|Home||Uniquely NZ||Travel||Howto||Pauline||Small Firms|
Cunard Queen Victoria 2022
Mediterranean Cruise - Part 1
This round-trip cruise from Southampton is our 18th voyage on the Queen Victoria. It has been nearly 3 years since our return from our last Cunard cruise, on the Queen Elizabeth sailing out of Melbourne and circumnavigating New Zealand for Christmas 2019 and New Year 2020. The Central Mediterranean Voyage was 19 days and was booked well in advance to celebrate Pauline's Birthday which took place during the cruise. It was chosen because we wanted to go to Venice which we had visited on previous Anniversaries and Birthdays, most recently for her birthday in 2018 which including the famous VSOE train from London to Venice.
Not everyone wants 19 days of cruising and Cunard had divided it into two parts in order to sell more staterooms. The first half visited the ports of Cartagena, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Hvar and Venice. Then the second part returned from Venice, visiting Cagliari and Gibraltar. Since planning the itinerary the port of Venice no longer accepts cruise ships and instead the Queen Victoria berthed at Trieste. Later the planned visit to Gibraltar was replaced by Malaga, because it coincided with the funeral of the Queen on 19 September.
Having travelled to Southampton and stayed at the Novotel the previous day we departed from the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal which is the furthest of the Terminals from the Novotel. It had not changed greatly since our last voyage, except that boarding, as usual from the upstairs room, was delayed due to ship problems. Although Diamond members had priority, we joined the even more special group who had a stateroom in the Grills. So we joined the ship as soon as boarding was allowed. Once aboard we rapidly found familiar faces and were greeted by name by many of the staff who remembered us from previous cruises. Our favourite stateroom, at the Bow of Deck 5, is a good place to be as it has excellent views forward and to the side, as well as being larger than usual for the P2 grade.
It is only two floors down to the Grand Theatre, shops and library and a reasonable climb of 4 flights to the Lido, Gym and Coffee making facilities, although they do supply a pod machine in the Grills rooms. Regular readers will know we like our coffee and bring our own ground coffee and filter mugs rather than use room service or their machines. However, our stateroom was the furthest of all from the Grill Lounge and the Princess Grill and Queens Grill Restaurants, which are on Deck 11 at the far Aft of the ship. Our table for dinner was in a slightly different place to the last cruise but was again beside a window. Perfect. We will not say a lot more 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 have an option of a very early breakfast or even a late lunch in port. The Grills restaurants are even better, and have the advantage of our reserved table being always available; the Britannia has two fixed dinner sittings. The answer to all this food 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 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 nearly a pound by the time he was home.
The first thing we always do when we got on board (after lunch that is!) is to go down to the Pursers office and purchase our favourite Theatre Box for one of the shows. To our disappointment these are no longer offered as an option - it is first-come-first-served and without the champagne cocktail and accompanying stand of truffles, mini icecreams and cookies. We had more success at the Verandah Restaurant and booked our free lunch - a benefit of being regulars with Diamond status (over 150 days), in our case by quite a margin. The meals in the Verandah have a fixed price supplement for three courses, $25 for lunch on sea days and $45 for dinner, and are well worth the extra once or twice during a voyage. There are 7 ports and 12 days at sea on this cruise, of these sea days 4 were formal, so that restricts the number of days that were suitable to 8 days. A serious long lunch does not fit well with a special formal evening celebration menu, although at present there is absolutely no contact between passengers and the Captain and Senior Officers, so there are none of the usual cocktail parties. We never saw the Captain, although we admired his picture and heard his voice making announcements. Pauline's Birthday was a sea day and an obvious for our free lunch.
Cunard Line has a strong Cunard World Club of repeat passengers, this cruise was reported to have 399 Diamond members so one needs to get in early to book free lunches especially on shorter cruises. We had some priority because it was quickly clear, finding a large bunch of flowers, a gift and a chilled bottle of Laurent-Perrier Champagne delivered to our stateroom, that we were the Top Sailors. Normally there would be a special recognition by the Captain at the (non-existent) Cunard World Club cocktail party, but we were instead mentioned on Breakfast TV the following morning !
