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Heart of Glass

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; A palace and a prison on each hand.
– Lord Byron

Got up this morning as usual just after 8.00am to another bright and sunny morning; this time in the amazing Venice.  We had last been here on the Norwegian Crown in 2003, so we were excited to be back in this unique city.

What springs to mind when you think of Venice?  As well as the famous canals, bridges and gondolas, there is art, theatre, music and beautiful handmade glass, and of course, those fantastic detailed masks.  Today we were booked on a trip to the islands of Murano and Burano.

After breakfast we had to assemble in the Queen’s Room until our number was called for us to board the boat to take us to the islands.  A large pontoon had been attached to the Queen Victoria on Deck A, and we made our way down there and boarded the double-decker boat, choosing to sit inside downstairs where we’d be sheltered from the breeze.  We were advised that it would take about 45 minutes to reach Murano, and in the meantime we looked forward to enjoying the scenic ride in the Venice Lagoon.

Our boat sedately made its way around the bottom of the main island on which Venice and the Grand Canal are situated.  We spotted the famous St Mark’s Campanile, the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica in Piazza San Marco.  To the right of it we could also see the Doge’s Palace, adjoined to a former prison by the instantly-recognisable Bridge of Sighs.  The bridge is so-called because those unfortunates being sent to prison would take a last look at Venice and give a big sigh before being incarcerated.

We continued round, passing the buoys and pilings marking out the route the boat was to take, as well as other small craft. Eventually we arrived at a landing stage in the isle of Murano, which is situated north-east of Venice.  We all disembarked the boat and stood waiting expectantly.

Our guide led us along the short walk until we arrived at the factory where the famous Murano glass is produced.  Inside, we were led into a workshop which was nice and warm due to the furnaces where the glass was fired.  One of the artisans was going to show us how the glass was made.  Our guide explained he was 57 and had been glass-blowing for 43 years, since he was 14 in fact.

We watched, enthralled, as the artisan brought the molten glass out of the furnace on the end of a long pole, added various coloured powdered elements to it, then shaped it with tongs and rollers before blowing it into a bulb shape.  Every now and then he’d return it to the furnace to soften it, and eventually it was shaped into a vase with a fluted rim.

The artisan then spent only a few minutes moulding an apparently shapeless piece of glass into a prancing horse shape, what is known as a cavallino.  He made it look easy, but then again that is the sign of a true expert.  There was also a selection of plates, goblets and other glassware on display, with a large sign demanding that people “DO NOT TOUCH”.

After this fascinating demonstration, we were invited into the shop to look at the amazing array of beautiful glassware, from mirrors to chandeliers to carafes and wine glasses, coffee sets and ornaments.  In particular, I was interested in the jewellery and any glass pendants or beads.

I ended up buying a gorgeous pink leather wraparound bangle, with a large glass bead surrounded by several smaller beads and crystals, for a cost of €70,00.  Some of the larger pieces cost thousands; such as a coffee set with pot, cups, saucers and tray for €5,000 and a wine carafe and six glasses for €2,000.  We also saw a large, ornate and very detailed horse sculpture for over €20,000.  Wow!

Afterwards, we made our way back to our waiting boat to continue to our next stop, the island of Burano.  This was another 40 or so minutes along an equally-scenic route.  On the way, we saw the “leaning tower of Burano”, the bell-tower of St. Martin’s Church, built between 1703 and 1714, and which became unstable more or less immediately, possibly because of the island’s watery foundations.  The problem increased up until the second World War, until an acceleration of the issue forced the City of Venice to carry out static consolidation works, which ended in 1970.

Burano is famous for its beautiful hand-made lace, and we were taken into a shop and shown by one of the ladies how the lace is made.  First of all, the outline of the shape or pattern is stitched by sewing machine onto some waxed brown paper; the thread used for the lace is then started off in the stitching and is then linked back to itself, without ever sewing through the paper.  Once the intricate lace pattern is established and the item finished, the paper is then removed.

Burano has been producing hand-made lace for over 400 years, and we were shown into a room that had lots of examples of antique lace, including the most amazing wedding dress.  There was also a shop where visitors could buy items such as tablecloths, napkins, runners, doilies etc. as well as shoes and handbags decorated with lace.  As expected, they were all very expensive.

After our visit to the lace shop, we had about an hour’s free time to look around the island.  It was a very colourful and picturesque place with a laid-back charm, a small canal with bridges over it, and shops and pavement cafés either side, all of them doing a roaring trade.

We enjoyed looking in the shop windows at the various crafts, including the ubiquitous Venetian masks.  A temptingly-delicious smell emanating from a bakery reminded us that it was lunchtime, and we went in and bought a large, almond-flavoured biscuit each.  We then went into an off licence where we bought a bottle of Prosecco, two cans of cold beer and two small bottles of Aperol Spritz, which we’d enjoy on our balcony later on.

We sat by the side of one of the small waterways and enjoyed our cold beer, then made our way back to where our boat was moored.  On the way, we passed several colourful stalls selling papier-mâché, but beautifully decorated, masks for only ten Euros each.  As the Queen Victoria is going to be holding a Masquerade Ball on Monday, I decided to buy one in white, gold and purple, which will go fantastically well with the black and purple ball gown I plan to wear.  I had already brought a mask with me, but this one was so much nicer.

Once we were all back on the boat, we returned to the Queen Victoria in time for afternoon tea in the Queen’s Room, a most civilised affair, wherein cucumber sandwiches were served as well as wafer-thin roast beef and horseradish, egg and cress and ham and tomato, followed by cakes and a selection of warm scones with jam and cream, all served by attentive, white-gloved waiters.

