Saturday 21st September 2013
After a short night’s sleep, I put my suitcase outside my cabin and headed for the Bridge. The sun was barely up but the light was increasing slowly as the city of Istanbul came in sight on the horizon ahead. The Pilot headed towards us later than expected, with what looked like white smoke billowing from his vessel.
We found out there was an early morning problem with, I think, the inhibitor in the engine. There was some gentle teasing as he came on board and entered the Bridge.
Soon we could see the famous mosques on the skyline as we approached the port and turned in a wide semi-circle to reach our berth at the cruise terminal.
We manoeuvred into position between COSTA PACIFICA and SILVER WIND, with ferries going about their business all around us across the Bosphorus.
We were alongside before 7 a.m. and could watch AZURA approaching her berth near us, but going oh so very slowly. How fortunate to be on LOUIS AURA, for so many reasons.
Ships seen: Wind Star, Costa Pacifica, Azura, Ahmet Hulusi, The World
After breakfast and fond farewells, it was time to disembark and get a taxi to Ataturk airport for a flight home to the UK. I had enjoyed time in Istanbul before sailing for a week on Louis Cruise Line’s little treasure, and had some amazing memories and photographs of my holiday on LOUIS AURA – lucky me.
Friday 20th September 2013
Today we are due in Lavrio(n), a very small port on the Greek mainland, at the very early hour of 6 a.m. Captain Goumas suggested that we might not want to be up on the Bridge at 5.30 a.m. for arrival at that hour and he was certainly right in my case! We are due to leave here before 11 a.m. but there was time to go ashore from the gangway and look at the ferries.
I was also surprised to see a brand new terminal building. Goodness, that’s new, and built since my last visit here a year ago. I later discovered that the Athens/Piraeus authorities are trying to encourage more cruise ships to use an alternative port to Piraeus, because of the number of passengers involved, so presumably are trying to entice them to Lavrion with a new terminal building. Certainly Piraeus cruise quays and terminal berthing facilities are sometimes full, although a new port gate and quayside are currently being created at one end of the Great Harbour.
It is presumably worthwhile for Louis Cruises to use the port of Lavrion (as well as Piraeus) as they seem to have exclusive use of the new terminal facilities in this tiny town. Many passengers disembarked here including our Swiss friends, with many more embarking in their place. Lavrio is about 55 kms south-east of Athens. There is a coach service to and from Athens airport, but when I considered joining LOUIS AURA here at Lavrion on mainland Greece I was unable to find any local overnight accommodation at all.
I had arranged to take an excursion to the Ancient Temple of Poseidon and Cape Sounion, and was looking forward to that. Last September I had visited Lavrio’s local museum and seen many wondrous artefacts which had been discovered at Cape Sounion and I was keen to see the site. (See 2012 blog pieces, entitled Greece 2012). Unfortunately it was not to be, as there was not enough support to run the excursion, which disappointed me.
Instead I walked along to see the ferries, which looked very familiar. I sailed on AQUA MARIA from Mesta to Lavrio, arriving here on 5th September 2012, and saw MACEDON then too.
This time MACEDON was due to sail soon and I saw the ramp go up and the water start to churn. She pulled away from the quayside and at that moment a small motorbike arrived, with a passenger hopping off the pillion as fast he could. He was too late to catch the ferry though, so got back on the motor cycle and they drove away – I suppose it is interesting to watch other people’s timekeeping.
I went inside the new terminal building too, but soon it was time to return to the ship ready for sailing soon after 10.30 a.m.
On the Bridge I met and chatted with the Safety Officer and then we had to wait for the passenger lifeboat drill to be finished. The Port Captain joined Captain Goumas and eventually we were able to sail into the sparkling blue water, heading for our next port of Istanbul tomorrow.
Restaurant late lunch was fun with other friends, and included making gold and silver foil miniature wine glasses from chocolate wrappers to amuse a certain little girl. Then it was time to rest and pack, ready for the next part of what I like to call the social whirl! A Guest Lecturer has come on board and we wanted to attend his first talk entitled “Overview of the Development of the Mediterranean Sea through Time”. Dr. Angelos F. Vlachos is an Historian and Greek Tourism Specialist. It was very interesting to hear him, especially as he lectured in English, which was obviously not his mother tongue.
