After a day at sea on Monday, crossing a benign Bay of Biscay, we awoke on Tuesday morning to find ourselves in the Canal Del Sur. We passed south of the island of San Martin and then followed the Ria De Vigo to our berth in Vigo.

I know that you don’t want to hear the ailments of a cantankerous old blogger, but as many have heard me say over the last 3 or 4 weeks, when I was 16  I had my lateral (or was it left?) discoid meniscus (cartilage) removed from my right knee. Too much of that game called Fives. In those days it meant two weeks in hospital – Lord Mayor Treloar in Alton – so not only did I miss a couple of weeks school, but additionally I was “looked after” by a bevy of 17/18 year old nurses. It was very hard for a young innocent boy like me.

Why am I digressing like this? Well, about 18 months ago my right knee gave way, but by the time I saw a consultant, the knee appeared to be back to normal. He said he thought it was remarkable that it had lasted 54 years! His advice was to do nothing with the knee and hope it settled down. Well it did until about 2 weeks ago. And now it is playing up, just at a time when I need to be pushing the folding wheelchair, with Mrs Smith aboard, up and down the hills of Europe’s finest ports.
We knew Vigo. It’s a big hill. But by choosing the roads that appeared to be the least steep, we were able to tack back and forth until we reached the place that we knew had the best coffee. We didn’t take Jane’s large motorised chair because of worries about kerbs and cobbles, but in fact Vigo is pretty organised and that would have been the answer.

What we did learn was that hills do not suit the knee well. More taxis and buses in the future is the answer.
Tomorrow Lisbon.


Last year we were in Lisbon and it poured with rain. We had bought Hop on Hop off tickets on the ship because the adverts said the buses had ramps and were wheelchair friendly. They were not and we got our money back.

This year I had found out that Cunard were organising, out of their Southampton Office, wheelchair friendly tours in some ports. I booked us on line onto an expensive coach and boat tour in Lisbon. It was confirmed subject to enough others booking. Last night no tickets had arrived and the efficient on board Port Presenter, Matthew, made enquiries and found that insufficient others had booked and the tour would not be taking place. It was a pity no one from the Southampton shore mobility office thought of telling us! As you can imagine, I will have more to say on this in due course.
We left the ship with the intention of finding a taxi man who spoke decent English. As we walked out of  the Terminal building there he was. Smart dark suit. Excellent English. Not too pushy. And the major selling point – a brand new black Mercedes people mover!

No doubt Robert Gordon of Mercedes in Melborne will be able to tell us the model. As the driver (we failed to get his name) had been there all morning without a punter, the fee for 2 hours (which turned out to be 30 minutes less than that!) was very reasonable. It was a really great tour. He took us down some of the really narrow streets in the old town.

We were amazed by the large number of Tuk Tuks in the old town area. Our driver was very upset by them. He said they charged more than he did, paid little or no tax and yet were legitimate because the local statutes didn’t legislate for such vehicles. He said they had arrived in Lisbon because of the high level of unemployment and the fact that young people could earn a living by buying such a vehicle cheaply. They were in the main driven by youngish girls.

In the old town area you had to watch out for the trams. And if you are on a tram, you need to watch out for pickpockets and bag snatchers. As we crawled along in a traffic jam at one stage, the driver pointed out some undercover cops walking between the trams and seeking out known thieves.

From the old town we moved to the more modern areas further north and the magnificent squares leading to the Avenida da Liberdade and then further west on our way down to Belem (Bethlehem) and the Monument to the Discoveries commemorating Henry the Navigator.

As we sailed away later that day I managed to get a photo from the ship. The same with the Torre de Belem, the fortress built to guard the approach to the city by water.
It was a brilliant day. The best day we have ever had in Lisbon. It even surpassed the day I had in the city as a student in 1967 on a 14 day cruise on the Carmania (staff rates were £2 a day at the time – £28 for a fortnights cruise all found). That was in the days of Salazar’s dictatorship and Portuguese students were scared to talk to us about the regime in case they were overheard by the secret police.
Tomorrow Cadiz. Our first visit.



A new port for us. We had not been to Cadiz before.

