Iberia 2014 P&O Azura
Day Four, Tuesday 5th August – Lisbon, Portugal
We were up and ready for breakfast by 8am this morning. The weather is lovely! Ian and Richard were able to watch us sail up the river Tagus and past the old city centre from their balcony. We were then followed by Oriana, who would also be in port today. We ate breakfast in the main restaurant this morning, as we wanted to have a larger meal and skip lunch as well as avoiding the queues in the buffet. We disembarked just after 9am and then caught the shuttle bus into the centre of Lisbon: we were dropped off in the Black Horse square. Because we paid the select fare for this cruise we did not have to pay for the shuttle bus transfer; passengers paying the advantage fare (cheap) have to pay £3 for their shuttle transfers.
Lisbon is located on the mouth of the river Tagus on the large bay of the Sea of Straw. Following the earthquake and tidal wave of 1755, the centre of the city was rebuilt using a grid layout with many formal squares that make the city very attractive. The Baixa, or lower town, was where we started our walking tour of the city. Richard and Ian had visited Lisbon three years ago (also on Azura) so were familiar with the main sites. We began with some souvenir shopping, Liz making quite an impression upon the shopkeeper. We then walked towards the waterfront and the grand square Praca do Comercio: three sides of the square are lined by tall arcades, and the fourth side is open to the river. Here, Liz and Richard had a paddle before we returned to the city, passing underneath the Triumphal Arch and walking up Rua Augusta, a pedestrianised shopping street. On a side street, we stopped for a drink and a comfort break.
Continuing on, we turned to the right and began to climb one of Lisbon’s many hills up to Castelo de Sao Jorge. This took us through the winding streets of the Alfama, which still retains it Moorish character. The cobbles have been worn quite smooth over the years, and at times this made for some difficult walking, especially for those of us just wearing flip-flops. We saved some time by using a car park lift. Reaching the top, we had some very good views across the city, but decided not to pay the entrance fee for the castle itself, instead wandering around some quaint, narrow streets (avoiding the manic drivers) and visiting a number of small shops. Ian bought a t-shirt and Liz and Rachel bought some cork bracelets. We all had ice creams as well.
We returned to the Baixa area and then walked up to Bairro Alta, the upper town, on the opposite side of the valley. This area is filled with very smart shops and restaurants. By now, it was getting very warm, so we decided to head back towards the ship, choosing to walk this time, rather than wait for bus. Along the way, Ian was offered sunglasses and narcotics!
We returned to the ship at about 2.30. It was very hot by now. Liz stopped to by some postcards and then we were back on board by 2.50. Richard went to get some hot food in the Venezia buffet and then we all met for afternoon tea in the Peninsular restaurant at 4 o’clock. Afterwards, we went out to our balcony to watch the sail-away from Lisbon: we departed at about 5 o’clock. The passage down the Tagus was very impressive, and we were able to enjoy passing beneath the 25th April Bridge (commemorating the revolution in 1974), built along the lines of the Golden Gate and being Europe’s second longest suspension bridge, as well as passing both the Monument of the Discoveries and the Belem Tower. We were clear of the river and sailing south by about 5.40, which is when we started to get ready for dinner.
We needn’t have worried however: Cadiz is a lovely city, and as one of our fellow passengers commented, it is very ‘Spanish’… Cadiz is the oldest inhabited town in the world, dating back three thousand years. It is situated on the northern tip of a very long peninsular, meaning that the city is surrounded on all sides by water. The city was founded by the Phoenicians but really developed when America was discovered and it became Spain’s principal port. Today, 140,000 people live in the city and it is a major shipyard and naval base. We saw a Greek naval frigate arriving, with its complement of cadets out on deck.
We began our exploration of the city at the Plaza de Espana, opposite the cruise terminal.
We then walked anti-clockwise around the city, along the sea wall. This was a really picturesque area as there were a number of formal gardens and parks that we passed through, offering some pleasant shade as well as pretty vistas. We walked through the gardens of the Alameda de Apodaca and Marques de Comillas before arriving at the larger Parque Genoves, where we had a cool drink. The park has a splendid walk, lined with interesting topiary and small fountains.
We then decided to walk into the city itself, through the narrow streets. As with Lisbon, the drivers appeared fairly fearless, often tackling turns in cars that seemed far too big for the streets. We arrived at the Plaza San Antonio, with its grand buildings and then walked through the shopping district before arriving at the central market.
