Friday 18th September 2015
I slept like the proverbial log during the night and awoke to find ships passing in Piraeus Roads seemingly not very far away from the terrace of my bedroom. It was another gloriously sunny day and down below and just across the local road was a rocky beach and a couple of local fishermen. Just to the left of them was some kind of monument and a Greek flag, placed on a small concrete area, and to the left again was an inlet where I later saw several people swimming. Ships came and went in the wonderful morning light of 7.30 a.m. for an hour or two.
After the ship parade it was breakfast time and we went down to the Reception area. We were shown to a large table beside the picture windows, looking out at the rocks and water, and two cheerful ladies served us what I could only describe as a sumptuous meal. The food kept on coming out of the kitchen. We did it justice but finally had to call a halt.
Ships seen from the hotel:
Aegean Paradise, Champion Jet 2, Panagia Agiasou and Macedonia of SAOS Ferries in Piraeus Roads, Phivos, Blue Star Delos, Superfast XII, Prevelis, Blue Star Paros, Flying Dolphin Athina, Talos, Pelagitis, Flying Dolhin XVIII, El Venizelos, Agios Nektaras Aeginas (see http://hhvferry.com/blog/?p=3378), Posidon Hellas, Konis, Flying Cat 6, Blue Star Patmos, Celestyal Olympia, Platitera Tonouranon: a local day-cruise ship
N.B. Blue Star Patmos was leaving empty on her ongoing charter to bring migrants from the islands. El Venizelos was arriving, seemingly full, in the same trade. Spare space is also being block-booked on the scheduled ferries e.g. Nissos Mykonos last night, and Ariadne etc.
Ships seen in Piraeus Harbour:
Panagia Tinou, V Kornaros, Ariadne, Nissos Mykonos, Andreas Kalvos, Adamantios Korais, Celebrity Reflection, Blue Galaxy, Blue Horizon, Festos Palace, Speedrunner IV, Highspeed 6
We eventually checked out and took a taxi to Piraeus Harbour port gate 8, to catch a local ferry POS(E)IDON HELLAS for Aegina. I was able to take these photographs.
We left at 11.45 a.m. and arrived on the island just over an hour later. She was built in 1998 at 1802 gross tons, and used to sail for Hellenic Seaways, but was actually sold earlier this year and now operates for and wear the colours of 2wayferries. They have expanded quite a bit in recent years, I am told, from their original Corfu-Igoumenitsa route.
I haven't been here for a long time so I was interested to see a map of the area. It was a long quayside but there was shade at the town end of it, and we were soon amongst the narrow streets and enjoying the shaded heat. All kinds of products were available to buy, some useful and some not at all, but all interesting to see. We found a tree-covered terrace restaurant alongside one of the narrow pedestrianised streets and enjoyed a light meal in the shade there.
Ships seen on trip to Aegina:
Alexandros, Theofilos, European Express, Aqua Maria (laid up), COSCO Kaohsiung
Sometime later we had to head back to the quayside to catch something really different: the FLYING DOLPHIN ATHINA. She is a High Speed Craft (Hydrofoil) built in 1991 at 161 gross tons, and this speedy little thing has an average speed of 32 knots once she is 'up'. It was nice to be greeted at the tiny steps to board by two members of staff. We had no luggage that they needed to help bring on board so they simply smiled. We chose to sit mid-ships and I admired the dolphin figure on the seat headrests. A glass-framed picture on one wall was of an old sailing ship in very rough seas, which didn't seem quite appropriate but never mind. We contemplated the thought that it was more expensive by about a third to travel on the hydrofoil rather than the ferry, but not surprising.
Less than an hour later we entered Piraeus harbour and said our mental goodbyes to one of my favourite ports - I suppose it is that sense of anticipation of sea travel that it always engenders...