We met him for pre-dinner drinks, together with Mary Ann from Archers Tours, and continued into the Restaurant together for our final dinner on board.
By 10 p.m. it was time for our final night-time visit to the Bridge for something rather unique: the entry and transit of the Dardanelles Straits. The Programme told us that the transit time through the entrance of the Dardanelles Strait will depend upon the “Entering Orders” that we receive from the Turkish Traffic Control Officials. As we enter the Straits, one of the World War 1 War Memorials is visible from the left (port) side of the vessel. The transit of the strait will last approximately two and a half hours. You will see Europe on the port side and Asia on the right (starboard) side, the Programme concluded.
The Straits Pilot came on board and there were happy greetings for him from Captain Goumas, as well as from his old Turkish colleague Kapetan Saim. There was almost total darkness all around of course, but it was fascinating to watch the transit though this meandering body of water as we continued to change direction around the sharp bends. It seems the depth also varies in places, as I saw the Pilot consulting his electronic depth indicator frequently, as well as consulting with various Officers on the Bridge. There was other traffic too and the time passed quickly as we headed onward towards Istanbul. I was offered tea and then chocolate at regular intervals, so the whole passage seemed somewhat like a dream, but I felt very privileged to be there.
Ships seen: Aqua Maria, Macedon, Marmari Express, Ocean Majesty in the distance, and Cruise Europa going south through the Dardanelles.
To be concluded….
Thursday 19th September 2013 (continued)
We approached the volcanic island of Santorini about 4 p.m. under clear blue skies, and had our first view of the caldera soon after. It is such an amazing sight to approach by sea, with sheer rock faces showing the various solidified strata.
Santorini island (Thira in Greek) was formed long ago by volcanic explosions, which continued infrequently, although the last one was in 1950. In 1956 however there was an earthquake which affected the island yet again. The capital of the island is Fira, which is built right on the top of the island, with white-painted buildings appearing to perch precariously in their location 300 metres (980 feet) up. The inhabited island on the port side as we approached showed the volcanic rock thrown up,
and the water was clear and deep all around us. Ships do not anchor here, but must keep moving at a very gentle engine speed, to counteract the water depth and currents. The caldera is 400 metres deep (about 1300 feet).
There are two ports here – one for the ferries at Athinios, as traffic can ascend and descend the road from here up through seven hairpin bends to the island road at the top. The tenders from visiting cruise ships can come alongside at the other small quayside below the town of Fira, and visitors can then walk up the zig-zag road to the top, take a donkey ride up there, or choose to use the cable car. I once walked up the path, but now consider the price of 4 Euros well spent!
Our ship was soon in position and the first local tenders appeared alongside. Passengers going on excursions had to disembark first and take the tender to the ferry port, giving access to the coaches waiting on the small quayside. My friend set off in the tender, so I could photograph him photographing me; he was doing a visit along the mountain road to the small town of Oia.
I waited for non-excursion passengers to be allowed ashore and we all went in another local tender. The water is not tranquil and one can only guess at the vast depths below.
Our tender took us to the other quayside for cruise ship passengers, and from there we could queue for the cable cars. Each car holds eight people so we were soon at the top and able to view the bay below. It is the most incredible sight, with various cruise ships looking quite small as they maintain their positions in the water. The tenders keep transporting passengers to and from their ships, the occasional ferry arrives or departs, the sea glitters in the sunshine, and the white-painted buildings along the top of the island all gleam and hide their secrets. The buildings here in the capital Fira are all built so closely together that people cannot be seen at a distance, and then they appear from a cobbled lane or small turning to face the sea and enjoy the views. The cafes and restaurants were all full, but many of us simply walked along the lanes to enjoy the air and scenery from the heights.
I hadn’t visited the beaches on the south coast, nor many of the other sights on the island, but what a good reason to plan a return visit one day.
By early evening I was ready to take the cable car down from Fira and get a local tender back home.
The air and light had been wonderful but watching the moon rise over the island of Santorini behind Fira was lovely too, and I enjoyed seeing the lights of other ships in the vicinity as we sailed away before 9 p.m.
Ships seen: Wind Star, Blue Star vessel, Louis Olympia, Master Jet, green ferry, Celebrity Equinox, Garbis tender, local tender 28 and tender 27
To be continued….