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Turkish Discovery On The ROTTERDAM: Part One

Posted on Sunday, November 24, 2013 by

Turkish Discovery on the ROTTERDAM, part 1

by Kalle Id

Join MaritimeMatters’ Kalle Id on a ten-day cruise exploring Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline onboard Holland America Line’s 1997-built ROTTERDAM, beginning with Piraeus, Volos (Greece) and Istanbul.

Holland America Line official website: www.hollandamerica.com

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are copyright © 2013 Kalle Id.

The author's first encounter with the ROTTERDAM, departing Helsinki West Harbour in summer 2011. Photo copyright © 2011 Kalle Id.

The author’s first encounter with the ROTTERDAM, departing Helsinki West Harbour in summer 2011. Photo copyright © 2011 Kalle Id.

Sunday, 10 November 2013: Piraeus

The morning of 10th November found me and my lovely wife at a hotel room in Piraeus, the harbour town of Athens. The previous day had mostly consisted of a gruelling trek from Helsinki to Piraeus. The flight time between the two cities is only about five hours, but the lack of direct flights meant we had had to wake up at 3 AM in Helsinki to be in Piraeus 14 hours later. Hence our experience of Athens was limited to a metro ride from the airport to Piraeus and a quick hunt for food between an evening nap and the full night’s sleep. While this did deprive us from wider enjoyment of Athens, it did mean that – against all odds – we woke up well-rested for boarding the ROTTERDAM awaiting us at the harbour.

The nightlife of Piraeus was somewhat more active than seen on this photo – though it was very clear that Greece has been hit very hard by the current economic crisis.

The nightlife of Piraeus was somewhat more active than seen on this photo – though it was very clear that Greece has been hit very hard by the current economic crisis.

The embarkation process was surprisingly smooth, thanks to in large part to the friendly HAL staff. One thing that was immediately apparent in the terminal however was the fact that we were probably the youngest passengers onboard by some margin – apart from the staff, we were the only people in the terminal without grey hairs.

Home, sweet home – at least for the next ten days: Vista Suite 6179.

Home, sweet home – at least for the next ten days: Vista Suite 6179.

Once onboard, we made our way to our cabin, Vista Suite 6179. Normally you would not find me booking a suite – usually on cruises you spend so little time in the cabin that I don’t see the sense of putting money in a larger one – but this time around we were offered a cheap upgrade just a few days before departure and naturally took it.

After unpacking, we set out to take a tour around the ship and orient ourselves. This also (naturally) meant I photographed the public spaces (as they were still relatively empty) and most interiors photographs seen in this and subsequent parts of this report are from this tour.

The forward staircase is decorated with paintings of all past HAL ships named ROTTERDAM, all by Stephen J. Card. I was particularly impressed with his paintings of the second (pictured) and third ROTTERDAMs.

The forward staircase is decorated with paintings of all past HAL ships named ROTTERDAM, all by Stephen J. Card. I was particularly impressed with his paintings of the second (pictured) and third ROTTERDAMs.

One thing that impressed me about the ROTTERDAM’s interiors was how stylishly the company brought up its Dutch roots and its history as a Transatlantic liner operator. Whereas many of the other former liner operators turned cruise lines come across today almost as parodies of themselves and their histories, HAL manages to give a much more genuine impression. Of course the truth behind this impression can be questioned, when the company is headquartered in Seattle…

A particularly nice touch was the presence of a Location Guide onboard. Here “our” guide Brett is giving his first presentation at the Showroom at Sea.

A particularly nice touch was the presence of a Location Guide onboard. Here “our” guide Brett is giving his first presentation at the Showroom at Sea.

Another nice feature on the ROTTERDAM is a presence of a location guide to give information about the ports visited and how to get around in them. This is an exceedingly nice touch for those of us who are not interested in booking excursions but rather want to tour by ourselves. In the middle of our tour of the ship’s interiors, we were fortunate enough to catch a part of location guide Brett’s presentation on our first two ports of call, Volos in Greece and Istanbul in Turkey.

