Part 5 - a Saint's Day
Tuesday 6th July 2010
Just after midnight we embarked on the 1991 Japanese-built IONIAN KING (ex Ferry Lavender, ex Hooligan) of Agoudimos Line and hurried on board to find our accommodation. The ferry POLARIS (1975, Danish-built) was newly laid up in Igoumenitsa so our ship had to load her intended passengers and cars as well as our own, making for a very full ship.
After a quick look around, our beds called; we altered our watches back to Italian time and woke in time for coffee and croissant
before arriving at Bari at 10.30 a.m. One of the first ships we could see in the port was APOLLON, the ex-SENLAC, so there was great excitement. Our luggage was left safely in a Ferry Terminal locker, so we could set off for a particular tourist attraction.
I wanted to visit the Church of Saint Nicholas, dedicated to the man who was born in Asia Minor in the 4th Century. After various good works, he was appointed a Christian Bishop and, despite persecutions and imprisonment, he is said to have performed miracles, and became known for his care of sailors (in the East) and children (in the West). After his death, his relics were kept safely until the area was taken over by the Saracens. The Italians vied to take over the relics, and the town of Bari won, so in May 1087 the relics of Saint Nicholas were put in the crypt of a Church dedicated to his name.
He was known and revered both in the East and the West, and the Middle Ages saw miracles claimed in his name. His patronage of children gave rise to the giving of presents at Christmas time, apparently started by the Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam (now New York) converting his Popish name from Santa Claus to Sint Klaes and then Saint Nicholas. His popularity continues with the Russian Orthodox Church recognizing his Saint’s Day on 6th December and this has spread through many parts of the Christian world.
So today I could visit the crypt under the church and see the casket believed to contain the head and skeleton of Saint Nicholas. It was a splendid and gilded piece of craftsmanship, set behind a gilded grille before an altar, on a magnificent plinth, and I was glad of the chance to see it.
Outside in the heat again it was a contrast to remember that the port of Bari was devastated in 1943 by what is described as the worst World War II Allied shipping disaster after Pearl Harbour. Enemy aircraft attacked the ships in Bari harbour, causing an explosion; this included 100 tons of American liquid mustard gas, with 17 ships totally destroyed, and thousands of casualties.
Emerging from the Church into the brilliant sunshine, we started crossing the car-free square, only to look at a small car approaching the kerb. The female driver stopped the engine, got out and looked towards the person she was collecting from the pavement, only to notice also that her car had started to move backwards. She had forgotten to apply the handbrake! We all shouted and started to move towards the little car but she managed to drag the door open and reach in to put the brake on. Phew, that was interesting, and must have put her blood pressure up a bit.
Our previously sombre mood lightened with the location of a local back street restaurant so the afternoon continued in holiday mode with food, fun, and photos.
Soon it was time to reclaim our luggage and check in for our overnight sail on the beautiful little LIBURNIJA of Jadrolinija Line.
We were really excited about sailing on her from here in Bari to Korcula in Croatia, with lots of time at sea. After climbing the little rope-sided gangway, we were directed to cabins way down under the car deck, accessed by a wooden staircase that was almost spiral in parts, but all was highly polished and clean. The bed sheets had the Jadrolinija logo on them in very large letters. Built in 1965 in Holland, the ship is an absolute treasure to see and experience. After I unpacked I visited the Ladies bathroom just next door (I wondered if I was walking on linoleum in the alleyway, but that was just wishful thinking) and could hear the water slapping outside against the hull.
It was very basic, but clean, with plentiful hot water in the shower cubicles; I soon realised how low down I was in the ship when I was standing in the shower cubicle and saw the water running back towards me down the curvature of the hull.
The posh frock and heels were soon donned and it was time to get up on deck to join the other friendly passengers in the evening heat. This little ship of 3,910 tons can carry 700 passengers but seemed about half-full; she may not be fast, but she is just memorable on board with her public rooms, open decks and full-width cambered restaurant. We enjoyed a meal there, sharing a bottle of wine that had a most unusual flavour to it.
We loved seeing the forward panoramic Belvedere Bar (not open) Lounge, although the curtains were all pulled across to stop the lights affecting the Bridge.
We left Bari at 10.40 p.m., just a little later than scheduled, but were all lulled to sleep on this little gem of a ship.
Ships seen: Apollon, Flaminia, Superfast II, Costa Fortuna, Guguielmo Mazzola, Arberia, Bari (the ex Isla de Botafoc, ex St. Anselm. She was renamed Winner 9 for her scrap delivery voyage, but then Ventouris swapped her with M/S Athens at the last moment and re-named her Bari), Liburnija, Ionian King, Azzurra
Wednesday 7th July 2010
“My Cappuccino froth blew away”
The early alarm call meant we were soon on deck and enjoying the sail up to Dubrovnik in the morning heat. The light and warm air was glorious.
