Wednesday, 17 September 2014
Later that day came the news that Louis Cruise Lines are to change their name to Celestyia and acquire another ship at about 25,000 tons with some balconies, for use in 2016. We worried immediately about the future for our little LOUIS AURA but apparently she is not included in the name change, but where that leaves her future is unclear at the moment.
At 5.45 p.m. we presented ourselves on the Bridge ready for arrival in Symi, a Greek island with a harbour nestling amongst the usual mountains, and entered through a fairly narrow entrance between them.
It was a spectacular sight to see this tiny port ahead of us as we arrived, turned and went astern to dock safely in the little town. Even LOUIS AURA looked huge in this port; Captain Gritzelis broadcast a welcome to us passengers and reminded us that the island only had a couple of months each summer to welcome visitors so any spending on our part would be most welcome. That made us all smile and make sure we helped in any way we could.
The ship’s ropes were tossed out to a local rope-man in his little boat, who skilfully took them individually to the various capstans on the quayside, as we looked down on the beautiful blue water.
On the quayside we could see people strolling, or doing deliveries, but I was surprised to see a scooter driving along the road because it looked as if it was being driven by a black and white dog. When I looked carefully of course the dog’s man was sitting behind it and I think there was a white-bloused woman with long black hair riding side-saddle behind him, but it was quite disconcerting for a moment.
It was after 6 p.m. but the temperature was still up in the high 20’s C, as everyone disembarked from the ship. Some went on tours but most of us walked around the town to enjoy the views and try and help the local economy.
At the end of the bay, astern of the ship, were two pedestrian stone bridges, one higher than the other. The first one had arches underneath to allow the sea to spill further inland if necessary, and after walking over this to a lower level I found myself inadvertently paddling as I stopped to take photos. Sea water was gently starting to lap at the soles of my shoes – what fun.
We found the wonderful Restaurant Pantelis serving freshly prepared and cooked Greek food so spent an enjoyable time there watching the sun go down and another Dodekanisos Seaways ferry come in and settle down for the night. A stroll home along the still-busy streets completed the day ashore, knowing that the ship would not leave until 3.00 a.m. the next morning. What a delightful place this is, and somewhere else to go on the list of islands to re-visit for a longer time.
Ships seen: Louis Aura, Halas 71, Turkish Sealines Prince (one of the old blue/yellow Comarit vessels), Dodekanisos Pride, Dodekanisos Express,
To be continued...
Monday, 15 September 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
We were prepared to arrive in Kos at 7.00 a.m. but apparently we were delayed by the departure of the Blue Star Ferry 2 plus more wind than expected, so it was 8.00 a.m. before we were alongside. The heat was tremendous even that early in the day. Louis Cruises had printed English copies of the Daily News programme again, which we appreciated.
Yesterday we met the Staff Captain on deck and he recognised me from sailing on LOUIS AURA last year, which was nice, and he joined us all for a chat and invited us to visit the Bridge today.
This morning therefore I went to Reception to register my credit card and asked them to arrange for us to visit the Bridge, as invited by the Staff Captain. A telephone call was made to the Bridge and we were invited to come back to Reception at 1.40 and be taken up top for departure from Kos. Hooray, how kind.
We watched arrivals and departures from the port, but they were mostly very local small ferries going to and from the Turkish coast which could be seen faintly in the distance.
Suddenly however a very unexpected sight appeared and was recognised by my very knowledgeable companions – it was HALAS 71; we thought she might sail right beside us and enter the harbour but she didn’t so we had to be content with various views of her. She started life in 1914 (yes, really) as a ferry, but World War 1 decided otherwise, and she was handed over to the newly-created Republic of Turkey in 1923 and became a passenger ferry on the Bosphorus. In 1984 she was bought by a shipping company, and refurbished. In 2009 she was sold on to current owners, renovated yet again, and is now available to charter for 12 guests as a luxury cruiser, or for events. She is flagged in Istanbul; (I found this website with some details http://www.myhalas.com/history/) She certainly looked different to the other shipping we have seen, and it is astonishing that she has lasted so well.
Restaurant lunch was again disappointing but we decided to have dinner ashore this evening in Symi. At lunch my companions chose the fruit pudding, but decided that it tasted of shower gel (how did they know that?) but apparently it is a favourite pudding on the ship. I didn’t try it.
We were taken up to the Bridge for departure from Kos and were introduced to Captain Kostas Gritzelis, who is the Master of LOUIS AURA. He made us feel very welcome and invited us to visit the Bridge for departures or arrivals if we chose. We certainly did and could immediately understand why this sociable and obviously efficient Captain was so popular with all his passengers. We sailed away from the island of Kos and looked forward to our evening arrival in Symi.
To be continued...
