Thursday 30 November 2023

All good things come to an end - even Mediterranean cruises!

As we rapidly approach the final month of 2023, it's perhaps worth taking a look at the final chapter of last month’s marathon Mediterranean cruise. You left us as our ship, the Queen Victoria, departed the Sardinian capital of Cagliari. That was on the final Saturday of the voyage, and by the end of the week we would be back in Southampton. After leaving Cagliari we had two full days at sea, and for the first one, the weather was just as glorious as it had been for the majority of the cruise. That day was also the morning when our ship passed through the Straits of Gibraltar.

Unlike our passage through the "Pillars of Hercules" on the outward voyage, which took place after dark, Sunday morning’s passage took place in daylight. Unfortunately, the view towards the shore was spoiled slightly by hazy mist, as we passed through this narrow stretch of water that forms the boundary between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. 

From the top deck it seemed as if the rest of the cruise ship was there too, in order to enjoy the spectacle. Our passage through the straits began at 11:00 am, which was an hour earlier than the captain advised the previous day., and despite the crowds we managed to find a position where we could see both sides. So, with Africa on our port (left) side, and Europe on the starboard right) side, we watched as we departed the Mediterranean and headed out towards the open Atlantic. The haze was less pronounced on the Spanish side and with the aid of my binoculars, I had a reasonably good view of the rock of Gibraltar and the settlement around the port area at the base of the rock.

The second sea day, which was a Monday, was definitely the last one of warm, sunny weather and calm seas, although It wasn't until early evening that the sea conditions started to deteriorate. After enjoying Curry Night at the Lido Buffet, we went up on deck where we joined a group of fellow passengers and enjoyed a few drinks plus a chat. The news on the boat was that a storm was forecast to hit Lisbon the following day, which was the day we were due to dock at the Portuguese capital. Rumours were rife that the captain might decide not to call at Lisbon, due to perceived difficulties and turning into the estuary of the Tagus river.

Speculation continued as to where else we might end up, with Vigo or even Cherbourg touted as possible alternative destinations. With this speculation buzzing around in my head, and sea conditions worsening I didn’t sleep that well, despite being quite late to bed. The following morning, whilst it was still dark, I looked out the balcony window to find my eyes drawn by a number of bright red lights, seemingly above the ship. It turned out to be the Queen Victoria passing beneath the impressive Ponte 25 de abril suspension bridge, which crosses the river Tagus a short distance from the centre of Lisbon.

We had obviously made it to the city, and as the dull, grey, and rather overcast day slowly dawned it was a very windswept Lisbon that we were looking out over. We had breakfast in our cabin that morning in readiness to disembark on a pre booked excursion, with a selection of scrambled eggs, streaky bacon, toast, and plenty of tea, sufficient to set me up for the day. The disembarkation point was down on deck 2, and once on terra firma, we had a bit of a route march through the port processing area, and down to the exit and the waiting tour buses. Our coach was nice and comfortable, but heavy rain, driven by the strong winds rather spoiled the view out the windows.

Leaving the cruise terminal our coach continued along the shoreline, before heading inland, following a route that climbed uphill, through some rather unattractive looking, high-rise developments. From the direction of travel I guessed, correctly as it turned out, that we were heading towards the Ponte 25 de abril, the large and impressive suspension bridge we had passed under earlier that morning. We crossed the bridge, high above the river Tagus and the settlements far below. After being delayed in a residential area we reached our first stop, but to be brutally honest it wasn't one that impressed me as much as it perhaps ought to have done. The Cristo Rei (Christ Statue), is one of the most iconic monuments in Lisbon, standing high above the southern banks of the Tagus estuary. It depicts Christ with his arms raised, blessing the city, but with a gale blowing, and the rain lashing down, being on top of a hill, with only a café and gift shop for shelter wasn’t exactly the best place to be.

I'm not at all religious, although I like churches, cathedrals, and other ecclesiastical structures, but this huge and austere looking concrete statue did absolutely nothing for me. Had the weather been better we would have enjoyed a fantastic panorama of the bridge, and the city from a viewing terrace at the base of the monument, but we only found out about this after we returned home. After a quick “comfort stop” there was insufficient time to grab a coffee, before being herded back onto the coach. Unfortunately, this became an all too familiar feature that of the tour.