We noticed the usual picture of the previous Pope leaving a Jadrolinija ferry, a copy of which seems to be displayed on all their ships.
Breakfast was included in the price of our tickets so we sat in the middle of the Restaurant, enjoying the feel of being ‘on the top of the camber’ in the full-width room.
All the staff were cheerful, and I was reminded of the last time we were on board LIBURNIJA in July 2007. It was then we had a waiter who had so obviously dyed his hair a very dense and unnatural shade of black.
As we slowly made our way along the approach channels between the islands and mountains towards Dubrovnik, we realized that THOMSON SPIRIT, ZENITH and POSTEIRA had all been held up so that we could berth first. We had wonderful views of them, and I must admit we felt a certain sense of superiority as we glided past to the quayside.
As we were not disembarking here, but would continue up the Croatian coast to Korcula, we were able to leave our luggage on board but go ashore for the 40 minutes of our call here in Dubrovnik. A friend was actually on board ZENITH, finally berthing nearby, but a phone call established there was no possibility of us all meeting up in such a short time; we all had to be content with waves and shouts as we sailed past the cruise ship on our little lovely.
Going up the coast after leaving Dubrovnik,
we enjoyed the most beautiful scenery, of misty mountains, and hot sunshine, with glorious blue sea: all reasons why so many of us enjoy being at sea. I bought a cup of cappucino and sat on deck to enjoy it and to my huge amusement a slight breeze caused a lot of the froth on the top of it to lift up in one quick movement and blow away.
We called at the little port of Sobra for 15 minutes and were amazed at the clear and deep water;
100 cars boarded and passengers got off and others on, and then we set off again for Korcula. We arrived exactly on time at 12.40, and disembarked happily in this little water-side town.
There was time for tea before catching the local bus at 2.10 to take us over the mountains to Vela Luka for the night.
The views were spectacular as we wound our way along the mountain top road. The journey was enlivened at one stage by our bus following a road-mending lorry. It had obviously finished its work for the day, because from the side of the open-backed lorry one of the workmen (in his orange safety gear) was leaning precariously over the side and picking up the ubiquitous ‘cones’ from the middle of the road with his left hand, whilst the lorry was moving quite fast along the road. We watched in amazement, and some awe, as the man collected probably fifteen cones, and then the lorry turned off onto a local village track.
Once at Vela Luka we found rooms in the local pub/bar,
in the middle of the wide horse-shoe shaped bay below the mountains, and settled down to some necessary laundry. This was done and dried in a couple of hours in such extreme heat and gave us great satisfaction. The extremely spacious and comfortable rooms and beds called so loudly we had to obey and sleep soon claimed us all for a few hours, before the evening happenings.
The late afternoon sun gave a golden light to the mountain-backed surroundings as we strolled around the bay; the flowers were prolific, and the waters of the bay calm. I loved seeing the blue plumbago plants cascading from several hillside gardens, the olive trees, the pine trees and pine smell,
the little mosaic tiling set beside a stone hut with a cross on top, the local water-polo team just finishing an energetic game in another part of the bay,
and the local fishing boats preparing to go out for the night.
My friends wanted to take photographs from another part of the bay, near the narrower entrance channel, so I watched the world go past from a water-side café balcony and enjoyed a Croatian coffee. On the other side of the bay the ferry KORCULA arrived and turned, ready to off-load her cars and passengers.
She sailed away and then the ferry VIS arrived, to disembark her load and tie up for the night. The photographers appeared again, very happy with their ship pictures, so all was well with the world. They had also found a man with a bottle of something alcoholic which he invited them to share, so in the interests of good international relations they did so.
Now reunited, we could then go for a meal and enjoy the rest of the evening in the calm of Vela Luka. What a glorious day again, appealing to all the senses.
Ships seen: Zenith, Thomson Spirit, Posteira, Lubenice, Vis, Korcula, Hannibal Lucic, Nona Ana
Part 4 – Swimming with Swallows
Click on pictures to enlarge
Sunday 4th July 2010
Overnight was spent in an hotel on the outskirts of Siena in Italy. I woke up quite early and decided to take a swim in the pool in the garden. I simply had to walk between some olive trees, and down the slope to the pool set amongst roses and lavender bushes.
The sun was coming up over the mist of the distant hills surrounding Siena, and the warmth of the air was like silk on my skin. There was no-one around as I swam in the clear water, until suddenly I was aware of movement in the air above me. A swallow swooped down and collected something flying above the pool. It was obviously to his liking, as he and several other swallows began swooping and diving down to collect insects just above the surface. It was the most amazing sensation – swimming back and forth in the calm and clear water, with swallows flying around just a few feet above and beyond me. Swimming with swallows has to be the name for today – it was the most magical and memorable sensation.