Friday, 29 August 2014
Monday 4th August 2014
My View from The Bridge on the television showed sunshine and a calm sea as we sailed along. Early breakfast out in the sunshine on deck was most welcome, and looked far more appealing than the offerings available in the Restaurant last night. Captain Kostas Gritzelis did his smiling walkabout with his Staff Captain (who remembered me from last year) before having his breakfast. He greeted, smiled or shook hands with many passengers as he walked around the deck and is understandably a very popular Captain in the Louis fleet. I remembered several members of staff from my trip last year, and it was pleasant to be recognised and greeted by them. I don’t think they have many English passengers!
Today we are due in Rhodes at 13.00 hours, leaving at 23.30, so there would be lots of time in port, which is a very busy one. Entertainment on the ship this morning included Price is Right, Towel Folding, Bingo Bingo, Cooking Competition, Darts, Salsa Dance Lesson, and an Aperitif Game.
As we arrived early in the port of Rhodes we could see BLUE STAR 1 in a berth;
AEGEAN PARADISE’s white paintwork gleamed in the sunshine and we were soon alongside the quay ourselves. I was interested to see AEGEAN PARADISE as she is a cruise ship, built in 1990 in Japan, and now operating for the Turkish tour operator Etstur. Their name is painted on the hull. She has been through various owners (and their bankruptcies) and charterers, has been re-built, and has been with Etstur since 2012.
Later we strolled in intense heat along the quayside and out along the waterside until we had a lovely view of the LOUIS AURA and could take photographs, with the ancient walls of the medieval city behind us.
Back on deck we could see other comings and goings into the port.
I was amazed to see ROYAL IRIS arrive, as she looked very like a car ferry. In fact she was indeed built in 1971 as a car and cruise ferry, at St. Nazaire in France, for Southern Ferries who named her MV Eagle. Her itinerary from Southampton to Lisbon and Tangier proved unsuccessful, so she was sold and became AZUR, and then sold again in 1987 to the Greek Chandris Lines as THE AZUR, for cruising. In 1994 she was sold to Festival Cruises for cruising out of Venice, but they declared bankruptcy in 2004, so the ship was finally sold in 2005 to the Israeli company Mano Maritime, renamed ROYAL IRIS and now operates short cruises mostly among the Greek islands. At 14,717 gross tons she was another delightful sight in Rhodes harbour, as was our own little liner LOUIS AURA.
Security was very tight around her, but that was an unexpected and interesting ship to be able to photograph from a distance.
Whilst we were watching her from back on board, we could see two ferries coming fast towards us and there was SYMI and PANAGIA SKIADENI racing for pole position in the harbour entrance! They were heading for different parts of the port, but SYMI seemed to ‘win’ the race to reach the entrance first, with PANAGIA SKIADENI having to do a rather sharp turn to starboard aft of SYMI to get in position for her berth. That was interesting to watch, especially from shore-side!
Small local fast craft were soon leaving, and then the tiny ARTEMIS arrived and berthed. She was built in 2007 at 1,206 gross tons and looked very small as she berthed ahead of us.
We heard a broadcast telling us that because of strong winds expected tomorrow around our intended port of Kalymnos, it had been decided to head for the island of Kos instead, in the morning, and then visit Symi for the evening. We noticed later that the chart on display had been removed and replaced by another one. This was most unusual I thought as it included some unexpected chart notes, mentioning the positions of a capsize, missing person overboard, semi-sunk boat adrift, which are notes that have to appear on official Notices to Mariners for amending the charts but which I suspect are not often seen by passengers in some other areas of the world. With so many islands in the area it is so important that charts are up to date of course.
After dinner we headed for the Stars Show Lounge and listened to the Greek bazoukia music. They were joined by some singers, sitting at tables on the stage set; we noticed they were singing along to words on iPads or Kindles in front of them on the tables. The music was very enjoyable. After that it was pleasant to go out on the deck and enjoy the warmth under the night sky.
Ships seen: Blue Star 1, Louis Aura, Diagoras, Aegean Paradise, Aegean Queen, Flying Poseidon, Marmaris Express, Aegean Cat, Royal Iris of Mano Cruises from Israel, Symi, Panagia Skiadeni, King Saron, Dodekanisos Seaways, Artemis, and far in the distance we could see the white-hulled profile of Salamis Filoxenia as she sailed past the port of Rhodes.
To be continued....
Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Several months ago a few friends planned to sail on this little liner and I was happy to join them, for a second trip on the ship. The four night cruise was to sail out of Limassol in Cyprus, so it was a long flight of over four hours from the United Kingdom to reach our embarkation port.