The highlight of the tour certainly for Eileen, but also for me, was enjoying a Portuguese custard tart each. I picked these delicacies up at the café attached to the Maritime Museum, but after waiting for Eileen who had joined the queue for the ladies, again there was very little time away from the coach before having to be back on board. We just had time to enjoy our tarts, but again there was no time for a coffee. The rest of the tour was spent on the coach, although I did manage to get more than a glimpse of Lisbon, and it certainly seems an attractive city and somewhere worthy of a future visit. 

Our guide was pleasant and very knowledgeable and helped make the tour enjoyable and interesting. She apologised for the delays which were down to heavy traffic. The guide claimed this was due to the adverse weather, as for some reason local people prefer to drive and sit in their own cars, rather than wait for buses and trams in wet weather. This was my second visit to Lisbon, the first time being whilst still at school, as a pupil in the fifth form I'd also arrived in the city on a cruise ship, but it was a very different vessel to the Queen Victoria.

This was because in 1971 I was on a two-week educational cruise made up of school parties drawn from across Kent. Our vessel was very different from the luxury of Queen Victoria, as the SS Nevasa was a converted, former troopship, operated by the British India Steam Navigation Company. The shipping line itself appeared to be a throwback to colonial times, because the crew (ordinary ratings) was drawn from the Indian subcontinent, whilst the officers, who were almost exclusively white, were largely British. Instead of a comfortable balcony stateroom, I slept with a dozen or more schoolmates in bunks, in a dormitory, where the only view was out through one of the portholes.

It was good fun though, and as my first overseas trip, the cruise certainly opened my eyes to the outside world. Later during 2023’s “Leisurely Tour” of Lisbon I recognised several landmarks that I’d visited half a century before. The only difference was the weather, as that first visit to the Portuguese capital took under blue skies, and warm, sunny conditions – a complete contrast to October’s stop-over. The weather couldn’t be helped and, as alluded to earlier, the tour certainly provided inspiration for a return visit.

That evening, our ship sailed down towards the mouth of the Tagus river, and out into the open waters of the Atlantic. As we left port, captain advised over the intercom, that the seas might be quite choppy, especially where the waters of the river meet with the ocean currents running along the Portuguese coast. He was right, and Eileen and I had fun making our way to the buffet that night, hanging on to one another as we passed the mid-ship swimming pool, up on deck 9, with water from the pool sloshing all over the place, as we did our best to avoid getting wet.

After a good night's rest, we awoke feeling refreshed, the motion of the ship having rocked us gently to sleep. I left Eileen in the cabin, to enjoy her room-service breakfast and headed to the Britannia Restaurant for some brekky of my own. The waiter guided me to a table, and pulled the chair out, so I could sit down. As I was about to do so, I realised I was directly facing the large set of windows at the stern, where the view of the horizon moving up and down, was very noticeable. I quickly asked if I could sit the other way round, which he of course agreed to, and without the reference point of a moving horizon, everything was fine. It's weird that the relative motion the ship could make one feel queasy, which I feel it might well have done, had I sat there staring at that up and down movement for too long.

Afterwards I'd planned on attending a question-and-answer session in the Royal Court Theatre with the ship's American captain, Evans Hoyt, but after walking several laps of the promenade deck and noticing that the sun had come, I decided to park myself on a vacant sun-lounger and read my book instead. 

It was most relaxing lying there reading, soaking up the sun, as the ship made her way steadily northwards. I decided I ought to go and track down my wife, even though I knew she'd be up on deck 10 having a vape. I joined her and we spent a very pleasant day out in the open, as the weather steadily improved, and the seas calmed right down.

There was a further day at sea, before we arrived back at Southampton, but it was quite uneventful, apart from having to pack our large suitcases and leave them outside the room, ready for the crew to collect and remove them from the ship, prior to disembarkation. We docked, early in the morning at the Queen Elizabeth Cruise Terminal, which is some distance from the Mayflower Terminal we departed from. The Q.E. Terminal is cramped, in comparison with the Mayflower, and it was rather chaotic when we got off the ship.

After struggling with our suitcases, we found a spot where we could wait for our pre-booked taxi to pick us up. Our cabbie eventually arrived, having been being stuck in heavy traffic around the port area. He loaded our luggage into the boot, and we then set off on the drive back to Tonbridge and home. We had been away from a total of 19 days, meaning we’d missed a sizeable chunk of October. It was a great experience though, plus a most relaxing and enjoyable holiday. Next year’s voyage probably won’t be quite as long, although we’ve plenty of time over the winter to see what’s available.