Then it was time to find another taxi to take us to Athens Bus Station, some distance out of the city. Our taxi driver knew the fast route and then the back roads to get there, so we were soon amongst the hundreds and hundreds of people in the Bus Station. It is very organised, both to buy tickets and find the right bus, but it is a vast place and one must be very alert for people going in every direction. I am of shorter height than average and often notice that tall people forget that some of us walk nearer the ground than others...
Once we had our tickets for allocated seats and checked where to board the bus for the nearly three hour journey to Patras, we both decided to brave a visit to the toilet facilities. The ladies room is still down in the basement and, oh my, they still have the hole in the floor facility, albeit behind a locking cubicle door. They haven't changed at all over the years.
Our air-conditioned coach left on time at 4.40 p.m., and we were soon out of the city traffic and heading west to Patras. The route is mostly along a dual-carriageway road, alongside the water, and I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to see us drive over the road bridge over the Corinth Canal. That brought back some good memories!
My friend has memories about getting between Athens and Patras and said: "there used to be a very serviceable main road, partly motorway and part main trunk road. It had its pinch points but it worked. And, running parallel for much of the run was the fantastic narrow gauge railway which we took when we first came to Greece in the 1990s."
"One of the great Greek pieces of infrastructure building in the 2000s was the project to replace the railway with a standard gauge one and upgrade the road. The new railway got around a third of the way out of Athens but they then dismantled the rest of it from Kiato (near Corinth) to Patras – the plan being the line would be rebuilt at the same time the road was turned into a motorway. The projects are years behind schedule (possibly abandoned altogether for the time being?) and both road and rail are in a complete mess with the railway destroyed and the road left with non-stop roadworks for around 50 miles! We drove the other way in our hire car and to say it was frustrating and hair-raising would be an understatement."
"From my window seat on the right hand side of the coach heading back to Patras it was sad to see the remains of the narrow gauge railway with the now naked trackbed hugging the coast above steep embankments above the sea and, every now and then, a bridge with the rails still intact or piles of wooden railway sleepers stacked up. The bus just isn’t the same!"
We arrived in the town of Patras in darkness of course and disembarked into the evening heat at 7.30 p.m. At first all we could see were armed Police officers everywhere near the bus station, but we kept walking towards the centre of town and joined the hundreds of locals enjoying Friday night in a lovely atmosphere. We found some interesting ship postcards to buy in one little shop and the pleasant man inside told us that the Police presence and associated protests, if there were any, was in relation to the second anniversary of this event - the murder in Keratsini of an anti-fascist rapper by a member of the fascist political party Golden Dawn.
Ionian Island or Galaxy, Superfast I or II, Laurana (see Ferrying in '15 June blog) with 3 tug black marks at stern
Top down - El Venizelos, Agios Andreas, Superfast III or IV, Ionian Island or Galaxy, Superfast I or II, Mediterranean Sky, Venus, Fedra
Here I can't do better than quote from Matt, www.hhvferry.com who says
"Left to right in the Patras postcard-
The stern of the El Venizelos
The Raffaello/Brindisi ex-Ferry Hankyu ( http://www.faktaomfartyg.se/ferry_hankyu_1968.htm )
The pair sideways on-
(distance) Marline’s Baroness M (ex-P&O’s Lion) ( http://www.faktaomfartyg.se/lion_1967.htm )
(nearer) Marline’s Viscountess M (ex-P&O’s Dragon) ( http://www.faktaomfartyg.se/dragon_1967.htm )
Minoan Line’s Daedalus ( http://www.faktaomfartyg.se/orion_1973.htm )
Lastly on the right is Marline’s Countess M (ex-P&O’s Leopard) ( http://www.faktaomfartyg.se/leopard_1968.htm ). She was the sister to the Viscountess M/Dragon along the quayside and the pair were amongst my favourites. One of my most treasured ferry memories is of a sailing on her from Portsmouth to Le Havre in 1985, a few months before she was withdrawn from service.
Just the other day on BF Enthusiasts someone posted a link to a Pathe reel on an appearance the Dragon made in London before she was introduced in the 60s which it might be nice to share:
All in all a spectacular line-up!
