Peter Knego continues his voyage from Piraeus to Civitavecchia aboard Windstar Cruises newly refurbished, four masted staysail schooner WIND STAR with visits to the Peleponnesian ports of Monemvasia and Gythion.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Jet lag had me up at an unreasonably early hour, so instead of tossing around in bed, I headed up to aft Deck Two for a workout in WIND STAR’s compact-but-well-equipped Gym. After thirty minutes on the ellipticals and some stretching, I was ready to take on the day.
The sun had just risen off our port stern, obscured by low-lying clouds that cast finger-like shadows in the turquoise waters around the ship. Off to our starboard side, lay the quaint Laconian village of Monemvasia and behind us, the copper-streaked flanks of a rugged mesa rose abruptly from the sea.
My traveling companion Rob joined me for breakfast in the Verandah. I’m a big fan of Windstar’s breakfasts, which offer menu service with daily specials such as crepes and Eggs Benedict in addition to an excellent buffet with muesli, baked muffins and croissants, cold cuts, melons and fruit, yogurt, hash browns, sausage (both chicken and pork) and an omelet station. I was especially delighted to see that they now also offer a thick, creamy Greek yogurt.
And did I mention Windstar provides fresh-squeezed OJ as well as complimentary espresso drinks to accompany breakfast?
We took the tender from the ship to a tiny marina bordered by inviting cafes in the “new town” and walked along a man-made causeway out to the “old town” via a two lane road that hugged the rocky coastline.
Horses grazed in the vegetation at the base of the mesa as wispy wildflowers and reed-like grasses billowed in the gentle breeze. It was just the beginning of a dreamy day with the sun playing hide-and-seek behind the low cloud cover.
We entered the West Gate, aptly described as a “vaulted chicane”, through a wall of stone that steps upwards from the sea into the sides of the rugged cliff.
Once inside, we were surprised to find a network of stone walkways between crumbling Byzantine ruins and restored buildings with tiny hotels, shops and friendly tavernas with spectacular ocean views. One could liken it to a combination of Kotor, Montenegro and a less-traveled Santorni.
We found a dirt and stone path that zig-zagged its way up through mostly abandoned buildings to the plateau atop old Monemvasia. As we climbed, the views grew ever more spectacular and vertiginous.
At the top, we hiked along rocky meadow trails, some leading to the far edge of the mesa with sheer drops down to the sea. Although it was since besieged by the Byzantine, Vatican, Frank, Venetian and Ottoman empires, I felt a connection with the Spartans who settled this magnificent, self-contained fortress in the 6th Century.
As we descended its steep, slippery summit surrounded in ancient ruins and breathtaking natural beauty, Monemvasia ascended to the top of my list of favorite places.
Before embarking the tender back to WIND STAR, Ram, one of our favorites among the ship’s friendly and hard-working crew, offered up a refreshing glass of iced tea.
Our first stop was the Verandah for a delicious lunch.
In order to maximize the rest of our day, we planned accordingly. There would be a few minutes to head down to the open marina and take a skiff around the ship for optimal photos.
Next was our chance to swim in the cool waters off the stern before heading back ashore for some high speed internet access at a cafe by the marina, then jumping on the last tender back to the WIND STAR.
It was “open bridge” once WIND STAR was underway to her next port of call, Gythion. All Windstar ships allow bridge visits except when in port or during adverse sea or complicated maneuvering conditions.
In addition to all the regular features one would find in a wheelhouse, such as a radar console, wheel and compasses, WIND STAR has a computerized switchboard for her masts and sail gear.
At 7:00 PM, a welcome reception was held in the handsome Lounge on aft Deck Three. Completely restyled with sophisticated furnishings and a high definition LCD screen, the space is more inviting than ever.
Champagne flowed and trays were plucked clean of canapés as Captain Chris Norman introduced the WIND STAR’s officers and crew.
Afterwards, it was an exodus to the gorgeous Amphora Dining Room for a multi-course dinner.
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are preset along with butter to accompany the fresh-baked breads.
We began with a baked haloumi cheese appetizer.
Followed by an herb-roasted chicken with a side of lemon-and-sea-salt-brined asparagus.
Later, on deck, we were treated to a dramatic lightning display, capping off a day filled with natural and ancient wonders.
Monday, October 15, 2012
We awoke shortly after WIND STAR dropped anchor off Githion, which was by legend founded by a rather formidable team of Hercules and Apollo. The Spartan port was burned to the ground by the Athenians in 455 BC during the first Peloponnesian War and sacked or invaded by Macedonians, Athenians, Byzantines and Ottomans over the millennia until being abandoned after a devastating earthquake. Today, it is the largest town in the Mani region and is largely dependent on tourism, agriculture and fishing.
After breakfast, we tendered ashore and walked a short distance to the island of Kranai, now connected to land by a narrow causeway and home to a lighthouse and museum. Kranai is where Paris and Helen of Troy spent their first night.
Maybe it was because Monemvasia was so spectacular, Gythion didn’t stand much of a chance to impress us or maybe the humidity and heat were just too thick to tackle but we didn’t find much to ogle in this otherwise friendly but modest port of call.
We did manage to find a taxi to take us several miles east to a promontory overlooking the wreck of a freighter named DIMITRIOS and paid a quick visit to the modest Ancient Theater dating to the Early Imperial period.
We made it back to WIND STAR in time for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon on board.
There was time to catch up on my first blog post and then work out before we headed up to the Pool Bar area for a wonderful al fresco dinner at Candles, the WIND STAR’s reservations-required (non-tariff) eatery. A gentle sea breeze kept the humidity in check as we sailed into the bustling Ionian Sea.
End Of WIND STAR Trek, Part Two
Much More To Come…
Special thanks: Martin Cox, Rob Di Stefano, Amanda Graham, Jeffrey Jack
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."