Saturday 25 November 2023

Pilot guides the way to perfect fish & chips

Looking back over 15 years’ worth of blog posts, it’s hard sometimes not to spot a recurring theme, a location that gets numerous mentions or a topic that keeps cropping up. It’s inevitable, I suppose because no matter how much we search for something different, and new, there are times when we hit the “repeat” button by returning to a familiar theme or end up revisiting and experiencing somewhere we’ve been before. This goes against the grain of perceived wisdom that says you should never go back, and whilst I’m all for checking out new places that I’ve never been to before, it’s often equally good to return to somewhere you are not just familiar with but are extremely fond of.

I’ve probably over-egged that last statement, but the gist of what I want to put across remains the same, and what I’m leading up to is the trip I made with the family, last Friday, down to Dungeness, for a lunch of fish & chips, at the renowned Pilot Inn. Looking back, I’ve written about the Pilot on at least four previous occasions, and whilst one or two of these articles were solely about the pub (and the excellence of its battered cod and chips), the rest were pieces about this famous watering hole, but combined with other topics – local towns, landmarks etc.

So, on Friday, with Matthew having the day off from work, and Mrs PBT’s taking a well-earned rest from the world of VAT returns, we jumped in the car and headed off to Romney Marsh. This sparsely populated wetland area, which stretches between the counties of Kent and East Sussex, has long held a fascination for the Bailey family, and it’s no exaggeration to say it’s one of our favourite places. Covering an area of around 100 square miles, with much of it lying below sea level, this south-eastern corner of Kent contains one of England’s most distinctive landscapes and consists of wide, flat fields, endless skies, meandering ditches dotted with isolated farms and villages.

Eileen and I both have fond memories from our respective childhoods, of visits to Romney Marsh, and this tradition continued when we became a married couple and then a family. We spent our honeymoon at Rye and later, following the birth of son Matthew, had a number of family holidays in the area. This included renting a cottage at Winchelsea Beach, in the shadow of the dunes and the seawall, and literally a stone's throw from the sea. A short drive from Winchelsea is the southern tip of Romney Marsh, where the great sweeping expanse of shingle known as Dungeness, juts out into the English Channel. It is the largest such shingle structure in Europe and was the destination for Friday’s trip to the coast. We normally follow a well-driven route that takes us in a roughly south-easterly direction, from Tonbridge down to New Romney, via Goudhurst, Tenterden and Appledore.

The adage of never travel on a Friday proved apt advice, as road closures between Goudhurst and Tenterden, meant a lengthy diversion. In addition, umpteen sets of road works – most of them seemingly connected with new housing developments, meant it was after 2pm, before we arrived at the Pilot. Leaving late hadn’t helped either, but this was unavoidable, as both Matthew and I had errands to sort out in Tonbridge that morning.

Friday was dry, and a welcome relief following what has seemed like weeks of relentless rain. It was also bright and sunny, although with a strong, cold northerly wind blowing, it wasn’t a day for standing on the shingle bank and admiring the views of the English Channel. Our late arrival did mean that the pub was relatively quiet, so with no difficulty finding a parking space, and also a table, it wasn’t long before we were tucking into our lunchtime feast of fish and chips.

To be pedantic, it was the family that had the fish and chips – huss for Eileen and haddock for Matthew, I went for the "Dungeness Fisherman’s Pie", consisting of cod, salmon, smoked haddock, and prawns, topped with mashed potato and melted cheese. I’ve enjoyed this dish before, and it didn’t disappoint this time around.  As far as the beer is concerned, the Pilot features a couple of “house beers” produced for the pub by Romney Marsh Brewery.  As on previous visits, I opted for the B17 Sleepytime Girl, an American-style IPA that was the perfect accompaniment to the seafood.

It's worth noting that I’ve never failed to be impressed at the slick operation in place at this family-run pub. Food orders are taken at a separate counter, whilst drinks are ordered at the bar. This means drinkers don’t have to wait whilst diners faff over what to order from the menu. It also means there never seems long to wait before the food is brought to the table, piping hot and ready to enjoy. As well as appealing to fish lovers, meat eaters are catered for too, as are those who prefer plant-based concoctions. Daily specials are also available, and food is served from noon right through to 9pm (8pm on Sundays). Given the above, the Pilot is justly popular with a wide range of discerning customers.

