Monday 15th May 2017
Another blue sky morning and breakfast on deck, as we sailed the remaining distance into the new-to-me Greek port of Nafplio.
It looked picturesque, with wide promenades fronting a town beneath a castle on the mountainside behind the town. We had to disembark from CELESTYAL NEFELI and take final pictures of this delightful little ship as we walked towards the bus station.
Swallows were flying around the buildings, as they had in the other ports, and we could see small groups of people on vertical-seeming paths up routes to the castle entrance. We did wonder if they might be excursion folk from our ship!
We bought numbered seat tickets for the 10 a.m. bus from Nafplio to Athens, and were soon in air-conditioned comfort. The long journey was over local winding roads between mountainsides until we eventually joined a dual-carriageway new road leading west to Patras. I had read that a new section of this route had recently been opened, so that speeded up our journey as we drove over the Corinth Canal (I had my eyes open and saw the Canal below us) and headed for Athens. We discovered that the bus stopped at a new Metro station so got off there and were soon buying tickets for the short journey, with one change, down to the port of Piraeus.
Soon we were walking through the heat and sunshine into the busy port, where we could see lots of ferries and a couple of cruise ships. It was such a shame to know that even if we had wanted to take a ferry somewhere, we would then be unable to go anywhere else, so it was a wise decision to go home to the UK, however reluctantly. Our compensation today was to take a local ferry to Salamina, knowing that we could catch another ferry back again to the Great Harbour of Piraeus after lunch, before heading to the airport this evening.
That's what we did, enjoying the wonderful sea air and views of ships arriving or departing all around us.
We saw many vessels that day, including the lovely little LOUIS AURA, looking perfectly ready to sail. It was good to discover on our return to the UK (thank you JB in Singapore) that she has been chartered by ETSTUR cruise line, and should be sailing again later this summer.
Ships seen: Celestyal Nefeli, 2 Way Ferries Acha, Adamantios Korais, Nissos Mykonos, Speedrunner III, Nissos Samos, Elyros, Kriti II, Festos Palace, Prevelis, Costa Neo-Classica, Ariadne, Superfast XII, Phivos, Terrajet, Theofilos, Ierepetra, Medstar, European Highway, Dionisios Solomos, Rasa Sayang (ex-Bergensfjord), Caribbean Galaxy, Aqua Jewel, European Express, Kalli P, Louis Aura, Nissos Rodos, Laton, Superferry, Vitsentzos Kornaros, Ionian Sky, Corse, Ionis, Salamis Express III, Spongebob Squarepants, and the two little ferries we took to and from Salamina island
It had been a really enjoyable few days in Greece at sea on a delightful small ship, with many happy (even euphoric...) memories to take home.
Sunday 14th May 2017
My phone alarm and the View from the Bridge told me that we were in the long channel approaching the port of Izmir, with ample time to get on deck and have breakfast before our arrival alongside at 08.30. I last visited Izmir (the Turkish name for Smyrna) in April 2013 on the COSTA CLASSICA and there has been much political upheaval in the country since then. We walked along the wide promenades beside the sea towards the nearest ferry station. The timings did not allow us to sail over to another part of the huge bay and get back in time for our departure from Izmir soon after lunch, but we enjoyed the views and warm sunshine.
Coffee back on deck under a shady parasol was enjoyable and then we noticed that a small boy was playing in the children's pool with a Superfast blow-up toy ferry. I went over to speak to the people with the child and after some minutes of conversation in English with the Greek man and woman, we realised that we knew each other from meeting a few years ago when I was with some other ferry friends. The man (Fotis) was a keen ship photographer from the Piraeus area, his sister was married to one of the ship's senior officers, and the small boy was his nephew and God-child. It seemed such an extraordinary coincidence to be sailing on this ship. His sister mentioned that she had sailed with her husband some years ago on a Japanese ship he had been converting, and by another of life's coincidences that same ship was also in Izmir port today, and we could see it in the distance in its latest company paintwork. We all arranged to meet up that evening, which was Gala Night.
After lunch the ship had to wait for the excursion parties to return (late) before we sailed from Izmir (with a cat watching from the quayside), but we enjoyed watching the views of the ever-expanding city and the modern ferries as we left the port and headed out to sea.
We went for a cup of tea at 4 p.m. carrying my friend's current reading book - Theodore W. Scull's latest publication "Ocean Liner Sunset". This book caught the attention of the Head Waiter Christos and suddenly there was another conversation about ferries and cruise ships with someone else who enjoyed talking about them! I showed him my Santorini postcard pictures and he remembered some of the ships in them and of course the cruise ships in Ted's book.
Gala Night meant 'the posh frock' for ladies and drinks and photos with Captain Nektarios Rigas, before heading into the Muses Theatre for introductions of all of his Senior Officers and Department heads. We sat with our new friends, including the lad with his toy model ferries this time. We were introduced to his father (one of the Senior Officers) and I realised that I had met him before: way back in July 2008 I had been with other ferry friends on a visit to a Japanese ship being converted in the Keratsima repair yard near Piraeus and the little lad's father had been kind enough to show us around. The ship then was the AEGEAN HEAVEN, the ex-SUNFLOWER TOMAKOMAI, which was being converted to a ro-ro cargo ship at 23,503 gross tons. She is now named AYSHE, with the EKOL Line, and this is the ship we could see part of this afternoon in Izmir port.
