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Cunard Queen Victoria 2022
Mediterranean Cruise - Part 2
This part of our voyage was busy, with 4 ports in 4 days. Today was the second of these ports and was going to be extra busy, and tiring because it was also predicted to be hot. Dubrovnik is one of the prettiest cities we have seen and one we were looking forward to re-visiting. The Old Town was completed in the 13th century and remains virtually unchanged to the present day. The Old Port's sea fortifications rise directly from the waters edge, and a massive fort dominates the city. Dubrovnik has a remarkable history. An independent, merchant republic for the 700 years up to 1806, it traded with Turkey, India and Africa - it even had diplomatic relations with the English court in the Middle Ages. Our first visit to Dubrovnik was in 1998 from the QE2 which anchored in the Bay within sight of the Old Port. Leaving the anchorage by tender boat gave superb views of the Old Port and the City Wall. In those days Dubrovnik was being rebuilt following the war in 1991/92 which had split the old Yugoslavia asunder and destroyed or damaged many of the buildings in the historic Old Town. In our next visits on the QE2 in 2005 and then in 2007 http://www.pcurtis.com/qe07_2-p1.htm#dubrovnik, tourism was changing the town. On subsequent visits on the Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth in 2014 instead of anchoring in the Bay there was a berth in the cruise terminal in Port Gruz and shuttle buses or taxis into town. After restoration, Dubrovnik is considered to be one of the best remaining examples of a medieval walled city and walking the ramparts is carefully controlled with a one-way system. It is no longer free. Our best description of the historic Old Town is from the two cruises in 2014 at http://www.pcurtis.com/qe14-p4.htm#dubrovnik
On this visit we were again at Port Gruz, with a shuttle bus which was free because of Covid. There is a steep hill between the Port and the Old Town and although it was not far to walk it would be a slow climb. Many people paid for a taxi to not risk sharing a bus. The one-way system to the bus parking passed the Eastern Gate and the cable car station; we had taken the cable car in 2014 to the top of Srdj Hill. Even in the early morning there was a bottleneck of tourists to enter the historic Old Town through the Pile Gate. We soon realised it was full of “Game of Thrones” escorted tours, rather like the “Lord of the Rings” tours in New Zealand. Thankfully the centre of the town is completely pedestrianised but even then the only quiet places were in the churches and museums. As the morning progressed it became more congested.
Starting along the main wide street, Placa, passing Onofrio's Great Fountain and St Saviour’s church, the objective was to get ahead of all the congestion in the hope that people eventually rested in the pavement cafes and bars which have sprouted all along the road and up the side streets, or were attracted by the Game of Thrones souvenir shops. At the end, at Orlando’s column, it became quieter. It was noticeable that people did not go into museums, perhaps because there was a charge. Passing the City Hall and the Rector’s Palace on the left, the church of St Blaise with the remains of the martyr St Silvan is on the right and the cathedral is further ahead. St Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik and whose Saints Day is 2 February, is said to have saved Dubrovnik from Venetian attack in the 10th century and his relics (arm, leg and skull) are displayed in the Treasury. The churches were quiet and we were able to sit, meditate, and light a candle to remember the life of Queen Elizabeth II. We left when a tour group arrived.
From there, access to the Maritime Museum and St Ivan’s Fort involved skirting one of the pay booths to the City Walls. Everything is much more expensive than in 2014. Then it cost 100 kuna whereas now it costs 250 kuna, just over £28, to walk around the walls. The entire circumference is 6,350 feet and the one-way walk passes through towers and fortifications with magnificent views. On a first visit it is really important to walk the full length of the City Walls, to get an understanding of the layout of the Old Town, its strategic position, and admire the super views. The garden at the steps still has a cat sanctuary, but the inhabitants were absent - maybe hunting for discarded remnants of tourist breakfasts. The Maritime Museum is one of nine museums, exhibitions and galleries which are grouped onto one museum card – costing 130 kuna for adults and 50 kuna for students. There is no individual ticket. The Maritime Museum celebrated 150 years in 2022 and has a very interesting set of collections. This visit we were able to take pictures inside the museum, which is inside St Ivan’s Fort. There are two floors containing ships equipment, tools and instruments with paintings and photographs on the ground floor. There are also models and half-models of ships upstairs.
