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A day in Messina

Today (Wednesday) we’ve been in Messina. As I mentioned a few posts ago, this was put into the itinerary at very short notice to replace the call in Dubrovnik which had to be cancelled.

Messina is a considerably-sized city of about 250,000 (in the urban area itself) and is a busy commercial and administrative centre. Although the site itself is historic – there has been a town here for well over 2000 years – there are very few old buildings remaining and certainly no ‘old town’. The reasons are because of frequent earthquakes, most recently and devastatingly in 1908, and also because of allied bombing in WWII. As a result of these events Messina was almost completely rebuilt in the post-war period. Even a lot of the apparently older buildings were reconstructed during this period.

Messina has a significant port and for that reason alone would be attractive to the cruise lines. Add to that the fact that there are several prime destinations within reasonable distance and its attractions are clear. The destinations are first, Mount Etna, Europe’s biggest and most active volcano, and secondly Taormina, which manages to combine truly spectacular classical-era remains (a Greco-Roman amphitheatre) with seriously high-class shopping (along Corso Umberto) and a spectacular location – high above the Gulf of Messina. However, we didn’t visit either of them….

We have good reasons for this. Continue Reading »

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A Sea Day

Yesterday (Tuesday) was an unexpected sea day. We should have been at Dubrovnik but as previously posted the captain decided that it wasn’t safe to dock there for reasons to do with the weather. Instead we spent the day at sea.

We just had a lazy day. In fact we got up shortly before 8 o’clock, breakfasted, and then walked round the Promenade deck for about 30 minutes before going in search of a coffee. When that was finished we went to an art talk which featured a comparison of the art of Jack Vettriano and Fabian Perez. Interesting enough, though I didn’t feel impelled to buy. In fact when the speaker displayed a Perez image (‘Untitled II’) I nearly jumped out of my seat – the similarities between elements in that painting and Dorothy Lange’s 1930s photograph ‘The White Angel Bread Line’ is very noticeable. In fact I made a point of getting the photo on my phone screen and showing it to the speaker, and asking him if he was familiar with it…. He replied that the comparison was very interesting; and that he’d ask Fabian Perez about it next time he met him! I’m not bothered about the similarities, in fact, as I recognise that artists have always borrowed from each other.

Continue Reading »

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Thoughts about Oceana

This is our first cruise on Oceana, so this is a new P&O ship for us! Most of our P&O experience has been on the larger ships – seven or eight cruises on Ventura and Azura, and one on Britannia. We have cruised on a couple of the smaller ships – Oriana and Arcadia – although it’s interesting to recall that when Arcadia joined the fleet she was regarded as (well, marketed as) sophisticated and comprehensive…. But here we are on Oceana.

It’s important also to say that we generally cruise for the itinerary and not the ship. We chose this cruise because after two years in norther waters (the Fjords in 2016, and Norway and Iceland in 2017) we wanted to do a warm-weather cruise. We also didn’t want to do the conventional 14-nighter from Southampton; just too many sea days. So that pointed us firmly towards a fly-cruise, and presently P&O are using Oceana for these.

So after that long introduction, what do we think? Continue Reading »

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Foreign Currency Blues

As a result of the weather we are not in Dubrovnik today (Tuesday); instead, we are at sea and will be calling at Messina tomorrow. That’s fine, we have no complaints about the change of itinerary. But an issue has arisen for us. As I said in an earlier post we had carefully spent almost all of our Euros when leaving Venice. Yesterday, in Zadar, we had carefully not spent our Croatian Kunas because we would need them in Dubrovnik. Now, of course, we need more Euros and our Kunas are superfluous. No problem, I thought – Customer Services will be able to change our spare Kunas into Euros.

Well, in theory they can, but only via GBP – that is, we’d have to exchange Kunas into GBP and then buy Euros with GBP, at rubbish exchange rates. So the next plan was to just get some GBP for the Kunas. We have 360 Kunas, made up of 1×200 K note, 1×100 K note, 2×20 K note and 2×10 K note, but I’ve been told that customer services only issues, and can only accept, notes in 100 K and 50 K denominations. So the only amount we could exchange at all would be 100 K – at a rubbish exchange rate!