The market was a fascinating area. It appeared to be a renovated older colonnade that had a more modern structure in the centre. Around the outside were mainly fruit, vegetable and butchers’ stalls and in the middle were the fishmongers. Every stall had a wide selection of produce and we were amazed at the prices: one kilo of cherries for €1.50! Rachel discovered from a local that the harvests had been particularly good this year, hence the low prices. The fish were equally surprising: one stall had a huge tuna, others live clams that squirted water, and others many types of fish, including swordfish and sharks.
The cathedral is situated in the south-western part of the city, very close to the ocean. It was begun in the 18th century and has a grand central dome covered in small yellow tiles that shimmer like gold in the sunlight: the dome is the main landmark in Cadiz. The square in front is very attractive. We sat on the steps in the shade of the main entrance but decided not to pay the €5 entrance fee.
We then continued along the purple route, heading west towards the town hall, again situated in a very beautiful square with many restaurants, bars and fountains, and a view towards the cruise terminal. A short walk took us in a loop from here, where we visited a convent that is now a hotel, through very pretty little streets, and then back to the eastern side of the city and the port. We returned to Azura at 3.20, in time to relax and then go for afternoon tea.
Day 6, Thursday 7th August – Gibraltar
Another reasonably early start for almost everyone today: Ian had decided to stay onboard today as he has visited Gibraltar before and hates it, so he remained in bed. Rachel, Richard and Liz went to breakfast at 8.30 and then disembarked just before 10 o’clock. We are finding breakfast in the main restaurant to be very enjoyable and a good way to start the day, although this morning we shared a table with other people and service was rather slow.
From our berth at the cruise terminal, we had a good view of the western side of the Rock, but the skies were quite clear so we were also able to see across the straits to the second Pillar of Hercules in Morocco, a short distance of fifteen miles. By the time we got off, it was already very warm and we were in full sun as we walked the mile into town. On the quayside, Richard met a former colleague of his who is also sailing upon Azura: apparently her sons had spotted him earlier in the cruise, but Richard hadn’t seen her, which shows just how big the ship is.
Our walk began in Casemates, which was one of the original gates to the town and would have been along the quayside. A lot of land has since been reclaimed from the sea and it is surprising to see just how much the colony has grown out into the bay, much to the chagrin of the Spanish, no doubt. We then walked along Main Street, taking in the splendid sights of Next, Marks and Spencer’s and BHS, before rounding the corner by the Trafalgar cemetery and cutting across a car park to the cable car to the top of the Rock. There was a surprisingly short wait (no more than thirty minutes) despite what the taxi drivers were claiming when they offered to drive us. The return journey cost £10.50 and we paid in Sterling.
The journey up took around six minutes and the views across the bay were spectacular (for those of us that could look). We could see Morocco, Algeciras and way across Spain towards the mountains. Even before we arrived at the top station, one of the famous Barbary apes had jumped onto the roof.
Apart from admiring the views and watching the apes, there is not a great deal to do on top of the Rock. However, we still took our time as there was a refreshing breeze and we were kept entertained by the famous inhabitants. The younger apes were very excitable today; there were some mothers with babies, whilst the older animals lay in the shade trying to keep cool. Despite the multiple warnings, a foolish young boy from Azura decided to try to eat some biscuits. Within seconds, one of the apes had stolen the packet from him and then calmly opened it before sitting in front of us to eat the contents. We spent some time taking photographs from various angles, before having a cool drink in the café. Liz bought some souvenirs and then we descended in the cable car.
The seafront has changed considerably since their last visit and now boasts an impressive esplanade and sculptures, as well as a new museum of maritime archaeology. We started by strolling along the promenade before turning into the main town past the town hall and walking along the Calle Mayor and visiting some of the shops. We made it as far as the Plaza de Espagna and looked at the fountain, before turning back into the town. We decided to stop for a drink and selected a pleasant café in the pretty Plaza de Juan XXIII. Walking through the narrow side streets, we found the escalators that led up the hill to the Molinete Park. From here, we could look across the city and get a sense of the archaeological history. There were a number of Roman excavations to see and the park was landscaped well to accent these. We then descended to street level again, visiting La Caridad church briefly, and then taking the scenic lift up to the castle: €2 each although Liz could have had the concessionary fare! The best thing about the lift ride was the excellent air-conditioning: by now temperatures were well into the thirties.