What I do remember is that back in 1980 we were on holiday with the Holts in Estepona on the Costa del Sol. Our close friends Mike and Maggie O’Connell, who were then still living in England, were on holiday at the same time in a hotel in or near Cadiz. It was agreed that at some point we would meet for lunch halfway between the two places. I asked our Rep in Estepona for the name of a small town halfway and he said San Roque would be suitable.
Using a public call box I rang Mike and told him what the Rep had suggested. It was agreed that we would meet in the first bar he arrived at on his side of this place San Roque. So on the appointed day we set off in a hire car and after about 20 minutes I saw a sign marked San Roque. I anticipated half way would have been about 2 hours away. Indeed we were soon in San Roque and Mike and Maggie arrived at the little bar soon afterwards. They had had a 3 hour journey over the mountains and we had taken just 30 minutes. The O’Connells were not impressed! Perhaps that’s why they emigrated to the USA a few years later!
But as usual I have digressed. We had decided that we would tour Cadiz by taxi if we could find a linguist. And we did – Carlos was his name.

He owned his car, had a beautiful wife and a four month old son. Before we set off on the tour, he had shown us a video of wife and son on his mobile. He clearly loved his home town of Cadiz and was keen that we should love it too.

We started with the 1812 Memorial

and ended with the the Cathedral

and in between we visited the beautiful parks with magnificent topiary and a wide variety of trees and bushes.

We drove out to the Castillo de San Sebastián, built to protect the northern side of the city, and from there the beaches seemed to stretch to the horizon.

After leaving Carlos we explored the side streets close to the harbour

and managed to avoid the bargains in the shoe shops. But Barcelona has a much wider choice tomorrow.

Aurora was in port with us, so Cadiz had more than its fair share of Brits for the day.

 Why P&O have chosen to paint their funnels blue, I know not. No doubt someone will enlighten me!
In the evening, following dinner, we were entertained by the Spinettes. This was their second performance and featured songs from the fifties and sixties.

Very good they were too.


Change of plan

The original itinerary was for Queen Elizabeth to arrive in Monaco this morning (Sunday), staying overnight and leaving on Monday afternoon. The ship was to be on the berth today and was then to move to an anchorage, so that tenders would have been required to get us to and from the ship on Monday.

Nothing particularly odd about using tenders, but the problem for us is that Jane, and anyone else who cannot walk onto a tender, has to remain on the ship. So that Jane would not have been able to go ashore at all on Monday.

I can only assume that Cunard decided that it was important that Jane was not inconvenienced, because suddenly the Captain announced that we would be leaving Monaco tonight at midnight. During the night we will sail to Toulon, where there is a berth available, which means Monday ashore in Toulon – a new port for us.
But I am getting ahead of myself. First I need to tell you about our day in Barcelona. It didn’t start very well because there was only one shuttle bus which took wheelchairs, and it had just left. So we took a taxi into the city. The plan was to explore the side streets on the right side of Las Ramblas. We did that and made the inevitable forays into pretty little shoe shops, but they did not present us with the right sort of pink shoe that Jane “needed”.

I was convinced that we would eventually find the shop

that I loved last year – but we did not and that was my mistake (and my fault, of course). We ended up with no shoe purchase.

In our travels we did find the 4 Gats restaurant- a favourite of mine – but shoes were more important at that stage and I had to walk by.

We had a coffee in a small square and some young locals put on a brief gymnastic show in front of us. It was brilliant. They moved round the square performing and then passing round a hat. 

We also found a bride being driven to her wedding in a cream MGA. The driver appeared to be her father. He had some problems driving the car but we later saw it outside a church, so they must have made it to the ceremony eventually.

It was a great day. The weather was perfect – sunny but comfortable. The only downside was my failure on the shoe front.



Ten years ago, to celebrate my 60th, Jane and I boarded the Seabourn Legend in Monaco.

We arrived the day before and stayed in Monaco, at the boutique Columbus Hotel, part owned by David Coulthard.

Michael and Posie Yeomans joined us from their home in Cannes for a fine alfresco dinner in the hotel and the next morning we explored the Principality with Michael. The Seabourn Legend was moored on the breakwater amongst the magnificent gin palaces. She was not much larger than them. A 208 passenger, 6 star, all inclusive vessel. We boarded her in time for lunch and had a wonderful cruise which took in Portofina, Corsica, Sardinia and Elba.
This Sunday, our very much larger Queen Elizabeth edged into that same berth on the breakwater. It was a magnificent piece of seamanship by Captain Inger. At the time it didn’t appear possible to fit into the gap alongside two large yachts of the multi million pound variety, but she made it look easy.

