Christmas Eve 2017

Sunday 24th December 2017 – Christmas Eve

Got up. Got dressed. Went to lunch.

Sea: Greeny-blue

Sky: blue

Air temp: 13-14 degrees centigrade.

Sea state: Ripples but no swell.

Location: Somewhere off the coast of northern Portugal.

Sheila joined us. She and her man, John, are here with his son, Neil, and being two lone adult children with two parents in tow, we have collided several times. We also seem to eat at about the same time, so we have chatted quite a lot. Neil and John went off to Passenger Choir rehearsal, so Sheila joined us, as did Ben, for lunch.

Then mum went for a siesta while dad and I caught up on the daily newspaper, Sudoku and crossword.

Then a lady called Janet came and sat down and I gave her some legal advice about a leak from the flat above hers, just before she came away! She was very grateful. I then also fixed her email on her phone, so she could text her son and daughter-in-law/ladyfriend, to say she was still alive and wish them a happy Christmas tomorrow.

It doesn’t take much to fill in the time between lunch and dinner when lunch starts at about 1 and dinner is at 6.30! By the time you’ve queued up, made your choices, waited for any special orders (coeliacs… tsk), and so on, it’s nearly 3. Then it’s four and then five and then you have to go back to the cabin and plan your dinner outfit and evening plans! How people find the time for gemstone lectures, port talks, art classes, bridge, and classical concerts, I have no idea! I couldn’t fit it all in with a shoehorn and a Timeturner.

Wore my new crushed velvet Santa dress to dinner. Wow, it moults! Then up to the top deck to greet Santa, who was at the top of the funnel. He waved and chatted for a bit on the microphone and then came down for hugs and photos. The mulled wine was sadly not free, but was very enjoyable nonetheless, although it was so hot that I didn’t get it all drunk until seconds before the Christmas song compilation show in the theatre started. This group of Headliners (same as October) are very good – although the lead females seem to have changed and are less so. In fact, one of them produced the most sexless performance of ‘Santa, baby’ anyone will ever have the misfortune to witness. Other than that, a very enjoyable 45 minutes.

Had an early night so that Santa would visit before he disembarked.


23rd December

Another Sea Day.

Decision re yesterday’s speed: probably number 5.

Bay of Biscay today: Flat as a mill pond. Positively glass-like.

Weather: grey but clear.

Sea colour: grey-green and very smooth.

Air temp: 11 degrees C but not a breath of wind, so quite pleasant.

Got up to the Conservatory (canteen-style foodery) in time to grab some sliced fruit from the end of breakfast/elevenses.

GF pasta turned up on cue. I love Clarence. He takes ridiculously good care of us.

Ben joined us for lunch, which was fun, but he told us that Graham and Sue and he were moving to table 80 for dinner. I hope they get the rapidity of service they so apparently crave. Trouble is, it means we have only Grumpy Anne and Quite Deaf Frank for company, unless we get given some new, random unknowns. Sharing a table is a risky business. The next two weeks could be veeeeery long.

Hung out and chatted for a while. Ben is 86 and was in the Navy for 22 years, so when he decided to take up cruising, he started with 104 nights – he already knew he liked being at sea!

Back to cabin for a chill out prior to formal night – washing, dressing, jewellery, make up (what’s left of it after I dropped my powder compact when unpacking), tights, shoes, etc.

There were Welcome Aboard drinks at 6, where the captain turned out to be short, stocky, Scottish and quite funny (although Hughie the Entertainment Manager did show him the red card for one particularly bad joke). Then down to dinner to find it was just us! Now, either Anne and Frank don’t ‘do’ formal nights – in which case it would have been courteous to let us and/or the waiters know in advance – or they have moved too, although the head waiter was not aware of any such shenanigans, so we going with the ‘didn’t bother and didn’t bother to let anyone know’ option, for now at least. Live in hope…

After dinner, Ben came over and said he would like to come back to our table! Apparently Graham and Sue have been completely ignoring him and the new people are not to his liking, so he wants to come back to us! Fine with us! I have to say that, seeing as he is paying for everything for all three of them on this trip, to completely ignore him seems a bit off to me –  the least you could do is talk to him now and then during dinner – but their loss is our gain, so I shouldn’t really complain. He’s a nice guy.