Our first port, after three days at sea including a choppy day through the Bay of Biscay, was Cartagena. It would be our first visit there, although many years ago we had visited its namesake in Columbia on a World Cruise. There is always a lot to do on board on sea days, including the beautiful fruit and veg carving. Having passed Gibraltar at lunchtime on our third day at sea we arrived at Cartagena the following morning.
Cartagena is approached by a narrow entrance and was well protected – the four hills which surround the town are crowned with forts and the entrance is protected by batteries. There is a strong naval presence with two submarines and other craft at the dockyard. The Queen Victoria was the first cruise ship into the harbour, but two others followed straight behind. We had the best berth, with our gangway exactly next to the walkway into town, and close to the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Soon there were thousands of passengers descending into the narrow pedestrianised cobbled streets and their bars, cafes and shops. Passing the Town Hall, the Palacio Consistorial, the shops in the main shopping street, Calle Mayor, were just opening. We had an objective to find a pair of new gym shoes for Pete because his old ones were starting to break up. Shoes are very good prices in Spain and there was an “Inside” outlet shop which was open. He had a choice of 3 pairs, and nothing he tried was over 30 euros. The area was all narrow streets with pretty Art Deco mansions and we followed a guided tour which was admiring the most important buildings. This included the Cervantes House, the Casino, Santo Domingo church, the Casa Llagostera and finally the Gran Hotel.
The Gran Hotel is on the edge of a square. Our next target was to find the Santa Florentina market, which was in Juan Fernandez street. It is just beyond the Plaza Juan XXIII, presumably named after the famous Pope of that name. There is a row of interesting design kiosks outside the market hall, and then inside there were the usual excellent stalls of fresh fish. Retracing our steps along the Calle Santa Florentina there was time to admire the distinctive wedge-shaped Citees building and the Pedreno Palace before reaching the Roman Forum District.
There were many more beautiful buildings around the Plaza de San Sebastian near the Gran Hotel. After a close look at the Gran Hotel the Calle del Aire was an alternative route parallel to the Calle Mayor and passed the back door of the church of Santo Domingo and then the front entrance to the church of Santa Maria de Gracia. These are the two most important churches in the city centre. We also saw the Palacio de Molina which houses the Centre for Arts and Crafts. If we had persevered along the Calle Jara and up the steps at the Byzantine rampart there is a good (free) view of the Roman Theatre. Turning back ito the congested pedestian streets, a quick detour into one of the souvenir shops resulted in another bow-tie for Pete and a glass Merano-style pendant for Pauline.
After lunch there remained the Roman Theatre and its Museum to visit. In spite of Brexit we benefited from concessionary tickets, at just 5 euro each. The Museum entrance is opposite the City Hall, and contains two separate buildings, connected by an underground passage under the Church of Santa Maria la Vieja. There was a lot of information about the design of the Roman Theatre, and models of how it would have looked originally. It was very useful when we finally were able to explore it all outside. The exit tunnel goes under the remains of the old Cathedral of Santa Maria de Gracia.
There was still plenty of time before the Queen Victoria was due to sail and we walked along the seafront promenade to the Naval Museum passing the whale-tail statue. It shares the former Maritime Instruction Headquarters, which was constructed in 1786,with the Polytechnic University of Cartagena. Unfortunately it had only been open in the morning and we were too late, but there was a good view of the Queen Victoria.
For a future visit there would be the climb up the hill to the Castillo de la Conception, for the views and to visit the Centre for the Interpretation of the History of Cartagena there.
It was today, 8 September, that the Captain announced that the Queen had died at Balmoral. The ship's flag was lowered to half mast. By coincidence, Jennie Bond was a guest speaker on board. She had been the BBC's Royal correspondent before her retirement and was able to give insights into Royal protocols.
The voyage continued with a view of the volcanic island of Stromboli and then through the Messina straits, a narrow gap between the Island of Sicily and the mainland of Italy. The strait is 20 miles long and at its narrowest is only 2 miles wide. We had been to the Sicilian town of Messina in 2016 and 2018. We covered our Last Visit to Messina in 2018 at length so will say little more about the town. Our transit was just close enough that we could see the main buildings and the pillar which marks the entry to the harbour.We had requested a special meal in our restaurant, and the Head Waiter Francis prepared a flambe Duck a l'orange for us tonight.
