At sea en route to Valencia

I have to tell you about a very worrying incident that occurred last night. Jane woke at about 3.30am. She needed some medication and woke me. This particular drug is kept in the kitchen at home and in my sleepy state I went to the cabin door and out into the corridor thinking I was on the way to the kitchen. I was completely starkers. Luckily Jane realised what was happening and screamed at me to come back, which I did.

The door was a second away from closing itself. I would have been out in the corridor with no key, no mobile and no clothes. Jane couldn’t have let me back in, nor could she have contacted anyone. My only option would have been a trip down six decks to reception! That wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience for the pretty young lady who manages reception at night.



32C was predicted by the Officer of the watch. In fact it reached 36C but it was not a problem. We had been to Valencia once before in 2007 on the much smaller Regent’s Navigator. Because of its size we had been able to dock near to the city and we were close to the pavilions that had been set up on the waterfront to house the America’s Cup competitors who were preparing for the elimination rounds, before the event itself in those waters later that year.

This time we had to dock in the commercial area some way from the city. An ancient looking bus with a wheelchair lift was waiting for us to shuttle us to the city – a 30 minute ride.

Valencia’s old city is a maze of narrow streets and large and small squares. It is delightful.

You may know that in the past the Rio Turia kept bursting its banks and flooding the city. In October 1957 the city was devastated by the worst ever flood and dozens of people lost their lives.

It was decided to divert the river away from the city. A massive exercise, but it was achieved. The original river bed was left in place, as were the many bridges over it. The river bed has now been converted into a 4 mile long area containing beautiful gardens, football pitches, cycle paths, tennis courts and more.

The drop off point for the shuttle meant that we crossed the Serrans Bridge to the very impressive entrance to the old city. This is it.

Within seconds Jane found a small shop that she thought might have sold dolls house furniture and miniatures. It was run by an Englishman who said he had been there for 35 years. It was a very small pokey place and didn’t have anything of interest. Jane and Kim moved on from there and started to tour ladies fashion shops looking for bargains. Here they are!

Valencia is lovely and on a sunny day it is hard to beat.

Our return was in a brand new Mercedes shuttle with a lift. Much more comfortable for Jane who felt much more secure.

The best bit of news was to hear that the Saints had won their Premier league game away to Palace.


Giardini Naxos

It’s in Sicily, in case you have not heard of it before. I’m not sure why Cunard chose the place except that it gives easy access to Taormina and Castelmola. I just wonder if it’s cheaper to anchor rather than dock in Messina or Palermo.

What was a fishing village has no docking facilities. As a result the ship has to sit in the bay at anchor and passengers are taken ashore in tenders. But Jane cannot get into a tender and has to stay on the ship.

We arranged for Kim to go on a four hour tour in the morning as she had not seen the island before. When she returned, I went ashore. Giardini Naxos is said to be a tourist destination. It is not. A sandy beach with rows and rows of umbrellas, but the pizzerias, restaurants and tatty tourist shops are all pretty run down.

One end of the beach was littered with derelict wooden sailing and fishing boats and a rusting Caterpillar truck with its tracks embedded in the sand.

Last year when we came to Sicily, the QE docked at Messina and we left the ship there, flying to Pisa to attend niece Katie’s Lucca wedding to Sam, joining the ship again in Venice. Had Giardini Naxos been the Sicily port at that time our plans would have been scuppered!

I must admit that this time I found a reasonable bar on the seafront with free WiFi and a very pleasant dry white wine and I was able to catch up with some of the emails that the blog produces!


At sea en route to Venice

Every time I exhibit a photo of a warship my young friend Nicholas Brewer, a retired very senior RAF Officer (he tells me – I’ve never seen his medals or his uniform) immediately researches and tells me it’s history. So here is a little competition for him.

This morning we were here and this vessel appeared and seemed to be protecting us. What is her name and which navy?

In the morning we glide into Venice. By 7.15am we should be passing St Marks Square.

More to report in the morning.



I’d just like to thank you all for your good wishes and comments. I wish I could respond to them all but cannot because of the dearth of WiFi. It’s an expensive commodity out here.

At 6.30am we were entering the lagoon. By 7.00am we were gently edging towards the Grand Canal.

These were taken from our balcony on the starboard side of the ship.


As the ship approaches the start of the Grand Canal, it has to veer to port and travel up the much wider and, presumably deeper, Canal Della Giudecca, on our way to the port. The buildings either side are just as beautiful as those alongside the Grand Canal.

