Much has already been written about Aurora so there is little point in repeating things. I will say, that this was a party cruise and party we did! There was however, a group of travel writers on board so I hope they didn’t think this typical of a proper cruise ! There were as a result a few issues, but nothing to overly spoil our cruise. For example, people drinking copious amounts of alcohol while in the jacuzzi despite being told not to! I thought the food much improved since December, with greater and more interesting choices available. However, there was also evidence of a few more cuts, unless these were because it was a three nighter – only one truffle each at the gala dinner for example, and no shower caps in the cabins.
What I do wish to do is review the two excursions I chose. The two ports were Zeebrugge and Le Havre. As this was my fourth time in Zeebrugge, I opted for the excursion "In Flanders Fields". It was one I had wanted to do for a long time and I was not disappointed. In fact I thought it one the best P&O excursions I have ever done.
We left Zeebrugge at 8.30 for the 40 minute or so journey first to the First World Cemetery at Tyne Cot on the Ypres Salient close to Passendale. On the way the older and very knowledgeable guide told us some of the history of Belgium and the background to the First World War. Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery anywhere in he world, with 11,954 graves, of which 8,367 are unnamed. In addition there is a wall commemorating the 34,000 missing (for this battle sector alone!), with no known grave. As we approached the entrance every person fell silent. As you walk along the path, movement sensors trigger a sound system with a female voice reading out the names of the dead. It is incredibly moving. In the centre of the cemetery is the Cross of Sacrifice, built on top of a German Bunker, as the cemetery is situated right on the actual battlefield. In the distance you can see the spires of Ypres. This is the place of which the war artist Paul Nash wrote "They call it Passendale, I call it Hell!" There were more than a few of us with tissues in our hands.
Back on the coach we travelled to the Menin Gate where we had a 20 minute stop. This huge archway spanning the main road into Ypres honours 55,000 Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave. Once again, most people fell silent as there is barely a square inch of stone without a name engraved. This is the place where every single evening since 1928 (with a break for WW2), a bugler stands at 8pm and sounds the Last Post.
From there we entered Ypres, firstly visiting St George’s English Church and then to In Flanders Fields Museum. Once at the museum we were on our own, to take as little or as long as we wanted, and with a couple of hours free before we had to meet up at the coach. By now I was feeling a bit of an emotional wreck so after exploring a bit I found a café for a waffle and a Belgian beer! It is hard to believe this lovely "Medieval" town had to be completely rebuilt in the 1920s after years of shelling.
We arrived back at the ship at 3.30 for an early sailing at 4pm for Le Havre.
The following day I had opted for a morning excursion to Honfleur. This was again excellent. We left at 8.30am and after early morning mist – which gave the impression that the huge Seine Suspension Bridge was floating in mid air, the day cleared to warm sunshine. To reach Honfleur we took a scenic route through the Normandy countryside, past apple orchards and half-timbered farmsteads. I thought it very beautiful but hadn’t counted of the even greater “prettiness factor” of Honfleur itself. This is one of the seaside towns that attracted the Impressionist artists like Monet and Boudin. The coach drop off was in the town centre right beside two river cruise ships – Rhone Princess and Renoir. We had a short walking tour, through narrow medieval streets with half- timbered houses. NB – all streets here are cobbled and it was quite hard walking, so wear flat shoes! Round the pretty Vieux Bassin or old harbour and ending at the wooden St Catherine’s Church, before again having 1½ hours free time to eat or explore. Being out of the high season, there were few other tourists (I only saw one group of Japanese) but all the restaurants were still open, most with lovely outdoor seating beside the harbour. The local produce – Calvados, Cider and cheeses were widely available, as were other souvenirs and postcards. It was delightful and I would thoroughly recommend it. We arrived back at Aurora at 12.30, so there was still plenty of time for an afternoon doze in the sun on deck before packing and dinner.
As a late short break this was an ideal holiday. It will give you an idea of the ship, but do not think it typical of a longer cruise.