Life continues to amaze I thought, as we all headed into Gala Dinner. This evening we sat with a silent couple, and another lady who was happy to talk about her life in Brazil and working and travelling abroad. At one point the waiters sang Happy Birthday to someone and minutes later some portions of birthday cake arrived at our table with the little lad's mother; he is to be 5 in a few days time and the waiters decided to celebrate his birthday tonight so the creamy-rich cake was shared with his family on their table, and then some brought over to us. I thought that was so kind.
After dinner we were invited to join the family up in the Lounge and that made for an enjoyable time discussing ships and visits. The little lad had brought his toy model ships with him, so he happily played on the carpet with them. It had been a happy and amazing day today and there were many nostalgic goodbyes at the end of the evening.
Tomorrow we are due in Nafplio, Greece, having sailed 247 nautical miles overnight from Izmir, and must disembark.
Ships seen at or near Izmir:
Celestyal Nefeli, Ayshe of EKOL line (ex-Aegean Heaven, ex-Sunflower Tomakomai), Pilot boat 65, Inandilar, Nazim Tur and other ferries
To be concluded...
Saturday 13th May 2017
I set my phone alarm and discovered from the View from the Bridge on the television that we had already arrived in the caldera at Santorini. It was such an astonishing sight, knowing we were tied up inside the middle of a volcano and could take a tender ashore after breakfast.
The excursion passengers left the ship first and then at 10.30 a.m. the rest of us could take one of the local tenders the short distance to the shore.
The busy quayside seems to have been extended and there are obvious signs that the walkways under the mountainside will be expanded round the headland in the future. We enjoyed walking around and then talking with a man from New York; we all talked about Santorini and then had an amusing short discussion about the UK's vote to leave the European Union and the USA's vote for President Trump.
We went to see where the donkeys are located at the foot of the zig-zag path to the town of Thira way up high; in fact we could smell them before we reached the place where people can get into the saddle for the ascent. I have never been on the donkeys but have walked up using the wide steps cut into the rock beside the donkey walk. It was slightly hazardous at the time and the smell of the animals and their droppings was ever-present. Visitors to Thira are now advised to take the newly-built cable car up to the town and of course this offers wonderful views out over the caldera.
I bought some local postcards which showed ships that called here in the past, and my travelling companion was able to identify the vessels for me, including ROMILDA.
Left to right: local tourist ferry, Apollon of Epirotiki stern onto the quayside then foreground an original R (Renaissance) ship; photo probably taken in the 1980s, photo copyright Haitalis, 13 Astrous Str. Athens
Left to right: an original R ship, Apollon of Epirotiki stern onto the quayside, a small local vessel, then Windstar or Windspirit? photo probably taken in the 1980s, copyright Haitalis, Athens
Top: Marco Polo; below left: Sea Goddess II ?; below right: unknown R-ship 2nd batch (rounded funnel); top left-hand: tiny fast ferry coming in from Crete; photo taken in the 1990s copyright Haitalis, Athens
GA Ferries Romilda, built in 1974, sailing into Santorini probably in the early 1990s; copyright photo by Marmatakis Brothers, Galagado Akrotiri, Chania
We went to a local cafe for coffee, saw occasional ferries calling at their quayside in another part of the caldera, and watched other local tenders going to and from NORWEGIAN SPIRIT and WESTERDAM which were anchored in the caldera. We were also surprised and happy to see the little NEARCHOS, which we had visited in Lavrion yesterday, sailing neatly and fast into the ferry port with her so-recognisable Knud E Hansen profile. That Chief Engineer had obviously done a superb job on her engines.
Back on board I enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine before lunch at the outdoor Thalassa Bar and lido buffet before settling in a shaded steamer chair for an afternoon rest. Later we could see various ships arriving and departing from the ferry port and the tenders taking passengers back to their cruise ships in the caldera. All these big ships cannot anchor because of the enormous water depth, so the engines are constantly working to keep them in position, usually tied up to an allocated and fixed buoy.
Tonight is 'White Night' on board for anyone who wants to wear white clothing, and many did. We didn't know about this so I wore pink. We had sailed from Santorini by this time but the ship took us on a tour around the caldera so we could enjoy the different views from the Deck 5 Eros Bar; we noticed the little NEARCHOS had returned to the port and was sailing parallel to us for a while but soon speeded up and headed out to the other islands on her itinerary. What a delight to see her again; I liked that my friend photographed and sent a picture of her to our maritime author friend Dr Bruce Peter, who wrote the authorised book about Knud E Hanson.
Dinner was enjoyable, and this time we were placed with an American couple and again the conversation was most interesting and topical. This evening the show was a trip around the world in musicals, and we all enjoyed the music and dancing/acrobatics. Tonight we sail for Izmir in Turkey, a distance of 188 nautical miles.
Ships seen at Santorini:
Celestyal Nefeli (Celestyal Cruises), Norwegian Spirit (NCL), Westerdam (HAL), Nearchos of Creta Cargo Lines, Blue Star 2, Champion Jet 1, Champion Jet 2, Nissos Rodos
To be continued...