As we arrived in the Port, Regent’s Seven Seas Voyager was already moored. I think that is the ship in which the Trehernes and the Clarkes sailed last year on separate voyages. We had 2 voyages on Regent’s Navigator, one in the Med and the other in the Caribbean 10 years ago. They are lovely ships.

After breakfast the three of us set off on the well tried route to St Marks. A shuttle to the Tronchetto Vaporetto station, then bullying our way onto the Vaporetto with the wheelchair, fighting for a vantage point for the blog photography and enjoying the mass of people getting on and off – tourists from all over the world as well a locals going about their daily business.

We are quickly on the Grand Canal which is bustling with ferries, water taxis and gondolas as well as working boats carrying building materials, food, booze – everything.

And then after 40 minutes we were in St Marks Square. Kim had not been to Venice for many years, so we reacquainted her with the main sights and then began the tour of the back streets. Often we are lucky with the back alleys when they lead to piazzas with hostelries occupied by locals rather than tourists. This time we found too many back alleys with little bridges which we had no hope of getting Jane over. But it was amusing.


Venice Part 2

I hadn’t finished the earlier piece but was ashore in Sibernik (more of that later) and was on my own, so took advantage of some free WiFi in a bar to download photos (which can take ages). The free WiFi was even slower than the ship, so I did what I could and published what I had achieved so far.

What I was going to say was that Jane and I first came to Venice on a Thomson City Break with the Gordons and the Wilsons many years ago – possibly 25+ years ago. Jane and I also came on a day trip when we were staying in a beach resort called Caorle, north of Venice. QE and QV have brought us here on 3 or 4 occasions since then. Without any doubt, Venice has to be high on the list of places to visit on a ship.

The approach and the departure are always magical. This was on our way back to the ship.

One of the strangest sights this time, just after we had left the Vaporetto was a bride in a long flowing white wedding dress with her man. He was buying her an ice cream from a kiosk! We all agreed it was very odd and Kim took a photo of them sitting down eating their ice creams.

It was only later that day when I was looking at the photos I had taken from the ship early in the day, that I spotted the same couple in one of my pictures. Possibly they do it every day as some sort of joke or promotion. Here they are just right of centre in the middle of the photo taken at about 7.15am!

Even if CCTV misses you, if you are up to no good, Smithy’s camera will pick you out, so beware.

When we arrived back at the ship a Silversea ship was just arriving. Can Ian or Carole Gordon identify which one it is?



We had never heard of the place before. Dubrovnik and Split are the more usual ports for Cunard in Croatia. This was a maiden port, meaning that Queen Elizabeth had not been here before.

More relevant to Jane was the fact that it would be a tender port and she would not be able to go ashore. The second tender port on this cruise, which she not surprisingly thinks is unfair. And no doubt plenty of other people feel the same.This is a tender which is about to be lowered.

For reasons that I will not publish (but will be happy to tell you about next time we talk) Cunard have tightened up their procedures for getting people ashore in tenders. You have to be able to demonstrate that you can step across two white lines on the floor a yard apart! Additionally, the platform that links the ship and the tender is much more robust than it was.

But back to Sibenik. When the ship arrived in the area where she was to anchor we could see a small harbour with a few yachts moored and what appeared to be residential homes dotted around it. A small village.

Further up the coast was a larger town and there was another larger town in the hills.

Once the tenders were lowered, it was clear that we were to be landed in the small harbour.

We had decided that I would go ashore first, so I took an early tender to the little harbour, then boarded a shuttle bus that took me to Sibernik which was about 25 minutes away.

There was a longish walk from the car park to the town and many struggled with that. Sibenik was not very exciting. There was an old town up the hill, but as I was limited in time and energy, I settled for a bar overlooking the water, a coffee, a glass of wine (after noon) and the rather slow WiFi.

It was all rather underwhelming which was a shame. Why Sibenik was chosen ahead of Split, I know not, but the weather was excellent – it was a beautiful sunny day.

I returned to the ship in time for lunch and took over from Kim who then went ashore herself.



Some months ago I emailed my usual request to Cunard’s Shore Mobility department to find out whether of not any tours had been organised with wheelchair adapted vehicles in the ports we were visiting. There was one in Sardinia, but we had tried that back in June and it had been an expensive failure because the pretty young lady driver could hardly speak any English. There was another in Gib, but we have been there on just about every European cruise we have been on and I hate the apes!

But there was one half day tour planned for Dubrovnik and we confirmed that for the 3 of us and the wheelchair.

On the ship 3 days before Dubrovnik I was told that it was likely that it would have to be cancelled as only the 3 of us were booked in. I explained I had booked it in Southampton and was surprised, if they were short of takers, why it not been advertised on the ship. I made it clear that I was not very happy. Two days to go and no sign of any promotion of the availability of places.