Afterwards we went up on deck to see which other ships were in, and we spotted the familiar red funnel bearing the Fred.Olsen logo as the Braemar manoeuvred into the berth next to Queen Victoria.  We were able to get some great photos of this lovely ship, on which we’ve had the pleasure of cruising three times before.

Soon it was time to start getting ready for dinner after a very full day.  We were staying in port overnight, so there were a lot of spaces in the dining room as people took advantage of the extra time ashore.  Likewise, in the Golden Lion afterwards it was much quieter than usual, but we decided it wasn’t a bad thing as we enjoyed listening to the resident pianist before going in to the Royal Court Theatre to see a show by guest performers “West on Sunset”, who’d flown in to Venice today for a one-off performance on the QV.

They were actually very good; a group of four older guys singing and playing the guitar.  A lot of their music was from the 1960s and ‘70s, and included stuff from The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, Toto and Tom Petty.  We enjoyed the show a great deal.

We finished off the evening as usual; along to the Golden Lion for the quiz (we were rubbish!) then back to our stateroom to sit on the balcony, looking at the lights of Venice while enjoying the Aperol Spritzes we’d bought earlier on.  What an interesting day we had had, and we looked forward to exploring more of Venice tomorrow.

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The alarm woke us with a start at 6.45am, and we went out onto our balcony into the cool morning air and watched the sun rise over the distant mountains and hills of Slovenia – our 85th country.  😊

The Queen Victoria had dropped anchor off the picturesque town of Piran, a maiden port of call for the ship.  Slovenia gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, and is a bilingual municipality, with both Slovene and Italian as official languages.  We were looking forward to exploring and, after breakfast, we eagerly made our way to the Queen’s Room to await the call for our group to board the liberty boat for the short ride ashore.

On arrival at the quayside, those with British passports (and therefore European Union) could go straight through, but those from non-EU countries had to go through immigration.  As we were waiting, we were serenaded by some locals in their national dress.

Once everyone was present and correct, our guide led us onto a large, comfortable coach and we set off along the fantastic Adriatic coastline, climbing up the winding roads so we had superb views of the sea and our ship anchored far below.  Piran certainly looked a most charming little town, with many compact houses built in the hills, and here and there old churches and other medieval buildings.  As Piran had originally been part of the Republic of Venice, a lot of Venetian influence was apparent.

Our coach reached the motorway and the driver put his foot down.  We passed through diverse scenery from countryside to large commercial areas and shopping precincts.  After around 30 minutes we stopped for a comfort break, and alighted from the coach to purchase a bottle of cold water each and to use the restrooms.

Once everyone was back on the coach we continued on our way, eventually arriving along the shores of the famed Lake Bled into the town of the same name.  I had only ever seen pictures of Lake Bled, with its little island in the middle, and had hoped that it would look as beautiful in real-life as it did in the photos.  In this aspect I was certainly not disappointed.

Lake Bled is of mixed glacial and tectonic origin, situated in the Julian Alps. It is 2,120 m long and 1,380 m wide, with a maximum depth of 29.5 m. The lake lies in a picturesque environment, surrounded by mountains and forests.

The bus parked up and we all got off into the bright sunshine.  There were lots of trees and shrubs and grassy banks along the shores of the lake.  At the other side of the expanse of water we could see a turreted edifice, the 11th century Bled Castle, perched high on the hillside.  There was also another fortification and bell tower we could see on the small, but interesting-looking island in the middle.  A row of large, canopied rowing-boats waited shore-side to take us across to the island.

Once we were all aboard, split between two groups, our boatmen positioned themselves at the bow of the vessel and took to the large oars, languidly rowing us across.  It only took about 10 minutes, and was a very pleasant ride, allowing us to gaze out over the lake and enjoy the slight breeze ruffling our hair.

Once we arrived, we were advised we had about 45 minutes until we had to be back at the boat for the return ride across.  We puffed our way up a very steep set of steps to the bell tower, which formed part of the grandly-named Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria; it was hard work but well worth it when you got there, for the views.  We walked all around the edge of the walls, taking in the spectacular scenery, and stopped at a little shop near the church for a large ice-cream; in fact, the vendor was doing a roaring trade as everyone seemed to have the same idea!

We walked around and took loads of photographs, then it was time to come back down to get the rowing boat across to where the bus was parked.

It was then only a short ride into the town of Bled, where our guide advised us that we had an hour of free time to do some shopping or try some of the local cuisine for lunch.  We were surprised, and not a little disappointed, that lunch was not included in the price of the excursion; usually for full-day tours a meal and/or snacks forms a large (and often memorable) part of the trip.  Maybe it was yet another sign of the increased penny-pinching we have noticed from Cunard.  ☹

Nevertheless, we found a pleasant little café with some chairs and tables outside, and we ordered a large, cold beer each as well as a slice of the local cake.  This is the most famous delicacy of the area – the Bled Cream Cake (“kremšnita”) made using an original recipe from over 60 years ago. More than 12 million pieces of this dessert have been sold in Lake Bled so far.  The cake consisted of a layer of flaky pastry, followed by a thick layer of custard, topped with a layer of fresh cream and finished with more flaky pastry dusted with icing sugar.  It was scrumptious.

As we were sitting in the sun, numerous small, sparrow-like birds flitted about, hopping from table to table in search of any stray crumbs.  When I threw some morsels of the flaky pastry down, a large number of the birdies swooped down in the flurry of feathers, fighting over the tiny titbits.

After we’d finished our cake and beer, we made use of the café’s toilet facilities then slowly made our way back to the bus for the return journey to Piran.  It had been a lovely excursion.