The cold wind meant we weren’t tempted to go for a walk along the beach afterwards, but the breezy conditions did make for good visibility had we wished to view the shipping moving up and down the Channel. We did, however, take a drive along to Dungeness point, where the two lighthouses stand guard over the two nuclear power stations. Dungeness “A” was decommissioned some years ago, and I believe the “B” power-generating unit is also now undergoing the same process. Nearby, is the terminus of the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch light railway, although being term-time, as well as winter, trains didn’t appear to be running.

On the way home, we called into Jempson's Superstore at Peasmarsh, just outside Rye. Jempson’s are a local company, and their shop is well-stocked with from the surrounding area. The adjacent filling station is also renowned for cheap fuel, and a lengthy queue had developed. I’d already purchased my diesel, before leaving Tonbridge, and with the gauge hovering just on the reserve mark, there wouldn’t have been sufficient for the drive down to Romney Marsh, especially with the diversions and roadworks encountered, on the way.

Eileen bought a couple of packs of Jempson’s famous sausage rolls, which we had for tea, the following day, and also purchased a bag of freshly baked jam doughnuts. I took a look at the beer aisle, noting that Cellar Head Brewing seem to have taken over from Old Dairy, as the store’s supplier of local beers. This is not surprising, given the sad demise of Old Dairy, earlier this year. The store itself was buzzing, and as I’ve mentioned before it's good to see an independent, family-owned supermarket more than holding its own against the bigger boys.

Like I said at the beginning, this piece is a little predictable and familiar, but occasionally it doesn’t hurt to stick with what you know and love.

Friday 24 November 2023

Fuggles celebrates its10th birthday

Last week saw Fuggles Beer Café in Tunbridge Wells celebrating its 10th birthday, and to mark the occasion a party was held on the 15th  November. I didn't manage to get along to the birthday bash, and neither was I able to make the social event held there by the local CAMRA branch, two nights later, as that clashed with Matthew’s birthday, but it was good to see both Fuggles and its owner/founder making a splash in the local paper. Fuggles it's the brainchild of beer lover Alex Greig who, after being inspired by the beer cafés he discovered on trips to Belgium, decided to open an establishment of his own, that would showcase the best of British and European beers.

In an interview in the local paper, Alex revealed how after managing a number of pubs and bars since his early 20s, he was determined to open a place of his own. I remember meeting Alex, although I didn't know him by name then, when he managed a now closed bar at the back of the Opera House (Wetherspoons). My memory tells me the place was called the Tunbridge Wells Kitchen and Bar, although despite an extensive online search, I can find no record of the name, or indeed the bar itself.

Moving on, Alex managed to scrape sufficient funds together, and also located suitable premises for his long promised new venture, and in 2013, Fuggles opened its doors to a curious, but enthusiastic public. Housed in a former pound shop outlet on Grosvenor Road, Fuggles has since gone from strength to strength. In 2017, Alex opened another branch of Fuggles in nearby Tonbridge, and most recently a Fuggles Bottle Shop in Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells. All outlets follow a formula that celebrates all that is best in beer, wine gin and whiskey from both the UK as well as Europe, and it’s one that has really gone to the hearts of residents of the two towns that share the same name.

Fuggles offers something a little different to what’s available locally, in the form of quality beer from both Europe and the UK. Furthermore, there is nothing pretentious about this pub-cum-café, just good drinks, decent service and with nice people.  All this against the background of a half decent playlist, played at a volume that encourages rather detracts conversation. Alex is pleased at the way the cafés and the shop have developed over the years and is grateful for the support from both customers, and his own team, that helped the business survive the pandemic. 

One way which helped Fuggles through those dark and lonely days of lock-down, was FUGSCLUB – a beer subscription service that delivered each month, a box of 12 different beers to your house, complete with tasting notes and occasional extra goodies.There were five different boxes to choose from, including a Pale/IPA box, containing hop forward beers from the UK & beyond, European styles - a showcase of classic European styles. from Lagers to Wheat beers, Bocks, Blondes, Dubbels, and Saison’s, Dealer’s Choice - a showcase of some of Fuggles' favourite beers, Dark Beers - for all dark beer lovers, encompassing Stouts and Porters, Dunkels, Dubbels and more, and finally, for all cask beer lovers, Bitters/Traditional Beer Styles - a selection of the best bitters, golden, mild, stouts and porters, in bottle or can format. FUGSCLUB was a clever and innovative way of helping Fuggles business survive lock-down, and I was glad to play my own small part, with a monthly delivery of Dark Beers.  