After leaving the Maritime Museum there were good ocean views at the foot of St Ivan’s Fort and a few small, and very expensive, cruise vessels sat at anchor. The narrow path alongside the ocean back to town passed a lot of small local boats and a few ferries and water taxis. Our museum ticket included entrance to the Cultural History Museum and Rector’s Palace. The building looked interesting, there were no queues at the entrance, and inside there were lots of rooms to explore. The Palace facade is very decorative with fine carving of its colonnade and columns. The entrance is behind a long porch which provides shelter from the weather. The interior courtyard has a fine Baroque staircase. The rooms which open into the courtyard contain historic items from the City’s history, including furniture, paintings, portraits of Dubrovnik aristocrats, and seals, crests and coins. There is also a pair of bronze bell-striking moving statues which are unusual to see because they are usually hidden in the clock tower. Later we admired a similar pair, but articulated differently, in San Giusto castle in Trieste. As well as the City Hall, the National Theatre and the Sponza Palace are all close by. There is lots to see and we visited more of the many Museums on our previous visit.
Local markets are always interesting and there was the usual open air produce and craft market just opposite, but nothing tempted us. The narrow alleyways were increasingly busy as people stopped for an early lunch. The Placa was busy too, but was the easiest route back past St Saviour’s church to the Pile Gate, and the shuttle bus beyond to the ship for our late lunch. The queues were very long, and impatient passengers jostled to push into the line. Fortunately the buses were large and soon the queues had reduced. We only had to wait for 2 buses before we got on board.
If we visit Dubrovnik again and it is so busy we will probably take a tour into the countryside or escape by ferry boat to Lokrum or Cavtat.
The next port, Hvar town, is also in Croatia, just over 100 nautical miles north of Dubrovnik. It was our first visit. Hvar is an island and said to be very attractive, very famous, with lots of ancient heritage and a harbour for expensive yachts. Hvar town has 13th century walls with Gothic palaces and squares. The Queen Victoria was at anchor and we had priority tender tickets as Top Sailors so could disembark early.
The Town Fortress was visible on the hill above the town. It dates from before Christ, and some traces from the 6th century AD have been found on the southern side. The present fort began construction in 1282, was then extended, expanded and fortified over many years until completion in 1551. After being abandoned in the 19th century it was then re-purposed as a tourist attraction in 1971. From the tender it was a pleasant stroll along the seafront passing the Church of the Annunciation and the Arsenal and Theatre. The large square of St Stephen has cafes, shops and St Stephen's cathedral at the far end. There was an ice-cream stall and a small supermarket near the cathedral, where we planned to go at the end of our walk. The path leading up to the Fortress passed the Church of St Anthony the Abbot and the Benedictine Convent, famous for its fine and expensive lace work. We were there later, at the same time as a coach tour, and so could benefit from the information of their guide and a glimpse inside of the museum of superb lace designs. Samples reminded us of the lacework of the Canary Islands.
Continuing to climb the steps upwards it led to a gate in the walls. Beneath the Fortress is a special Mediterranean Herb Garden, established by Dr Josip Avelini in the 1930s. Then the zig-zag path through the park around the fortress went through another gate before reaching the main entrance and parking. The site is large on several levels with souvenirs, art gallery and cafe as well as lots of ramparts and cannons to explore. The views are exceptionally good in all directions, including olive trees and vineyards in the valley just below. Retracing our steps back down the hill there was time to stop in the heat for a drink of water, and a few biscuits. The path has many seats and free drinking water fountains.
After the promised ice-cream in St Stephen's Square and purchase of two bottles of Hvar wine as a souvenir, shopping was completed. With plenty of time left to stroll around, the seafront promenade continued past the Town Hall and Hotel Palace Elisabeth, then the local craft market, and continued to the Church of Our Lady of Fabrika. This part of the seafront was full of cruisers and yachts, a mix of hire and private boats, with local and international flags. Further along there was a popular park and a swimming area. Overall it is a delightful town and we hope to visit again. Both Jet2 and easyJet are offering holidays at the Palace Elisabeth
Another day, another port, but not Venice as was originally scheduled. It was still a turnaround port and we heard that 400 passengers were disembarking and being replaced with new passengers. Thankfully there seemed to be no new arrivals bringing Covid.