22nd December

This was a Slow Day. There really is very little to report! Slept late, met the parents for lunch, read a book. Dinner. Blog and telly. Bed.

It wasn’t just me having a Slow Day. The entire ship was. We didn’t set sail til nearly 8am, and we never went about 12 knots all day (about half speed). Dad and I had fun speculating as to why. Theories included:

  1. Trying to stay close to land in case the boiler gives out again and we have to turn back
  2. Traffic congestion issues in the Separation Channels
  3. Loss of one engine (but we’re not going in circles, says Dad)
  4. Bad weather ahead – need to give it time to get out of our way
  5. Hoping to go through the Western Approaches (the bumpy bit where the Channel meets the Atlantic and the Irish Sea) during the night, so we sleep through it.

At lunch, it was nice to bump into several waiters and head waiters and wine waiters who know us, so it was bizarrely easy to find food that suited us, and made the meal very relaxing (compared to last night!).

Finished my book: To Kill the President. Quite a good read. Looks at not only how one goes about killing an obnoxious POTUS, but also how it could go wrong, and do significantly more harm than the altruistic good originally intended.

Mum seems to be enjoying The Woman in Cabin 10 that I passed on to her when I finished it. A very good read, but quite claustrophobic.

Dinner was better than last night. We were given an extra waiter, I think, to help with the delays. Granted, we are down entirely the opposite end of the restaurant from the galley, but the food still arrives hot enough to eat.  Mum was quite pleased with her steak. I ordered cold meat and salad, which was very nice. I had what P&O call beef brisket.  This is, as expected based on previous experience, actually salt beef! We did order chips, both portions of which arrived significantly after the rest of the food – it was like eating in instalments! But still enjoyable. Anne was still grumpy and complained profusely at the slowness of service. To be fair, she was worried about getting to the show in time, tonight, and we were, again, the last table to be served, but we were done by 8.10, which is better than yesterday’s 8.30! I had a word on the way out with Sandeep, our head waiter, about rotating service among the tables, so that we are not always the last to be served. Tomorrow night is a formal night, so we’ll see how it goes. The head waiter asked if Anne wanted to move to a table nearer the galley, but Graham misinterpreted this as “If you don’t like it, move”, which was not what was said, nor the tone in which it was said. But I suppose, if you’re looking for something to complain about, it was a fairly unwise suggestion and easy to pounce upon!

I didn’t go to the Headliners show tonight – Stage Door. I only saw it six weeks ago! And anyway, I was starting to unwind, so I went to bed with my book and a Heinz Cream of Tomato cupasoup – hence, finished the book, as per the above. Watched a bit of telly (Dr Who Xmas special from 2014) and then crashed.

Still working on sorting the temperature in my cabin. Turned the thermostat fully one way yesterday to see what it would do – there are no markings. Turns out, that direction = sweltering. So turned it to the other extreme before bed, hoping for something cooler. Slept through, so that seems to be the setting of choice from now on. Now all we have to do is persuade people to stop smoking in front of the intake vents…

X727 Christmas Cruise – Setting sail for all points South

Welcome aboard X727 Oriana’s Christmas and New Year Cruise to the Canaries and Portugal. Oriana is her lovely self, and the staff welcome more effusive than usual (well, we were only here a few weeks ago!). Luggage delivery was VERY fast, and the drive down completely uneventful (after it taking us an hour to load the car, during which I pulled a muscle in my back). The only niggle was the rather shrug-filled attitude to the provision of wheelchair assistance for boarding, but once we’d got a proper person, even that went smoothly. We didn’t really have much to unpack – this is only a two-week cruise, after all – so there was time for napping and all sorts of holiday mood to set in.