We arrived back around 3.30pm, but as we didn’t have to be back on board until five-thirty, we decided to have a walk around the immediate area, looking at the boats bobbing gently in the harbour and browsing the shop windows.  We walked around until we came to a spacious square with many pavement cafés and bars, and some stalls selling local wines and produce.  We decided to sit in the sunshine with a freezing cold beer each and just relax and watch the world go by, a most pleasant way of spending the time.

We ordered a large beer each, which was cold and foamy and just the ticket.  As I sat there, Trevor wandered over to the stalls and purchased a bottle of local white wine for us to enjoy on our balcony.  We were sitting there enjoying ourselves when Trevor glanced at his watch; it was 4.30pm and we had to be back on board within the hour!  We’d nearly missed our plane out to Rome, and at this rate we’d miss the ship!  We therefore had to get a move on and return to the port to queue for the liberty boat back to the Queen Victoria.

Back on board, we returned to our cabin and had just over an hour to get showered and changed ready for dinner at six.  Tonight the dress code was ‘Smart Attire’ so I put on a floaty turquoise and orange dress with high-heeled orange shoes.

Dinner was the usual delicious, calorie-laden culinary delight washed down with chilled rosé wine and finished with coffee and petits fours.  There was no sign of Guy and Tessa tonight, so Trevor and I just sat at our table for two by the window, and watched as the Queen Victoria weighed anchor and set off once again as the daylight faded and hundreds of twinkling lights came on and reflected on the surface of the flat-calm sea.

After dinner we repaired, as usual, to the Golden Lion for a drink and a half-hearted attempt at the quiz before tonight’s show, which was a double bill featuring the previously-seen singer Jacinta Whyte and hilarious comedian Mike Doyle, who once again had everyone splitting their sides.  So far the entertainment on board has been excellent, as is the superb ship’s orchestra and its talented musicians.

After the show we returned to the Golden Lion to participate in an interactive trivia game called Gridlocked, where there were several categories of questions, for example History, Sport, Music etc. and you won points vouchers from 1 to 5 points, depending on the difficulty of the question.  Half-way through the quiz you could wager some or all of your accumulated points (“double or quits”) to increase (or decrease!) your chance of winning.  It was good fun but we blew all our points in the end.

Afterwards we went along to the Queen’s Room to see what was going on; we got up and practised our ballroom dancing, doing the rumba and the foxtrot (badly!)  We then returned to stateroom 5130 and went out on our balcony in the cool night air, enjoying a nightcap and listening to the gorgeous sounds of the sea, looking at other ships passing in the night and using the Marine Traffic app to identify them and see where they were going.

Tomorrow we had another fantastic destination to look forward to – the one and only Venice.

We got up around eight o’clock as usual, and eagerly went out onto our balcony to look around. The Queen Victoria was just about ready to dock in the port of Split, Croatia. Split is Croatia’s second largest city after Zagreb, the capital. It was originally a trading post established by Greek settlers and is now the largest passenger port in Croatia, with approximately 18,000 recorded ship arrivals each year.

This was a new port of call to us and we looked forward to exploring. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I breathed a big, contented sigh as I watched the sunlight glittering on the calm ripples of blue sea.

After a good breakfast in the Lido self-service restaurant, we returned to stateroom 5130 and got our stuff together, complete with the Croatian currency, the Kuna. Then we went down to Deck A and disembarked the ship. I was able to get some great bow photos of the Queen Victoria as we waited for the shuttle bus to take us into town.

It was only a short ride into the main square; in fact we could have walked it. We alighted from the bus and looked around us with interest at this pretty little town. In fact, Split seemed to contain many contrasts. On one hand, there was the attractive little harbour with its many colourful boats, the marble-paved square and the mountainous backdrop, but on the other hand there were the slightly-run-down high-rise apartment blocks; at least they would have had the most tremendous view. Old buildings rubbed shoulders with more modern constructions and everything seemed to have a natural, laid-back charm, rather than being a contrived, tourist trap.

We found ourselves in a wide promenade along the sea-front, flanked on one side with ornate modern buildings, one of which was the Town Hall and British Consulate. In front of the buildings there were a few canopied stalls, selling handicrafts, lavender, local produce and other souvenirs.

We strolled along, taking our time, enjoying the sunshine. We came across a very large, ornate building which contained two large wings attached to another building in a square U-shape. We found out it was the Trg Republike (Republic Square),  otherwise known as the Prokurative.  It was constructed during the latter half of the 19th century under the supervision of General Marmont, with the buildings inspired largely by the architecture of the same period in Venice. While relatively unoccupied in the cooler months, the square comes alive in the summer with concerts and cultural events, the most popular being the Entertainment Musical Festival of Split.  In front of it was a water fountain, sending up its dancing spray and creating fleeting rainbows in the bright sunshine.

The main thoroughfare was crowded with tourists, even though the Queen Victoria was the only ship in port. We decided to get some postcards and sit and write them out. We bought the cards and stamps from one of those little tobacconist-type stalls that seem to sell everything, and we noticed they also had a drinks cooler containing cans of chilled beer. We decided to enjoy a beer each as I wrote out the postcards, and we sat down on a nearby large marble block to do so.

The only thing that marred the place for us was an all-pervading stench that was hanging over the harbour and quayside. It wasn’t the smell of seaweed or fish, or even sewage, but it had a sort of ammonia-type stink to it; maybe it was coming from a gas pipe.

We sat and enjoyed our beers and wrote out the cards, then walked along to a nearby postbox to send them on their way. We then walked along one of the wide streets of shops, enjoying the fact that it all seemed to be pedestrianised. The prices were all in Kunas, although some places did take Euros as well. There were 8.5 Kunas to the pound, and things seemed quite expensive.