The following morning Queen Victoria arrived in Corfu, moored with two other cruise ships in her usual place at Corfu Town. Corfu, the second largest island in the Eptanisa, a group known as the "Seven Islands," is special. Most of the Greek Islands are located in the Aegean, yet Corfu is in the Ionian Sea. Corfu also possesses a far more temperate climate than Greece's other isles. Corfu is dotted with cypress and olive trees, and the air is perfumed with the scent of orange and lemon groves.
This was our fifth visit to Corfu, an island which we like very much. On our first visit in 2007 on the QE2 we had been at anchor and used tenders. Then in 2014 we had visited twice, the first time was Corfu in October on the Queen Victoria and then in November the Queen Elizabeth as docked in the same part of the New Port. In 2018 we visited on the Queen Victoria, but in showery weather. The pictures and text which follow are a mix of 2014 and 2018 which can be found in our previous visit in 2018 and new material from this visit which was warm and sunny. To avoid being with crowds of people on a shuttle bus we again walked from the ship to the cruise terminal and then onwards passing the New Fortress. Cunard shuttle buses parked as usual near the New Fortress, at the Spilia Gate.
We decided not to visit the New Fortress but the views from the top in 2014 were excellent, and the cafe was still advertised.
Corfu Old Town is entered through the Spilia Gate. The town is full of cafes and souvenir shops selling cheap clothes, olive and kumquat products. We had four objectives identical to our previous visit – buying jars of kumquats, purchasing a box of cakes, finding our favourite ice-cream shop and a final glass of local Corfu Beer. This would be interspersed with visits to churches, museums and castles. In October 2014 we had visited both the New and the Old Fortresses, as well as the Roman Catholic cathedral of St James, the Greek Orthodox cathedral, the church of Aghios Spiridon, the Town Hall, the Palace of St Michael and St George, the Mandrakina, the Byzantine Museum, and looked inside lots of other churches including St Antony and St Andrew, St Basil and St Stephen, and the Temple of the High and Merciful. The difference with previous visits was that today was a Sunday.
Although it was Sunday the shops and cafes were almost as busy as on any other day. We joined the queue at Rosy's bakery, still at Paleologue 71, and purchased a large box full of local sticky cakes, with added kumquats for collection later. There are two shops and one is run by Rosy and the other by Rosy's daughter. Prince Philip had been born at the Palace of St Michael and St George, and christened in the church of St George inside the Old Fortress. Consequently the people of Corfu had strong links with the British monarchy. While we selected our cakes she remembered us from our previous visit and expressed her condolences about the death of our Queen. Our preferred supermarket in Solomou was permanently closed but there was another just opposite the bakery, which also sold jars of kumquats.
We passed the Town Hall which was built in 1663 as a private club for the elite, and then rested for water in the gardens of M Theotoki Square next to the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St James. It was then a pleasant stroll to the Liston with its colonnaded cafes. The Liston was built by the French, modelled on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The Liston looks out onto the Esplanade which was used to play cricket, but the grass was far too rough for that now.