For those who wanted to visit Venice there were special Cunard coach tours available, as well as regular trains. We had visited Venice many times and might have considered a free shuttle bus transfer except for the risks of Covid. But Trieste is not near Venice and the escorted coach tour was not free but cost $210 each. Due to 2.5 hours travel each way there were only 6 hours in Venice and part of that time was for lunch ! We thought we had never visited Trieste before and decided it was much better to save our money and go somewhere new. When we got home we found we had visited Trieste once, on the QE2 in 2007. It was a memorable cruise over similar ports to this voyage with a forced delay at anchor in Dubrovnik due to broken engine components, a friendly and memorable welcome from local people on QE2's maiden visit to Trieste who offered free wine, cheese and sausage from the Coop, and then Valletta where we donated photographs from Pauline's father to the Museum. How could we have forgotten such a memorable cruise to so many interesting ports on the QE2 ? We had vividly remembered QE2 berthed in the container port, and the welcome of complimentary food and wine, but not remembered that it was in Trieste. Details are at qe07_2-p1.htm
Trieste is close to the border with Croatia and Slovenia, and east of Venice. It is twinned with Southampton, and is headquarters to the Fincantieri shipbuilding mega-organisation which built the Cunard Queens Victoria and Elizabeth and is completing the new Queen Anne. It is a historic city, with a medieval old city and a neo-classical Austrian quarter. The Roman Theatre was built between the first and second century AD. There were over 40 museums and lots of churches and our guidebook listed eight historic cafes. Coffee was important during the Austro-Hungarian era and there is still a thriving coffee industry. The cruise terminal was close to all the important sites, and we followed the route which would have been taken by the Cunard escorted Tourist Walking Tour. The idea was to complete a circular clockwise walk, along the seafront passing the Piazza Unita d’Italia to the Grand Canal, then inland to the Piazza Sant’ Antonio Nuovo and the Roman Theatre before climbing San Giusto Hill and visiting the cathedral. Finally it was all downhill to return to the seafront at the Church of St Nicolo. Our walk included all these features, there was a lot to see and we did not have time to spend in the many museums en route.
Disembarking through the cruise terminal building there is a small garden with a statue to mariners who were lost at sea. The Piazza Unita d’Italia and the city behind had been easily identified from our stateroom at the bow of Queen Victoria and we waited for the pedestrian lights to allow us to cross the very busy wide road. The Piazza Unita d’Italia is a very large square with monumental palaces on three sides, and the fourth side open to the ocean. The Palazzo del Municipio, the Town Hall, was built in 1875 and faces the ocean, with the Fountain of the Four Continents in front, built between 1751 and 1754. Facing the Town Hall, on the right (south) side are the Palazzo Pitteri, built in 1780, Harry’s Bar in the Gran Hotel Duchi d’Aosta built in 1873, and the Palazzo del Lloyd Triestino built in 1884. On the opposite (north) side is the Prefecture installed in the Palazzo della Luogotenenza built in 1905, next door to the Palazzo Stratti built in 1839 and the Palazzo Modello built in 1871. The palaces were built by several different architects and it is impressive that the area is so harmonious. Of the historic cafes, the Caffe degli Specchi is here.
Next along the seafront is the Verdi Theatre, which was closed, and then the Greek Orthodox church of San Nicolo. There was singing coming from the church and we entered quietly so as not to disturb the worship, and were just in time to see the priest processing through the church with clouds of incense. Everyone there were taking video on their mobile phones so we guessed photos were allowed, discretely. We found later it was an important festival, the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. The Oriental Greek Community Museum is next door. Soon there is a little bridge over the Grand Canal. It is much smaller than the Grand Canal in Venice, but is for the same purpose – to transport goods between the town and the large vessels berthed in the docks. Now the canal only has a few small boats, similar to our Shetland 535, and they have difficulty even passing under the pedestrian bridge unless the tide is low. This area is the theatre district as shown by the Civic Theatrical Museum “Carlo Schmidt”. Indeed the road on one side of the canal is named after Gioacchino Rossini, and on the other side after Vincenzo Bellini. The next bridge has a statue of the novelist James Joyce who lived in Trieste for some years. The canal then terminates at the Piazza Sant’ Antonio Nuovo with its church of Sant’ Antonio Taumaturgo o Nuovo. Built between 1825 and 1849 its neoclassical design by Pietr Nobile was inspired by Roman classical monuments, hence the monumental columns. There are many churches and we walked through the nearby Serbian Orthodox church of San Spiridione, heading back to the port.
After lunch, the second part of our visit was to the Roman Theatre and San Giusto Hill, Museum and cathedral. There was plenty of time because the Queen Victoria was departing late, due to embarking all the new passengers arriving from Venice airport. The Roman Theatre is compact, in the middle of housing and next to a multi-storey car park, but used to seat 6000. The entrance was locked but it was viewed by looking over the wall. Built of bridk and marble, it was originally decorated with statues of which the remnants have been removed and are displayed in one of the museums. It was not organised as a tourist highlight, as are other amphitheatres on this cruise in Cartagena, Malaga and Cagliari, and appears to be under restoration. The picture from 2007 below can be compared with that taken in 2022. The advice on accessing San Gusto Hill was to use the lift in the car park, but we preferred to climb up the steps. This meant we also visited the Parish Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and a 1st century small Roman Gate, called the Tor Cucherna or the Arch of Richard. One story says it is named after the British King Richard the Lionheart.