Monaco was setting up for a Classic Yacht race week, and massive marquees were being constructed around the harbour. Some classic yachts had already arrived and appeared to be sneaking in a little early practice. 

In addition four super yacht builders had set up under the Yacht Club de Monaco for demonstrations throughout the day. There were a dozen massive vessels being taken in and out of the harbour with prospective purchasers aboard. Plenty to watch all day.

We enjoyed a day around the harbour and managed to get ourselves into the middle of the marina amongst a plethora of Ferraris and Bentleys sitting alongside the yachts. For some reason no one invited us aboard.

Yet again the weather was superb. Clear blue sky and a lovely temperature. We left our berth just before midnight and set off for the bonus port of Toulon.


The Toulon harbour is home to the French Mediterranean Fleet and in particular the French Navy’s aircraft carrier Charles De Gualle and her battle group.

There were more than twenty warships to be seen plus a couple of rust buckets waiting to be scrapped.

The cruise ships berths are on the other side of the harbour from the military areas, which means that passengers have to be shuttled by ferry to the town. It takes time to get people on and off the ferries, so it seemed odd that a new cruise ship terminal is about to be constructed across the harbour, away from Toulon itself.

Toulon has a pretty waterfront looking out at a massive selection of yachts of all shapes and sizes. There were numerous bars and restaurants and all were full, not only with QE guests, but French holidaymakers as well. Perhaps it was a Saints day?


Livorno and Civitavecchia

These are the ports for Pisa/Florence and Rome. As we have explored Pisa and Rome in the past, and more particularly as no wheel chair tours were in place (more about that later), we decided to investigate the ports further.

Livorno is in Tuscany and is Italy’s third largest seaport. It has had a troubled history. The city has been razed to the ground numerous times over the centuries and during the Second World War it suffered badly. There are now some dramatic newish piazzas

and a “New Market” constructed 70 years ago, but Livorno does not rank far from the bottom of the list of our favourite places.

Civitavecchia ranks near the bottom of the list as well! Both of us had a recollection of a market and a modernised traffic free area, but we couldn’t find it. The shuttle had dropped us off at an area we did not recognise and our explorations failed to locate the promised land!
Tonight the ship will be full of very tired passengers who have been on tours to Rome. Our four dinner companions are on tours so will be able to regale us with stories of their activities. They are great fun. 
John and Alan are from Whitstable in Kent. John retired aged 53 some 19 years ago, after working as an engineer for the Electricity Generating Board (wrong description but I recall that it changed hands many times!). Alan was in the licensing trade for many years and ran Golf Club bars. He is a Scot, which means that I sometimes don’t understand him, but he has a wonderful sense of humour.
Ken and Tracey are from Preston. Ken is a policeman and for the last 5 years has been seconded to the Met, travelling down to London every week for some very important work, that I ought not talk about. The spell with the Met has just come to an end so he will be returning to the Preston force. I think Tracey and their two sons will be pleased to see more of him. Ken lets us in to all sorts of stories!
Two things I meant to mention. The celebrity speaker on board is Lord Digby Jones. He gave one talk last week on a sea day – about his life. I haven’t yet had a chance to speak to him, but I will. He is a brilliant orator and his life story parallels mine. Except that he made senior partner of a very large law firm, Edge Ellison in Birmingham at age 35 – I was somewhat older than that when I attained a similar position in Southampton! He was a Knight and then a Lord. I am still waiting to hear from the Lord Chamberlain. But you can see the parallels.
The other thing I forgot to mention was that while on the waterfront in Toulon we spotted Captain Inger having lunch ashore with the Hotel Manager, David Stephenson and his wife. As they were all in civvies, few passengers recognised them, and when the Captain travelled back to the ship on the local shuttle boat, she sat amongst the passengers and queued up with them to leave the boat. No pulling rank there.
Today (Thursday) is a day at sea as we sail to the west from Italy to Spain. Last night we sailed through the Bonifacio Strait which divides Sardinia and our old holiday island of Corsica. We had five summer holidays in Corsica with Mark Warner and those spent at Club Marinca were, without doubt, some of the best summer holidays the Smith family had.



We were here 9 months ago and I reported on our visit in my November 2014 blog.

