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Cruise to the Black Sea on the Arcadia - September 2012

This was a 20 night return cruise from Southampton to the Black Sea. On the outward journey we stopped at Cadiz, Priraeus in Greece from where we visited Athens, Izmir and Istanbul in Turkey before sailing through the Bosphorus and entering the Black Sea. Our first port of call was Yalta then Odessa before retracing the route back through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles to Palma in the Balleric Islands and then home to Southampton.

The Arcadia is classed as a medium sized ship and was launched in 2010.

Once again, for convenience, we drove to Southampton. This enables us to carry all the disabled equipment we require and you can drive right up to the ship, unload, and hand your car over to the local services to be parked for the duration of your trip. There is a parking charge but if you off set this against the alternative cost of public transport that you would otherwise have to pay, the price is well worth it. P&O offer assistance with embarkation which you request at the time of booking and this is most useful when you have hand baggage to carry aboard as well as push a wheelchair. There is a dedicated checkin desk for the disabled.

As with our last cruise, P&O provided us with advanced information about port accessiblity and the opportunities for the disabled to undertake local tours. This enabled us to plan more effectively for the cruise and convinced us to take along our power trike for this trip. This we had never done before but we were anticipating having to do more walking in summer temperatures. This was a wise decission as the day temperatures were at record highs and I would have hated to have pushed a wheelchair in such energy sapping heat and humidity. We also advance booked tours where we thought this necessary to see sights not to be missed.

As previously experienced, the food and service were good and all dietary needs can be met if they are given notice of requirements before sailing.

The weather was warm and sunny the day we embarked and it remained like this for the majority of the voyage. The voyage to our first port of call took four days and gave plenty of time to relax, unwind and become acquainted with the ship. There were also quite a few sea days to and from the Black Sea but the ships crew provided plenty of entertainment on these days and we were never bored. You could of course just relax and soak up the sun on these days if you so wished.

Cadiz - The ship docks along side the town and Cadiz old town is and easy walk from the port. This was our second visit here but it was a Sunday and not all the shops were open but the tourist hop on, hop off open top buses were running. We decided to catch one of these and travel further afield. They are wheelchair friendly and the fare was about 14 euros each. The bus travels around the edge of the old town and out to Victoria Beach and back. We stayed on the bus for most of the way hopping off on the way back at Caleta Beach which is within walking distance of the port and ship. Here we sat for a while in a cafe enjoying the sunshine watching life go by over drinks and ice cream before wandering back through the old towns' narrow largely deserted streets and squares to the ship.

Cadiz CathedralCadiz old town street

Piraeus - Piraeus is the port for Athens which is a few miles inland. Wheelchair accessible transport for tours was available here and we had booked a place on a half day one to see the major sites of Athens. We first visited the Acropolis where unfortunately the Parthenon was covered in scaffolding because of a major restoration project. It was a hard wheelchair push up to the entrance where we went for a closer look but there was no time to enter the site even though we were assured there was a lift available to take the disabled to the top.

Our second visit was to the Temple of Zeus, access was much easier here. While only the giant columns still stand, it is still an impressive site with the Acropolis in the background.

Our final visit was to the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. The traffic in Athens was very heavy throughout the tour and I could not help but think it was just as well we had undertaken an official cruise tour for to be stuck in traffic on an unoffical tour could have spelt disaster.

Izmir - Its a good walk along a pleasant level, wheelchair friendly sea front promenade from the port to the town's sights. I think it took about 30 to 40 minutes for us to reach the city's Konak Square with its small ornate clock tower, fountains and small quaint mosque. From here we wandered into the historic Kemeralti bazaar, but not too far for fear of becoming lost in the narrow streets with their twists and turns. Mid day came around fairly swiftly and we sought out a pavement cafe and had a drink and an inexpensive lunch before wandering around the main shopping streets and slowly walking back to the ship. We were both quite impressed with Izmir

