Mediterranean Cruise 23

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This is the same cruise on the same ship, the P&O Iona, that I did 14 months previously, but I did it again because there was a very good price deal, I loved the ship, and we missed 3 ports last time.

When I did the cruise in Nov/Dec 2021 we not only missed 3 ports but the cruise started a day late as the ship had been delayed getting back to Southampton from the previous cruise owing to bad weather (see my blog  here). The ports we missed on that cruise were Gibraltar, Alicante and Valencia owing to high winds but all were fine this time. We had blue skies most of time though it was often rather chilly and it did rain a little in Lisbon and Seville.

Martine
Martine on 'Black Tie' night
Gloria
Gloria on 'Black Tie' night

The price deal for this cruise was £785 with no solo supplement for a balcony cabin for a 14 day cruise. This was a remarkable value as you normally have to pay much more for single occupancy of a cabin, but I guess P&O were trying to fill all the cabins for an out-of-season cruise. Anyway, it was a not-to-be-missed offer that is rarely seen (actually, we paid a little more as the cheapest cabins had been taken when we booked). Once again, my cruising companion was Gloria whom I had met on the Caribbean cruise in March last year. This was the third cruise we have done together and she had also joined me for a couple of steampunk events and the Dumbleton event last summer. We are just good friends, nothing more! We had a balcony cabin each.

Because the cruise was such a good deal for solo travellers, there were lots on board; someone said they had been told there were about 1000! It certainly seemed like it on the first solo meet-up that the ship had in the daily programme. The venue for the meet was crowded, so many that it was rather overwhelming making it difficult to make any new connections, but I did see one or two whom I had met on previous cruises. Many had booked the cruise through Passion for Cruises, which is an agent in South Wales that specialises in cruises for solo travellers. The ship had these meets each day in its daily programme, including days in port so that solo travellers could hopefully find someone to go ashore with, whereas on previous cruises I’d been on, the meets were only scheduled for sea days. The numbers attending the meets did reduce dramatically over the duration of the cruise as presumably most solo cruisers did make friends.

An aerial display in the ship's Skydome
An aerial display in the ship's Skydome

After the solo meets, on each sea day (six of them) there was a talk in the main theatre about drugs by a most entertaining speaker. He was a retired gentleman who had been a senior figure in the national drugs agency. The talks were most informative and extremely popular as the theatre was packed each day. During the cruise, there were other interesting talks too about several artists whose paintings were available as prints in the art gallery on board. Personally, I find there is more of interest to do aboard P&O ships than the MSC ones on which I’ve been.

After two days at sea, our first port of call was Vigo. I had visited Vigo on the previous cruise, but I did not venture much beyond the port that time owing to difficulty walking far. I get pain in my right calf after I’ve walked more than a few hundred yards and on that previous cruise, I had no idea what the trouble was as it was the first time I experienced the problem. I still have the problem, which has since been diagnosed as due to a restriction of the main artery in my right thigh that starves my right calf muscle of blood. I have been advised to try to keep walking through the pain to try to stimulate blood flow via alternative arteries. So far, not much improvement, but I do try to keep my steps up as much as possible now.

So this time, Gloria and I decided to make it up to the castle on the top of the hill in Vigo. For me it was quite a struggle due to breathlessness more than leg pain, but I was proud of myself to make it to the top (not bad for a 83-year-old!). The views were well worth the climb. When we had descended back into the old town we looked for a café for lunch hoping to find an outside table in the sun, as it was quite chilly in the shade, but the few places in the narrow shady streets were already taken. We eventually went inside a place away from the tourists that was only patronised by locals and had a very good value lunch complete with vino tinto!

Saint Michael's cave
Saint Michael's cave, Gibraltar

The next port was Gibraltar, which I was most disappointed to miss last time. But as the ship was only in port for half a day, we took one of the ship’s excursions, as otherwise it would have been very difficult with the limited time to get to the places I wanted to visit. It was a very early start and the tour began with the cable car to the top of the rock long before it’s normal opening time. The views were tremendous, especially from a glass-floored ‘sky-walk’ projecting out from the top of the rock with a near vertical drop below. Then we walked to the spectacular St Michael’s Cave, which had a fantastic sound and light show in an enormous cavern, something I really wanted to see. Finally, we were driven to the Great Siege tunnels that had been dug out in appalling conditions by the British soldiers defending the rock when the Spanish and French tried to take it in the 18th century. Altogether, it was a most interesting excursion.

Then Alicante, also missed before, had another castle atop a hill overlooking the town (but this hill was much bigger). There was supposed to be a lift inside the hill that would have taken us to the top but when we found it, it was out of order! Fortunately, there was a bus that took us to the top as I think the climb on foot would have been too much for me (perhaps for Gloria too!). Again, tremendous views from the top before we walked back down to the old town and a drink before returning to the ship.

At Valencia, we took the shuttle bus service to the old town, as it was quite some distance from where the ship was docked, made even longer as the bus had to take a very circuitous route owing to many of the roads having been closed for a cycle race. I’m sure many of the passengers would have had little idea where to go from the place where we were dropped off, but fortunately, I had done my usual research and using a map I’d printed in advance, I knew where to go. I’d like to have seen more but I’ll be back in Valencia again on my next cruise.

Plaza de Espana, Seville
Plaza de Espana, Seville

Barcelona was the next port. I did visit it last time and actully walked quite some distance around the city, including seeing the main attraction: the Gaudi’s famous La Sagrada Familia unfinished cathedral. Gloria had also seen it before so we didn’t bother going to see it again but wandered up the well-known La Rambla street, and ended up in an attractive park that I had visited last time.

We had both also been to Cadiz before so when our ship got there, Gloria and I decided to take an excursion to Seville. We had a most entertaining tour guide on the coach but in Seville, we were free to explore the city ourselves. Gloria was joined by two other ladies we’d met on the ship but I decided to wander off and do my own thing as there where places I wanted to see that I knew they had no intention of visiting. I was glad I did.

Finally, the last port of our cruise was Lisbon and I got up early to take a video at sunrise of the ship passing under the impressive suspension bridge as it approached Lisbon along the River Tagus. Although the ship had not missed Lisbon on the previous cruise, I had not gone ashore that time but I was keen to do so now. Unfortunately, the weather was not too good for our day in Lisbon. It was cold and it rained whilst we waited to catch one of the old wooden trams in the picturesque Alfama district. The weather rather put a damper on things and I look forward to seeing more of Lisbon on a future cruise.

After that, it was two sea days back to Southampton and the end of another wonderful cruise. I have three more planned for 2023 so watch this space for more of my cruising adventures.

VIDEOS

St Michael's Cave

Approaching Lisbon on the P&O Iona

Martine Rose

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