P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 11: Cartagena

Our penultimate port stop finds us in the Spanish town of Cartagena. From here, it is possible to visit Murcia but we decided just to have a wander around the town as it aparently has lots of Roman ruins and interesting architecture.

We think MIL is tired of us walking her legs off in port as she decided just to go shopping leaving us to explore on our own.

First stop was the remains of the Roman ampitheatre which is very much a ruin. Work is being done to preserve it but it still looks quite impressive.

Next to the ampitheatre is a panoramic lift to take visitors up to a castle at the top of a hill. The cost is €2pp just for the lift or €12 fir entrance to the castle, the Roman theatre and either the civil war museum or the air raid shelter museum. We chose the  €12 option as we wanted to visit the Roman theatre as well.

The castle itself is really more of a tower but it is worth the visit for the panoramic views over the town. There is also a museum about the history of Cartagena inside it but we sort of rushed through that as we were more interested in getting to the Roman theatre.

Amazingly, the theatre was only discovered in 1987 as it had been built over and covered up for centuries. They’ve done a really good job of excavating and restoring it to show the scale of the structure and how impressive it would have been in it’s time whilst still showing the ancient ruins.

After this it was time for lunch and we headed to a tapas bar which I’d found recommended online. According to the reviews, it was very much a ‘locals’ place with an absence of tourists. So I was a bit disappointed to find a coach load of people from our cruise there, although it turns out they were on a tapas tour so it wasn’t such a bad thing. Anyway, we ordered a range of dishes and had a couple of beers each and only paid €29 which we thought was really good value as the food was delicious and the beer was good.

A leisurely stroll back to the ship followed and we headed for the pool deck for a much needed dip in the pool as it had been extremely humid in port.

Pre-dinner drinks found us in The Glass House, the on board wine bar where they have a wide array of wines by the glass. Here I tried one of their wine flights which, at £9.95 for 3x 100ml servings, I thought was a good value way of trying some different wines.

Dinner this evening was again in the MDR where I enjoyed Pate, Blackened Sea Bream with Dirty Rice and a Black-Eyed Bean Salsa following by a very rich and tasty Vanilla and Saffron Scented Pear Tart with a pastry case that was incredibly crisp.

After dinner, MIL retired to bed to continue reading her book whilst Mr FFF and I went to one of the lounges for  a couple more drinks before turning in.

Tomorrow is our last port stop and we’re kind of almost home as we’ll be in Gibraltar.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 10: Sea Day

Today was a much needed sea day following yesterday’s long trip to Rome. As with any other, it started out with the gym and then breakfast before a well-earned laze on the sundeck reading my book with occasional dip in the pool to cool off.

Nothing else of any consequence happened until, you guessed it, dinner time! Tonight was our third formal night and I had booked a table as a surprise for the 3 of us in the Epicurean restaurant which is the ship’s fine dining venue. Following a pre-dinner drink in the Planet bar, we began our 2 hour gastronomic meal.

First, a bread basket was brought out with three different types of bread: beetroot, mustard and wholemeal. These were served with 2 types of butter: unsalted and Marmite. Now, I’m not a fan of Marmite but of course, I had to try it and I was pleasantly surprised. The saltiness of the Marmite went well with the creaminess of the butter and wasn’t overpowering. Another thing to recreate at home perhaps…

We were then presented with a frozen Bloody Mary lollipop with celery salt. This was really tomatoey and refreshing.

Next up came the starters. I opted for the Tiger Prawn and Octopus Cocktail with Avocado Mousse which was creamy yet light. Mr FFF chose a pulled duck dish which was tasty but not particularly photogenic and he felt the brioche it was served on was too thick for a starter. MIL ‘won’ the starters with her ‘Textures of Tomato’ dish which was served with a white gazpacho which was incredibly fresh and full of flavour.

Onto the mains and we all chose steaks with Mr FFF & MIL going for th sirloin whilst I plumped for the fillet which was served with ox cheek. We were also able to order sides although the sirloin steaks didn’t really need them. I ordered asparagus and was impressed that when the waiter noticed I’d polished it off pretty quickly, he asked if I wanted more. Which of course I did!

We then had a little break before our ‘pre-desserts’ which were a take on a G&T with tonic jelly, lemon sorbet and a squirt of gin over the top. I love a good G&T and so this was a really fun, palette cleansing course for me.

