Sparkling Waters, Azure Seas

I had booked a bespoke CMV cruise consisting of two brochure cruises - 'back-to-back'. The first – 'Iberian Classics and West Med Highlights'  was sailing from Bristol Avonmouth to Livorno in Italy; and the second one followed on with a cruise to Venice, weaving through the Greek Islands and taking in mainland Turkey and Greece along the way. Also this second cruise would visit a Croatian island in the Adriatic. September was a good month to go. The Mediterranean sunshine beckoned.  As usual packing the luggage and dealing with all the necessary domestic issues needed some careful planning. I did not take my car to the port as the return journey to the UK involved a flight to Gatwick. I used a private taxi to take me to Avonmouth on Tuesday, Sept 8th. I was on board 'MV Azores' by noon. One's luggage is collected from you at the terminal and the next time you see it is outside your cabin. I had an ocean view cabin on  Deck 2. It was very comfortable and spacious and equipped with a bath in the en-suite. Digital TV showed films, news, location and the bridge webcam view.

After the mandatory safety drill, the ship was passing through the lock gates and out into the Severn Estuary by four o'clock. I met people that I knew from previous cruises and we enjoyed viewing the islands of Steepholme and Flatholme; as well as seaside towns like Clevedon,  from our vantage point on the aft deck. That night a tasty meal with fellow solo travellers; the Welcome Show; and clocks forward one hour.

A day at sea ensued. I attended the 'ports talk' given by the Shore Excursions team. Informative as ever. Then the gathering for the Solo's and a few introductions. All very informal and drinks served. Played a game of Scrabble later. And it was our first  formal night which comprised the Captain's Welcome Reception followed by dinner in the restaurant. Then the ABBA tribute show in the Calypso Lounge entertained us all.

During the night there was some sea swell but it was tolerable. We arrived at La Coruna in North-west Spain before noon. I walked through the old town and through a coastal park replete with sculptures before making it up to the Tower of Hercules lighthouse. There I met a fellow passenger and we climbed to the top having paid the entrance fee. The rolling Atlantic waves were an impressive sight. Near the tower there is an Interpretation Centre featuring dynamic computer graphics. All that explained the history of the tower. Thence we walked past the Museum of Mankind to the beach. Later I explored the town a little more on my own.  UK comedian Jed Fry entertained us back on the ship. We left Spain and as our next port of call was in Portugal, we had to put our clocks and watches one hour back.

Friday we arrived in Leixoes, Portugal. I explored that port town with a lady companion in the morning before joining an excursion to briefly tour the city then take the Six Bridges River Cruise on the Douro in nearby Oporto. The excursion included a visit to a port-wine producer where we were shown the mighty barrels of maturing port – and given the opportunity to sample the product in both its red and white forms. The 'From Russia with Love' show, back on board our ship, was excellent.

Next day, Lisbon. It was bright and sunny and Anthem of the Seas was berthed nearby. I went on the Southern Highlands excursion travelling over the bridge and viewing the Christ the Redeemer statue at close quarters. Then up into the hills before a dramatic coastal drive down into the pleasant town of Setubal. We returned to Lisbon via the ten mile long Vasco Da Gama bridge. Clocks had to go forward again by one hour. The 'We Will Rock You' Queen tribute show was marvellous. It was Italian Night in the restaurant. I enjoyed spaghetti bolognese.

Sunday morning we arrived in Gibraltar having had good views of the Moroccan coast. Many dolphins were on view also. I hiked to the cable car station in Gibraltar to find it closed due to high winds. I walked a third of the way up the Rock, had a lift with Danish tourists for the next third; then walked the rest. But I found myself on O'Hara's Battery so I had to walk a little way down and up again to find the Macaques. As usual, these apes were sunning themselves on the concrete walls and being mischievous. I returned to the town via steep flights of steps and via Green Lane through short tunnels. The Marina; Main Street; and Casemates Square were all interesting to see. Jed Fry performed more comedy and songs that night aboard ship – after dinner.

Thence to hot and sunny Malaga. I went on an excursion to Marbella which comprised an escorted walking tour of the Old Town then a visit to see the luxury yachts at Puerto Banus. Back in Malaga, I had a swim in the sea then climbed the zig-zag path up the hill for a city overview. I also visited the cathedral and saw the beautiful coloured glass cube roof-light over the Pompidou Arts Centre. Back on board ship, the band put on a marvellous show of live music.

There followed two sea days en route to Livorno. We glimpsed the coast at Benidorm and also saw the island of Ibiza. More dolphins were seen; and several of us enjoyed swimming in the ship's pool. Dinner at the Captain's table was very enjoyable. Baked Alaska was served after the traditional parade. The 'Round the World' show featured many international dances and songs. The Show Team are superb. The first cruise ended in Livorno. That day I explored the city which has interesting canals and a splendid coastal esplanade, New guests flew in from the UK for the next cruise entitled  'Mediterranean Classics and Treasures'. Safety drill was performed again after the last arrivals flew in from Manchester to Pisa.