The Retreat, aft on deck 8, is without a doubt the ship's best outdoors area. Unfortunately it does not have a pool; the original pool was removed in the ship's 2009 refit (presumably for stability reasons), replaced by this unusual wading pool with sunloungers -arrangement that was not popular during our cruise at least.

The Retreat, aft on deck 8, is without a doubt the ship’s best outdoors area. Unfortunately it does not have a pool; the original pool was removed in the ship’s 2009 refit (presumably for stability reasons), replaced by this unusual wading pool with sun loungers – an arrangement that was not popular during our cruise at least.

Having concluded our tour, the sunny weather (a very pleasant change from Finland in November) and the approaching departure lured us to the aft sundeck area, or The Retreat as it is properly known. I admit in my part some of the attraction also lay in all the fantastic ships to be seen and photographed in Piraeus harbour, ranging from neat little Soviet-built hydrofoils to large modern cruise ships and ferries.

Shipspotter's paradise! From left to right: KNOSSOS PALACE (Minoan Lines), ARTEMIS (Hellenic Seaways), OLYMPIC CHAMPION and LATO (both ANEK ships).

Shipspotter’s paradise! From left to right: KNOSSOS PALACE (Minoan Lines), ARTEMIS (Hellenic Seaways), OLYMPIC CHAMPION and LATO (both ANEK ships).

Although Greece is much warmer than Finland this time of the year, one thing did remind from the winter: the sun set fairly early, and very soon after departure it was dark outside. This had been preceeded by a rather spectacular sunset, which – if old Finnish proverb are to be believed – is a sign of bad weather the next day. As we shall see, the proverb was not wrong.

The ROTTERDAM's main dining room, La Fontaine, was rather pleasant – although during the evening it would have benifitted from slightly brighter lighting.

The ROTTERDAM’s main dining room, La Fontaine, was rather pleasant – although during the evening it would have benefitted from slightly brighter lighting.

After departure we proceeded to the main dining room – La Fontaine – for our first meal onboard. Thanks to the magic of HAL’s As You Wish Dining, we could choose the time when we wanted to dine. The company do also offer the alternative of fixed seatings to those who want them (although I don’t understand why anyone would). The dinner was not bad by any means, but many of the ingredient combinations were more than a little bit odd and did not – in my opinion anyway – present a harmonious taste experience.

Being the extremely smart person that I am, I completely neglected to write down the descriptions of the foods that I had photographed for this report. This, is I remember correctly, is duck breast.

Being the extremely smart person that I am, I completely neglected to write down the descriptions of the foods that I had photographed for this report. This, is I remember correctly, is duck breast.

Following dinner, we visisted the Explorer’s Lounge on deck 5 to listen to the ship’s classical piano & violin duo Adagio, before proceeding to the main showlounge, Showroom at Sea, for a show titeled “Listen to the Music”, that introduced the onboard entertainers. This was not as impressive as it should have been, particularly as some of the music “played” by the ship’s live bands clearly came from a tape, giving a cheap impression to performers who were genuinely good musicians (as we were later to discover). Another thing that somewhat disappointed me was the fact that the traffic area did not seem to feature in the entertainment in any way.

Wall decor from the Explorer's Lounge: a painting of Batavia, he capital of Dutch East Indies (present-day Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia).

Wall decor from the Explorer’s Lounge: a painting of Batavia, he capital of Dutch East Indies (present-day Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia).

Monday, 11 November 2013: Volos

The second day of our cruise found us at Volos, the capital city of the Thessaly Region of Greece. Unfortunately we discovered a problem with our cabin as pretty much the first thing in the morning – our toilet would not flush properly. Not perturbed, we simply reported the problem to the front office and continued on our way. Unfortunately – although we did not know it at the time – our toilet would continue to be plagued with problems for the entire duration of the cruise.

The source of woes.

The source of woes.

Before setting out to the city, we breakfasted at the Lido buffet. To cut down the chance of norovirus and other possible contagions from spreading, the ship had suspended self-service in the buffet for the first 48 hours, which led to the somewhat unusual case of being served by waiters in the buffet, which is never very practical. What we did find impressive was the large selections of dishes and the use of fresh ingredients.

A row of dilapidated steam locomotives outside the Volos railway station. Presumably these are/were a part of the collection of the Volos Railway Museum, but they appeared more or less abandoned.