Then the announcements began. Firstly, the compulsory muster (where they now swipe your cruise card to prove you were there, so no bunking off any more by hiding in the loo). The early part of the usual spiel was surplanted by a rather long lecture on hand washing and norovirus. Which was nice. This was followed by the usual stuff – emergency exits, whistle alarms that matter to passengers, how a life jacket works, etc. Turns out I picked up a VERY new lifejacket from the three in my cabin, and all the bits were rather stiff. Nearly broke a nail! Tsk. I remain convinced that the whole point of the exercise is to give you a chance to adjust the belt so it fits you, so that in an emergency, it’s already done, but what do I know? Anyway, the couple I sat next to in the Muster Station C overflow area (the window sills along the corridor outside the actual room) had caught their Eavesway coach at 3.30am from Somewhere in Scotland. They didn’t even bother to go to bed last night. I hope they slept on the 12-hour drive!

Dinner was a first night standard. The waiters were very helpful. Well, I say the waiters. We only saw one. I’m not convinced we actually have two, as we are supposed to. We got the table we asked for, and the people seem nice enough so far. They are Graham and Sue and Ben, Anne and Frank. Ben is Sue’s “adoptive” dad. When her dad died, his best friend stepped into the breach and became family, as substitute father figure. Isn’t that lovely? Anne didn’t seem to enjoy her meal, but the first night is always a bit of a mess. The waiters need to learn our preferences and allergies, apart from anything else, and the menu is pretty much pot luck. We were the last to be served. Some tables were on their coffee before we had even received our main meal. What we got was hot and perfectly edible – the pavlova was delicious (despite the new trend of placing each part separately on the plate, rather than in combination, which I still find very odd).

The announcements continued. Before supper, the captain informed us that one of the boilers had broken down and we would be without hot water for a few hours. We already knew there was a problem with a boiler, because P&O have taken Oriana out of service after this cruise, cancelling three weeks’ of holidaymakers, so she can go into dry dock for a new boiler to be put in. But we were hoping this one would last a little longer! In the end, the captain said that it would be fixed by 8.30 pm, but we had missed the tide, so we would not be setting sail until 6.30 in the morning. At 9.30 this morning (Friday), we were still in the Solent. We haven’t even joined the Channel Traffic Separation System yet, and it’s nearly 11am now. Talking of which, perhaps it’s time to get up and get dressed. Here endeth the first day.

The Last Bit

By ‘eck it got bumpy when we left Catania. We were fine during dinner, but not long after first sitting ended, we hit a LOT of potholes.


This was a weird one. We don’t often arrive somewhere after lunch! Very civilised! We like Cartagena. There is a lot of Roman stuff, but we like to shop here, which we duly did. Not really a lot else to say! Weather: hot. Sun: shiny. Sky: blue. Clear blue. Not a cloud init. Surfaces: smooth. Dipped kerbs: plentiful. Prices: pretty reasonable. The end! We only had half a day, after all.


We had a half day in the morning here. We got off at 9 and I had booked breakfast at The Rock Hotel for 9.30. Easy peasy, you might think. However, Gibraltar has one of the meanest, most vicious taxi cartels in the world. They have the whole thing sown up and you are utterly at their mercy. We had to wait 15 minutes for a cab to deign to come for us, which annoyed us exceedingly. It doesn’t take that long to drive the entire circuit of the damn colony! Anyway, when we got there, it was wonderful. They treated us like royalty, and put on a beautiful buffet. I got gluten free cereal and toast, there was fruit and the most perfectly poached eggs I may ever have eaten. Utterly brilliant. We then shopped our way back down the hill/rock towards the ship. The queue for the shuttle bus was ludicrous, so we tried to get another taxi. Queue another row with a bolshy taxi driver. Eventually we found one willing to take our money and we were back on board in time for bob. Only I forgot to swipe my cruise card. Which meant that, half an hour later, my name came over the tannoy and I had to ring Reception to (a) confirm I was, indeed, on board and (b) apologise for being a numpty. They were very nice about it, considering they must be sick to the back teeth of idiots doing the same thing at every port they visit.