Finally, it was dessert time. It was really hard to choose between the different options. I went for a Banana & Peanut Butter dish (I’m a sucker for that flavour combo) which was served with a fabulous muscovado sugar ice-cream. MIL went for ‘Textures of Summer Trifle’ which came with a custard fritter which I might just have to have go at making at some point. And Mr FFF was in his element as his favourite dessert, crème brulee, was on the menu which is the first time we’ve spotted it on this cruise. It was finished table side which added a nice bit of theatre. Mr FFF reported that it was a really tasty brulee but that it didn’t need all the ‘other stuff’ that came with it on the plate – he doesn’t like his classic desserts messed with!

Stuffed to the gills, we waddled around the promenade deck before grabbing a Kahlua for me and heading back to our cabin where we sat listening to the waves before rolling into bed.

It’s our penultimate port stop tomorrow and we’ll be in Cartagena, Spain, where I’m looking forward to some proper tapas. Yes mother, if you’re still reading this, it’s still all about the food!

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 9: Rome

Day 9 sees us in the Italian port of Civitavechia which is best known for being the port from which to visit Rome.

Myself and Mr FFF have been to Civitavechia twice before but had opted not to visit Rome for two reasons: 1) there’s so much to see a few hours wouldn’t do it justice; 2) we wanted to avoid the summer heat and crowds. This time around, MIL said it was one place she really wanted to see so we agreed to go with her.

We opted for an excursion booked through the ship for peace of mind because of the long distance between the port and Rome itself and because the roads in the area are renowned for traffic jams and the public transport is about as reliable as that at home (ie not very!).

We chose a completed guided option that also included a couple of river cruises as we thought this would be a good way to rest our feet and get out of the sun on what we were sure would be a long, hot, tiring day.

Our tour left at 8:45am and we drove for about an hour before stopping at a service station on the outskirts of Rome to use the facilities. About 15-20 minutes later, we reached Rome itself and picked up our tour guide. We began with a panoramic coach tour of some of the outlying sites including the Baths of Caracalla, Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Circus Maximus. It was breath-taking to see the scale of these paces, especially when considering how long ago they were built.

We were then dropped off on the edge of the trastevere district – the ‘old town’ area full of narrow, cobblestone streets and traditional tavernas. Here, we stopped at a quaint little place where we were fortified with a small snack of fruit, cured ham and smoked cheese. This was an unexpected but welcome surprise. The fruit was really refreshing and the cheese was particularly delicious.

We wandered through the old town some more, taking time to look at the magnificent architecture as we made our way to the river Tiber where we boarded a small boat to take us to the next part of the tour. It was a welcome relief to rest our feet and sit in the shade, even if it was extremely hot – 29°C according to Accuweather.

The boat took us to the Castle of Angels and after a climb up 57 very steep steps from the riverbank to street level, we made our way through the city towards the Pantheon, stopping the very majestic Piazza Navona. At the Pantheon, we were given 1hour of free time for lunch and as it was such a short time and so crowded, we decided it would be easiest to eat at the restaurant which had been booked for our tour group, although lunch was not included as part of the tour. We had lasagne, a pizza and a salad along with 3 soft drinks between the 3 of us and the bill came to €22 per person. The food was fine but I’m sure we could have found better and cheaper if we had had time to explore off the beaten track.

After lunch, it was back out into the heat (by this time, 41C was showing on local signs!) to walk to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. The found in particular was magnificent but it was extremely crowded. People were 3 or 4 deep and you had to wait to be able to get a spot to be able to view without anyone in front of you. The Spanish Steps were not as crowded although I imagine they would have been if they hadn’t recently stopped people from sitting on them. I did hear police blowing their whistles a few times to tell people to get up.

The Spanish Steps are on the edge of the very expensive shopping district and Mr FFF was glad that we didn’t have time to stop in any of the designer shops as we walked back to the Tiber for the next boat portion of the tour.

This was where the tour became a bit bizarre: All 47 of us on the tour, plus 2 guides, plus another group of about the same size, walked down another 57 steps to the river bank and got onto the boat. The boat then sailed about 100yds down the river before turning around, sailing back past where we’d got on, and then on for another 100yds to the point where we’d got off the boat earlier in the day. We then had to get off and climb the same 57 steps we’d climbed earlier in the day, to come out onto the road 200yds from where we’d just climbed down 15 minutes before!! Nobody could understand the point of this. Then we walked to St Peter’s Square where we were given 10 minutes to take photos AND use the toilet before heading back to the coach to go back to the port (which would not be stopping at the services). We decided that taking pictures of this iconic place was more of important than going to the toilet and that we’d just cross our legs and hope for the best on the way back!

