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|Cunard Queen Victoria 2012
Black Sea and Turkish Splendours - Part 1
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This is a primarily about a cruise on the Cunard Queen Victoria to an area which we have never visited before - the Black Sea. We actually first booked the cruise nearly two and a half years ago but were forced to postpone it after Pauline's mother had a fall and needed to go into a care home. The cruise we finally took was actually slightly better than the original as far as we were concerned as it was Southampton to Southampton whilst the original booking involved flying back. The itinerary has a couple of changes - the first was caused by a problem which had been discovered in one of the two Azipods just before we left which limited the speed and caused the following cruise to be cancelled for the ship to be dry docked immediately after our return. This meant we went to Vigo in Spain which we have been to several times rather than Oporto in Portugal which we were really looking forwards to. The other change was caused by strikes and riots in Greece which closed the ports so we could not stop at Athens which we had visited before but were looking forward to exploring further. Instead went to Catania in Sicily which was a maiden call for the Queen Victoria and a delightful place - one we might well go back to for a longer holiday.
We departed from the Mayflower Terminal which is not the best Southampton has to offer normally but had been thrown into chaos by a fire alarm. This meant everything had been held up by an hour resulting in queues of cars and buses and we stood outside on the pavement waiting to pass through check-in. After checkin there were more queues and the security arrangements which were barely adequate with only two machines had no way to respond to the additional load and 2300 passengers steadily arriving. Fortunately we had priority as Diamond members and had got there early so we cleared before the worst started. I should emphasize this was a port problem beyond anything Cunard could do and their normal choice of Ocean Terminal is much better.
Once aboard we rapidly found familiar faces and were greeted by name by many of the staff who remembered us from previous cruises. We will not say a lot about the Queen Victoria as we have written at length already about previous cruises and in the page which is specifically an Introduction to Queen Victoria
The cruise started with three days at sea before reaching Palma in Majorca. The passage through the bay of Biscay was in light winds and slight seas. There was unfortunately a lot of mist when we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and we could hardly make out anything but the top of the rock. Once we were into the Mediterranean the weather became superb and we even ended up lying in the sun in the mornings for a while after breakfast. The main problem on Cunard ships is putting on weight, the food is generally very good both in the main Britannia restaurant and in the self service Lido where we usually have breakfast and often lunch as well. The answer to this is the gym and Pete always goes to the Gym when it opens at 0600 for an hour or so and tries to average a 500 calorie burn on the cross trainers or other machines along with stretches and a few weights. This trip he exceeded that by quite a margin as there was very little competition for machine time unlike on world cruises when people queue at 0600 and you are rationed to 30 minutes on a machine.
The first thing we did when we got on board (after lunch that is!) was to go down to the Pursers office and book Boxes for two of the shows and then to the Todd English Restaurant to book for our free lunch there - a benefit of being regulars with Diamond status - over 150 days, in our case by quite a margin. We found that Francis who we have known for a long time is now the Maitre d' of Todd English and that the menu had finally changed - it was essentially the same for our first three cruises. The good news was that the chocolate 'Fallen Cake' remained although now a dark rather than light chocolate. We had our lunch on the first day at sea and unfortunately we forgot to take a camera so we will have to go back again!
Our other dining experience on those first days at sea was the 'Alternate Dining' in the Lido. This year there were three options Bamboo, which was Pan-Asian drawing on the influences of Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and China, Coriander which is Indian, and Prime which was Steak and Seafood based. They are served to a limited number of guests and you need to reserve in advance and there is a small supplement of $10. They run on a three day cycle and we thought it would be worth trying Bamboo which started the cycle. It was excellent, especially when accompanied by their selection of 4 Sakes and we will let some pictures speak for themselves.
The next night we had a box for the Theatre - again it is a modest supplement but it gets you a Champaign cocktail and a stand of finger desserts topped by miniature ice-creams before you are taken to your box by a bellboy in the classic Cunard red pillbox hat where another half bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne in an ice bucket with a box of Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles awaits one. We saw 'A stroke of Genius' this time.