We window-shopped for a while but didn’t actually buy anything, then we walked along to what was clearly the old town of Split, with its fine old architecture and an interesting church and bell-tower.  As we walked along, our attention was attracted by a spout of water coming out of the top of a building in a graceful arc. Below it was a perfectly-positioned giant teacup to catch the water – an unusual feature.

We then saw some stray cats and kittens and a gentleman had put out some bowls of milk for them; a cardboard sign nearby invited donations so he could help feed the cats. I cuddled a little black kitten then we pressed a coin into the guy’s hand.

Afterwards we decided to take a slow stroll back to the Queen Victoria in time for lunch, rather than spend time queueing for the shuttle bus.

Back on board we enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of a fairly empty ship, as most people seemed to be ashore. We therefore went up to the pool deck for lunch and enjoyed a tasty burger each, washed down with a cold bottle of beer. Then we returned to our stateroom and had a post-luncheon nap, before sitting out on the balcony for a while, then going for a walk around deck. From our high vantage point on Deck 11 we could see right across to the town, including Diocletian’s Palace and the bell-tower we’d seen earlier.

The afternoon passed in its pleasant way until it was time to get showered and changed, ready for dinner. Were we eating again?! Sometimes it can seem that all you do on a cruise is eat and drink, and even the most determined efforts to watch the calories is soon thwarted by the array of delicious meals available.

We made our way to table #529 where, once again, we were on our own – no sign of Guy and Tessa. From our window table we had a great view of the Adriatic Sea as the Queen Victoria slipped her moorings and glided off once more into the sunset.

I enjoyed a delicious sirloin steak for my main meal, washed down with chilled rosé wine and iced water. Although it wasn’t a formal night, Cunard passengers always make the effort to dress a little more smartly, and it was such a pleasure to sit here in these elegant surroundings, enjoying scrumptious food among well-travelled, well-dressed people. This, to me, is what real cruising is all about, rather than the modern propensity for those huge vessels with their “Butlin’s at Sea” culture.

After dinner we adjourned, as usual, to the Golden Lion to do the Wipeout Trivia Quiz. Or rather, to answer the questions amongst ourselves but not actually participate. The reason was twofold; first of all, we only had about 20 minutes before we had to be in the theatre for tonight’s show, and secondly, the questions are really hard so we haven’t done well in the quiz so far. Therefore, we just enjoyed a drink, which we took along to the Royal Court Theatre to finish whilst enjoying the evening’s performance.

The show tonight starred musician Samantha Jay. What a talented performer she was! She played the piano, alto saxophone, oboe and violin, all of them very well. She played anything from classical to pop to rock, and ended her amazing performance with a selection of music from around the world, played to a backdrop of photos on a large screen that dropped down from above the stage. The show was tremendous, and Samantha was well-deserving of the standing ovation she received from the audience.

We finished off the evening as we have been doing all this cruise; along to the Golden Lion where the barman materialised immediately, already knowing what we were going to have to drink. Then we listened to the resident pianist Glenn Monie for a while, before the Big Pub Quiz (which once again we played just for fun).

Afterwards we were flagging a bit, so we decided to return to stateroom 5130 and sit out on our balcony for a short while. We had an early start tomorrow (we had to be up by 06:45 hours) as we were booked on an all-day excursion in Slovenia.

We therefore settled down around 23:00 hours (early for us!) in our crisp cotton sheets, as Queen Victoria glided through the peaceful Adriatic waters towards our next exciting destination.

Adriatic Blue

Didn’t sleep too well last night; I had a disturbing dream in which we’d missed our flight and various other unpleasant things; one of those nightmares when you wake up and realise, with a sigh of relief, that it was just a dream.  Slept intermittently and then awoke late – 09:10 hours this morning; very late for us when we are on holiday.

Slugglishly dragged myself out of bed, feeling a bit under the weather.  Oh please, not another cold!  I had a cold during our last two holidays, and I certainly didn’t want to go for the hat-trick.  So I took a couple of paracetamol with a glass of water, and decided not to go for breakfast, preferring instead to take advantage of the tea and coffee making facilities thoughtfully provided in our stateroom.

By the time Trevor returned from breakfast, I was washed and dressed, and ready to go along to the talk by former BBC man Johnny Beerling in the Royal Court Theatre at 10.00am.  This time the title was “Hey, Mr DJ” and gave a brief history of the role of the disc jockey in radio, from some of the early ones to the well-loved DJs such as Tony Blackburn, John Peel and Noel Edmunds.  It was a most enjoyable interlude, and by the time it was finished I was feeling more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  😊

We decided to do a few laps around the deck, mainly to take in the fresh sea air but also to get some exercise.  Standing at the stern of the Queen Victoria, looking down at where her propellors churned the blue sea to white, leaving a long wake behind her almost like a bridal train, was hypnotising.  Every now and again we would pass other vessels in the distance, but all around us as far as the eye could see was the blue of the Adriatic Sea as we headed to our next port of call in Split, Croatia.  Breathing in a huge lungful of the salty air and looking at the glittering, sparking water under a sunny sky just made us feel glad to be alive.  😊

After a couple of laps, we decided to go inside and have a cup of coffee, then it was time to make our way to the Queen’s Room for the second of our dance classes – this time the social foxtrot.  Again, this was one we had been practising in our dance lessons at home, so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar to us.  The dancing was enjoyable, but it would have been more so if there were fewer couples on the dance floor.  As it was, the floor was packed, and most of the time was spent avoiding bumping into other couples.  Obviously the dance lessons are very popular.