Also, our tour guide wasn’t the best. Although he guided us safely around Rome and pointed out the sites, I felt that he didn’t really give much information about them or the city itself. It was my first time in Rome and I came away feeling I hadn’t really learnt much about it which was disappointing.

All in all, I was impressed with the sites that I saw. However, I stand by my previous assumption that there is too much to see and do in Rome than a day’s tour can do justice to. I would like to go back for a few days in the spring or autumn and spend time seeing the sites properly.

Back onboard, we showered and went up to the Planet bar at the back of the ship to enjoy sail away with a drink before dinner in the MDR.

Dinner tonight was Dressed Asparagus with Egg Mayonaise and a truffle dressing followed by Monkfish wrapped in cabbage leaves with Ponzu Sauce (I didn’t think the monkfish needed the cabbage personally but I just unwrapped it and ate them separately. For dessert, I chose the Cranachan. It was my first time eating this dish so I’ve got nothing to compare it to IRL but I have seen it prepared on a number TV shows and as is often the way with cruise desserts, the chef had gone his own way with it. The oats were in with the cream and were soft and a piece of shortbread was serve on the side (rather than the oats and shortbread mixture being baked together to make a crumble to sprinkle over the top of the cream). The texture of the cream and oats was a bit weird (it put me mind of my breakfast which I must make again) but it was nice enough and happened to be the low sugar option on the menu so I can’t complain.

There was some entertainment on that sounded good, but we were exhausted from the day’s expedition so decided to have an early night before a well needed sea day tomorrow.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 8:Livorno

Last night’s late night meant that I got up a bit later than usual but as it was a port day where we weren’t really planning on doing much, I still went to the gym before hitting the buffet for a late breakfast. It was about 10am by the time we got there and although the main buffet was closed, the smaller buffet was open which still had plenty for us to choose from. The only issue with this buffet is that it is sort of a one-way system so you can’t really look at what’s available before choosing what you want without going back to the start of the queue.

Suitably fed, we disembarked the ship to explore the town of Livorno for a couple of hours. As the port is a large, industrial one, you are not allowed to walk through it and so a free shuttle bus is provided that drops you off at the Piazza del Municipio.

From here we took a short stroll to an old fort that has now been turned into a park and gardens. We then walked through the town to the central market where I was in heaven! There was stall after stall of the most amazing fresh produce and it was great to stroll around, people watch and wish that I lived somewhere where such markets were available to shop at.

Feeling thirsty, we stopped at a small cafe for a beer, where we sat outside and watched Livornans going about their business before heading back to the ship.

After another refreshing dip in the pool, I retreated to my balcony to enjoy the shade whilst watching fishing and pleasure boats coming and going from the harbour.

As last night had been so busy entertainments-wise, we decided to have a more relaxed evening tonight. We went up to the planet bar for pre-dinner drinks and to watch sail away (which I forgot to take any photos of I was that relaxed!).

Dinner in the MDR followed. I enjoyed Beef Goulash and Grilled Chicken with Romesco Sauce. The Romesco sauce was particularly delicious. For desert, the option that tickled my tastebuds was again the chocolate one – I’m beginning to think I might have a problem! It was served with a sweet fennel ice-cream which was what swayed me towards ordering it. It was delicious – aniseedy, yet creamy, yet light. I told the waiter how much I liked it and he immediately offered to bring me some more but I managed to resist.

After dinner, we hit the onboard shops as I was looking for a light-weight,long-sleeved top that will help to stop my arms from looking like crispy bacon when we’re in Rome tomorrow. I managed to find something that I think will be suitable AND they had a 10% off sale AND they were giving out free prosecco!

With an early start and a long day ahead of us tomorrow, we turned in for an earltish night. Rome, here we come!

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 7: Sea Day

Today was just a totally relaxing sea day. Following our usual sea day routine of gym and breakfast (buffet again today), we grabbed some loungers on the sundeck by the adult pool and relaxed with our books (it seems I am converting Mr FFF and MIL to the ways of the bookworm!) and spent the morning and first part of the afternoon sunbathing and dipping into the pool to cool off.

