If you follow me on social media *cough, you certainly should, cough* then you’ll know that for the last ten days of August my family and I set sail aboard the Azura for an Iberian cruise. A lot of people I’ve spoken to appear to approach the idea of cruising with some trepidation (I assume this may have something to do with a lesser-known indie film called Titanic, you may have heard of it) but I thought it would be nice to put some of these fears to rest and share my experience.
Firstly, I can’t recommend a cruise enough to those who love to travel the world. It’s the most brilliant way to visit a variety of cities and explore different cultures in a short time period. Think of it as a few taster-sessions of different cities; shots without the hangover the following morning. There’s also a huge element of luxury, with formal evenings and champagne parties making a nice change to the ordinaries of every-day life. There’s always something happening on board and, since you usually sail during the night, you’ll very rarely remember that you’re actually in the middle of the ocean and not just a glamorous hotel. It’s wanderlust without the youth hostels.
7th September 2015
We departed Southampton in style with a champagne party (because of course we did) and set sail towards the Bay of Biscay. On ‘sea days’ cruises hold formal nights in which everyone dresses up and dines on specialist menus. We had the most delicious lobster from an exclusive Marco Pierre White menu and danced the night away, failing to notice the harsh waves of the notoriously rough Bay. The Captain of our ship did a brilliant job in skilfully guiding us through less-than-desirable weather conditions, keeping the passengers relaxed with frequent reassuring updates regarding our progress.
The first port was La Coruña, a pleasant city in Northern Spain with a rich heritage of exporting goods. Its traditional industries of agriculture and fishing are combined with a more modernised culture of high-brow fashion and sporting success. Impressive architecture is visible just about anywhere, with open squares, long streets and large religious buildings (no, not the football stadiums, I’m talking about the cathedrals) to please the eyes. While we visited, the city was preparing for a ‘fiesta’ of some kind, so there was a certain atmospheric buzz in the air and the locals all seemed really friendly as spirits were high.
My *limited* knowledge of the Spanish language allowed me to translate a piece of graffiti on the side of a telephone box which read “to read is the greatest escape” and as a lover of literature this was a quote which resonated a lot with me.
Our second stop was Cadiz, this time in the South of Spain, where we disembarked, hopped on a coach and headed to one of the country’s largest cities: Seville. According to myth, the flamboyant metropolis was founded 3000 years ago by Hercules and has continued to flourish ever since. Drenched in sunlight, we were guided around the city on a walking tour, experiencing every delight it has to offer. One thing I noticed is that Seville is an ancient canvas etched with modern brushstrokes; there’s a lot of history to be found and a stunning variety of architectural edifices.
As part of our tour we were taken to the top of the ‘Catedral de Santa María de la Sede’ bell-tower where we marvelled at an incredible view from above the city. We climbed an endless number of levels (well, 38, to be exact) but the view was more than worth it. What was interesting was that the ‘levels’ were not stairs but ramps instead, in order to allow a horse and cart to transport goods back in the day. We ended the day tucking into some traditional tapas, lounging in the soporific afternoon sun.
To my intense disappointment I’m told that the citizens of Seville refer to themselves as ‘sevillanos’ and not Seville-ians as I had hoped. YOU HAD ONE JOB, SEVILLE, ONE JOB.
Our next port was Lisbon, the fashion-forward and street-savvy capitol of Portugal. On our tour we were first shown the colourful backstreets of the city, in which the native Lisbon residents have inhabited for generations. The lifestyle of these people is incredibly simple; not at all dissimilar to those of a small village. Everyone seemed to know everyone, with Lisbon’s famous “cafe culture” displayed in full swing. Our tour guide - who, incidentally, was visually very similar looking to Dr Jumba Jookiba from Lilo & Stitch - was frequently interrupted by a pair of elderly Portugese women having a rather heated discussion regarding the contents of that morning’s newspaper.
Back in the heart of the city we explored voguish high-streets where a more contemporary crowd congregate. We travelled on the most crowded funicular tram I have ever seen, packed tightly like a tin of sardines for the novelty journey which could have probably been climbed on foot very easily. Regardless, it was an interesting part of Lisbon’s culture and I’m glad I got to experience the city in such a way.
In fact Lisbon is probably the best example of why a cruise is one of the most effective ways to see the world. While Lisbon was a beautiful and culturally diverse city which was somewhere I’d always wanted to go, a few hours there was all that I needed to see it. I wouldn’t hurry back, simply because I feel I’ve experienced most of what the city has to offer and I’m perfectly content with that.
Our penultimate stop was the beautiful Porto, the second largest Portuguese city and the mecca for wine aficionados from every corner of the globe. We took a bus tour around the extravagant buildings, baroque churches and imposing bell towers, absorbing stunning views over the river which meanders to divide Porto and its neighbouring towns.
Porto has experienced a large boom in tourism as of recent and, quite frankly, I’m not at all surprised. It’s scenic and charming; the perfect city break. We did, however, have a slight fault in translation in our attempt to order three small lattes; we were given three large digestives instead.
The final stop of our trip was Guernsey, a hidden gem in the British Channel Islands with a whole lot of history. During World War II, Germany occupied Guernsey and used it as a major advantage over its European enemies. We explored an eerie German hospital - a very poignant reminder of war fatalities - nibbled on Guernsey ‘gosh’ and took in beautiful views from the famous clifftops. I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t expecting Guernsey to be very interesting at all, but I have never been so pleased to be wrong.
Quaint and pleasant, Guernsey is a microcosm of everything you’d find across England squeezed into a lovely little island. Market stalls lined the roads, bunting quivered above us and the patriotic Saint George’s cross waved proudly. Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular destinations for us British passengers was the enormous Marks and Spencer’s quickly identified on the high street; a home away from home.
I visited loads of incredible locations but in the meantime there was plenty to do on board. With sports courts, swimming pools, a gym, a nightclub and even a theatre, there’s always something to keep you busy. Overall it was an amazing experience and something I cannot recommend enough to all of you with an intense love of travel and an appreciation for a bit of luxury. Thanks for reading, have a great week and, until next time, goodbye!
By Jack Edwards