He also notes that the Dragon video reminds him that there is a PR video (http://bruizer.co.uk/2013/01/arthur-lowe-in-felixstowe/) of Arthur Lowe sailing with Townsend Thoresen from Felixtowe!
Left to right Daedulus, Countess M (ex-Leopard), Saturnus, Venus
Lots of shops, cafes and restaurants in these back streets were all open and it was a delight to see so many families and young children enjoying themselves. I stopped to look around and immediately one small girl playing with a tiny doll on the pavement showed it to me and we each discussed the doll and the clothes in our own languages, whilst her parents looked on amused. I finally thanked her and said goodbye.
We could see an Eatily restaurant on a nearby corner, with lovely smells coming from whatever was being cooked so we sat down in the open-sided seating area, had a glass of local white wine and I ordered a chicken risotto in lemon sauce. It was wonderful.
We eventually had to leave this part of the city and make our way to the new port. We are to sail on ANEK's big OLYMPIC CHAMPION from here in Patras for two nights up to Venice. Earlier in the evening she had been berthed in the old port, together with IONIAN QUEEN, but she was then moved to the new port. After checking in at the terminal we could board her and look forward to two nights and a day at sea on this interesting vessel.
She was built in 2000, at 32,694 gross tons for ANEK Lines as a roll-on/roll-off passenger vessel and makes only occasional voyages to Venice so this is one good reason to sail on her. My outside cabin was spacious, with a small fridge included, and I was pleased to note that the linen and blanket on my bunk was all marked with the ANEK name.
Ships seen in Patras:
Ionian Queen, Olympic Champion
To be continued...
Thursday 17th September 2015
What a pleasure to wake up in a Greek island hotel and prepare for breakfast on a pretty terrace, looking out to sea and other islands in the Cyclades. The sun was shining and hot again today under a cloudless blue sky. The mountains at the back of Gavrio were still dark-looking in the early morning light but the flowers and trees below us were abundant in their growth. This is a lovely place for a twenty-hour visit and I would happily spend more time on this island on another occasion.
We left the hotel just before 10 a.m. and walked down the paths to the port of Gavrio, ready to catch our next ferry of the trip; we are booked on SUPERFERRY II of Golden Star Ferries, leaving Andros and heading for Mykonos again. After time for lunch and an afternoon there, we are to take the NISSOS MYKONOS (again, how appropriate) back to Piraeus, leaving late afternoon.
Down at the port we could see the ship approaching us and, with a long hoot of the whistle and a stylish turn, the SUPERFERRY II came alongside. Many people disembarked and lots of us waited to embark.
The abiding memory of boarding the Superferry II was seeing a gentleman who was hauling crates of paperwork down the ship’s stern ramp as we waited to embark. As it was a slightly windy day, one of the lids became detached and papers went flying everywhere, including into the sea. Chaos, and he looked pretty downcast afterwards!
We will be on board for just two hours and twenty minutes, so rucksacks could be left safely down on the car deck. I put mine down where suggested, and discovered to my delight that it was right beside all the mail sacks. What fun, I'm on a Mailship yet again in my life!
We sailed on time, called at the island of Tinos, and then there was time to chat with the man in the shop who was selling local products. He was very pleased to show me so many Greek products and I was happy to buy a box of Greek Delights (which I know as Turkish Delight...). I hoped to get them home before needing to open the box. I also bought a bottle of water; as part of the regulation of the Greek ferry system, operators are obliged to sell certain basic items of food and drink on board at fixed prices. These regulated prices include small (350ml) bottles of water for €0.35 and 500 ml bottles for €.50. Also on the regulated menu are basic coffee (Nescafe) and cheese and ham toasts. Interestingly the same tariff for water applies at Athens airport.
We arrived at Mykonos and again it was very windy in the bay, but we were soon walking off the ship.