I also went to the salon to get 2 broken nails fixed. It was my first time in the salon on any ship and whilst it was a very relaxing environment, it was also VERY expensive: it actually cost me more to get 2 nails fixed than it does to get a FULL set done at home. The technician was very pleasant but I politely declined when she offered to book me in to do the infill on my full set of nails – with the prices they charge, I’m not sure my credit card could handle it!

This evening was another formal night and we once again enjoyed a delicious meal in the MDR. My menu for the evening was Tomato Panacotta, Lamb Shank and Banana, Rum and Raisin Ice-cream Sundae. The lamb shank just fell off the bone and the sundae was really flavoursome  with a light coffee cream and banana jam at the bottom.

Tonight’s entertainment saw us once again head to the theatre for the ship’s ‘Reel to Reel’ show which showcased songs from a variety of British films. We were again impressed with the quality of the show and in particular the audio-visual effects were fantastic.

Following this show, we had some time to kill before the adult comedy show that was scheduled for 11:45pm (very late for us early birds!). We first went up to the Planet Bar where the ship’s acoustic duo were playing. We’ve heard these a few times now and they are very good. In my opinion it’s the perfect music to relax with a cocktail to.

We then went down to the Manhattan lounge where the comedian was scheduled to perform to a) be sure of getting a good seat as it was packed when he performed  the other night, and b) to see a singer by the name of Karl Lewis (another Welsh singer) who had performed as an Olly Murs tribute night earlier in the week but was performing his own cabaret  tonight. When I’d seen him as Olly, I thought he was pretty good but he was fantastic performing as himself tonight.

Amazingly, we all managed to stay awake for the late night comedy by Rudi Lickwood who was very entertaining.

After his show and having avoided turning into pumpkins, we hit the hay.

Tomorrow we’re in Livorno but as we’re not going on a trip and there’s not that much to see in the port itself, we’re planning on a lazier start to the day which I’m very much looking forward to after tonight’s shenanigans!

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura Mediterranean Cruise – Day 6: Barcelona

Day 6 of our cruise brings us to our second port – Barcelona.

This is one of my favourite cities and would be my 4th visit. Mr FFF has been 3 times but it was MIL’s first visit.

We were in no real rush to get off the ship as we were planning on doing our own thing and didn’t have to be back on board until 10:30. We went for breakfast in the buffet at about 8:45 it was pretty busy so we ended up getting our food and sitting outside by the pool. In our Horizon information programme for the day, it told us that we needed to take our passports ashore with us due to local regulations. This is the first time we have been told this in any Mediterranean port including when we stopped in Barcelona last year. We dutifully took ours ashore and were slightly worried about losing them or having them stolen all day and in the end, no one asked to see them so I’m not quite sure what that was all about.

Anyway, our ship was berthed at the far end of the very long dockyard but once we were through the terminal building, we were able to get straight on to a shuttle bus to take us to the World Trade Centre which is close to the bottom of La Rambl, the famous street that leads from the sea up into the heart of the city. Last time we were here, we managed to pick up a rickshaw tour near to the WTC and it was a really great way to see the city so we’d planned to do this again but take a different route. As the shuttle bus pulled up, there were a number of rickshaws just pulling up so we had no problem getting one. One rickshaw just about managed to hold the 3 of us (it’s a good job it wasn’t near the end of the cruise!) and cost €30pp per hour. We opted fora 2 hour tour that took in the old town, Parc de la Ciudad and the Gaudi route. Our driver, Carlos, was extremely knowledgeable and friendly recommending places to eat and drink and other things to see and do in the city. He gave us plenty of time to take pictures and our tour ended up being closer to 2.5 hours at no extra charge. Despite the fact that it was my 4th time in the city, I saw places I hadn’t seen before and learnt new things about the places I had already seen.

After the tour, Carlos dropped us off by the gothic cathedral near to La Rambla. We grabbed a quick drink and a toilet stop at Bilbao Berio which was on the corner of Placa Nova. We went in here as it was the first place we spotted and my only regret is that I wasn’t already hungry (weird I know) because they had the most amazing looking bruschetta on the counter for between €1.95-€2.50 per slice. Definitely one to try when I go back.

Suitably refreshed, we headed out to La Rambla to show MIL this famous street. I’ve got to admit, I’m not a fan of it – in summer at least – as it is so crowded but you’ve got to at least be able to say you’ve been there. We were hoping to visit La Boqueria market, which is just off La Rambla, but unfortunately it was closed due to a public holiday.