This brought us nicely to lunchtime and (after taking another couple of paracetamol to keep the lurgy at bay), we went along to the Golden Lion for a pub lunch.  I had the Ploughman’s again, washed down with a bottle of Samuel Adams beer.  Then we wandered back to our stateroom and sat out on our balcony for a short while, before returning to our stateroom to get our swimming things.  We then went up to the pool deck midships, bagged ourselves a sunlounger each, then took to the warm waters of the pool.  After lazily swimming a few lengths we went into the Jacuzzi for 10 minutes, before getting out and drying ourselves off.  Then I enjoyed an ice cold caipirinha cocktail and relaxed until it was time to get showered and glammed up for the second of our formal nights.

Tonight the Gala Evening theme was based around the Roaring Twenties, and passengers were encouraged to dress up accordingly.  I therefore donned a straight, sleeveless silver beaded dress with a fluted hemline, black and white heels, a black feather boa, long black evening gloves, a long rope of pearls and a platinum blonde wig cut in a short bob. I also carried a long, black cigarette holder.  My outfit elicited quite a few comments from other passengers, a number of whom were similarly attired.

Dinner was a grand affair again; we enjoyed a delicious Surf ‘n’ Turf (lobster and steak) washed down with chilled wine and finished off with Baked Alaska in Trevor’s case and a selection of cheeses in mine.  Coffee and petits fours completed the meal, and we passed the time in pleasant conversation with Guy and Tessa, who had put in an appearance this evening.

After dinner, at 7.45pm,  we made our way along to the Queen’s Room, where they were holding the Cunard World Club cocktail party.  This is the loyalty club for Cunard passengers and you are graded according to how many voyages of six days or more you have cruised on a Cunard ship.  We are Platinum members with nine voyages (including this one).  We have to complete 15 before we go into the top grade of Diamond.

We enjoyed four glasses of the free fizz as we stood and people-watched and admired some of the other 20s outfits. Then Captain Connery came on and gave a speech thanking us all for sailing with Cunard; he made a presentation to the passengers who were the most travelled Cunard sailors; one couple had spent over 1000 nights on board Cunard ships and had another 15 cruises already booked!!  😊

The end of the cocktail party took us up to show time, so we went along to the Royal Court Theatre and got seats in the front row for tonight’s show by the Royal Court Theatre Company, called One Way Or Another and featuring that song, plus many more foot-tappers, in a colourful show of song and dance.  It was a great show and we were sorry when it was over.

Afterwards, we returned to the Queen’s Room where the Roaring Twenties ball was in full swing, and we got up to do the dances we know, such as the rumba and cha cha cha.  One of the dance hosts taught everyone to get up and Charleston, but Trevor and I sat that one out, preferring to watch instead.

Around 11 o’clock we returned to our stateroom and enjoyed a nightcap on our balcony.  The weather felt quite cool but the sea was beautifully calm; all we could hear was the gorgeous shhhhh shhhhh of it washing against the side of the Queen Victoria as we gazed out into the blackness of the night.

We then settled down in bed for the evening; I was glad that the cold symptoms I’d experienced this morning seemed to have gone, and I slept very well, looking forward to our arrival in Split, Croatia, tomorrow.

Greece is the Word

Woke up this morning again around 8.00am, and eagerly went out on our balcony for a look around.  Today we were docked in Corfu, Greece, in the Ionian Sea.  We hadn’t been here before, and didn’t have an excursion booked, opting today to explore on our own.  We could see another couple of ships docked alongside us; the Rhapsody of the Seas and the Costa Riviera.  The Queen Victoria looked bigger and better than those ships.  😊

The weather was mild, but cloudy, but Captain Connery had assured us at the ball last night that the forecast was good.  Therefore, when getting ourselves ready to go ashore, we decided there was little point in bringing our cagoules with us.

Once we’d enjoyed a good breakfast in the Lido restaurant, we returned to cabin 5130 and got our credit cards and currency and prepared to disembark.  It was a short walk along the quayside to the waiting shuttle buses, for the ride into town.  We travelled along the picturesque, lively sea-front, looking at the many fishing and pleasure craft, before coming to a small square.  Once we alighted from the bus, we spotted the open-topped “hop-on-hop-off” tourist buses, so we decided to take one of those, because they only cost 19.00 Euros each which was way cheaper than an excursion would have cost.  The ticket was valid all day and would allow us to travel all along the coast line, accompanied by a recorded commentary on the way, for which we were given earphones.

Off we went on the bus, through the streets with their whitewashed dwellings and bright, flowery shrubs.  We went up a narrow winding road, past an ancient fortification and a lively fish market.  We could see aircraft flying quite low overhead, so we guessed we must have been quite near to the airport.  Quite how close we were soon became apparent, when we looked down and could see the runway out in the middle of the bay.

At the top the bus came to a halt, to allow people off and some waiting customers on.  Our map told us we were in Kanoni.  We decided to “hop-off” here and explore in more detail, particularly as it looked as if we would have some good views.  We could see right out over the harbour from our elevated vantage point, but first we wanted to find an ATM to withdraw some more Euros, and get a couple of bottles of cold water.  We therefore went into a nearby general dealers and bought our water, as well as a 1.5 litre bottle of local rosé wine, which only cost €4.50.  We didn’t expect a fine vintage for that price, but it was 12% and would probably go down well on our balcony.