Sea Day

A restful day. AT LAST. Spent the day packing, so all I have to do on Monday is the formalwear and pyjamas and bathroom stuff. Most of it fits… Today we are on the home straight. Literally. Have you noticed just how very straight Portugal is?! Our heading was 003 degrees. That as near due north as makes no difference.

This might be the end, unless something monstrously fascinating happens tomorrow. Photos will follow. Only a short cruise, and not the most relaxing of holiday options, but it has certainly been fun, and we have seen LOTS of new places, which was nice.

Catania Day 2 – Revenge of the Fifth (see what I did there? Been building up to that for DAYS!)

Weather: promised 18, probably nearer 21 in the shade, and even higher in the sunshine.

Wind: minimal and dropping.

The fifth port day in five days. There are no adjectives for this level of tired. There really aren’t. For the first time on this cruise, Dad’s morning call woke me up – I’m usually already awake, if not up, by then – and his call coincided exactly with the arrival of my breakfast, which meant I woke bewildered and panicking with no idea whether to answer the door or the phone first! I dropped the phone and answered the door. Birds 2 Stones 1. After breakfast, I rang Dad back and we got off at about quarter past ten.

The taxis at the port entrance only wanted to do day-long tours and charge an absolute fortune (seriously, they wanted our entire budget for TWO DAYS here for a three-hour drive – nope), so we abandoned the idea of going to Etna and just pootled into town instead. It’s a bit run down near the port, but the bit near the Cathedral is very pretty. We stopped at about noon for a drink and a surprisingly good loo and were just in time for the most cacophonous notification of time. The Cathedral is surrounded by other churches, and they all have something different to say at noon. Some strike solemnly, some have carillons and some have little bells that ring rather like the Fire Station alarm at Trumpton. But they ALL do it at noon. We laughed ourselves silly. It was hilarious.

One of our maps had a list of hotels and restaurants, so we went for the nearest four star hotel to where we were. The loos were very nice but it didn’t have a restaurant! It’s basically just a glorified bed and breakfast. I wouldn’t call that four star?! Very odd. They had also turned the disabled loo into a store cupboard, complete with Christmas lights in the sink. Not ideal. On our way there, however, we had passed a very nice-looking restaurant with a dozen-page menu in four languages, and a mention of allergens (THAT is a first for this trip!). So we went back there and had a FANTASTIC meal.

Mum had brushcetta, Dad had a superb pizza and I had GLUTEN-FREE spaghetti napoletana! Woohoo! This restaurant is called the Royal Ceres and it is on Via San Giuseppe al Duomo. The fish is very fresh, and they bring the corpse of your choice to your table for approval before they cook it (we watched the next table do this). The decor is a bit, um, eclectic, with a five-foot statue of Blind Justice holding her scales and a sword (?!)(isn’t it supposed to be a book?!), and a fake red telephone box with a VERY old telephone inside (the one where you have a mouthpiece on the wall and a trumpet to put to your ear). All very odd. But the food was superb, the loos were a delight and the bill was miniscule. Cannot recommend this one highly enough.

Then we realised we were all utterly shattered, so we cabbed it back to the ship for a siesta. Bob was 4 anyway, so half two was probably sensible. Our taxi driver told the man at the gate he wanted to drive us as close as possible, but the gate guard was a bit of a jobsworth and wasn’t having any of it. My Italian is VERY limited, but I know the word for wheelchair, and the rest of it was something along the lines of, Don’t be such an arse, there’s a wheelchair in the boot, just let me take them over to the terminal (which was maybe 150 yards in front of us). Eventually, he talked his way in, but Dad and I were having hysterics in the back.  I think our driver was handsomely tipped for his efforts, and, as Dad pointed out, he probably enjoyed it as much as we did. Silly little man with the clipboard on the gate. Made a bit of a tit of himself, frankly.