Fortunately, those dark and depressing days are behind us, and Fuggles has subsequently gone from strength to strength. In the piece marking the 10th anniversary, Alex told the reporter he had developed some fantastic friendships and got to know some wonderful people over the last 10 years, and the business had ended up being much more than just a bar or café for him. During the past decade Fuggles has won multiple awards including West Kent CAMRA Pub of the Year and has featured in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for nine years running. It has also featured in the Observer’s “Best Places to Drink” guide.

My nearest Fuggles outlet is the Tonbridge beer café situated at the far end of Tonbridge High Street. It's a 30-minute walk from home, but it's well worth the effort, especially as there's a really good atmosphere there and it's somewhere one can go on one's own, flick though a local magazine, check something on your phone or just sit there and enjoy the air much like and in the general ambience. The afore mentioned playlist is often to my taste, especially when it contains some classic rock material from my own era in music and, as an added bonus, I often I bump into someone I know, or someone I haven't seen for a long time. 

It's that sort of place, attracting like-minded souls, people who enjoy good beer, good company in a relaxed overall ambience. Food is limited, so that it doesn't take over from the beer, but the former limited selection of cheeses, charcuterie cold meats and grilled cheese sandwiches, have been augmented by more substantial offerings such as hot dogs, with Bratwursts.

There are normally 4-5 cask ales on tap, including one from Tonbridge Brewery, and these are complemented by a much larger range of craft keg beers including a number of examples from Belgium and Germany. Tap take-overs, and meet the brewer evenings, also feature at Fuggles, as do the occasional longer promotions. One example of this, was shortly before I disappeared on holiday, both Fuggles outlets showcased all six Oktoberfest biers that featured at the main event in Munich. In short, Fuggles offers something for everyone, and as a local resident I feel glad to have such a place in our midst.

Monday 20 November 2023

Harvey's Old Ale at last

Seasoned readers of this blog will be well aware of my appreciation of dark ales, especially seasonal ones which make an appearance once a year, usually mid-autumn. These rich dark ales herald the approach of winter, as the days begin to shorten, and the nights start drawing in. They represent the continuation of a centuries old tradition of brewing strong, dark, nutritious, and fortifying ales, designed to see the populace at large through the long, dark, and cold winters.

The beers I am talking about are known as Old or Stock Ales, although the latter name is rarely used today. I don’t want to enter into too much detail, as this post is much more about tracking down and enjoying one of the first old ales of the 2023-24 season.

I am talking about here is XXXX Old Ale produced annually by Sussex brewers, Harvey’s of Lewes. Brewed to a strength of 4.3% abv. It is a rich, dark ale, containing a high percentage of crystal malt and black sugars. The beer is said to be reminiscent of the strong, mild ales, brewed at the beginning of the last century, and its arrival each year, is eagerly awaited by its devotees.

XXXX Old Ale is released to an eager public at the beginning of October, although a handful of pubs are known to start serving it, up to a week before that date. Harvey’s hold an annual “Dancing in the Old” celebration, which begins with a Harvest Thanksgiving, at the Church of St Thomas a Becket, which is close to the brewery, before adjourning to the brewery yard. There, at the stoke of midday, a number of local Morris Dancing sides, literally “Dance in the Old.” Members of the public are then invite to sample the first brew of the new season’s “Old Ale.”

The celebrations end promptly at 1.00 pm, when Harvey’s will announce that this year’s Old Ale is in prime condition and drinking exceptionally well. Despite all the years that I’ve known Harvey’s, I’ve never managed to attend this ceremony, and 2023's was no exception. I did, at least, have a valid excuse this year, as at the beginning of October, Mrs PBT’s and I were in Southampton, and about to board the Queen Victoria, at the start of our Mediterranean cruise. 

What normally follows is I attempt to track down some Old Ale, a task that is not as easy as you might think. Although Harvey’s make the beer available to the free trade, very few publicans seem to stock the beer, so if you really want to sample it, you have to head for a Harvey’s tied house. And that is where the problem lies, because Harvey’s don’t have any pubs in the three main towns of West Kent (Sevenoaks, Tonbridge & Tunbridge Wells). The nearest Harvey’s pubs to Bailey Towers, are the Bricklayers Arms at Chipstead, and the currently closed, Two Brewers at Hadlow. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed on the Real Ale Finder App, that Old Ale was available at the Nelson Arms, in Tonbridge, but it must have sold out pretty quick, as just two days later it was showing as no longer available. 