A row of dilapidated steam locomotives outside the Volos railway station. Presumably these are/were a part of the collection of the Volos Railway Museum, but they appeared more or less abandoned.

Volos itself turned out to be a fairly small city that largely lacks the historical element that characterized almost every other port of call during the cruise – the city was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1955 and most buildings date from after this. It is notable however as the home town of the composer-musician Vangelis.

The ARGO from the Greek legend – or at least, the replica of an archaic galley that might have been similar to the ARGO.

The ARGO from the Greek legend – or at least, the replica of an archaic galley that might have been similar to the ARGO.

The old Finnish proverb proved true and it rained for most of our visit to Volos – and having not brought umbrellas with us, we spent a portion of our stay hunting for new ones. Other places visited were the Volos railway station, which also houses the Thessaly Railway Museum (closed), a replica of the ARGO from the legend of Jason and the Argonauts (or more properly a replica of an Archaic period galley which might or might not be similar to the ARGO), and a nearby national park that was pleasantly provided with pictoresque path and ruins, but provided very little information on what the ruins actually were.

Random ruins, with Mrs Id pondering their significance in the middle.

Random ruins, with Mrs Id pondering their significance in the middle.

Once back onboard it was time for the first of two formal nights of the cruise and – naturally – the captain’s welcoming party. Prior to the party we thought we’d visit the Ocean Bar on deck 5 off the atrium to listen to the ship’s jazz trio The Neptunes. Unfortunately we were not the only ones with this idea and the bar was fully packed – whether this was because the passengers like jazz or the bar was convenimently close to the showroom and the upcoming Captain’s welcoming coctail I cannot say. For our part, we settled on seats in the atrium that still allowed us to hear the music.

The ROTTERDAM's rather delightful atrium. What the central artwork is supposed to be I do not know – but it looks nice.

The ROTTERDAM’s rather delightful atrium. What the central artwork is supposed to be I do not know – but it looks nice.

The ROTTERDAM’s Captain Marco Carsjens turned out to be a rather delightful man, who knew how to take his audience. Both he and the rest of the crew introduced seemed to be enjoying themselves and each other, which is certainly always a good sign.

Captain Carsjens takes his audience.

Captain Carsjens takes his audience.

We planned to go for dinner after the welcoming cocktail, as the night’s show (with a Broadway musical theme) did not particularly interest either of us. Unfortunately we were not the only ones with such a plan and the main dining room was packed with people with the exact same idea. Hence we decided to check out the other dining options.

Pinnacle Grill: photographed but never sampled.

Pinnacle Grill: photographed but never sampled.

I was rather keen to try out the Pinnacle Grill, HAL’s signature fine(r) dining option, which at 25$/per person extra charge is quite acceptable (in my opinion), but could not get Maria interested in the menu offered. Instead, we chose to dine at the italian-style Canaletto restaurant on deck 8, next to the Lido buffet. Canaletto’s offerings were very tasty indeed – particularly the dessert tiramisu – although it must be said that while elsewhere on the ship the foods were a bit shyly spiced, here the case was the opposite. Certainly my cheese tortellini could have done with a little less pepper in them.

Canaletto's unusually spicy tortellini...

Canaletto’s unusually spicy tortellini…

...followed by the heavenly Trio of Tiramisu.

…followed by the heavenly Trio of Tiramisu.

We ended our evening at the Crow’s Nest on deck 9, listening to The Beatles night and sipping (non-alcoholic) piña coladas before retiring for the night.

Second-night towel animal: The Stringray.

Second-night towel animal: The Stingray.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013: At Sea/Istanbul

Day three of our cruise dawned while the ship was sailing through the Dardanelles – although at that point we were still fast asleep. The passage was particularly poignant as the previous day had been the anniversary of the end of World War I and Gallipoli in the Dardanelles had been one of the major theatres of The Great War. In a manner of speaking this was a day at sea, as we arrived at Istanbul at around 16.00 (4 PM).

The main (well, only) swimming pool of the ROTTERDAM.

The main (well, only) swimming pool of the ROTTERDAM.