From the top of the hill, we were able to admire both the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre (only uncovered in 1987) and the remains of the Roman theatre beneath the castle. In the shade there was a pleasant breeze, but out in the open the heat was becoming oppressive. However, the views out across Cartagena were impressive. We walked down the hill and then returned along the quayside to Azura and were back on board by about 1.30. We enjoyed a much-needed cold drink and complimentary snack in the coffee bar in the Atrium and then indulged in some relaxation time.
At 3.30, we met on our balcony for the sail away. We passed by many of the fortifications and were in open water fairly soon. The coastline looks very arid and rocky, but between the mountains there are some fine beaches. At 4 o’clock, Liz, Rachel and Richard went for their afternoon tea and then browsed through the shops before getting ready for the third of our formal nights.
Unusually, we had been told that we would need to carry our passports with us today. In addition, a new law introduced in 2011 means that people wearing swimwear or skimpy clothing on the streets of the city can be fined on the spot up to €600! Fortunately, Liz and Rachel dressed sensibly…
Barcelona is Spain’s major Mediterranean sea port and is a very busy city. It is in the region of Cataluña in the north east of the country, however we did not notice much of a difference in temperatures! Whilst a little hazy, it was already into the high twenties. Barcelona is also Spain’s second city and this can be seen in the wealth of high-end shops and restaurants. Most famous for the Gaudi architecture (known as ‘Modernista’ and inspired by Art Nouveau), there is also a quaint and picturesque gothic quarter that we began the day by exploring.
From the bottom of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s famous street, we walked a short way into the city, before heading east into the Barri Gotic: we admired the elegant Plaza Reial built in the 1850s with its colonnades and cafes, as well as the lampposts designed by Gaudi. Liz and Ian bought some tasty assorted biscuits and Liz also found a nice handbag, and then we walked through the narrow streets to the gothic cathedral. This is an impressive structure and pleasingly there was no scaffolding up so we could appreciate the scale of the building and its beauty. Begun in 1298, the façade and spires were only completed in 1913 to plans dated 1408.
We then continued north to Placa de Catalunya, the central square, and continued walking up one of the main avenues, Passeig de Gracia, so that we could see some of the more famous Gaudi buildings, such as Casa Batllo. We also window-shopped at Chanel. Turning east, we walked along Calle de Mallorca, which brought us to Sagrada Familia.
Having decided to leave, we caught a taxi back to Placa de Catalunya (about €7.50, and much quicker than walking!), calling in at the massive El Corte Ingles department store to visit their bathrooms. These were on the ninth floor, near the café and restaurant, and afterwards we bought some apricot and pineapple juice, which Ian deftly mixed for us. There were also some surprisingly good views from the terrace area across the city.
We then walked back down Las Ramblas towards the port area. Originally a dry bed of a seasonal river beside the old city walls, it was filled in in the 1770s and became a fashionable place to stroll. There are lots of cafes and stalls today and it was very busy. Along the way, we visited the Mercat de Sant Josep, or La Boqueria, food market, one of the best in Europe. It was designed as an open space in the 1840s, but an iron-framed pavilion was erected in the early 20th Century. This made the market in Cadiz look mediocre by comparison: the fruit and vegetables were arranged beautifully, as were the stalls selling dried fruit, meat, tapas and fish. We bought two punnets of fruit to eat on the way back to the ship: pineapple, melon and strawberries. Delicious! At the end of Las Ramblas, there was also a small craft market and Liz and Rachel browsed the stalls.
Day 9, Sunday 10th August – Ibiza
It was again already very warm when we awoke this morning in the port of Ibiza town. Ibiza is the smallest of the Balearic Islands, but has a formidable reputation: there is a greater concentration of nightclubs and discos here than anywhere else in Europe. We arrived at about 9 o’clock on Sunday morning, to find a very sleepy town and not much evidence of the previous night’s debauchery!
We ate breakfast at 8.30: Ian had an omelette and Rachel’s fried egg was perfect. Despite never ordering any eggs, Richard is always asked if he would like some, for some reason.