So here endeth the fifth port in five days. If you are offered the opportunity to do five ports in five days, I recommend a flat refusal. I’m shattered and going for a siesta.  Gnite.

Catania Day 1 – Attack of the Rome(an)s (and Greeks)

Having purchased and printed my train tickets the night before (well, Paypal did the purchasing and Reception did the printing, but I was the middleperson), I got off (alone (parents took the day off, and frankly, can’t blame them – I’m knackered and I’m not in my eighties)) at 10 and walked up to the Central train station, to catch the train to Syracuse (Siracusa). Found a LOT of Oriana passengers on the platform! P&O really missed a trick by not putting on an excursion for this. Tagged along with a small group for the hour-long ride through the countryside and down the coast. At the other end, we walked through the town itself and out across the bridge to the island of Ortigia (Orteeja), to the Temple of Apollo (ruins of) and the other old buildings and history and archaeology and stuff. This was where Archimedes did his post-bath exercise when he figured out displacement. It oozes history from every brick (insert usual ‘faded charm’ passage here). Walked MILES. The weather was warm (25 in the shade, so about 33+ in the sunshine)(and yes, I forgot the suncream, so you may now call me Rudolf) but breezy, so bearable, and the whole thing was thoroughly enjoyable.

This is NOT a place to bring a wheelchair, however. Never mind hoiking it up onto the train and down again – which would have challenged Geoff Capes, I would imagine – there are about two dipped kerbs in the whole place. The paving is nice and smooth and flat (everything gets updated after the earthquakes), but negotiating the kerbs with a wheelchair WILL kill you, be in no doubt about that – and wouldn’t do your passenger much good, either.

When I sat down in a cafe to order a late lunch, the waitress ignored me for twenty minutes before being forced by her boss to deliver a menu, and then ignored me some more. When I tried to order, she then announced that the kitchen had closed while I was waiting! Bloody cheek! So I went to the cafe next door and ate and enjoyed a very good meal in less time than it had taken her to even come to my table. So, if you need a bite to eat in Ortigia, you need to dine at Le Spighe de Demetra Panificio, NOT the Bar De Ponte Cristina next door.

Then I went back to the station for the hour-long journey home, and who should be waiting on the platform but the group I travelled down with?! So we chatted all the way back again, comparing our days and experiences, and enjoying the scenery til we got back to Catania and to the ship. Just in time for first sitting dinner.

The journey from the station to the ship was much less enjoyable than the morning one had been, going the other way, because (a) I twisted my left knee disembarking the train, so I now have a limp (to add to the bad finger on my left hand and the bad left shoulder/rotator cuff I was already having physio for before we left)(seriously, you could slice me down the middle right now, and only one half would have even scrap value), and (b) the winds really started picking up at about 3pm, and it was getting somewhat chilly by the time we got back. Not cold, per se, but definitely not as balmy as earlier on. Suffice to say, it was certainly no longer sandals and t-shirts and shorts weather. The subsequent arrival of sunset didn’t help with the temperature, and the flags on the quayside were really struggling with the wind by the time we finished dinner at 8 (useful having a window seat, innit?!). When we boarded, I noticed that at least one large terracotta plant pot by the cruise terminal had had to go for a lie down already. They’re clearly not used to inclement weather here. #gladtohaveaninsidecabintonight.

Things currently worrying me greatly:

(1) I found no usable postcards today so will have to remember tomorrow

(2) I’m not sure how well I will sleep tonight – there will be no rocking motion, as we are in port overnight to hide from the bad weather.

Ports Part 3 –The Roman Empire Strikes Back


Split is Croatia and very pleasant. This is NOT in the EU. I repeat NOT in the EU. Many places accept Euros, but likewise many do NOT. Even if they run a business that relies entirely on tourists (fridge magnets/ postcards/ etc). You need the Kuna here.

Weather: gorgeous.

Disabled access: pretty good. Dipped kerbs, smooth cobbles/flagstones.