Majorca is the largest of the Balearic islands, and Palma is the capital city. It is one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain. The Queen Victoria arrived after breakfast and berthed with other ships, including the Holland America Ryndam. There was a long row of shuttle buses at 0930; but steps to climb and a longish walk along the overhead walkway to access them.
The shuttle buses went to the Cathedral area which could be seen in the distance. The estimated time of the journey was 25 minutes but in practice it was nearer to 15 minutes. It was just too far for us and most other people, to walk. The journey along the waterfront is scenic, and eventually we reached the hotels we remember from our previous holidays in Palma – including the Melia Victoria, then the Paleas Athena and finally the Costa Azul.
The Cathedral La Seu, is a significant and beautiful Gothic building. It was founded in 1235 by King James I of Aaragon who vowed to erect the finest Christian church, showing that christianity had replaced Islam in Majorca. Construction began in 1306 and was completed in 1601. It is on a cliff with just the coastal road separating it from the ocean and is clearly seen when arriving by sea. From the dropoff point it was directly ahead. Tourist horse-drawn carriages waited in line by the Almudaina Palace which was nearby and originally the residence of the Moorish rules. There was already a line waiting to enter the cathedral through the Alms House next to the Portal de l’Almoina (the Alms Door). The entry was 6 Euros which included a useful brochure. The museum comprises three rooms; the first is the Vermells sacristy with an enormous silver gilt monstrance in the centre, and an interesting small travel altar that belonged to King James I which is a book containing relics. The next room is the Gothic Chapter House with its gothic art, and then the Baroque chapter house. The latter was restored in 2001. There is a small altarpiece that exhibits the reliquary of the True Cross. There are a number of other reliquaries in display cabinets, including small pieces of bone. On either side of the room are two enormous silver candelabra with seven arms, made in Barcelona by Joan Matons between 1704 and 1718.
The cathedral is a large open space with three apses. The Central Apse is where the Eucharist is solemnly celebrated, and is the old Royal Chapel. The single nave was reworked in 1904-1914 by Antonio Gaudi who moved the original choir stalls and the altarpieces. The right apse, the Adoration of the Eucharist, contains a ceramic mural and five stained glass windows by Miquel Barcelo. It dates from 2007. The left apse contains the Corpus Christi alterpiece by Jaume Blanquer (1626-1641) and the central theme is the institution of the Last Supper. As well as known as the Cathedral of Space, it is also the Cathedral of Light with 87 windows and 8 rose windows. The two main rose windows at each end of the central nave, bring multi-coloured light into the nave. The window near the main altar is the largest Gothic rose window in the world.
We emerged on the east side in narrow streets, not far from the Arab Baths. These date back to the 10th century and for just 2 Euros were interesting to visit. Overlooking their gardens is the Museo Can Morey de Santmarti where a selection of original graphic works by Salvador Dali are displayed in an elegant 16th century house. Memorable images include La Mythologie, Goethe ‘faust’, La Tauromachie (bullfighting) with the Giraffe on Fire and the Tiroir (drawer in the brain). We had been given a map with a walking tour and having spent so much time in the area around the cathedral it was time to move on.
The next interesting area was near the Placa de Santa Eulalia, with its pretty church, and then the Placa de Cort with the Cort (Town Hall) and the famous old olive tree. The main entry of the Parliament building was nearby. This neo-gothic building was designed by Joaquin Pavla in 1882 and was constructed over the old city prison.
Continuing the tour along shopping streets we stopped for an icecream (only 1 euro) and reached the Placa Marquis del Palmer on the edge of the Placa Major. The area was busy, with street entertainers and market stalls. There is a small useful supermarket here and more market stalls, hidden underground. We bought water and local cheese and then it was time to hurry back towards the shuttle bus. The direct route took us behind the Parliament building and the Palau March Museum. The sun was shining and the fountains in the Horf del Rei gardens sparkled. Of the 90 minute walking tour we had only completed one third. We were almost last onto the next shuttle bus and were back on board by 1330; all aboard was 1430 with departure shortly afterwards.