Plan B was to track it down during over the course of the weekend just gone, and I’m pleased to report that my quest succeeded.  My original intention had been to take the bus to Chipstead, a small village to the north-west of Sevenoaks, and grab a pint or two at the Bricklayers. That plan was scuppered by road works, in Sevenoaks High Street, as Mrs PBT’s and I discovered following a shopping trip to the town, the previous day. So, on Sunday morning I opted for a solution that had been staring me in the face, without me realising it.

A 15-minute train journey, from Tonbridge, saw me alighting at Frant station, just three stops down the line. Frant station lies in the village of Bells Yew Green, a small settlement a couple of miles from Frant itself. 

Slap bang in the middle of BYG is the Brecknock Arms, a small and attractive, late Victorian pub belonging to Harvey’s Brewery. It’s a pub that I’ve known for a long time, and through several changes of landlord, but it’s always been a reliable source of decent pint of Harvey’s, as well as a regular stockist of their seasonal beers.

I walked into the pub, and there on the bar, alongside hand pulls for Harvey’s Best Biter and Mild, was the unmistakable bright red pump clip for Harvey’s Old. So, a month and a half after this seasonal ale made its 2023 appearance, there I was ready to take my first and much anticipated mouthful of this sumptuous old ale, and I’m pleased to report that it didn’t disappoint. Smooth, dark, full-bodied, and very moreish, I enjoyed that pint so much, that I just had to have another (as you do!).

The Brecknock itself was doing a healthy lunchtime trade, serving up Sunday roast dinners to the hungry residents of Bells Yew Green and beyond. I was almost certainly the only customer not eating, but from what I could gather, the pub is popular with drinkers, at other times. It’s a couple of years since my last visit, but the Brecknock seems to have settled down nicely, under the care of its current owners, and long may it continue. Given these credentials, there's every chance I will be returning for another fix of Harvey’s excellent Old Ale.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Next stop Kefalonia, or should that be Cephalonia?


Well, it's back to cruising, for a short while at least, and perhaps not quite for the last time this year. We pick up on where Mrs PBT's and I left you, which was us leaving our mooring, in the spectacular setting of the Santorini caldera, and heading off into the open waters of the Ionian Sea. A leisurely day at sea than followed, before reaching the last of the Greek island destinations on the cruise, but one which happened to be by far and away the best.

I'm talking here about Kefalonia – also known as Cephalonia which, for us, seemed perfect in every way. The sun was just rising as we docked at the moorings in the island's capital of Argostoli, and an array of red lights, lit up the jetty, highlighting where we would soon be walking, once the Queen Victoria finally tied up. We'd ordered breakfast in our room that morning, in preparation for an early start on our, pre-booked “Leisurely Kefalonia” excursion.

After “swiping out” as we left the ship, we headed along the quayside towards the waiting coaches, lined up ready for those embarking on a shore excursion. Disappointingly, there was an unseemly scrum, as fired up cruise passengers jostled for places, even though there was plenty of room for everyone. The tours were, after all, pre booked. Needless to say, we got a seat, and by being patient were directed onto an “over spill” where there was ample space.

This pushing, shoving and general lack of manners by the mainly elderly passengers on the ship, seemed a real feature of this particular cruise, and it was so bad at times that I gave up on the buffet for breakfast, preferring instead either the Britannia Restaurant, at the stern of the ship with its sedate and unhurried waiter service or alternatively keeping my good lady wife company, enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the comfort of our cabin.

 Eileen described this behaviour as FOMO - "Fear Of Missing Out", but the fact was no one did miss out, all that was needed was a little patience and some good manners. We couldn't put our finger on it, but we haven't witnessed this type of behaviour on any of the previous cruises we'd been on, and that included the voyage from Hamburg up to the Norwegian fjords with a boatload of boisterous, but good-natured Germans.

 Safely on board the comfortable coach, our leisurely excursion of Kefalonia took us through attractive streets of Argostoli, before climbing up into the hills. On the way our guide explained about the earthquake of August 1953 that devastated large parts of Kefalonia. Consequently, most the island’s buildings either date from after that time or have been extensively restored after the earthquake. This applied to the church, at our first stop, which forms part of a former monastery.