Virtually the whole of Split is built in, on, through or over Diocletian’s retirement palace. It’s spectacular and very beautiful. The vaulted ceilings were held up by arches made of typically thin Roman bricks and tiles, but with no keystones, which left me and Dad scratching our heads somewhat.

This is a very touristy destination. And tourists are, apparently, noisy so-and-sos. The din was deafening. We hid down some back streets to get away from them, and accidentally found an excellent cafe with a proprietor who spoke perfect English and treated us like royalty. Can’t imagine what his prices were like (we don’t really care, as long as the food is good and the loo is clean), because we were his only customers, whilst the cafe next door was about one third full. Their loss. We had a lovely meal.

We then pootled back to the drop-off point, which was on the end of the waterfront (Riva) in the bus and taxi station, and tried to get a taxi. This is where the only problem arose. Those who take Euros will mostly convert reasonably, but the taxi drivers (as with much of the rest of the planet) will gouge you blind, and make you feel like they’re doing you a favour. The first one we asked quoted £7 for a taxi ride – when asked in Kuna. Translated into Euros, it was suddenly £18. Seriously, watch your maths here! We took our business elsewhere! We ended up with a lovely driver called Tony, who took us to the shopping mall I had researched, and we visited shoe shops and clothes shops and C&A and had a very productive time. Tony went to the local football club’s shop in the mall, and queued for tickets for tonight’s game, while he waited for us, and then he drove us back to the ship, with all our purchases. (Unfortunately, they lost, but he expected a punch-up to ensue either way).


Greece on a Sunday. Not the wisest of moves, but can’t be helped. The touristy stuff was open, at least (although not the synagogue! That’s only open Monday to Saturday!). The weather was glorious and Corfu is a lovely old town to wander through. Not many vehicles to bother us, because they don’t fit down most of the streets, but a couple of stroppy mopeds passed by, just to keep our feet on the ground, expectations-wise, and remind us how quiet life is at sea.

We pootled and shopped and stopped for a bit to eat near the New Fortress (as opposed to the Old Fortress), at the New Fortress Taverna. I DON’T recommend it. I had lamb cutlets, which were 75% fat and bone, and Mum and Dad had completely inedible pizzas. They were so overcooked that the bases were like biscuits. Mum had some taramasalata by way of replacement, but Dad wasn’t hungry. The owner figured we weren’t coming back, either to Corfu, or in any event, to his restaurant, so he decided to charge for the uneaten pizzas. That’s fine. We can’t tip you if you’ve already taken all our money (not that we were going to anyway)! If that’s how you want to operate, that’s fine, but we won’t be sending anyone to your place any time soon! DO NOT EAT THERE. EVER. Send only your worst enemies. The toilets are fine, but the food is DIRE.

Then we pootled some more down the lovely cobbled side streets, past the closed synagogue and through the Jewish ghetto (which Hitler relieved of over 2000 Jews), back towards the bus stop. There were several signs and road names that mentioned Albert Cohen. Apparently, he was born here on the island, although he is probably best known for editing the Jewish Review in Europe, which published the likes of Einstein and Freud. A lady stopped to tell us that he lived here til he was five. Everyone seems very friendly (except the cafe owners and waiters!).

The faded charm was everywhere. I suppose if you’re an outdoor society, it doesn’t really matter if the plaster is coming off your house. As long as it keeps the rain and wind out while you sleep, that’s all it’s there for. It’s only in countries further north, where we spend more time indoors, that I suppose indoor comfort becomes important.

We stopped at another cafe – called Safran. Lovely toilets. Up a very shiny flight of stairs. Do NOT eat there. The waiter was so unpleasant, we spent the rest of the walk back trying to think of adjectives for him. We got as far as sullen, sulky, vicious and spiteful. He thought he was being spiteful, anyway, because he gave me my change in cents. Little did he know that we had been trying to GET smaller notes and coins for DAYS! So we had a laugh at his expense.  And he probably thought he was having a good laugh at us.