After a terrace breakfast, we set off for Ancona via Perugia. We passed Lake Trasimeno with its 3 islands and saw one of the local steamers, went through tunnels, beside mountains, ravines, hairpin bends, and forests, until we reached Ancona Airport to leave the rented Hertz car. Lack of Sunday public transport meant a taxi ride to the new Ferry Terminal at the port of Ancona – well, it was more like a tin hut, big, but still a metal hut, set in an industrial location. It was full of people, check-in desks, noise, luggage, the smell of sweat, food being unpacked and eaten, sparse seating, but absolutely no atmosphere. Thanks ISPS, we thought, what a missed opportunity.
We checked in and obtained our tickets, and the free shuttle bus took us back to the old terminal building, where we could leave our luggage safely in lockers before climbing the hill up to a favourite restaurant beside the Duomo.
CRUISE EUROPA was eventually spotted and photographed, and then it was time to return to the old Terminal Building and enjoy the air-conditioning until it was time for ‘footies to go’. She was to be our overnight sailing from Ancona to Patras in Greece.
CRUISE EUROPA was built in 2009 at 53,360 gross tons, in Italy, to carry over 2000 passengers. She might be a huge Minoan monster, with lots of chrome, mirrors, and other decorative features to admire, but we were due to leave at 5 p.m. and here I am drinking a cup of tea at 6.10 p.m. in the King Minos lounge, still in port. Mind you, I loved the beautiful blue fabric of the seating, which still looked in a brand new condition.
We eventually sailed at 7 p.m. from Ancona, and on the way out of the harbour had a good view of the Fincantieri yard where they were building L’AUSTRAL for Plan Tours. She looks lovely, and we admired her lines as we sailed past; we could also see FIONA berthed.
With this late sailing, and knowing that CRUISE EUROPA is a slow ship for her size and will not be able to make up time after her late loading and departure from Ancona, we will have to disembark in Igoumenitsa in order to catch our planned sailing on IONIAN KING, as she comes up from Patras.
With Plan B mentally already in place, we enjoyed dinner in the Restaurant; we felt they were understaffed, and with seemingly poor management, but the individual staff looked after us well in the circumstances. Hundreds of people were sleeping in the corridors, stairways, on deck, on chairs and mattresses, so after a final warm walk on deck we were pleased to have cabin accommodation.
Ships seen: Olympic Champion, Superfast XI, Fiona, MSC Armonia, Costa Victoria, a little island ferry on Lake Trasimeno, L’Austral (at the Fincantieri Ancona shipyard)
Monday 5th July 2010
After a good night’s sleep on board CRUISE EUROPA, I made my way carefully through the still sleeping people everywhere in the corridors and public rooms, to the self-service café for some coffee and breakfast. The outside heat was a shock, but it was lovely to be at sea. She is a slow ship, as I’m told the engines are not big enough for her size, so she cannot make up time lost in loading and the late departure from Ancona.
We arrived at Igoumenitsa at 12.15 and disembarked there instead of continuing to Patras. I was sorry about missing that last part of the journey, but it was the only way to get our next sailing, which was to be on IONIAN KING. Last year we had been booked on her but she had the euphemistically named ‘technical difficulties’, so I was looking forward to this midnight sailing from Igoumenitsa to Bari in Italy.
With lots of time to spare therefore, we caught the 2.15 p.m. ferry AGIA THEODORA
(built in 1989 in Japan as YUKAZURU MARU/FERRY BLUE SKY, at 2,336 gross tons) from Igoumenitsa to Corfu;
as we left we could see POLARIS tied up at a quayside.
We last saw her in Bari some time ago when sailing out of there on SUPERFAST I. We arrived in the little harbour of Corfu at 3.30 after a delightful passage to the island. There was the added bonus of seeing OCEAN MAJESTY in port too.
Whilst walking around to see her, I noticed an eye-catching balancing act on board SOPHOCLES V.
There was time for lunch and a stroll around the town, and watching the comings and goings of other ships, before catching the 19.15 back to Igoumenitsa on NIKOLAOS.
She was built in Sunderland, England, in 1987, as SUPERFLEX ALFA, for Danish interests, eventually coming to Greece in 2002, and taking her current name in 2007. Her evacuation equipment came from Japan, and the information notices were also written in Japanese.
That was a wonderful ferry journey back, in late afternoon golden light, with ferries and local vessels all around.
Safely back in Igoumenitsa, at 11.59 p.m. we watched from the cool comfort of the dark quayside as IONIAN KING arrived in a blaze of lights.
I was so pleased to see her, as her name at one time was Lavender, which is one of my favourite colours thanks to my Union-Castle Line connections. I remembered that she was once chartered by a Japanese group for transporting football fans, and apparently for that trip she was renamed the Japanese equivalent of Hooligan! Funny how one remembers some things…
Ships seen: Pantokrator, Agia Theodora, Ekaterini P, Nikolaos, Polaris, Superfast VI, Splendor of the Seas, Norwegian Gem, Ocean Majesty, Olympic Champion, Sophocles V, Lefka On, Cruise Europa, Christina, Elene, Thiella