Afterwards we decided to have a cold beer overlooking the harbour.  We found a lively open-air place and I took advantage of their restrooms, while Trevor went to find a table.  As we sat down and perused the drinks menu, we waited… and waited… and waited while the staff bustled around and more or less ignored us.  They certainly didn’t seem anxious to serve us, so we decided to go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the skies had darkened to an ominous grey, and we could hear the distant rumble of thunder.  Despite the Captain’s assurance that the weather would be fine, it didn’t seem to be the case, but we hoped the showers would miss us.

We found another bar/café with tables and chairs under a large canopy, directly overlooking the runway to the airport.  As we watched, a Thomas Cook flight roared in and landed in a puff of smoke from its tyres halfway down the runway, bringing another happy load of passengers out to Corfu for their holidays.

Some more rumbles of thunder sounded as we ordered a couple of pints a beer and sat under the canopy.  Across the bay the visibility was very poor and it was evident it had started raining over there.  Just then, there was a bright flash of lightning, and we counted five seconds until the thunder, indicating that the storm was about five miles away.  Over to our right we could still see some blue sky, and we spotted the red funnel of the Queen Victoria in the distance.

As we drank our beer and watched another Thomas Cook plane taxiing ready to take off, the sky darkened still further to a gunmetal grey, and a brisk wind buffeted round us.  Then the storm started in earnest, the rain lashing down in torrents making a din on our canopy. Jagged streaks of lightning, some so bright they almost left an imprint on your retina, rent the skies in two, while the thunder crashed so loud it made us jump.  As the lightning and thunder both occurred simultaneously, we knew the storm was overhead.  The rain continued to bucket down, and anyone who wasn’t under cover was soon soaked to the skin.  The little shop opposite us was doing a roaring trade in disposable plastic raincoats, while other people joined us under the canopy.

We didn’t see any more aircraft coming in to land or taking off, and we assumed all flights were on hold until the storm abated.  All we could do was sit it out, until the rain eventually eased off and the sky brightened considerably.  We then decided to go and wait for the bus and then go along to another stop somewhere on the route.

As we approached the bus stop, we were just in time to see the bus pulling away.   Typical!  By this time, however, the rain had stopped and the sun was out again, so it was no hardship having to wait.

Eventually another bus arrived and disgorged some of its passengers while we took a seat upstairs.  We then went along another couple of stops until we got off at Mon Repos Palace, passing the birthplace of Prince Philip on the way.  There was a pleasant looking park and some small boutiques and market stalls, so we decided to get off here.

We walked through the park, and looked at the boats in the harbour.  Then we decided to browse some of the shops and stalls.  The weather was completely different now, bright and clear.  We’d worked up another thirst by now (!) so we went into a pleasant pavement café and Trevor had a beer while I enjoyed a very palatable white wine.  By now it was about 2.30pm, so we decided to take a slow walk back to the ship, and clock up our steps.

We arrived back around 3.15pm, far too late for lunch, but missing a meal certainly wasn’t going to do us any harm!  We enjoyed a half-hour power nap and sat out on the balcony for a while, and watched as the Queen Victoria put to sea once more around five-thirty.  Then it was time to get ready for dinner.

Tonight, the dress code was informal; I wore a navy and orange printed floral dress with orange killer heels, while Trevor wore smart trousers, a shirt and jacket, but no tie was required.  Then we went along to the Britannia restaurant where I enjoyed a delicious roasted sea bass with curried mussels, among other things.  There was no sign of Guy and Tessa tonight; maybe they’d opted to eat in the Lido restaurant.

Afterwards we hot-footed it along to the Royal Court Theatre for tonight’s entertainment, which came in the shape of Mike Doyle, a Welsh comedian we had seen before on the Ventura in 2012.  He was side-splittingly funny and had everyone rolling in the aisles.  He seemed to appeal to an international sense of humour, as he crossed all the borders from America to Australia to New Zealand and, of course, the UK.  A lot of his humour was self-deprecating, which made the audience take him to their hearts.  My sides were aching from laughter when we left the theatre.

Then it was along to the Golden Lion, as usual, for a final drink and an attempt at the quiz.  The quiz questions so far this cruise have been on subjects mostly outside our knowledge, so we’ve just been doing them for fun and not handing our quiz papers in.  So we just enjoyed the one drink, then decided to go back to our stateroom and try some of that Greek wine we’d bought.

It was pleasant sitting out on the balcony in the darkness, and the wine wasn’t too bad.  We had one glass and listened to the soporific sounds of the sea washing against the hull of the Queen Victoria.  The sea has been flat calm so far; you’d barely know you were on a ship.  We hoped that we’d seen the last of the rain for the rest of this holiday, and we went to bed in happy anticipation of whatever tomorrow would bring.  We had another long, leisurely sea day ahead of us, and we slept well.

After an excellent’s night sleep, during which time the Queen Victoria glided through the calm Mediterranean sea, we got up around 8.15am and went out on the balcony to see what the weather was like. It was pleasant; not too hot or too cold, just ideal for strolling the decks.

The Lido self-service restaurant was fairly busy when we got there, and we shared our table with another couple. They were also from the North East; the lady was from Newcastle and the man from Seaham, near Sunderland. We therefore spent quite a while chatting with them, mainly about other ships and cruises we’d each been on. We also, inevitably, got talking about the football; they were Newcastle supporters, while Trevor and I support Sunderland! Neither of these two staunch rival teams are doing well at the moment, so neither side had anything to brag about to the other!  🙂

Afterwards, we decided to go outside and take a few laps around the promenade deck in an effort to reach our target 10,000 steps a day. Three times around the deck is equal to a mile. A lot of other people were outside, strolling or power-walking around.  As we were approaching the Messina Strait, we could see Stromboli.  Stromboli is a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north coast of Sicily, containing one of the three active volcanoes in Italy.  Because it had been raining earlier on, we could distinctively see a vent of steam coming from the cone-shaped top of the mountain.

