Continue with Peter Knego on Sea Dream Yacht Club’s deluxe SEA DREAM I with a visit to the striking geologic site of Meteora and a call at charming Thassos in part two of his latest trek.
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Monday, September 9, 2013
The low rumble of SEA DREAM I’s thrusters let us know we had reached the Greek port of Volos, which is midway between Athens and Thessaloniki on the eastern coast of Attica. From the quayside, Volos is not the most appealing place; as a matter of fact, it is pretty charmless, although outside of the port, it brims with museums, galleries, shops and cafes. We wouldn’t be seeing any of it on our full day tour, however.
For $159 a piece, we booked a nine hour excursion to Meteora, a remarkable geologic site some two hours inland in Greece’s Thessaly region. Our guide was a wealth of information during the 90-plus minute ride through villages and farmlands, pointing out highlights, such as pomegranate groves and the distant Mount Olympus. Once we reached a long plateau, we could see Meteora, which means “in the middle of the sky”, directly ahead.
Meteora backdrop over Kalambaka.
We stopped at a friendly cafe in Kalambaka at the base of the sandstone formations (some of which tower up to 1,800 feet above the plain) for a quick coffee break. From there, we headed along a winding road up the backside of the 60-million-year-old pinnacles, past the occasional climber and into a sea of tour buses at the summit.
Our first stop was the Varlaam Monastery, one of 24 vertiginously constructed by monks seeking isolation in the 14th Century. Today, there are only five active monasteries, although many of the vast rocks are still crowned with the crumbling remnants of long-since abandoned structures.
Until the 1920s when steps were built to connect them with their more terrestrial surrounds, the only way up was via a pulley, rope and net.
From Varlaam to Thessaly.
The views from various platforms within the monastery were as gorgeous as they were terrifying. In the sweltering interior spaces where photography was not allowed, our guide helped make sense of some of the more disturbing religious frescoes, which are mostly undamaged despite being 600 years old.
In recent years, following the demise of the Soviet Union, Meteora has experienced a vast influx of Christian pilgrims from the Eastern Bloc.
Meteora Panorama (Santa Barbara is left of center).
From Varlaam, it was a short ride to a rocky outcrop overlooking Santa Barbara, a smaller women’s monastery (or nunnery). En route, there were some striking panoramic views of Meteora.
Santa Barbara balcony.
Smaller Santa Barbara enjoyed its ten or so minutes of fame as one of the backdrops in the 1981 James Bond film, “For Your Eyes Only”.
After our delicious lunch of Greek specialties in Kalambaka, we were back on the coach for a long, quiet ride back to the ship. As breathtaking as Meteora was, we yearned for a return to the lack of crowds and the high level of service on our “dream boat”! At precisely 6:00 PM, under a golden sun and deep blue sky, SEA DREAM I entered Force 4 to 5 seas on her 155 nautical mile journey to the island of Thassos.
SEA DREAM I is one of just a handful of ships that, security and sea conditions permitting, provides an “open bridge” policy. Throughout our trip, we enjoyed visiting the wheelhouse to peer into the radar screens and watch the officers and equipment at work.
Captain Bjarne Smorawski has been with SEA DREAM I since her Norwegian owners purchased her from Cunard/Sea Goddess, for whom she previously cruised as the legendary SEA GODDESS I. Captain Bjarne has had a fascinating seagoing career that dates all the way back to Norwegian America Line’s OSLOFJORD. He served with NAL through its transition to NAC and Cunard eras, on board the SAGAFJORD and VISTAFJORD.
Atrium, facing up.
As fellow guests soaked up the last rays of the afternoon sun, I wandered about with the cameras, taking in some more of the ship’s architectural details, such as the brass-trimmed “mini-atrium” that spans from the entrance to the dining room on Deck 2 to a skylight atop Deck 6.
Dining Salon, facing aft.
Tonight would provide our first chance to dine in the handsome Dining Salon. The space is lined with pairs of large portholes on the starboard side and features cherry toned paneling, beige and white soft fittings and comfortable arm chairs. All 112 guests can be accommodated here in one open seating.
Tables are set with fine stemware, glass chargers and starched linens.
Our meal consisted of a combination of Asian and Continental selections. The Spring Roll appetizer was particularly delicious.
Mike ordered the tender duck main course and thought it was the best he’s ever had on land or sea.
No meal on SeaDream would be complete without a selection of homemade petits fours!
After dinner, we took a walk around deck and stopped by the bridge for a short visit before retiring.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Greek yogurt and OJ.
We slept in and still made it to the full breakfast in the Topside Restaurant, which offers open seating breakfast from 8:00 until a very generous 10:30.
Bone in teeth.
I was able to get a moment on the fo’c’sle to take a few signature shots, including a view of the ship’s forefoot slicing through some incredibly clear waters.
Prayers to the sea goddess.
As SEA DREAM I approached the anchorage at Thassos, I was privy to a special ritual performed on the bow. Two of the Thai girls from the spa placed flowers on the flagstaff and offered prayers to the sea goddess as a blessing to the ship and all on board.
Caviar and champagne.
Meanwhile, by the pool, blessings in the form of caviar and champagne were being served.
We tendered ashore with the intent of going to the beach with fellow guests but the town was in siesta mode and taxis were hard to come by. Instead, we walked around, past the main city square with its small archaeological site, then returned to the ship for lunch and a refreshing swim off the marina.
Biking with Mike and the DREAM.
Mike convinced this novice rider to join him for a ride on one of the ship’s ten guest bikes. Although wobbly at first, I eventually got the hang of riding a bike again. We ventured several miles along the waterfront highway, past the main harbor, residential areas, and even a gaggle of chickens and turkeys.
We made it back to the tender just before sunset. After an immersive day of swimming and bike riding, we decided to cross the gym off the “to do” list.
Bathed in gold.
Another idyllic evening lay ahead on our “golden ship” with dinner on deck as SEA DREAM I spent the night at anchor, then headed very slowly to the mainland Greek port of Kavala, some twenty miles away.
End Of SEA DREAM I To The Other Side Of The Aegean, Part Two
More To Come…
Very Special Thanks: Christophe Cornu, Martin Cox, Mike Hicks, Ginny Perkins, Captain Bjarne Smorawski
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
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