. Outside, in Pio XII Square, there is another church on the corner, of Santiago Apostol, which closed shortly after we arrived. It was a Jesuit church, built in 1635. There were signs along the pedestrian shopping streets towards the Mercado Central and the adjacent Carrefour supermarket, where we found a choice of local red wine from Cadiz, and some very cheap Cava.
After lunch we set out again and climbed the Torre Tavira. In 1778 it was the highest lookout point and was the official watchtower. From the top of the tower there is a 360 degree view and it was clear there are many watchtowers in Cadiz, by memory 129, and most houses have rooftop terraces. Our red funnel was visible in the distance, and we identified many of the familiar landmarks from our morning walk, including the Castillo de San Sebastian, the new Cathedral and the Mercado Central.
Entry included a demonstration of the Camera Obscura, which projects an image of the scene below and around the tower onto a large white circular screen. Our plan was to purchase local specialities but the cake shop nearby was closed for the typical afternoon siesta and we could only admire the decorated cakes in the window. The Museu Provincial was also closed, as was the Museum of Manuel de Falla and bookshop, all in the Placa de Mina. We expect to go back to Cadiz, so will mark those for a future visit.
We last visited Malaga in December 2012 and again arrived at dawn, and just caught the first shuttle bus of the morning to the dock gates. We planned to walk up to the Gibralfaro Castle, on the top of the hill overlooking Malaga. In 2012 we had visited the Castell Alcazaba below, but did not have time to visit both. It was a pleasant climb up a wide twisting path with a number of view points where we took some pictures back towards the harbour and ship. We finally passed the Parador hotel which seemed very empty but had some marvellous views. We reached the top just before the opening time of 0900, not bad for the walk across town and a 400 foot climb! A Cunard tour bus arrived shortly afterwards. There was a lot more to see than we expected including a small museum area with a history of the fort. We walked all round the main ramparts, which have a narrow path with lots of steps up and down. There used to be a route down to the Alcazaba below which was again fortified on either side but that was not accessible, which was fortunate as we would have probably felt obliged to descend and reascend the extra couple of hundred feet. The views were excellent in all directions and the day clear and blue so it was well worth the trip up. We must have spent an hour looking round.
We started back down the same route rather than the long way down the tour coaches have to take – the path is quite steep and the stones are well polished so it would be a nightmare in the wet. The tunel de la Alcazaba led to the Placa de la Alcazaba and then to the Plaza de la Merced. Here there is a markethall, which includes a small useful supermarket. The birthplace of Picasso, now the home of the Picasso Foundation, was on the corner, but closed. Malaga has unearthed a Roman Theatre at the foot of the Alcazaba and some of it extends beneath the foundations. There was now an interpretation ‘portacabin’ which showed a video about the development of early theatre, and contained a small museum of pieces found on the site. It was free and there was limited access to the workings on a boardwalk. There was a separate path to access the rows of new seats at the top.
We had explored the town on the last visit so we had a good walk round but did not go into the Cathedral which is one of the standard tourist destinations, with good reason and it justifies a visit the first time you go to Malaga. The cathedral site was originally an old mosque, and building of the cathedral began in 1538 and it was partially consecrated in 1588. There was an earthquake in 1688 which destroyed part of it and building recommenced in 1718. It is in Spanish Renaissance style.
We instead spent a long time in the Church of Santiago where Picasso was baptised which is very richly decorated in the Spanish style with all the statues dressed in sumptuous robes as part of the celebration of Christmas. It must count as one of the most beautiful churches we have been in. The centre of town has Christmas decorations, with balls of lights and enormous snowflakes hanging over the roads. This year the main colours were red and silver, except for the large conical artificial Christmas trees in the centre of Squares.
We walked back to the ship along the Paseo del Parque. It is an area of substantial public buildings including the Bank of Spain and the City Hall. Pedestrian access was then by the marina and the lighthouse, and we pitied the fishermen hiding under their shelters on the beach as the waves rolled towards them. It was not the weather for swimming and machines were excavating and smoothing the sand on the beach.
Queen Victoria departed at 1400, and the evening was formal. We had enjoyed lunch in the Verandah and had booked dinner there for this evening. The lunch menu is $15 whereas dinner is $24. The two menus have some overlap with the starters and desserts, and we like to try different options. Pauline had snails and Pete chose the smoked beef. His plate came with a glass dome; when it was removed there was smoke everywhere but we were not quick enough with the camera. For main course, the monkfish and scallops had been prepared by the chef in the theatre as part of the cooking presentation, so that was a good excuse for trying it. The lamb, cooked rare in the french style, was again excellent.
After dinner there was plenty of time to explore a very deserted ship before going to checkin for our Theatre Box for the 10.30 performance of Celtic Heartbeat. We have seen the show before, but still enjoy the Irish story, and the energetic dancing and singing.