Friday, 9 June 2017
Celestyal Nefeli 12th May 2017, Part 1
Friday 12th May 2017
I flew out of London Gatwick Airport on an easyJet Airbus 319/320 at 05.45 in the morning. It was daylight but with heavy cloud and I could see nothing of the English countryside as we headed east. We flew towards Amsterdam and the Low Countries and then headed south towards Greece and my destination of Athens Airport, with a flight time of 3 hours and 20 minutes. I will have to advance my watch 2 hours when I arrive.
We arrived 10 minutes earlier than expected and I had my first glimpse of the mountains and sea as we made our final approach into Athens. I was soon off the aircraft and into the terminal building, before walking outside to enjoy feeling the warmth of the Greek sunshine. It's been a long and grey winter in the south of England. My travelling companion soon arrived and we arranged to get one of the airport buses to our embarkation port of Lavrion, to sail on CELESTYAL NEFELI.
The bus dropped us off in the main square and we decided to walk to the port, which we could see through the trees. A large and dirty stray dog decided to adopt us, at a distance, and acted as an escort as we walked. We noticed he had a used cardboard coffee beaker in his mouth, which we thought might be his own version of a food begging bowl...
We passed the white bench that two other ferry friends thought had been in use on AGIOS GEORGIOS (ex-HENGIST); the ship had been in lay-up here at Lavrion some years ago. The dog kept looking back at us to check on our progress and once we all reached the port gates he left us to our own devices and collapsed slowly in the shade of a snack bar. We thought he was probably known there.
We passed the laid-up TAXIARCHIS, and then went into the Cruise Terminal building to check in for CELESTYAL NEFELI which we could see her at a nearby quayside. We were offered a ride in the shuttle bus to the ship, but it took us only 5 minutes to walk the distance, along the side of the inevitable metal fencing. Before we got there however we could see something interesting, tied up at another quay. It was NEARCHOS, of Creta Cargo Lines, looking empty and rather forlorn. As we walked towards the stern ramp we could see an overalled man walking towards us from the deck and he said he was the Chief Engineer and invited us on board. We stood at the top of the ramp and I noticed that this little ship had once been a train ferry, as I could see 3 sets of train lines that were now covered up. The Engineer said she was built in 1968, is 4,163 gross tons, and he was obviously really proud of his little vessel and engines (IMO: 6727193). Another man soon appeared and made us feel unwelcome so we all walked back down the ramp; the Engineer explained that it was the owner. We thanked him for letting us see the car deck and telling us about his ship and the removal of much of the stern hull/superstructure, and then walked a few yards to board CELESTYAL NEFELI.
It was a great relief to walk on board and locate my inside cabin on Deck 2. The last forty-eight hours have been rather unexpected and it was good to have a few minutes to get things in perspective again. The plan to sail on CELESTYAL NEFELI for 3 nights on 12th May from Lavrion was made recently, and plans were also made to add some ferry trips after the short cruise. Arrangements were made and all was well until 48 hours ago when one of the ferry companies notified my travelling companion of 3 days of strikes by Greek seamen on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. Naturally this meant we could not sail on anything later in the week after disembarking from CELESTYAL NEFELI. Things were cancelled or abandoned but it was decided to continue with the short cruise and then enjoy a full day in Piraeus port before flying home to the UK on Monday evening. I changed the date of my flight home, removed unneeded items from my rucksack, let my family know of my changed plans, and set off for Gatwick airport on Thursday evening. My son was due to fly into Gatwick from a business trip that evening so we met there for a short while, before he headed home. Nine hours later I flew out to Athens.
Now here I was on this little cruise ship, looking forward to a good time on board but without the planned ferry trips after that. CELESTYAL NEFELI was built in 1992 for the Effjohn Group at 19,090 gross tons as CROWN JEWEL, then became CUNARD CROWN JEWEL, went to Star Cruises as SUPERSTAR GEMINI, VISION STAR, MV GEMINI, before being chartered by Celestyal Cruises (the new name for Louis Cruises). I have enjoyed several trips with Louis Cruises over the years.
Lunch was being served up on Venus Deck 6 in the Leda Casual Dining room and outside deck so we enjoyed that and had a giggle at the thought of this being named 'A Euphoric Cruise'. We sail this evening about 9 p.m., arriving tomorrow morning in Santorini for the day, then sailing on to Izmir in Turkey for Sunday. After a day there we sail back to Greece and the port of Nafplion and that could be the end of my Euphoria.
Boat drill was held at 6 p.m. and we discovered there were one or two different styles of life jackets on board. The top of the life jackets fitted as expected but men wearing shorts or trousers fitted the extra, unfamiliar, strap fairly easily between their legs, with some adjustment back and front; those of us wearing a skirt or dress became aware that wearing this unfamiliar extra strap would cause what I shall call unexpected limb exposure. Hmm, I made a mental note to exchange my life jacket when I could.
We had spent time in the afternoon enjoying the sun in the aft Thalassa Bar with its delightful tiered curved decks around us, but after Lifeboat Drill it was time to change and enjoy pre-dinner drinks and music in the Deck 4 Eros Lounge Bar. Dinner is served from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Aegean Restaurant, which covers the full deck width of the ship, with excellent views of the sea from every table. The observant Head Waiter ensured that all passengers were made welcome; the menu offered a good selection of dishes which were professionally served by his staff. The cruise package price includes almost all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, plus excursions, and we found that the bar staff were also most attentive to passengers' needs, whether in the Aegean Restaurant or in the many Bars.
The evening's entertainment at 9.45 p.m. was a Mythology Show - a trip around the Greek Olympus and the Greek Gods. I enjoyed most of this, but extreme tiredness suddenly overtook me and I had to return to my cabin. It had been a long and busy day, but I was at sea again and happy to be there, as we sail 108 nautical miles overnight.
Ships seen at Lavrion, Greece
To be continued...