I’m disappointed that they can’t be more flexible, given that the need to exchange money has arisen because of the itinerary change.

How did we get the 200 K note, and how will we get Euros in Messina, you wonder? I have a Caxton currency card which I have to say I have found very useful in the nearly two years I have had it. I can draw cash from ATMs with it at a good exchange rate, and I can also use it as a debit card. As long as I have sufficient credit, of course – I do have transfer GBP funds to it in advance.

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A meal in Café Jardin

On Monday evening we had a meal in Café Jardin, and this is a brief report on it.

The date meant that we were eating from Menu 2. For starter we shared a ‘sharing board’, the Rustic Tempura Verdura, and that was delicious and tasty. Val then had Feathered Beef Steak for her main course and I had a pasta dish – mushrooms and broccoli with pappardelle in a cream sauce. Then for dessert we shared a Trio of Desserts – a cheesecake, ‘fruits of the forest’ in jelly, and a Tiramisu Chocolate Brownie. To accompany the meal Val had a glass of Shiraz and I had a glass of Chardonnay, and coffee to finish.

Our conclusions are these: first, the food was very nicely cooked and well presented – we enjoyed the taste of everything. Secondly, the service was professional and attentive without being fussy or overly-attentive (we’ve sometimes felt this was the case when eating in East/Sindhu or The White Room/Epicurean on other ships.) Thirdly, the quantity was just too much. We struggled a bit with the Trio of Desserts between us, but in theory it’s a Trio each! – certainly that’s what the overall price of the meal includes.

Talking of the price, we paid £8.50 each for the meal itself, plus the cost of the wine (which would have been chargeable anyway). We felt it was well worth it – much better value than the speciality restaurants on the other ships, even though (like them) it was a significant step up in quality and ambience from the main dining room. And there were wines on the list that aren’t available in the regular bars, for example the Planeta Chardonnay.

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Dubrovnik cancelled…

We’ve just sailed out of Zadar and as soon as we had departed the captain announced that our call at Dubrovnik tomorrow has been cancelled. This is due to a front moving south (almost with the ship) which includes some very strong winds – the captain mentioned gusts in excess of 50 knots. Given the high winds, the restricted manoeuvering space in Dubrovnik harbour and Oceana’s capability, he felt there was no choice but to cancel the call.

Instead, tomorrow will now be a sea day, and we will be making a day-long call at Messina on Wednesday. So we’ll still have four port calls on the cruise.

Dubrovnik would have been one of the highlights of the cruise, so there will be a lot of disappointed people on board tonight. However, the shore excursions team are going to try and arrange a programme of trips at short notice for Wednesday. We’ll see how it turns out!

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A wet morning in Zadar

Today we’re in Zadar, and the weather has not been kind, being grey and overcast from very early on. We had nothing arranged for the day, we were always just going to go ashore, so before we left the ship the questions were all about the weather: should we expect it to get better, or to get worse? The BBC Weather app was definitely tending towards ‘worse’, but when the Deputy Captain gave his forecast during the “we’ve arrived” announcement, he was more positive: “21° now, rising to 23°, some breeze and a small chance of rain”. So we went for ‘getting better’, wore summer clothing (shorts for me), and even slapped on some Factor 30.

We got a shuttle bus into the town (the port is about 4kms from town) at 10am and started walking. The sky was dark grey by then, but we kept telling each other that we hadn’t fell that spot of rain, honestly. We walked along the front to its end, and then turned into the town. By the time we’d got into the old town we couldn’t fool ourselves any longer – there was definitely rain in the air. If we needed any evidence other than the impact of raindrops on our skin, it came from the café and bar proprietors who were busy taking under cover any cushions, etc, that were on seats out in the open. So we followed suit and took ourselves under cover as well, into a café in the old town where we each had a coffee. While we were doing so we definitely started seeing umbrellas passing the windows. By the time we’d finished there was no denying that it was raining. It was coming down like stair rods, in fact.