As sea days tend to be, this was a lazy day in our part, with most of the day spent on deck enjoying the sunshine. We did attend the second presentation by location guide Brett, who introduced the next three ports of call after Istanbul, Dikili, Kusadasi and Marmaris. This – like the first presentation – spent a lot of time discussing Turkish carpets. While these are certainly interesting, I’m sure something more interesting could have been included in the presentation instead.

The Lido Restaurant. For some reason the buffet restaurants on cruise ships often look like they are designed as afterthoughts with little thought to making them pleasant to look at for the passengers. Unfortunately the ROTTERDAM is not an exception to this.

The Lido Restaurant. For some reason the buffet restaurants on cruise ships often look like they are designed as afterthoughts with little thought to making them pleasant to look at for the passengers. Unfortunately the ROTTERDAM is not an exception to this.

Lunch offering for this day at the Lido was a showcase of HAL’s Dutch roots in form of Rijsttafel, ”rice table”, a tradition started by Dutch plantation owners in Indonesia of serving selected samples of Indonesian cuisine. As far as dining goes, this was definately one of the highlights of the entire trip and a pleasant departure from standard cruise ship fare. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have taken a single photo of what was being offered, being too enchanted with the foods.

Mistanbul.

Mistanbul.

Arrival in Istanbul was an almost magical affair, with the huge city spreading on two different continents slowly emerging from the mist (which remained despite the fact it was quite windy) and landmarks such as the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia slowly becoming visible. The magic was further enhanced by spotting dolphins – surprisingly close to the city, the busy ferry traffic of which must certainly pose something of a danger to dolphins.

The Hagia Sophia seen from the Bosphorus.

The Hagia Sophia seen from the Bosphorus.

The city was not only busy with ferries this day, as there were three cruise ships already in harbour by the time we arrived: the NORWEGIAN JADE, CELEBRITY CONSTELLATION and SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER (the latter had recieved a new livery since I last saw her).

Four cruise ships in one photo. Thoughtfully, the others had left the place closest to the historical city center free for us.

Four cruise ships in one photo. Thoughtfully, the others had left the place closest to the historical city center free for us.

Once we were docked, it was time for our first day (or rather, only evening) of exploring Istanbul. Taking the advice of location guide Brett were decided to visit the Galata Tower near the quay where we docked. The tower was originally built in 1348 as a part of the Genoese colony in Istanbul and it was at the time the building in the city. Today, it hosts a restaurant and an observation deck offering fantastic views over the oldest parts of Istanbul.

Galata Tower by night.

Galata Tower by night.

The Galata Bridge, spanning the Golden Horn, seen from the Galata Tower.

The Galata Bridge, spanning the Golden Horn, seen from the Galata Tower.

The Galata Tower is also the starting point of Istikal Caddesi (”Independence Avenue”), a pedestrian street leading to the Taksim Square that most readers will undoubtedly remember from the news earlier this year. As Taksim is without a doubt one of the most important locations of present-day Turkish history, we decided to promenade there.

The Istikal Caddesi was very busy in the evening – this photo is from the more sedate south end of the street, near the Galata Tower.

The Istikal Caddesi was very busy in the evening – this photo is from the more sedate south end of the street, near the Galata Tower.

It did occur to me, standing after dark at Taksim, that visiting it might not have been the smartest idea of all time – but all was quiet, with a steady flow of people at the Taksim Square and a more intimate atmosphere at the Taksim Park, with lovers cuddling at the benches in the dark. Taksim Park’s popularity amongst lovers is probably the reason behind the unrest relating to the park earlier this year, as Turkey’s ruling conservative party AK (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, lit. ”Justice and Development Party”) is very much opposed to pre-marital relationships of any kind between people – indeed, just before our departure on this cruise the news was that AK planned to make it illegal for unmarried couples to live together. Even though Turkey’s unrest seemed to be sleeping at the moment, the divide between the conservative and liberal elements in the country is exceptionally deep and is – I fear – likely to flare up again.

Taksim Park after dark, where lovers meet and tempers flare.

Taksim Park after dark, where lovers meet and tempers flare.