Dedicated to St Andrew, the church contained a rather bizarre relic in a form of a rather grizzly-looking, and shrunken, mummified foot, said to belong to the apostle himself. There were some impressive wall paintings, and the setting among the hills of Kefalonia added to attraction, but of more interest to me was the imposing castle of St George, high on the hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. Built by the Venetians who occupied the island for several centuries it still looked reasonably well preserved and had obviously survived the earthquake.

I'm not sure quite how accessible it was by coach as I would like to have seen it, but instead we continued along some narrow and, at times, quite hair-raising mountain roads complete with hairpin bends, as we climbed right up into the interior of the island. Mrs PBT’s take was not to look out the window at those moments, particularly when the back of the coach appeared to hang over the abyss, but I couldn’t resist a quick peep, having every confidence in our unflappable driver.

On the way our guide told us how, due to its strategic position on trade routes between Europe and the Middle East, the Venetians, the Turks, and forces from several other countries had occupied Kefalonia. Britain also had a presence in the Ionian Sea for a short while, towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but the saddest story was the one concerning the Italian troops who'd occupied the island during World War II. Following the collapse in 1943 of Italy’s fascist government, and the subsequent armistice which heralded the country’s exit from the war, Nazi troops arrived on the island, to take their place.

 A tragic chain of events, then led to the massacre of several thousand Italian soldiers, held prisoner by their former comrades in arms, after being regarded as traitors. At the end of hostilities most of those responsible for this horrific war crime were never brought to account, with just a handful standing trial at Nuremberg. Set against the background of the initial occupation, was the fictional story of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which, in 2001 was made into a film, staring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz. Our guide was less than complimentary about the film, although to be fair it must have boosted visitor numbers to Kefalonia.

Eventually we arrived at our next destination, a large vineyard and wine-making complex right in the heart of the island. Several other coaches already were already there, and yet again it was an unsightly free for all, this time just for a few small glasses of wine. If people could just wait rather than pushing and shoving, there would have been plenty for all but, as witnessed earlier in the day, the behaviour exhibited by some of those n the excursion was shameful.

In the end I managed to get some water for Eileen plus a couple of glasses of wine for myself, but not exactly being a great wine connoisseur, I didn't feel as though I’d missed much. Instead, I just enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding countryside, with views of the grapevines, climbing up the slopes of the surrounding hills in every direction. 

After leaving the vineyard, the coach took us on a different route back down into Argostoli, following a series of steep winding roads, before crossing the end of the lagoon on a man-made causeway. We then drove along the water front with its various shops, bars, and restaurants before arriving back at the ship. By this time the sun was blazing down on the town, and the mercury had climbed into the low 30’s, so I left Mrs PBT's to make her way back onboard the boat and set off to explore Argostoli, on my own.

As I walked along the road, past the row of shops and restaurants, keeping in the shade as much as possible, I bumped into a fellow passenger from the ship who we'd got to know. Andrew was full of enthusiasm about a bakery a bit further along the esplanade which was selling homemade pies. Being a huge pie fan, I had to go and try one, but by the time I found the place the only pies left were cheese and mushroom. It's unfortunate that I'd missed the meat ones, but a nice puff pastry pie, plus a decent cup of coffee for six euros, was a real bargain.

Afterwards it was time for a beer, and where better to enjoy one that in the cool shady interior, of the attractive Dash Coffee Bar overlooking the waterfront.  Seated at the bar, enjoying a cool and refreshing half litre of Mythos beer, whilst watching the world go by outside saw me in proper, wind-down holiday mode, and was the perfect way to round off my time ashore in Kefalonia. Before leaving the bar, I had a chat with another fellow passenger from the boat, an intrepid fellow in his 80s, holidaying without his wife, who was back home in Somerset, and thoroughly enjoying himself. (And Mrs PBT's complains if I abandon her for just a couple of days!).

I rejoined Eileen on the ship mid-afternoon, and then towards early evening we joined fellow passengers on the rear deck for some impressive views as we sailed away from Argostoli and Kefalonia. We both agreed the island had been by far the nicest and most pleasant destination we'd experienced on the cruise, even though at that point in time we still had Sardinia and Portugal to visit.