There were clearly conversations between the ship and Southampton and the day before, I was told it would go ahead. Great. Up early to be ready for an 8.30am meeting on the dockside.

The driver looked a bit grumpy, but our guide, Sanja was lovely. A Croatian girl brought up and educated in Slovenia, married to a police officer now in a senior position in Croatian state security. They have 2 daughters.

Sanja’s English vocabulary was amazing. She speaks 5 languages.

After brief introductions and an outline of the plan for the half day tour, Jane is installed in the vehicle. The driver is told that he needs to use restraints to hold the chair in place and he struggles with them.

The first part of the tour is a visit to Cavtat which is beautiful. A small town in a bay with a bustling harbour. We walk along the promenade alongside the sterns of the tied up yachts and we find that the largest of them by far is Penelope of Luxury Living, Southampton.

The crew are polishing the vessel and I explain to one of them, a young Englishman from Hampshire, that I am taking a photo because of the Southampton connection. They were cleaning because the new guests, one couple, were due to arrive shortly. When we later had coffee I googled the yacht to find that the weekly rental is 50,000 Euros in the Med or $66,000 in the Caribbean. I’d take it but for the fact it’s not wheelchair friendly!

We then returned to the adapted vehicle and set off for Dubrovnik. The driver seemed to forget that Jane was in the back. He took corners too fast and on one corner there was a scream from Jane. Her wheelchair had detached itself from the floor and Jane and the chair were thrown down on their side, her head hitting the backs of the seats in front of her. Mr Grumpy braked and stopped, blocking a junction. We climbed into the back, pulling Jane up. Jane was really shaken up. Luckily there were no cuts or bruises and no broken bones. There could easily have been. It was awful. Quite simply the driver had used 2 restraints instead of 4. He had failed to make Jane secure.

After a time we set off again at a more sedate pace and eventually arrived at the old city. Jane seemed to be over the shock of being thrown to the floor. Sanja was a terrific guide taking us down the main shiny street, the Placa, and pointing out the various buildings and their history.

The plan was that we would be collected for the return to the ship at 12.45. Sanja kept taking calls from the driver and from her employer. In the event we were an hour late returning. There will be a detailed email winging its way to Cunard when we get back.

As ever, Dubrovnik delights and a knowledgeable attractive guide with a great command of the English language is a big bonus.


Strait of Messina

In the past, whenever we have sailed between mainland Italy and the island of Sicily, it has been dark. This time the passage through the Strait occurred in the early afternoon.

We had left Dubrovnik at 6.00pm the evening before and our course took us round the foot of Italy, through the Strait and then on a westerly line to Sardinia.

The Strait is fairly narrow. 1.9 miles at its narrowest point. As we headed north through the channel, Catania was on our port side. We flew from the airport in Catania last year on our way to Lucca via Rome and Pisa for Katie and Sam’s wedding.

Next on the port side was the sprawling city of Messina.

Messina is a major port and a number of ferries were rushing out of the port across the Strait to the mainland or round to Sardinia and Corsica.

On the mainland I spotted a newish elevated road running through the hills. It had a number of elegant bridges spanning the valleys. I wonder which European pot of gold paid for them.

In the foreground is the western point of mainland Italy and in the background is the eastern point of Sicily. It was clear that the currents here were very strong and the ship continued on a northerly track for some time before turning west towards the southern end of Sardinia and our next port.



We were here back in June. The guide we booked then, to drive an adapted vehicle, was pretty, but could not speak much English, nor could she understand much that we said.

This time we decided to explore on our own. Jane and Kim wanted to go to the botanical gardens. The gardens didn’t seem to be too far away according to the map. The trouble is that most maps are flat and don’t tell you about steep hills between you and your proposed destination.

When we go ashore we rarely take the powered wheelchair because of uneven pavements and high kerbs. So either Kim or I have to push the basic folding wheelchair. That’s not a problem on the flat but this particular hill soon defeated us. 1 in 10 or 1 in 5? Who knows, but Jane took pity on me as I grunted and groaned. I exaggerated the heavy breathing.

We found an area with some quaint back streets. Despite it being Sunday most of the small and interesting shops were open and were fun. When we got back down to sea level we found Elizabeth from Liss, who we meet regularly on QE (‘her’ ship – she has never sailed on the Queen Victoria because of her name!). She had just ordered a cocktail to celebrate the fact that it was her birthday. So we joined her and celebrated with her.

Cagliari is not top of my list of favourite ports, but if you go up to the old city (right at the top of the hill) or the salt pans with their flamingos, there is plenty to see.