By this point, we were starting to get hungry so we headed to Placa Reil which Mr FFF and I had found before. It is just off La Rambla and is surrounded by really good restaurants. We again ate at Ocaña. Although they no longer offer a dedicated tapas menu, the food that we saw being brought out of the kitchen looked really good so we pointed out to the waiter the dishes we’d seen that we liked the look of and ordered those. MIL ordered a burger which was huge, properly cooked and came with proper chips; Mr FFF ordered an Iberian Ham Bocadillo which was served in an individual ciabatta loaf that was enormous. Both of them began eating before I could take a picture but I tasted them and they were delicious. I went for a tuna casserole type thing that was made up of tuna tartare, avocado, chunks of potato, sundried tomatoes and paprika and was served with a poached egg on the top. It was absolutely amazing and it’s another dish I’ll be trying to recreate at home.

After lunch, which I of course washed down with a glass of cava, we had a stroll around the streets of the gothic quarter enjoying the shade and browsing the numerous boutiques and independent shops. Although all of the big name shops in the main shopping areas were closed for the public holiday, there were plenty open in this area and lots of great buys to be had. I definitely need to do more shopping the next time I come here.

By about 3:30pm, we’d walked our feet off and were feeling the heat so we headed back to the ship. We got on a shuttle bus straightaway and were back at the ship in about 10 minutes.

Once back on board, we had a refreshing dip in the pool, which is warming up nicely, before getting ready for dinner.

For dinner this evening, we again opted for the MDR. I ordered a bottle of French Sauvignon Blanc that had previously caught my eye on the wine list. I’m a big fan of Marlborough sauvignon blancs and so was very interested to try this. It was slightly smoother and less acidic than the Marlborough variety with pear tones rather than passion fruit. Overall, it was a very nice wine but I do prefer the Marlborough version.

For dinner, I chose a Thai Chicken Salad followed by Salmon, Tuna and Tiger Prawn kebabs which were served with cumin-spiced roasted aubergine. This accompaniment was my main reason for choosing the dish and I’m pleased to report that it was so good that it’s something else I’m going to try to recreate at home. For dessert, I didn’t fancy tonight’s sundae option so I stuck with the chocolate offering. Tonight it was a Hot Chocolate Fondant with Salted Caramel Ice-cream. It was absolutely gorgeous; the best dessert I’ve had on board so far. I considered asking for a second portion but, for the sake of my waistline, I refrained!

After dinner, we went to watch the local flamenco troupe who were performing in the theatre. It was interesting to see this cultural art form first hand but I’m glad the show was only 30 minutes long as it was a bit repetitive.

We had a late sail away scheduled for this port with the all aboard time set for 10:30pm. As we missed the sail away party in Southampton due to the weather, we decided to go to tonight’s tropical-themed party. The open decks were packed with many people wearing Hawaiian shirts and getting into the tropical spirit. Staff were handing out leis and the ship’s Caribbean band were playing. It was a great atmosphere and a fantastic spot to watch from as we left the bright lights of Barcelona behind.

By this point our beds were calling so we decided to turn in. Tomorrow we have another sea day as we sail towards Italy.

Thanks for reading,

FFF

P&O Azura 14 Night Mediterranean Cruise – Day 5: Sea Day

Day 5 and another sea day. After our usual routine of the gym followed by a buffet breakfast, we went up to the sun deck near to the ‘adults only’ pool for a spot of sunbathing and reading. A dip in the pool was very refreshing as they haven’t quite warmed up yet but, with plenty of sunny weather forecast, we’re hoping they’re going to get more and more pleasant.

Today we actually skipped lunch – although this was because I had booked the Eric Lanlard Afternoon Tea for us all in the Epicurian specialty restaurant. This is only served on sea days and there is only one sitting at 3:30pm. The cost is £15pp and it was well worth it as an indulgent treat. We each enjoyed a selection of 3 different types of savoury bites followed by 4 sweet options and 2 scones each. This was accompanied by a choice of a range of Teapigs teas. I went for ‘Chocolate Flake’ and ‘Up Beet’. Both were very flavoursome and enjoyable but the chocolate flake was my favourite and I’ll be looking out for it when I go shopping at home. All of the food was delicious but if I absolutely had to choose a favourite, the savoury would be the Pancetta & Porcini Éclair which was rich yet light, and the sweet would be the West Indies Dark Chocolate Tart because, y’know, chocolate!

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