Izmir Sea FrontIzmir MosqueIzmir Clock Tower

Istanbul - You cannot fail to be amazed at the first glimpse of Istanbul from the sea. The city, built on small rounded hills, split by the inlet of the Golden Horn, slopes upward away from the sea accentuating the domes and tall minarets of the many mosques which dominate the skyline. Ferries scuttle about the port and the entrance to the Bosphorus over which a massive suspension bridge joins east with west. Arriving at just after noon we had two half days to explore this magical place. For the first afternoon we wandered across the bridge across the Golden Horn which on a Sunday was thronged with people on both levels and the square in front of the mosque on the opposite side of the bridge was even busier. It was not easy getting about with a wheelchair even with the power adaption. There are no dropped curbs, and the weekend crowds made it even more difficult but it was good to be able to soak up some of the atmosphere of the place. Wheelchair accessible transport was also available here for tours and we again booked a half day tour for the following morning to see some of the major attractions. Our first visit was to cross the suspension bridge into Asia to view Istanbul from the waterside just below the bridge and have some of the sights pointed out to us before returning back across the bridge into Istanbul and Europe. A short drive later, with a commentary on the way, brought us to a seaside hotel for some refreshment before we visited the area around the famed Blue Mosque. Our final visit was to the Egyptian Bazaar. Here we sampled and bought some expensive but nice genuine Turkish delight before returning to the ship and saying goodbye to our guide.

The ship sailed just after noon travelling up the narrow passage of the Bosphorus, escorted by two tugs and passing under two great bridges and into the Black Sea for Yalta.

Modern IstabulBlue Mosque, Istanbul

Yalta - The following day Arcadia was supposed to dock alongside at the Ukrainian resort town of Yalta but strong winds made it too dangerours for the ship to enter the tiny port and Arcadia dropped anchor off shore instead. Personally I could not see any ship the size of Arcadia docking alongside in the calmest of weather at this small port! Passengers now had to be tendered ashore which meant non ambulent passengers could not go ashore.

Wendy opted to stay on board while I went for a half days walkabout on shore. Being the height of summer the town was very busy with holiday makers enjoying the sun shine on the beaches or just strolling along the sea front of the Lenin Embankment. I had a brief walk through the shopping streets and then headed for the heights above the town to take some photographs before descending to visit the onion domed Alexander Nevsky cathedral. Stolling back through the botanical gardens I mingled with the crowds for while taking more photographs before return to the ship. Had Wendy gone ashore we would have probably been confined to the more wheelchair friendly areas of the town and Lenin Embankment. The steepness to other areas including the route to the cathedral would have made visits been impossible.

Odessa - This time the ship docked alongside what is the largest port on the Black Sea but we found getting into the town very difficult but, once there, it was easy enough to get about. In fact we wandered about quite a large area viewing historic buildings and the towns shopping area. The first obstacle to accessing the town was the lack of lifts from the port area down to a busy road right outside the port. This had to be crossed to go anywhere and had no crossing point. We did find a lift but this was not working so we walked down the roadways and took our life in our hands crossing the busy road only to be confronted by the Potemkin Steps, all 192 of them. There was a lift which ran up alongside these but this again appeared not to be working. In actual fact, later we were to discover we had arrived outside its operating hours. I had loaded maps of Odessa onto my smart phone and we used this to find a route around the steps up the steep roads to the top where, from a leafy boulevard, there were fine views of parkland and across the harbour. From the boulevard the rest of the town was fairly level and accessible. We wandered about using the smart phones sat nav stopping now and agin to admire the fine buildings and do some shopping. I had come ashore with only Euros which were not accepted when I tried to buy some local wine. I changed a few Euros into the the local currency at a nearby bureau and returned to the shop and paid cash for my purchases. Later, in a more up market shop, my credit card was accepted for a local bottle of inexpensive sparkling wine. Excellent it was too! Returning to the ship we found the lift alongside the Potemkin Steps operational and for a small fee from my left over local currency we had a ride down but still faced a difficult walk back to the port buildings where we had a drink in a pleasant port side cafe before going back on board.

Potemkin StepsPotemkin Steps Lift

Palma - This was our second visit to Palma the first being on the Aurora in July 2010. The ship docks some 3.5 miles away from the centre of the town. Again there was a wheelchair accessible courtesy bus service from along side the ship into town and we used this in both directions. On this occasion we spent a little time in the cathedral area before walking into a central area where we had not been to before. Here we found interesting squares and shopping streets with market stalls, entertainers and in one square a food fair. Palma was our last port of call.

Disembarkation at Southampton went without a hitch and after collecting our car we were soon on our way home.

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