We did three laps then decided to go back inside and have a coffee, before going along to the Royal Court Theatre for a talk/presentation given by former BBC producer Johnny Beerling, called “On the Wireless”. The talk, which was very amusing in parts, outlined a brief history of the part played by radio “the wireless” in households long before the advent of television, and featured clips from old radio shows such as “The Goon Show”, “The Navy Lark” and “It’s That Man Again” (ITMA). We enjoyed it a lot.

The Queen Victoria’s entertainments team had put on a packed programme of events and activities to choose from, but today we decided to go along to the Queen’s Room to have a ballroom dancing lesson. Trevor and I have started going to dance classes (we’ve had three so far) and we knew we’d miss two of them through being on this cruise, so we thought we’d make the most of what we’d learned so far, and join in with the dancing when we could. Today, the ship’s dance hosts were holding an hour-long lesson in the “Cha Cha Cha”. This is one that Trevor and I have been learning in our weekly class at home, so at least we had some idea!

The dance lesson was really enjoyable and there were a lot of couples (as well as single dancers which were partnered up) taking part; it’s just as well that Cunard ships have large and opulent ball rooms. We had good fun and felt we’d made a lot of progress in our cha cha cha steps.

Then end of the dance class brought us nicely to lunchtime, a little later today at one o’clock. For a change we opted to go along to the Golden Lion and have a traditional pub lunch. I chose a Ploughman’s Lunch while Trevor had good old fish and chips. I washed it down with an Aperol Sprtiz, a drink I first discovered in January on the Celebrity Constellation.

Afterwards we just returned to our stateroom and sat out on the balcony for a while, just watching the world go by and relaxing.

Tonight was the Captain’s Gala Party at 5.15pm, preceding our dinner at six. So I took my time getting showered and doing my hair, then getting primped and preened and dressed for the Black and White Ball in the Queen’s Room.

Trevor wore his smart dinner suit with white wing-collared shirt and black bow tie and cummerbund, while I wore a floor length, swishy black dress with a plunge neckline, along with a white feather boa and black and white high-heeled shoes. To give my hair a touch of glamour, I enhanced it with a back-combed hair-piece that perfectly matched my own hair colour and gave it loads of volume.

Thus attired, we made our way down to the Queen’s Room, where we only had to queue for a short while to get in, before meeting and shaking hands with Captain Tom Connery, who hails from the Emerald Isle.

On entering the Queen’s Room, we looked around to see where the waiters emerged from, with their silver trays bearing glasses of champagne, wine, martinis or gin and tonic. Long practice has told us that sitting in an aisle seat adjacent to where the waiters come from gives us the best chance of grabbing a free glass of fizz as they go past. Indeed, we managed four glasses of fizz each, listening to the band playing and watching the dancers taking to the floor, while the Captain came on stage and made a short speech. Then it was time to go along to the Britannia Restaurant for our dinners.

This time we weren’t dining alone; there were a couple of an adjacent table for two, who introduced themselves as Guy and Tessa, and came from Solihull, near Birmingham. We enjoyed their company and conversation as we feasted on our usual delicious meal, washed down with rosé wine, as we watched the sun going down over the Mediterranean from our seats by the window.

After dinner we went along to the Golden Lion pub for the quiz, but it had already started by the time we got there, so we just did it ourselves for fun, before getting front-row seats in the Royal Court theatre for tonight’s show, which featured the fabulous Royal Court Show Company, doing a fantastic high-energy dancing and singing routine.

Then it was back along to the Golden Lion again, where tonight was the passengers’ turn to take the limelight as it was karaoke night. Quite a lot of singers got up of a wide range of abilities (!), I was the first up with Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, and I finished the evening off with my rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U. We had a really good laugh overall tonight, because some of the singers were abysmal and knew they were; in fact they were so bad they were good, as far as entertainment went.

It was well after 1.00am when we returned to our stateroom, and I enjoyed a gin and tonic nightcap out of our minibar, sitting on the balcony in the mild night air, before settling down for the night and sleeping very well.

Tomorrow we were due to reach our first port of call, the picturesque island of Corfu.

In ‘Plane’ Sight

On awakening with a start this morning at 4.45am, it took a few seconds to realise that I was not in my own bed at home, but rather a comfortable room at the Heathrow Lodge, next to the famous airport. Of course! We were due to fly out to Rome today, then travel on to the port of Civitavecchia to join the fabulous Cunard ship, Queen Victoria, and we’d flown down last night from Newcastle Airport, ready for our early start this morning. 🙂

Yes! We are off on another cruise for a couple of weeks, this time taking in ports in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Seas, and celebrating our 30th Wedding Anniversary. We love the Queen Victoria and have had the pleasure of cruising on her twice before; on her Maiden Voyage in 2007 and, more recently, for the poignant “Lusitania Remembered” voyage in 2015. We were so excited to be going back!

We blearily got dressed and trundled our cases along to the conveniently-located bus stop across the road, where a free airport bus picked us up at 05:25 to take us to Terminal 5, ready to check in for our 07:45 British Airways flight to Rome. Despite the early hour the bus was packed, mainly with Heathrow Airport staff going to work.

We arrived at the terminal and joined the long queue for check-in. The BA flight had been chartered by Cunard Line, and all the other passengers’ cases had luggage tags firmly affixed to them, advising which deck and stateroom number they’d been allocated on the ship. Our is Deck 5, stateroom number 5130.

Eventually we reached the front of the queue and got rid of our cases and received our boarding passes; we would board at Gate B33 when the time came. Then off we went through security and along to the shops, bars and cafés airside. We hadn’t had any breakfast yet, so we decided to find a little bar or eaterie and get something to eat and a cuppa.