For our return trip to the ship, we decided to take one of the neat little historical trams traveling along Istikal Caddesi. Although essentially museum units in appearance and operation, these neat little read trams – that date from Istanbul’s first tram system, operated between 1871 and 1966 – form a part of the city’s everyday public transport system, linking the transport hub of Taksim to the Tünel subway.

Historical trams meet on Istikal Caddesi.

Historical trams meet on Istikal Caddesi.

Back onboard, we would have wanted nothing so much as a quick dinner at the buffet and then retire to bed for the evening. Unfortunately this was not an option, as the buffet had already closed at 20.00 (8 PM) and hence the only dining options were the waiter-service restaurants. This bumble in scheduling was compounded with the fact that rather many passengers were only now returning onboard and hence made the dining room – again – rather crowded. This did have the fortunate side-effect of us ending up sharing a table with six other passengers – including three men named Peter! While the food was (again) good, the evening didn’t go quite as planned and we spent over two hours in the dining room. And although the company was good, this stay was not because of the company but simply because of the fact it simply took so long for us to get our food.

Nothing like a fresh salad after a long evening of walking.

Nothing like a fresh salad after a long evening of walking.

Following dinner, we retired for the night, eagerly awaiting what our second day in Istanbul would bring…

Goodnight ROTTERDAM, good night Istanbul (as seen from the Galata Tower earlier in the evening). See you tomorrow. Or rather, when part two of this report is published.

Goodnight ROTTERDAM, good night Istanbul (as seen from the Galata Tower earlier in the evening). See you tomorrow. Or rather, when part two of this report is published.

End of Turkish Discovery on the ROTTERDAM, part 1.

More to come…   go to Turkish Discovery on the ROTTERDAM, part 2

 

Special thanks to Maria Id and Martin Cox.

 

For more photographs by Kalle Id, visit kships.blogspot.com.

15 Responses to Turkish Discovery On The ROTTERDAM: Part One

  1. Greg vdk

    November 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Peter the art piece in the atrium is actually a clock with time shown from various places in the world.

    Greg

  2. Clive

    November 25, 2013 at 1:58 am

    I believe that the removal of the aft pool was not a stability issue but was because the aft end of the ship was extended in order to create more cabins and thus the former tank that would have contained the proper deep pool was removed. All of this was a great pity because as built the ship was attractive and the aft decks were particularly nice. Now her external appearance looks awkward (at the aft end)and the new aft deck is nowhere near as pleasing.

  3. Kenneth Eden

    November 25, 2013 at 3:58 am

    Hi Kalle

    It seems you have picked upon some of the pluses and minuses that are Holland America Line.

    We were avid HAL cruisers, and have avoided the line for several reasons.

    I really look forward to the rest of this review, it is quite refreshing, your cruise experience, and enlightening, since this is a part of the world I enjoy.

  4. Kalle Id

    November 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments. It is always nice to know my contributions are appriciated (at at the very least read ;) ).

    Greg: I didn’t realise I had become Peter during the cruise. :) Anyway, I’m not sure if I’d cal lthe entire piece of art a clock, though certainly the clocks showing the times of various parts of the world are an element of it.

    Clive: Could be, although looking at the deck plans (before and after), the removal of the pool only made possible the addition of two inside cabins. Hence I’m more incluned to believe my original theory that the pool had to be removed to accommodate the enlarged superstructure (in other words, stability would only have been an issue if they had kept the pool and put in the extra cabins). Of course, I could still be wrong.

    Ken: I have to say I really enjoyed travelling with HAL… but at the same time, I was constantly irritatingly concious of the fact that their product has so much unrealizsed potential.

  5. Peter Knego

    November 25, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Kalle, a wonderful report with your typically luminous photos. Thanks so much for taking us on board the ROTTERDAM and for a fabulous update on Istanbul and Taksim Square! Looking much forward to part two!

  6. Patrick Carter

    November 25, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Hello

    I sailed twice on the ROTTERDAM in 2004 and found it to be a beautiful exquisite ship. Too bad Stein Kruse, the ceo of HAL ruined the ship in his awful race for the dollar. Happy Stein?