Continue Reading »

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A day in Venice

Today we we’ve been in Venice. Oceana entered the lagoon around 6:30, by 7:30 we were sailing slowly through St Mark’s Basin and past the Palazzo Ducale, and by not long after 8 o’clock we were tying up at the cruise terminal. Oceana is one of five or six ships that we’ve seen in port today – in addition to us there’s AIDAblu, Norwegian Spirit, MSC Musica, Costs Deliziosa, and a ‘Silver-something’ ship – small and luxurious. So all of the ships are (as required) smaller than 90-something thousand tons.

We’ve been here before a couple of times – once on a cruise, the second time on a weekend break – so we haven’t booked an excursion, we’ve been doing our own thing. The main target of the day was the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello island, in the north of the lagoon. Apparently when ‘Venice’ first emerged as a significant settlement during the period immediately after the end of the western Roman Empire, Torcello was for several centuries the main centre of settlement. That meant, therefore, that the first major cathedral was built there, and the present basilica is essentially that cathedral. It dates from the 7th century, although it has been enlarged and restored several times since then. But basically it’s very big eastern-style basilica with some amazing Byzantine-style mosaics. The present mosaics have been much restored over the centuries so there is a question as to how many of the tesserae actually date from the early period, but never mind – it’s a bit like the woodman’s axe which after many years use was as good as the day it was new, thanks to having had several new axe heads and handles…. Continue Reading »

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Today we were in Split, and we were booked on an excursion, Sights and Sounds of Split Riviera. This consisted of a drive to Trogir, a guided walk around Trogir, a visit to the cathedral there, a refreshment break at an old mill, and finally a quick walk into old Split and an introduction to Diocletian’s Palace. Unfortunately, we found the excursion disappointing.

To be fair to our guide, the tour did everything that was advertised – we did go to Trogir, walked around it, we visited the cathedral and we had some free time there. Then we did indeed visit the old mill and had refreshments, and finally we were walked to a point in Split where our guide pointed out the best entrance to Diocletian’s Palace. Unfortunately the delivery was disappointing. It was perhaps unfortunate that it’s Saturday and that therefore the roads and towns are very busy – we were delayed about 15 minutes getting into Trogir. Once we collected ourselves our guide walked us into the centre of the old town and gave us a commentary along the way. Unfortunately it seems to mainly consist of advice on good places to get Croatian Kuna, the best places to buy gelato, and please avoid this (actually, very obvious) piece of street furniture as you walk along. Fair enough, I thought. Then came the visit to the cathedral. Continue Reading »

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Transfer to Oceana

It’s Thursday so it must be time to transfer from the hotel to Oceana. We already knew that the transfer was to be at 11 o’clock, and we were in the hotel lobby checking out before 10:30. We found a P&O rep who was organising the collection of luggage, and who also gave each of us a health questionnaire/declaration to complete and hand in at check-in. We had time for a chat with another couple who were also transferring, then at 11 o’clock prompt we were called to board the coach. This appeared to be full, by the way, so there must have been perhaps 50 passengers staying at the hotel.

The distance from the hotel to the cruise terminal is only a couple of miles or so, but the roads in Valletta generally have to take a complicated route. What with that plus traffic congestion I suppose it took us nearly 15 minutes before we arrived at the terminal. We were off the bus quickly and straight into check-in, which followed the usual format: we handed over our passports, e-tickets and a credit card, and in return they took our photographs and then gave us a cruise card each. There was a security screen as well but we were through that quickly, and then we walked across the hot quayside and onto Oceana. This was about 11:30 so the whole process had taken very little time. We were told that the cabins would be available by 12:30 so to pass the time we went to the Plaza (Oceana’s buffet) and had an early lunch. A little bit of exploration after that took us to 12:30 at which time we were told via an announcement that the cabins were ready so off we headed. We were pleased to see that our bags were already stacked outside the cabin.

So then we unpacked which didn’t take too long – having to pack for the flight meant that we didn’t have as much stuff as we would normally take from Southampton. Being gluttons for punishment we then went back ashore and explored the area around the Triton Fountain. But it was hot and we were a bit tired so we were back onboard by 3-ish.

We have safety drill at 8:15 tonight (new passengers only) so that has impacted on our dinner plans somewhat. We think we’ll go to dinner early, then do the drill, and after that see how we feel. I suspect an early night might ensue.

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