Pauline finally received the New Zealand Pounamu (Greenstone or Jade) Pendant that Pete had carved in Hokitika on St Valentine's Day for her 60th Birthday Present. Pete was, of course, wearing the matching one Pauline had carved for his birthday at the same time. You can read all about it in Hokitika and the Pounamu Story - the tale of two people and a piece of Pounamu - a romantic story set on St Valentine's day when we carved our taonga (treasures) in Pounamu.
The next major interest was our entry to the Black sea through the two Turkish Straits namely the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus with the Sea of Marmara between them. They are the boundary between the continents of Europe and Asia. These narrow waterways have been strategically importance since the Trojan War was fought near the Aegean entrance. Both Straits are International Waterways and the treaty controlling them is still the 1936 Montreux Convention which gives Turkey control over warships entering the straits but guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime.
The Dardanelles which we came to first early in the morning connects the Mediterranean to the Sea of Marmara. The Dardanelles is unique in many respects. The very narrow and winding shape of the strait is more akin to that of a river. The strait is 61 kilometres long and varies between 1.2 and 6 kilometres wide, averaging 55 metres deep with a maximum depth of 103 metres. It is considered one of the most hazardous, crowded, difficult and potentially dangerous waterways in the world. The currents produced by the tidal action in the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara are such that ships under sail had to wait at anchorage for the right conditions before entering the Dardanelles. Water flows in both directions along the strait, from the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean via a surface current and in the opposite direction via an undercurrent.
The Dardanelles have often played a strategic role in history. The ancient city of Troy was located near the western entrance of the strait and the strait's Asiatic shore was the focus of the Trojan War. Troy was able to control the marine traffic entering this vital waterway. The Dardanelles were the scene of many other conflicts, perhaps the best known being the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War. We were given a fascinating commentary by Jeremy throughout the passage - he must have spent days research it all. We then proceeded through the Sea of Marmara.
We went to the Todd English Restaurant for Lunch to celebrate Pauline's Birthday and we took in the half bottle of champagne we had left over from our box. They produced an impressive Chocolate Birthday cake at the end of the meal. We did not have a camera with us but they sent the remains to our cabin and we managed to get a picture later on as only a small piece had been eaten as we also wanted to try their chocolate fallen cake which is their specialty.
In the late afternoon we reached the Bosphorus which connects the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea in the north and is the world's narrowest strait used for international navigation. The strait is 31 km long, with a maximum width of 3.4 km and minimum width of only 700 m at Kandilli Point where a 45-degree course alteration is required for the ships. It is a highly dangerous point for ship navigation not only because of the turn but because the current can reach 7–8 knots at this point. The depth of Bosphorus varies from 36 to 124 m in midstream with an average of 65 m. There is another major course alteration of 80 degrees at Yenikoy. The views are obstructed prior to and during these course alterations and approaching ships cannot be seen. There is also very heavy ferry traffic in the Strait of Istanbul, which crosses between European and Asiatic sides of the city. Not surprisingly we had a pilot during both passages and tugs were always at hand. The shores of the Bosphorus strait are heavily populated and the city of Istanbul (with a metropolitan area in excess of 11 million inhabitants) straddles it. Istanbul is the only city in the world located on two continents. The straight is crossed in Istanbul by two suspension bridges (the Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge), with a rail tunnel (Marmaray) currently under construction. We have put most of the pictures of Istanbul in the section on Istanbul for completeness.
In the evening we took a bottle of Cloudy Bay 2008 Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc into dinner that we had brought with us for this special occasion. At the end of the meal there was the usual Happy Birthday sung by the waiters and Pauline was presented with another cake, this time a white sponge which we enjoyed greatly.