We wandered around for a bit, then found a small Wetherspoons-type place serving a breakfast menu; it was quite near to a departure board so we could keep an eye on when our flight would be called. We enjoyed a hot bacon sarnie and some good strong coffee, then Trevor looked at the board for the BA Rome flight and said “It’s been moved to 08:30 now.” It looked as if our flight had been delayed for 45 minutes.

After breakfast we had a look around the duty-free shop and bought some magazines in WH Smith. Then we had another look at the departure board – it still wasn’t saying “Go to gate” and it still showed a time of 08:30. It was only 07:35 so we still had plenty of time.

I went to the loo and got freshened up a bit, then we decided to take a slow stroll along to the departure gate, even though there was still nothing appearing on the departure board about our flight. When we got there, there was nobody about. We looked up at the board; it still said the flight was due to depart at 08:30 hours, and it was only 07:40. Where was everybody?

Just then, Trevor glanced over at Gate B33 and saw the sign which said they were boarding passengers for the 07:45 flight. At the same time, an airport official saw us and asked for our names. When we said “King” he said “You’d better come quickly; we’ve been paging you for the last 10 minutes and the aircraft is about to leave. You might be too late!”. I replied “But it says 08:30 on the board – it’s running late”. “No,” he replied. “That’s the next flight!”

Apparently, our flight was running perfectly on time and everybody had boarded except us, and they were just about to close the gate and remove our luggage from the aircraft! The guy rang through to see if they would still board us and, luckily, they let us on – with seconds to spare. As soon as we were in our seats with the seatbelts fastened, the aircraft was pushed back from the gate. We’d caught our flight by the skin of our teeth! Phew – how lucky were we!

It seems our BA flight wasn’t showing on the board because it was a special charter flight by Cunard. The other passengers must have made their way directly to the gate, whereas we’d spent time in Wetherspoon’s and the duty-free shops. Twenty seconds later and we’d have missed our flight!

Anyway, here we were at last and, as the aircraft took to the skies, we settled back to enjoy the flight with the happy anticipation of another cruise to come.

We enjoyed a few drinks and snacks on the comparatively-short flight to Rome and came in to land on time. Then it was off to the baggage carousel to claim our cases before following the staff bearing “Cunard” signs to the waiting coaches. Other staff held up signs saying “Azamara” and “Holland America”, proclaiming the names of other cruise lines and their ships which were also in the port of Civitavecchia, where we were heading.

The journey took just over an hour, and then we glimpsed the sparkling Mediterranean Sea in the distance, followed by several ships’ funnels. We soon spotted the distinctive red funnel of the Queen Victoria, and we saw the lovely Azamara Journey, a beautiful ship we cruised on in 2011, to the French and Italian riviera. The Journey looked as if she’d had a refit, as her hull was now painted black (it had been white previously). We are already booked on one the Journey’s sister ships, the Azamara Quest, in May 2019 for a transpacific voyage. But all that is in the future, and for now we were excited to be back on the good old Queen Victoria.

Once inside the cruise terminal, we were given priority embarkation as we are Platinum members of the Cunard World Club. It therefore took no time at all to be issued with our cruise cards and we happily made our way dockside and up the gangplank, and into the familiar plush interior of the ship.

We are in a balcony stateroom on Deck 5, number 5130, on the port side of the ship. As usual, it was airy and spacious with a large king-size bed with crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, a settee and chair and small coffee table, and floor-to-ceiling glass doors leading out to our balcony, which contained two deck chairs and a small table. A flat-screen TV adorned one wall, alongside a large mirrored dressing table and chair. On the coffee table was a bottle of prosecco on ice, along with a couple of flutes. 🙂

We dumped our bags and decided to go up to the Lido restaurant on deck 9 and have something light to eat; not too much, as we knew we’d be getting a scrumptious big dinner later on. I therefore just enjoyed some cold meats and salad washed down with a glass of iced water, before we went out and wandered around on deck for a while, enjoying the autumn sunshine. There had been several showers of rain (it poured down on the bus ride from the airport to the cruise port) and here and there the deck was wet. It seemed fine now though, and we hoped it would remain so for the duration of our holiday.

At 5.00pm we had to attend life-boat drill, then it was back to our stateroom to get washed and changed for dinner at six. Tonight the dress code was smart-casual; gentlemen could omit their ties if they wished (but a collared shirt was still required) and ladies could also dress less formally; I wore a flowered dress with a fishtail hemline, and a pair of sparkly sling-back stiletto heels.

When we got to the Britannia Restaurant and made our way to our allocated table #529, we were very surprised to see if was a table for two. We always enjoy the interaction with our fellow passengers and, as such, ask for a table of six or eight, so a table for two was most unusual. We could only assume it is because Trevor’s brother Billy and his wife Carole are joining us for the second week of the cruise, and they had requested sharing a table with us (a table for four), hence the reason for our having a table to ourselves this time.

The meal was delicious as usual. I started off with soused herrings on rye bread, followed by a delicious roasted lamb shank, where the meat just fell off the bone. A tasty cheese board and coffee completed the meal, and then it was time to go along to the theatre for tonight’s entertainment, an Irish female singer called Jacinta Whyte, who has appeared in different West End productions. We enjoyed her show, even though we were starting to flag a bit after our early start.

We therefore finished off the evening by having a night-cap in the Golden Lion pub, before heading back to stateroom 5130 and settling ourselves down for the evening. We had a leisurely day at sea to look forward to tomorrow, so looked forward to a lie-in.