I like Corfu. It is definitely going on the list of Places I Would Like To Return To. But not to EITHER of the food purveyors we encountered on this visit.

EDIT: Tripadvisor reviews done. Should have read them before we chose our lunch venue. It has the worst reviews I’ve ever seen!

Ports Part 2

Okay, pay attention. You’ll need to concentrate for this. I’m living it, and I have completely lost track, so this is for my benefit as well as yours! I’m hoping if I write it down it will (a) make more sense and (b) stay in my head. But don’t count on it.

So, the middle bit of the cruise was expected to be:

20th – Venice

21st – Ravenna, Italy

22nd – Split, Croatia

23rd – Kotor, Montenegro

24th – Corfu, Greece

Yes, five ports in five days. Yikes. We were dreading it. The most I have ever, personally, done is three ports in three days, and that was pretty exhausting, so five in five was never going to be particularly welcome. Last time, mum had the buggy. Now she uses a manual wheelchair for long distances, which means Dad and I have to push. It’s amazing, but just when you think you cannot possibly attain a higher level of exhaustion, another one inevitably appears. Let’s summarise by saying I was expecting to sleep well…

Anyway, after Corigliano, the Captain made an announcement that, due to the port being closed by fog, we would not be going to Venice, but to Trieste instead. Which we duly did.

Trieste, Italy (on the border with Slovenia)

What an absolutely lovely place. Even though the sky was grey and the temperature (18 C) low enough to warrant long sleeves for the first time since the Bay of Biscay a week ago, we had a lovely time here.  The whole place was built by someone with a love of that slightly florid stone architecture that the people of the 1800s and 1900s so enjoyed. Almost every building was stunningly beautiful.

And the dipped kerbs were unobstructed, which was nice for me!

The over-enthusiasm of the ornate architecture continued in the naming of some of the places in the town – the Grand Canal is neither Grand, nor a Canal. It’s an inlet that runs two blocks inland (enough to put some cafes down each side and some very small boats on the water that can only get under the bridges at low tide), but it’s very pleasant, despite its seriously overegged advertising/nomenclature. And we ate proper Italian ice cream (well, Dad and I did), which was a definite perk to the visit.

Back on board, things got complicated. Try and keep up. The general gist of the announcements were that there is a nasty low in the western Med, heading north (very unusual for this time of year). Therefore, we need to head south, and pretty sharpish, in order to avoid a very nasty few days on the ocean wave. So, instead of Ravenna, Split, Kotor, Corfu, we will be doing:

20th – Trieste

21st – Split

22nd – Corfu

23rd and 24th – Catania (two days) (where?!)

1.5 sea days

26th – Cartagena (half day)

So, today was Split, instead of tomorrow. Tomorrow is Corfu, instead of Tuesday. It’ll be interesting to see how Christian it is, because we are now arriving in a place that is now Greece on a Sunday.

Still with me? Good, you can explain it to me. I’m just trying to keep the upcoming 24 hours in my head. My brain cannot cope with the rest. I’m way too tired to have to think this hard! I’m supposed to be on holiday, dammit!

First few ports


Cadiz, Spain

Do not confuse the town with the region of the same name. The town is out on an isthmus into the ocean, connected to the mainland by a thin sliver of land. The town is old and cobbled and a bit hilly but beautiful, with fairly narrow streets and that faded charm that the Med does so well. The central market is very lively, and most of the shopping streets are pedestrianised (except for disabled access/ taxis/ police/ ambulances/ deliveries, i.e. not very!). We took a taxi to the Archaeological Museum, because this is one of the only places in the world with a significant Phoenician history and collection of finds (they called it Gadyr). But, despite my research on the internet prior to departure, they did not warn us that they only let in 25 people per hour, and closed for siesta until after our departure time, so I didn’t get to go inside. We then made our way down to the shopping area, and found that Punt Roma (mum’s favourite shop – although I was the only one who made a purchase) was very easy to find and C&A closed down in August.  Not the most satisfying of mornings! We went to the Senator Hotel (the only 4-star in the place) for a bite of lunch (there’s a lovely spa in the basement, fyi), and then we went for another wander, after which we returned to the ship, so we could all shower whilst we were still moored.