Next day, Friday Sept 18th, we arrived in Civitavecchia. Most guests journeyed to Rome. I had a quick look at Civitavecchia town in the morning using the port shuttle bus.  In the afternoon I went on an excursion to visit the Odescalci Castle up in the hill at Bracciano. The castle commanded a fine location overlooking the large lake in that region. A TV programme about the Medici family was being made at the castle. Part of the museum was full of interesting artefacts. After our cultural visit we went to a winery to sample six flavours of wine and enjoy light refreshments of cheese, sliced ham and olives outside by the oleander bushes. Never did wine taste so good.

Saturday and Sunday we were at sea but we did have splendid views of the active volcanoes of Stromboli and Etna. The comedian Andy Ford from Devon put on a good show that first night. On the second of the sea days I attended the ports talk; and enjoyed the lecture 'Myth into Art' by the brilliant, idiosyncratic and entertaining artist/guest-speaker Alan O'Cain. Swimming and sunbathing completed the day.

Thence to Santorini. Ashore by tender boat; uphill by cable car; scenic walks in Fira village along the ridge towards Oia. Walked back to the quay via the paved donkey track. Several other ships – all much larger than ours – were in the bay. That afternoon we journeyed by sea to Mykonos which we explored during an evening trip on to the island. The main village of Chora was extremely busy with boisterous tourists. I caught the 9.10pm free tender back to our ship.

Then to Turkey. Many folk visited Ephesus. I have been before so instead I climbed Ataturk Hill for an overview. A kind young Turkish family drove me back into town in their car. I had a swim at the town beach before exploring the amazing shopping bazaar of the Old Town. It had been amazing to hear the call to prayer by the Muezzin emanating from a nearby minaret. We were in Asia – thanks to CMV! It was a long way from Avonmouth.

Returning to Greece the next day, we berthed in Piraeus. I reached the Acropolis by open-topped tour bus in the morning; and took an excursion to scenic Cape Sounion in the afternoon. The ruins of the Temple of Poseidon were interesting. The weather was gloriously clear and sunny. Next day we reached Katakolon. During our approach I enjoyed Alan's lecture 'Portraiture in Art' in the Cyclops Auditorium on board ship. Lots of people visited Olympia, I walked to the little resort of Agios Andreas and had a swim in the Ionian Sea. By the time I had walked back to Katakolon a tall glass of cool beer served with potato chips at a taverna went down extremely well. Fellow passengers enjoyed swapping stories of their day both at that bar and later on at dinner. The ship Norwegian Jade was also in port at Katakolon. Andy Ford performed more comedy that evening. There was much mirth.

Our next port of call was Corfu. I went on the Corfu Panorama coach excursion. The heavens opened when we were up at a cliff-top restaurant at Bella Vista above Paleokastritsa.  Luckily it was sunny by the time we reached the famous viewpoint looking across to Mouse Island. In Corfu Town they were establishing the Durrell Gardens near the fortress. Sailing away from Corfu we had good views of Albania. A meeting of Columbus Club members attracted many of the 105 on board for a very pleasant cocktail party in the Calypso Lounge.

Thence to gorgeous Korcula, an island off the Croatian mainland. I had a swim in the Adriatic then paid three Euros to climb the cathedral tower. Access to the island from our ship was, on this occasion, by tender boat.

Alan O'Cain wanted to create an Art 'happening' on Deck 4a so I joined him in the rendition of avant garde poems worked around the theme of the ship's bell. Watching passengers were amused – and maybe slightly baffled by this little impromptu  performance.

Finally magnificent Venice where we had an overnight stay. I walked from the ship to St Mark's Square with a couple from Worcestershire. If you are feeling energetic, follow the signs to Piazza da Roma; then Rialto; then San Marco. It's a long way but worth it. I also walked to The Arsenale and enjoyed a lemon ice cream. The city was absolutely packed with tourists. I walked back to the ship keeping to the East if the Grand Canal.  'Rock 'n Roll Dreams' was the production show that night. There is always the alternative of classical violin and piano music in Sirenes Bar.  On the 28th September I stayed aboard chatting on the ship until called to the transfer coach for the short journey to the airport. My flight departure was delayed for a while but I was back at Gatwick by 9 pm having glimpsed the lights of Brussels and Amsterdam from 36,000 feet. After a night at a hotel in Gatwick it was the commuter train to London Victoria station and a National Express coach to Gloucester. Then a local bus home – free of charge to seniors. Wow!... what a lot we saw and experienced – in comfort, with good food, excellent company and drink and entertainment all the way!

It fascinates me that nearly everybody aboard has a slightly different holiday to the person in the next cabin. There are so many options with regard to places to visit and how to use your time while aboard ship. You are bound to get to know a fair few people on a Christian name basis – and you will also visit destinations and countries that will tempt you to return for a more in-depth exploration and a longer stay in future.