LOUIS AURA (ex-ORIENT QUEEN) 14th September 2013
I have enjoyed five Louis Cruises, starting with the lovely IVORY (ex-AUSONIA) in August 2006, and been lucky enough to visit two others, so I was really pleased to think I was going to join the newly named LOUIS AURA, who changed her name from ORIENT QUEEN only on 6th September 2013.
I flew to Istanbul, Turkey, one Friday morning ready to meet up on the Saturday sailing day with a travelling companion. Thanks to the wonders of e-mail however I had an unusual date for the Friday evening, when I was to meet the maritime journalist, historian and photographer Mr Peter Knego (http://maritimematters.com) who had disembarked that morning from the SEA DREAM 1.
From Ataturk Airport on my arrival I took the Metro for a few stations, and then got on the local tram which would take me to my little hotel at Karakaoy, just beyond the eastern end of the Golden Horn Bridge. The journey was fascinating, and I was so glad to avoid all the traffic jams that were everywhere in the vast city.
I checked in and was welcomed at the Hettie Hotel and was soon greeted by Peter as he and Mike arrived in Reception. Peter is working on the production of the third in his Alang DVD series, which will include the wonderful Union-Castle Line 1960-built flagship WINDSOR CASTLE; he wanted to include my recollections of the ship. I had been a Purserette at sea with Union-Castle Line when I was younger so Peter was interested in recording my answers to his interview questions about my job and connections with the WINDSOR CASTLE in particular. He has a copy of my book “Union-Castle Line Purserette”, published in 1999, so he already knew a lot about my job, and we have been friends and met several times since then.
That was the strangest hour I have spent for a long time – Peter lives in the USA, I live in the UK and we were doing the filming and interview in Istanbul!
Work completed, we were able to go out for dinner in a delightful Turkish restaurant nearby, before saying fond farewells.
Saturday 14th September 2013
A 7 a.m. alarm call started the day in my hotel room, as I switched on one of the little chandelier wall lights and again admired the white furniture with black and silver bed coverings and voluminous curtains.
My Singapore-based travelling companion soon arrived from the airport and joined me for breakfast down in the dining room, with many local ferries speeding past the windows as we watched the nearby Bosphorus.
There was constant movement and we were soon outside and part of the crowds alongside the waterfront. We could see several masts and funnels beyond the port fencing but had to walk some distance to be able to identify the ships. On the way we went into the old Turkiye Denizcelik Isletmeleri A/S building, and met a friendly security man who was happy to let us look around the entrance hall. It wasn’t hard to imagine passengers calling here for tickets over the years, and admiring the portraits, woodwork, ship’s bell from S.S. ANKARA of 1949, and various other items of memorabilia. The guard was also pleased to show us the air-raid siren and demonstrate its use! Huh, hearing that sound twice in one year was becoming too much of a habit (see Costa Classica, 14th April 2013, in Malta).
Further on we could see several cruise ships at the quay, and discovered we could check in after 11 a.m. so went back to the hotel to collect luggage and return to the Cruise Ship Terminal.
We could then walk up the gangway of LOUIS AURA and locate our respective cabins, before disembarking and going to photograph the other ships nearby. CELEBRITY REFLECTION was nearest the Galatea Bridge, then LOUIS AURA, SERENISSIMA, TERE MOANA of Paul Gauguin Cruises, then WIND SPIRIT. We were just walking along the quayside inside the fencing when a rope-man arrived, and suddenly behind us there was a loud ship’s whistle and OCEAN MAJESTY came into view and berthed right beside us. That was a good surprise.
My companion wanted me to try and get postcards from these ships (doing my English smiling female thing) so I did my best for him, but most amusement came from the mooring ropes on Tere Moana, which had the usual metal discs on them to repel rats. On this ship however a talented artist had painted a cat’s face, with prominent eyes, on one disc.
Back on board LOUIS AURA we had time to go to the Deck 8 Mermaid Restaurant for lunch, with the windows from three sides of a swimming pool set into the room. That is the most disconcerting thing one can imagine…
Of course, the nearby Aquarium Bar had three very large fish tanks dividing the room into two halves, so everybody seemed to call that the Fish Bar.
On board were many large parties of Australian passengers, so lunch was enjoyable as we made new friends.
LOUIS AURA 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. I first saw her on a short visit in Piraeus in July 2007 after she had been acquired by Abou Merhi Cruises and chartered to Louis Cruises.
Her tonnage is 15,781, with 364 passenger cabins with 895 maximum passenger capacity, with eight passenger decks.
I had an inside cabin 7009 for single use, with a tiny bathroom containing toiletries and plentiful towels, and a small wardrobe with no space to hang a dress. The big bed was comfortable and everything was spotlessly clean so I was happy to sail finally on what I knew as ORIENT QUEEN, with her distinctive Venus Bar level 2 up on Panoramic Deck. Louis Cruises have just renamed the ship in keeping with Greek mythology and as their company have become the foremost Ambassador of Hellenic Cruising. The ship also has a charter to South America over the winter and I imagine this new name of LOUIS AURA will continue to promote the company’s image.
After lunch we walked along to see some of the local ferries, and fell into conversation in English with a Turkish Contract lawyer over cool drinks. Then it was back to the ship for a rest, unpacking, and then tea, followed by some time up on Venus Deck 2, which I loved and enjoyed every day. The styling is so distinctive with little sea breezes coming in through the open side doors and panoramic views.
Lifeboat drill was next, and then preparations for departure from Istanbul as the sun started to set.
The views were magical as the sun went down over the city and the Bosphorus, with local ferries constantly crossing the many waterway routes to and from the Asian side and the European side, and to and from the Golden Horn ferry terminals. We had buffet dinner out on the aft deck as we sailed away to start the seven night cruise, content with the heat, food and surroundings on this much-admired little ship.
Ships seen: Celebrity Reflection, Louis Aura, Serenissima, Ocean Majesty, Paqize, Tere Moana, yacht Radiant, Sh-Fatih, Belyaka, Aydin Guler, Belyaka, Gulsenim, Hakki Reis, Wind Spirit, lots of other ferries, and cargo ships passing through the waterway towards the Black Sea.
To be continued....