The cafes here were busy but the walkway was shaded and led to the Palace of St Michael and St George. It is mainly the Museum of Asian Art, with a few rooms from when Corfu was ruled by the British. The Palace was built between 1819 and 1823. Now that the UK is not part of the EU we have found that concessionary prices for Museums are not always available. We were only offered full price tickets – with no discount even for Pauline’s student card. However we had been able to visit in 2018. The building was the town residence of the British Lord High Commissioners, and is made of Maltese limestone. The Palace was built by Sir George Whitmore between 1818 and 1824. In 1864 it was given to the King of Greece and became known as the Royal Palace. Prince Philip would have lived there. Displays of cloaks and medals for KCMG and DCMG reminded us of the system for recognition of the Order of St Michael and St George. This visit we had to pay the same price for student entry as for 65 years old, whereas previously it had been free. The museum opened in 1927 as the Museum of Sino-Japanese art with the donation of the Gregorios Manos collection. Manos (1850-1928) had been a Greek ambassador to Austria, and had purchased over 9,000 Chinese, Korean and Japanese artefacts at art auctions. As a condition of his donation he insisted the artefacts be displayed in Corfu. Further donation combined to make the collection over 11,000 pieces. We had no great interest in the art, but enjoyed looking at the interior of the building and the State rooms. From the peristyle on the first floor there is access to three Official Halls that were also used as seat of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. They are the circular room, the Rotunda, which is adorned with statues in niches, and the Throne Room on the left and the Banquet Room on the right. The Throne Room is dominated by the English Commissioner throne and portraits that relate to the Palace histpry. The Banquet Room is decorated with frescoes depicting insignia of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. In the wings to the east and west of the Official Halls, which used to be the private rooms of the Commissioner, there are exhibitions of the Museum of Asian Art. The art is displayed on new internal walls so in order to see the original rooms it was necessary to look behind. Our visit in 2018 was on a Monday and only the Senate meeting room was open downstairs; the other impressive State rooms were closed.
We walked across the grass of the Esplanade, passed the Mandrakina, then through the Bosketo Garden named after the Durrell family who lived in Corfu. Entry to the Old Fortress is only 3 euros if you are a student or 65+ and is across a bridge over the sea moat, which is a narrow canal used as moorings for small craft. In some places students only get a discount if they are under 25 years old and there are advantages in being retired instead. It is very confusing, and is an unexpected consequence of Brexit.
Passing through the Main Gate there is a Chapel on the right which has some mosaic floor framents and 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, and the Public Library of Corfu which is in the old British barracks. The restoration of the Church of Saint George with its row of ornate pillars has been completed. Prince Philip was christened here. Photos are no longer allowed inside so the picture is from 2018.
We had climbed up steps from the lower level to the fort, and then joined the slow climb up to the light house. It was harder going down than climbing up because the stones were slippery. It is worth the effort because there is an excellent view of the city below and our red funnel in the harbour.
Walking back across the Esplanade towards the old town, the next visit was to the Banknote Museum in Iroon Square, which was unfortunately closed on Sunday. We had been fortunate to visit in 2014. The Ionian Bank had the privilege of printing paper money from 1839 to 1920, and the building is the Museum of the Ionian Bank. In 2014 we were welcomed by the lady curator who explained the displays in english, and gave us a free brochure and a book printed in 2014 to celebrate 150 years of the union of the Ionian Islands with the Greek State. It was a very interesting visit, much more than we had expected and it was surprising that we were the only visitors at the time - the custodian said there were many schools visits during the week. The restored building was the first Main Branch of the Ionian Bank and dates from 1845-46. It is near to the famous church of Aghios Spyridon, the patron saint of Corfu and a bishop from the 4th century. The church was built in 1859 and contains a large silver casket containing the relics of the saint. It was busy and although we were able to join the line to see the casket, we were quickly surrounded by people touching the casket and praying. This is the most famous church in Corfu town, being the town's patron saint and also having a distinctive campanile bell tower. We entered by one door and halted at the remains of Saint Spyridon before leaving by the door on the other side. The church is in the middle of the main tourist shopping streets and everywhere was very busy. Our favourite ice-cream shop Mpochotis was nearby, at N Theotoki 25, one of several in the town. In 2018 the favourite flavour was "Kaimaki Tsoureki" which turned out to be a famous and unique recipe of ice cream (Kaimaki) with added 'Easter cake', the Tsoureki part with extra dried bitter cherries - a lucky choice. It was not available but there was a superb Kumquat ice cream.
Having collected our waiting sticky cakes from Rosy, and visited the Church of Sts Antohny and Andrew in N Theotaki, it was still too early to go back to the ship, and too hot to climb up to the New Fortress. We remembered there was a Corfu Beer Bar near the shuttle bus. It is next to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis Corfu cathedral which dates from 1577. When we walked inside in 2007 we admired a solid silver casket which contained the relics of St Theodora. There was just time for a couple of nice cool glasses of local draft Corfu Red before walking back to the port. It was a very pleasant end to a day ashore.