Saturday 2nd August 2014
I caught an afternoon flight from the UK to Paphos in Cyprus, and immediately had to set my watch forward two hours to local time. By then it was dark and I was glad to be met by a pre-arranged local taxi driver to go straight to my hotel in Limassol. The air-conditioned taxi was a great relief after the tremendous heat outside. When I arrived at the hotel, it was very disappointing to discover that my friends’ rooms at the hotel had been over-booked and they had been moved to another establishment, some distance away. This was not the welcome and meeting that we were hoping to enjoy!
Sunday 3rd August 2014
Solitary breakfast was pleasant in the air-conditioned breakfast room beside a huge swimming pool. The shade cast by trees and shrubs outside was delightful, and all the smokers seemed to enjoy sitting at the tables there. I could see a Bar beside the pool and a tennis court beyond that. My friends were due to meet me here and I was soon re-packed and ready to head for the sea side with them.
We simply had to walk down the road to reach the glittering sunlit sea and wait for the sight of the LOUIS AURA as she sailed around the distant headland, heading for the port of Limassol. We found a comfortable café right on the water’s edge and happily spent some time there drinking coffee and later having a light lunch before we could head for the new cruise terminal. That was more like the cheerful start to this little trip we wanted!
Check in was easy and we were hardly aware that we were three of the 800 or so anticipated passengers coming on board in mid-afternoon. The first thing I noticed about the ship’s hull was the LOUIS CRUISES logo, along with a red and blue stripe next to it.
On board, my cabin this time is 5111 on Poseidon Deck, a twin berth inside for single use, and with a welcoming plate of fruit on the dressing table.
I first visited the ship as ORIENT QUEEN in Piraeus in July 2007 after she had been acquired by Abou Merhi Cruises and chartered to Louis Cruises, still as ORIENT QUEEN, and I can still recall my surprise at seeing her distinctive styling with the Venus Bar levels 1 and 2 up on Panoramic Deck.
I remember from my last trip on 14th September 2013 on LOUIS AURA that she had been built as STARWARD in 1968 in Bremerhaven for cruising for Norwegian Caribbean Cruise Line; in 1995 she was sold to Festival Cruises and became BOLERO. With the collapse of Festival in 2004 she was laid up before being bought by Abou Merhi Cruises in 2005 and renamed ORIENT QUEEN to sail to ports including Beirut, but that was abandoned and AMC chartered her to Louis Cruises; in fact she sailed again to Beirut under charter to rescue stranded Americans.
My diary back then in September 2013 noted that Louis Cruises had just renamed the ship as LOUIS AURA in keeping with Greek mythology and as their company had become the foremost Ambassador of Hellenic Cruising. I also noted that the ship had a charter to South America over the winter and imagined that this new name of LOUIS AURA would continue to promote the company’s image.
Since then the ship had been chartered by French company Rivages du Monde in Spring 2014, which ran several cruises for passengers from Marseilles, and visited many Baltic ports including Oslo, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg. A maritime journalist friend in Denmark was so delighted to see and visit the ship in Denmark that he wrote a piece about her, and used one of my photographs taken in Patmos, Greece, as an illustration to accompany the article.
Now she is back in Aegean waters and has been sailing out of Limassol from 22nd July on short cruises. Her tonnage is 15,781, with 364 passenger cabins with an 895 maximum passenger capacity, with eight passenger decks, so I was pleased to be on board her again.
Lifeboat drill was held and then we prepared to sail. We headed out of Limassol port aided by tug PRINIAS, passing AIDALUNA,
and then we saw an unexpected sight rushing towards us: it was a dark-hulled vessel now called DP GEZINA, but which we had last seen in Rotterdam in January (see NORWEGIAN GETAWAY January 2014). I remembered I had first seen and sailed on her in 2008 between Helsingor and Helsinborg in Denmark, when she was called SIMARA ACE.
Dinner was to be served in the Mermaid Restaurant between 7 and 9 p.m. so after a refreshing drink we were about to go to the Restaurant when an announcement was made. It seems that so many people had decided to go in for a meal at 7 p.m. that there was no more room and everyone else was requested to wait until 8.30 p.m. That was a bit of a surprise, as that meant waiting about an hour, but we did so and discovered that rather unappealing buffet food was all that was now available and laid out for us to collect. That was such a disappointment, as I had really enjoyed the food on my last trip on this ship, and had praised it to such an extent that my companions were really looking forward to their first meal.
We had all bought the drinks package so that rather came into use for the rest of the evening, and we were entertained by a band playing under the Venus Deck bar. It was very pleasant sitting in deck chairs under a dark sky, feeling comfortably warm as we sailed along.
Tomorrow we are due in Rhodes so we are all looking forward to that.
Ships seen: Aidaluna, Louis Aura, catamaran Sea Grace, tug Prinias, DP Gezina (ex Simara Ace)
To be continued....