This time my knee was giving me some grief, so we decided not to return to the Roman Baths and the Roman Theatre which would have involved substantial walking. We did manage to cover a fair amount of ground, though, on the eastern side of the town.

There is some splendid architecture and the main street is immaculate.

A super flat surface and traffic free. And we finished our tour with a beer, while overlooking the marina and the ship. I may have said this in the past, but ABP and the City of Southampton could learn a great deal from Cartegena about the way in which the waterfront should be developed back home.

In the afternoon, I was entertained by a group of children being trained in racing techniques in their Optimist sailing dinghies. It was all happening within the marina just below our cabin. Some of them were very good and they were all clearly having a great time. It brought back so many memories of Christchurch harbour all those years ago!

We heard that our visit to Gibraltar on Saturday would be a short one, with us all having to be back on board by 12.30pm. That didn’t worry me, but of course Jane always wants to see the apes and M&S – in that order. I think the apes are dirty, smelly animals. They leap onto your shoulders and head. They steal your specs, cameras, mobiles and rifle through your pockets. If you are stupid enough to be holding an ice cream, they pinch that and eat it!
But don’t be influenced by me! Next time you are in Gibraltar, go and have a look and let me know what you think.
On the day we walked the mile to the main square and then up Main Street. It was packed with locals and tourists. As we always seem to do, we bumped into John and Alan who had been much more adventurous than us and had walked for many miles.  

But Jane did get into M&S. I know how to treat a girl!

In the evening, at dinner, Tracey took a different view of the apes. She thought they were wonderful.  She clearly fell in love with the babies.


Days at sea

It was two and a half sea days in reality. Jane and I love sea days. There is plenty going on around the ship, but if you want to do nothing but relax and watch the world go by, that is fine. Watching fellow passengers is a good game too. They come in all shapes and sizes. 

The speakers finished their series of lectures in the Royal Court Theatre and, as there was a celebrity speaker aboard, a Q&A session hosted by the Entertainments Director took place. Lord Digby Jones fits into the celebrity category.

On Monday at 11.15 am the theatre was packed. Standing room only for the latecomers. 

Jo Haley was the host and Digby was in his element.

A few excellent questions from Jo to get the ball rolling and then it was opened to the audience. Questions on his views on everything from Europe to migrants to Corbyn to the lady Captain (those that were there will know what I mean!)

Digby is a big personality. The audience were probably ‘Middle England’ in the main. What he had to say corresponded with their views and they gave him a rapturous applause throughout.  

As the Bay of Biscay was fairly frisky on Sunday, the singers and dancers final show was postponed that evening. It was still considered too dangerous for them on Monday, so the final show before they disbanded didn’t happen. Their 8 month contract had come to an end and they will be replaced by new singers and a new troupe of dancers on the next voyage.
On Monday evening Jo Haley, the Entertainment Director, announced that she was moving to Queen Mary 2. A great shame, as we felt that she was a breath of fresh air and was a very polished and accomplished performer.
Tomorrow Southampton.


The original plan had been that I would go home, leaving Jane on the ship. I would collect the post, check the house was OK and then meet up with Andy and Jane Houghton who were joining us for the cruise. The intention was that we would go down to the ship in the taxi together.

But my right knee meant a change of plan and Martin took Andy and Jane to the ship in the taxi and I went to the Nuffield Hospital. About a week before, I had emailed Mr Nick Hancock, the orthopaedic surgeon who I had seen 2 years ago. Luckily he had a Tuesday afternoon list, and it was arranged that I would have an X-ray at 1.00pm and then see him at 2.00pm.
Everything worked like clockwork. Brian Kelly kindly collected me and took me to the hospital. The X-ray was done quickly and Nick Hancock arrived early. To get me through the next 3 weeks, he decided to give me a cortisone injection in the knee in the hope that that would give me some relief. And it has. 
Long term it probably means a new knee, but we will worry about that after our return.
Brian was a star and picked me up from the Nuffield and took me back to the ship and Andy and Jane and Max and Anne Wassell had found Jane and had organised her. She had been on her own for 6 hours, but had survived as I knew she would!
We first met the Houghtons and the Wassells on a Black Sea cruise 2 years ago on the Queen Victoria and we all seemed to gel, so are sharing Table 314 in the Britannia Restaurant.
Mike and Joanna Harrison, great friends of my sister Liz and her husband Tim, are also aboard and I bumped into them on Wednesday.