The water taxis were not in sight so we strolled past their little office, across the bridge, and onto the side of the main road. We could see the wonderful Matthew restaurant, but as it looked rather full we decided to go along a path next door and up to a terrace restaurant. It was very sheltered there so we stayed for lunch and I decided to go up some stairs to look at another terrace. Wow, there was a huge swimming pool with loungers, palm trees, a wonderful view out to the sea, and heat without wind. The hotel manager was consulted and he was happy for us to hire towels, swim if we wanted to, and use the facilities at this hidden hotel - how lucky for us. We did just that for the rest of the afternoon; I had a swim in extremely cold water, but it was exhilarating and is probably the first time I have been in an infinity pool. Ships may have called and sailed, but my eyes were closed for a while and I didn't know what I missed, relaxing in the shade of a large palm tree.
Eventually real life had to take over, so we returned the towels, had a meal, shook hands with the staff and thanked the manager, before walking back down to the port. We felt very happy to recommend Makis Place, Mykonos New Port, Tourlos village, based on what we had seen and enjoyed.
We had been told that NISSOS MYKONOS would probably be late in because of the wind, and indeed she was, as the 5.50 p.m. departure became 6.35 p.m. She was built in 2005 at 7,882 gross tons, and the ship was full. We had Distinguished Class seat tickets but even when we climbed up to the lounge we had to ask a couple of people to move out of our numbered seats. They did so reluctantly but since we stood there smiling patiently and showing our tickets, they really had no option. There were no spare seats to be seen. Another couple standing near us showed their tickets but the two women with four noisy small children playing in the space in front of their seats refused to understand or move.
We subsequently noticed that a ship security person was on duty at every doorway on our two-deck lounge seating/bar area. The circular staircase in the middle connecting the two seating areas was busy with people moving to and fro but no-one sat on the stairs.
On many ferries around the islands over the years we have often seen 'the pretzel man', who has a wicker basket on his arm, filled with bread snacks, which many people buy. We were surprised to see him on board now but he did a good trade. I think many people were reluctant to leave their seats and were grateful to see the pretzel man.
I was happy to discover that the man in the seat behind me had his canary with him, in a cage. The little bird chirped happily for much of the journey so obviously they both felt relaxed.
We are sailing from Mykonos to Piraeus, to stay overnight, and are due to arrive at 11.15 p.m. but it seemed a long journey, despite the television screens everywhere. We normally expect to be able to go out on deck and enjoy the night sky and facilities on other decks, but this time we discovered why the security people were so much in evidence. Also on board, but confined to the stern outer decks, were 500 or 600 refugees. We did go out on deck but these poor people were much in evidence and I felt so sorry for them. They had obviously come on board before the call at Mykonos, possibly at the island of Samos, another island near to the Turkish coast. The conditions under which they travelled on board were not good, and I did feel that more seating and certainly more rubbish bins could have been provided, both on deck and in the toilet facilities. There were many babies and small children with the adults, and I felt so grateful that I was not in their position and having to flee my home.
Eventually we arrived in Piraeus to the usual hubbub; walking out of the port gates we found a local taxi to take us to our overnight hotel, at a nearby bay to Piraeus. A driver with Satnav was happy to drive us round to the wonderful-sounding Hotel Queens Leriotis, at Piraiki, and I think we all marvelled at his skill in getting us there in good time. Many of the rooms seem to face the sea with small terraces, which bodes well for watching the morning arrivals in Piraeus Roads and the Great Harbour tomorrow.
Ships seen: Superferry II, Fast Ferries Andros, Blue Star Paros, High Speed 4, Champion Jet 1, Highspeed 4, Theologos P, Ekaterini P, Grimaldi Lines ro-ro (distant off Andros), Superjet, Express Mykonos, Aegean Paradise of Turkish ETSTUR line, Nissos Mykonos, Champion Jet 2
Ships seen in Piraeus:
Speedrunner IV, Blue Star Patmos, Blue Star Delos, Blue Star Paros, Panagia Tinou, Phivos, Ionis, Agios Nektarias Aegina, Achaeos
To be continued...