There was a very long queue for the shuttle buses this morning and we had to wait for about fifteen minutes before we could board one. Crew drills and exercises were taking place on board Azura this morning, so most passengers wanted to get off early to get out of the way. The ship is moored on the far side of the bay from the town, so we couldn’t really have walked, especially as it was so hot. The journey took about ten minutes and we were dropped off beside the ferry terminal.
The bay is almost circular and is dominated by the old town and the hill upon which it sits. We soon decided to make our ascent, passing through the thick walls that had been built in the 16th Century and climbing steeply to look out from the fortifications. There was a cooling breeze that just about made it tolerable. Once at the top, we could look out across the bays and watch the myriad of small pleasure craft heading south. There were also some very large and very expensive yachts in the harbour. We walked along the western and southern parts of the walls towards the cathedral that sits right at the top of the hill. The cathedral was built on the site of a Roman temple and a Moorish mosque and dates from the 13th Century. After pausing in the shade of the cathedral, we began to descend the hill.
We made our way through the narrow and winding streets of the Dalt Vila (Old Town), lined with whitewashed buildings and pretty views. We stopped at a very impressive hotel, the Mirador, in the Plaza de Espana, for a drink and to use the facilities, as well as cool off in their fabulous air-conditioning: €19 for four drinks! But worth it…
We then continued along the eastern walls, to look out over the town and the bay. Rachel lost her straw hat to a gust of wind. It disappeared over the wall into the streets of Sa Pena, the lower town. It was surprising to look down upon the roofs and terraces: they were very untidy! We continued along the walls and then descended by the Portal de ses Taules. On either side are headless Roman statues, discovered in the Roman cemetery. At the bottom of the old town, Liz bought a very pretty white cotton blouse, and then we headed back towards the shuttle bus, stopping for ice creams along the way. The old town was very attractive and worth visiting, but none of us thought we could spend two weeks here on a beach holiday. We were back on board by 2 o’clock and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.
Day 11, Tuesday 12th August – At Sea
Another lie-in for Richard and Ian again this morning: up at 10 o’clock. Liz and Rachel were up earlier and had breakfast in the buffet. Liz, Rachel and Ian then went to watch the interview with Ian Waite and Camilla Dallerup in the main theatre at 11 o’clock and Richard sat in the Blue Bar to write up his diary. Ian had his photograph taken on stage with the stars.
We all met in the Glass House at midday and went for lunch in the Peninsular restaurant: Ian had orzo pasta, Richard had cottage pie and Liz and Rachel had a croissant filled with creamy chestnut mushrooms. For dessert, Ian and Rachel had marmalade sponge pudding with grand marnier sauce and Richard and Liz had a chocolate and marshmallow biscuit cake. We then spent the afternoon reading in different parts of the ship. Liz and Rachel went for afternoon tea, having had a doze in their cabins after sitting out on deck. Richard read in the Blue bar and then went to the Glass House. Ian sat on the balcony and then went to bed.
Day 12, Wednesday 13th August – At Sea
We all had a lie-in this morning. Ian didn’t get up until 10.50! There is a moderate swell at sea today, which is making things a bit bumpy around the ship. Richard and Ian did some final shopping: another watch for Richard and a teddy bear for little William, as well as a fridge magnet that says “Keep calm and carry on cruising”.
We met up in Java for coffee and then wandered back to the cabins to sort some things out. Liz and Rachel have nearly finished their packing; Ian and Richard haven’t even started yet! We wrote our ‘thank you’ cards for Philip, our cabin steward, Stephen and Vishal, our waiters at dinner, and Sherry our wine steward. They have all provided us with excellent service and we really appreciate how they have enhanced our experience. We also discovered that Liz and Rachel’s noisy neighbours have been moved to another cabin: adults-only cruises for all of us from now on.
Richard, Liz and Rachel went for lunch in Sindhu at about 1.30. Ian stayed in the cabin as the motion of the ship and looking at the computer screen had made him feel a bit ill. We had a nice lunch that was spoiled at the end when they tested a fire alarm and then couldn’t turn it off.
Richard returned to the cabin and completed the packing. Liz and Rachel also finished theirs and then ended up falling asleep later in the afternoon. Richard finished packing and then went to read in the Glass House, leaving Ian to sleep in the cabin. The sea had calmed somewhat by now and the sun was out as we rounded Cape Finisterre and headed up the English Channel towards Southampton.