    Patrick

  7. Bob Graham

    November 26, 2013 at 5:21 am

    The discussion of possible stability issues developing with the ROTTERDAM (and of course the capsizing of the COSTA CONCORDIA) strongly suggests that modern cruise ships are designed and built with razor-thin margins of stability. Certainly their appearance suggests this, and the impression is furthered when one considers their relatively shallow draft compared to their, um, impressive air draught.

  8. Kalle Id

    November 27, 2013 at 3:14 am

    Peter: Thank you very much for your kind words. Knowing you enjoyed something I’ve contributed always gives a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. :)

    Patrick: I haven’t sailed on the ship before the refits of course, but certainly it was still rather splendid on the inside, so I wouldn’t say it has been ruined. And while the exterior wasn’t improved by the changes, it’s still far from ugly.

    Bob: I’m not an expert on the technical side of things, so I cannot say for certain of course. But I have been told by people “in the know” that swimming pools are particularly problematic from the point of view of stability, due to the fact the water in the pool doesn’t stay still. The problem, I’m told, is made worse the higher up the pool is.

  9. Clive

    November 27, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I’m left scratching my head here regarding the problem of stability caused by pools being positioned on the higher decks of cruise ships. One doesn’t need a degree in maritime architecture to understand that concept but the answer is simple. Stop building cruise ships of 14 or so decks in height.
    Kalle, you stated that you were ‘irritatingly concious of the fact that their product has so much unrealised potential’ but you never explained what you thought that unrealised potential was and how it should be addressed.

  10. Kalle Id

    November 28, 2013 at 4:56 am

    Clive: With regards to HAL’s unrealized potential I can just quote Doctor Who and say “spoilers!” This will be adressed in the upcoming parts of the report.

  11. Clive

    November 28, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I remain as bewildered as ever :-(

  12. Merwin Koeppel

    December 9, 2013 at 9:28 am

    The old Rotterdam 1959 used to be our favorite ship. It became the REMBRANDT after it was sold. Loved the Library and that huge ATLAS outside the door. Stopped sailing on HAL some years ago. Used PRINCESS a lot but they too went after revenue. Eliminated the Library and the big
    leather chairs to make money with the access to the INTERNET !

  13. Kenneth Eden

    December 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    I so loved the main dining rooms. La Fontaine, especially, all red and brass and glowing.

    Also loved the Ambassador Lounge with its red décor It did change over time in color, the bullet glass inset in the doors, and the complimentary noshes at cocktail hour, and the Ritz Carlton Lounge – our
    favorite table, balcony, with our drinks readied at our arrival.

    Merwin, if you have not tried Celebrity, you may find it to be quite nice, especially the first of their ships,, even the Solstice Class is much in keeping with the old traditions, with new bells and whistles!

  14. Clive

    December 9, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Merwin,I sailed on the old Rotterdam just once, she was wonderful and lived up to every expectation. That was my one and only Holland America cruise. They have nothing now that holds any real appeal for me.
    Princess Cruises; I sailed on Dawn Princess in 1989 (the first season that Sitmar got absorbed into Princess, in fact I had booked a Sitmar cruise but it was a Princess cruise by the time I boarded!) Lovely ship but I never returned to Princess.
    I just avoid the major cruise companies. There is more pleasure, more fun and more individuality to be found with the smaller companies – though they become more and more difficult to find. I feel that I am the only cruise passenger out there who has not sailed on a Carnival-owned vessel….!

  15. Kenneth Eden

    December 10, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Clive

    It is funny to see and learn of the cruise lines people will or will not sail, or even specific ships within a given cruise line.

    I do sail specific cruise lines that are part of the Carnival group, however, not the Carnival product. To not sail Cunard and the magnificent ships they sail, is a pity, as they, the ships, and Cunard, are truly in a league all their own. If for no other reason, the very QUEEN MARY 2 is so astoundingly spectacular, it needs to be sailed, she may truly be the very last of her kind (heard that one before!).

    I never sailed Sitmar, due to a former travel agent’s suggestions, same thought on his part for Home Lines, however, having visited the SS OCEANIC in New York back in the 1970’s, I insisted we sail them, and what a wonderful decision that was.

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