Messina, Sicily

Messina is a proper town, with the standard Mediterranean thing of putting a dual carriageway along the front (WHY do they all do that?!). It was noisy and smelly and surprisingly friendly. We plodded along the fairly well-paved pavements to the Piazza Duomo. We drank expensive (tourist priced) drinks and used the cafe’s (pretty poor) toilets while we killed time until noon struck, at which point, we all gathered under the Campanile to watch the rather impressive moving parts perform to the tune of Ave Maria. The ages of man processed, saints raised their hands in blessing, a dove of peace circled, a cock crowed and a lion roared. On one side of the tower is one of the most beautiful astronomical clocks in the world.  The weather was gorgeous, and we enjoyed the whole thing immensely.

Then we got on a rather cute road train for a tour of the town.  Unfortunately, the roads are not as lovely as the pavements, and I suggested they put up a warning sign to alert people to the fact that their vertebrae may not be returned to them in the same order as that in which they arrived.  We tootled up to the top of the town, where we took photos of little Oriana (1800 passengers) parked in front of MSC Meraviglia (5,000 passengers) parked in front of a Seabourn three-master  mock schooner that holds a few dozen. We found a lovely little neighbourhood restaurant for lunch (with much better loo!), and then we then plodded in (futile) search of shops (but at least it was all downhill!) until we ended up back at the ship. The one shop we did find was one that allowed mum to replace the reading glasses she had sat on the day before, so that was a plus.

It’s a very nice place, Messina, but although they have dipped kerbs for the mobility impaired, car parking is pretty haphazard (double parking, sideways parking, on the pavement, on the dual carriageway, you name it), and they park across the dips without blinking an eyelid, which means the rather high kerbs are the only option.  Not for the severely mobility impaired, this one, I’m afraid. And if you cross the road, pushing a wheelchair, at a zebra crossing, with a green man light in your favour, you will still get people trying to run you down, and when you object, they will tell you to go and do things to yourself that would usually be said in Anglo-Saxon in the UK – even my limited Italian understood that. Charming! Well, everyone ELSE was friendly! And the sun shone, which helped.

Corigliano Calabro (possible prize available if you can find this on a map!)

We waited AGES for a shuttle bus and took the 20 minute drive away from Schiaveno, where we moored, up into the hills overlooking the beaches, where this tiny town is perched, on, if not actually in, the cliff face. This town is not for tourists, and certainly not for those of limited mobility. The roads are so narrow, there is no vehicular access, and the town has no taxi service. It is also entirely built on sloping hills, which makes it quite unsuitable for wheelchair users. There is a pretty impressive castle (built by the Normans – no, I didn’t know they had come this far south either) with some lovely views. That’s it. For the whole town. No shops, no restaurants, no bars (except the one the shuttle bus parked outside of), no souvenirs, no postcards, no taxis, no maps, nothing. So we took the shuttle bus back down again.

The port area of Schiaveno is a very large patch of concrete with no freight cranes, so clearly intended to welcome passenger ships, rather than stuff, but the town is not ready. According to the internet, there are two resort hotels nearby, but as there were no taxis or maps, we couldn’t go looking for them. We never got to see Schiaveno town either, for the same reason. P&O wanted to whisk us up to Corigliano Calabro and if we wanted to go elsewhere, tough poo. We were back on board in time for lunch by the pool, and so were most of the other passengers. A shame, really. A bit of a waste of a day, that could have been much more enjoyable if P&O had tried a little harder. But, I think it was their first time here too, so maybe things will improve for future visits. I certainly hope so, anyway. What little we saw had the potential to be a lovely place to visit.

This is the end of the first few ports. It gets a bit complicated from hereon in so bear with me!