The path upwards to San Giusto was on steep cobbles but well signposted. We shared it with occasional local traffic and arrived at the cathedral before the castle. There have been a series of Christian basilicas on the site of the cathedral. During the ninth century two buildings were built – a small cathedral and a shrine for the local martyr St Giusto (Just). These buildings were merged in the 14th century, and this is the current cathedral with a round Gothic rose window. The interior has a nave and four aisles. The mosaic in the main apse was constructed between 1930 and 1933 following a competition in 1926; those which are golden coloured in the other two apses date from the 12th century and are truly exquisite. They are not illuminated and to see them properly requires coin payment for lighting. The Chapel of the Treasure holds the reliquary urn of St Giusto and the Battuti crucifix, both 13th century. There is also a campanile, bell tower, but climbing this had less attractions in the rain.
Next door, the Castle of Giusto overlooks the city of Trieste. The construction of the fortress began in 1468 and was completed in 1636. It was then used as a garrison and a prison. In 1936 it was renovated and converted into a museum complex, now housing exhibits of the Museums of Art and History, the Museum of the Castle of San Giusto Armoury, and the Lapidarium of Tergeste. When we visited in 2007 the ramparts and the armoury were closed for restoration, but that is all completed now. The weather was showery as we arrived at the former Roman Forum in front of the castle, so it was straight over the drawbridge and into the shelter of the vestibule.
We immediately met the two large 19th century bell-striking statues, Michez and Jachez. They are from the Town Hall clock in Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia and as mentioned earlier looked close relatives to a similar pair on display in Dubrovnik. Entrance was 3 euros. Our exploration started outside in the large Soldiers Courtyard with its outdoor sentry walkways. It is broadly triangular in outline and has three large bastions : the Round or Venetian Bastion (1508-1509), the Fiorito or Pomis Bastion (1636) and the Lalio or Hoyos Bastion (1553-1557) which contains the Lapidarium of Tergeste. The Lapidarium preserves and displays objects from Roman times in Trieste. The area of San Giusto was then the Capitoline hill, with the civic basilica, the Forum and its Propilaeum entry. There were also objects from places of worship, the Roman Theatre, and the cemeteries. One room contained fine mosaic floors which show the affluent lives of some of the inhabitants between 1 BC and 1AD.
When the rain stopped there was the opportunity to go outside and walk around the ramparts, and admire the views. Crossing the Courtyard to the Round Bastion, the Museum is in the former Captain’s House, the first building on the site and dating from the 15th century. Entry to the first exhibition on the second floor shows how the city has changed from the 18th to 20th century. This leads to the Armoury where weapons from the Middle Ages to the 19th century are displayed in a long corridor, formerly three covered sentry walkways. On the first floor are the Caprin Room and Anteroom, with original furnishing, furniture, sculptures and paintings belonging to Giuseppe Caprin who lived in Trieste between 1843 and 1904. The items came from his house and were installed as part of the modification work to the building in the 1930s. On the ground floor, accessed from the Courtyard, is the Chapel of San Giorgio, built in 1471, and a bookshop.
There is such a lot to see and we could have spent the whole day there.
The Queen Victoria sailed just before 2230, as scheduled, so there would have been plenty of time to explore the cafes and bars in the town before dinner.
Although meals in the Princess Grill are excellent, we are always enthusiastic about paying to attend organised Wine and Food events. Depending on the length of cruise and enthusiasm of passengers these are either Lunch and Learn, or Wine Pairing Dinners. The format for both events is similar, held in the Verandah restaurant, and with food selected from their standard menu alonside complimentary wines from the cellars. Sometimes on World Cruises the wines come from an invited and local vineyard and are introduced by their winemaker. The four course Lunch and Learn costs $88 each whereas the five course Wine Pairing Dinner on 17 September costs $100.
This Lunch and Learn showcased four Riesling and four Syrah wines, and each courses was paired with two wines.
Clam Chowder with Rieslings from Washington State, USA and Tasmania, Australia
Lemon Sole with Rieslings from Alsace, France and the Mosel, Germany
Fillet Steak with Syrah from Judean Hills, Israel and Hermitage, France
Cheese with Syrahs from Washington State, USA and Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand