BLUE AEGEAN Blog, Part One: BLUE Blog

In this restored Sea Treks quintet of blogs from 2007, Peter Knego  embarked on pair of cruises in the Aegean aboard two since-scrapped cruise ships, Monarch Classic Cruises MV BLUE MONARCH (ex RENAISSANCE, WORLD RENAISSANCE, etc.) and Golden Star Cruises SS AEGEAN tWO (ex AUSONIA, IVORY).  This first blog gives a short history and an overview of the BLUE MONARCH as well as capturing a slew of classic beauties sailing from Piraeus.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2007 unless otherwise noted.

Monarch Classic Cruises MV BLUE MONARCH was built in 1966 by Chantiers de l’Atlantique at St. Nazaire, France for Compagnie Française de Navigation (aka Paquet) as the RENAISSANCE for Marseilles to Haifa voyages and cruising. She is shown above in her original form and livery. Her clean, modern lines (fore and aft bulwarks, superstructure and stern) were somewhat influenced by a prior Chantiers-built liner, the SS FRANCE of 1962. Peter Knego collection.
Monarch Classic Cruises MV BLUE MONARCH was built in 1966 by Chantiers de l’Atlantique at St. Nazaire, France for Compagnie Française de Navigation (aka Paquet) as the RENAISSANCE for Marseilles to Haifa voyages and cruising. She is shown above in her original form and livery. Her clean, modern lines (fore and aft bulwarks, superstructure and stern) were somewhat influenced by a prior Chantiers-built liner, the SS FRANCE of 1962. Peter Knego collection.
The BLUE MONARCH’s Aegean itinerary with kind permission of Marek Horvat of CruiseCharts.com
The BLUE MONARCH’s Aegean itinerary with kind permission of Marek Horvat of CruiseCharts.com
The El Greco Lounge, shown facing forward, still sports its original 1966 modern light fixtures. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The El Greco Lounge, shown facing forward, still sported its original 1966 modern light fixtures. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Saturday, August 18, 2007:

I’m in the spacious El Greco Lounge aboard Monarch Classic Cruises’ MV BLUE MONARCH. It is 11:30 AM and we have just cleared the Dardanelles, en route from Piraeus to Istanbul. The coast of Turkey is visible through the port side picture windows as well as an ever changing panorama of westbound tankers, container ships and car carriers.

A view over one of the most lovely sterns in service, as BLUE MONARCH motors through the Dardanelles. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
A view over one of the most lovely sterns in service, as BLUE MONARCH motors through the Dardanelles. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

On the starboard side, we have passed scores of colorful coasters and fishing vessels. Lurking off our stern is Louis Cruise Line’s PERLA (ex SOUTHWARD, SEAWING), which should be overtaking us this afternoon. The MONARCH is purring steadily forth, her pulse a vibrant combination of hard-working diesels and churning screws which have gently animated the retrofitted metal ceilings, coffee cups, water glasses and light fixtures around me.

The lobby of the Hotel Glaros. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The lobby of the Hotel Glaros. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

This latest journey began three days ago in Los Angeles where I was reminded yet again of just how awful international air travel has become. All eastbound airline computer system failures, stressed flight attendants, cramped seating, distressing meals and crying babies had been endured and relegated to the memory banks by the late evening of Thursday, August 16, when my good friend, Christopher Kyte, and I finally reached Athens. An hour’s bus ride from El Venizelos Airport via the X96 (only 3.2 Euros) got us to central Piraeus, where the Hotel Glaros beckoned after a brisk ten-or-so block walk. For a mere 40 Euros per night, the Glaros offers basic, yet comfortable accommodation (a clean, single room with air conditioning, private w/c, television, free WiFi access) in a great location adjacent to the port.

Telstar’s friendly Costas Papaconstantinou welcomes you to his sea of nautical books and periodicals. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Telstar’s friendly Costas Papaconstantinou welcomes you to his sea of nautical books and periodicals. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Friday, August 17, 2007:

Although the alarm was set for 8:45, I found myself awake at 7:15 and took the opportunity to check e-mail and leisurely prepare for a busy morning. At 9:30, I filled a shopping bag full of DVDs to deliver to one of my favorite maritime bookstores, Telstar, which is located at 57 Akti Miaouli (Piraeus’ main street) across from the port police station. A delicious assortment of nautical periodicals from SHIPS MONTHLY to SEA BREEZES and beautifully illustrated Greek publications share the shelves with the distinguished Carmania Press catalogue and an eclectic, international array of books covering every ship-oriented subject, from ferries in the Puget Sound to the great Atlantic liners.

HERMES, fading but still handsome, is the last ship to sport the stylized golden Epirotiki Byzantine cross on her funnel. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
HERMES, fading but still handsome, was the last ship to sport the stylized golden Epirotiki Byzantine cross on her funnel. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
AEGEAN GLORY at Piraeus. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
AEGEAN GLORY at Piraeus. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

After a short visit with Telstar’s friendly proprietor, Costas Papaconstantinou, I crossed the street to get some views of the handsome HERMES (ex JUGOSLAVIA), which has spent the past two seasons in layup. Sadly, her days of pleasure cruises to the Saronic Gulf seem to have come to an end. She shares a lonely berth with the AEGEAN GLORY, her former competition, which also seems to be permanently unemployed. Further down the otherwise empty quay, the blue hulled ex Townsend-Thoresen ferry ROMILDA looked radiant in the morning sunshine.

At the main passenger terminal, the lineup included Louis Cruise Line’s pleasingly angular PERLA (ex SOUTHWARD, SEAWING), her fellow Knud E. Hansen-designed fleetmate ORIENT QUEEN (ex STARWARD, BOLERO), the newly-acquired CRISTAL (ex LEEWARD), and Golden Star Cruises’ ultra-stunning AEGEAN tWO (ex AUSONIA, THE IVORY — on charter from Louis).

I had an hour to grab a fantastically flaky tyropita and a glass of freshly-pressed orange juice and amble over to the tip of the Piraeus peninsula to photograph the 11:00 AM departures. An occasional breeze provided relief from the sticky, sweltering heat, which seems far less debilitating when surrounded by the always fascinating scenery of Piraeus. Vivid memories of ships like STELLA SOLARIS, ACHILLE LAURO and LA PALMA occupy now vacant berths with legendary liners like AUSTRALIS, ATHINAI, and AGAMEMNON. The dusty trees and sprawling hillside apartments have born witness to all of these great ships from eras past, my own private pantheon of floating Greco-Roman gods and goddesses.

It was not long before I encountered an interesting and eye-pleasing maritime gathering at the outer port, Kanellos, including Monarch Classic Cruises’ OCEAN MONARCH (ex PORT SYDNEY, DAPHNE, SWITZERLAND), BLUE MONARCH (ex RENAISSANCE, AWANI DREAM, etc.) and Iberojet’s GRAND VOYAGER (ex OLYMPIC VOYAGER, OLYMPIA VOYAGER). I continued my walk through a maze of streets and sleepy apartment blocks past the Naval Academy until reaching land’s end. I sat on the dusty sidewalk overlooking a rocky beach with my cameras poised through the iron railing, awaiting the first of the morning departures.

ORIENT QUEEN exits Piraeus. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
ORIENT QUEEN exits Piraeus. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

At 11:10, I heard a tinny whistle and could see a white mast passing through the skyline of trees and buildings near the port. The ORIENT QUEEN came into view, making her way through the breakwater and into Piraeus roads. With the sun illuminating her port side, she was almost blindingly white against the rocky backdrop of Salamis Island and the permeating blue of the Aegean. My cameras dutifully followed her out until my peripheral vision caught more movement in the port area.

The AEGEAN TWO is a vision in blue. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The AEGEAN tWO is a vision in blue. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The distinctive tripod mast of AEGEAN tWO was next to appear, followed by the former Italian greyhound’s sculpted, finned blue funnel. Despite the expanded superstructure of her various 1980s refits, she is an absolutely stunning survivor of what (I feel) is the most aesthetically-pleasing era of ocean liner design, the late 1950s. Mykonos-bound, she quite literally followed in the wake of ORIENT QUEEN. The strikingly modern Minoan Line’s FESTOS PALACE was right behind, but my cameras were too engrossed with AEGEAN TWO to take much notice (No offense to the modern ferry, but unless something ill becomes of her, I will have many more opportunities to capture her in the future).

The OCEAN MONARCH, one of two mighty “monarchs” operated by Monarch Classic Cruises. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The OCEAN MONARCH, one of two mighty “monarchs” operated by Monarch Classic Cruises. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Another splendidly-aesthetic beauty, the OCEAN MONARCH was the next in the Piraeus procession, looking absolutely radiant in her fully realized Monarch Classic Cruises livery (when I sailed in this little enchantress last year, her plain blue funnel was begging for a logo and a matching blue, instead of maroon, hull stripe).

CRISTAL ends the morning procession. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
CRISTAL ends the morning procession. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Taking up the rear was the newcomer, Louis Cruises’ CRISTAL, which seemed a bit aesthetically-challenged in the pageant of classic beauties that preceded her.

Documentation complete, I walked back to the Glaros, stopping for a liter of water and a fresh spanikopita to consume on the way. I found Christopher outside the hotel, preparing to get his morning coffee and a cab back to the airport to hopefully intercept his delayed luggage.

BLUE MONARCH awaits! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
BLUE MONARCH awaits! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

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One of the BLUE MONARCH’s gorgeous Category A wood paneled suites. That’s the one, dear! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
One of the BLUE MONARCH’s gorgeous Category A wood paneled suites. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I got a cab to Kanellos where I had an appointment with BLUE MONARCH’s hotel director, John Knaggs (recently from SEAWING, now PERLA), to document various cabins before boarding began at 2:30. Chief steward, Spiros Christodoulatos, a veteran of such ships as APOLLON (ex EMPRESS OF CANADA) and STELLA SOLARIS cheerfully led me through the MONARCH’s accommodation, a rich variety of spaces from suites with separate sitting areas (largely remodeled in recent years) to handsome outsides with picture windows and inside quadruples. I had a few moments to wander the empty ship for a quick look at the public rooms, then disembarked to go through passport control and check in for our seven night “Golden Fleece” cruise.

BLUE MONARCH looks absolutely fetching in her dark blue hull livery. The new Monarch Classic Cruises logo on her slender, spiked funnel is the same ochre/gold as Epirotiki’s Byzantine cross. Structurally, she has changed little from the Epirotiki and Royal Olympic eras.

The funnel, from starboard Jupiter Deck. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The funnel, from starboard Jupiter Deck. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The gym, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Grim gym, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Starboard Hera Deck promenade, facing aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Starboard Hera Deck promenade, facing aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Hera Deck pool, facing forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Hera Deck pool, facing forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I was happy to find the outer deck areas clean and well-maintained. Monarch Classic thoughtfully keeps the flying bridge platform open for those seeking a forward view in the scenic Aegean. For me, it was also a nice place to get views of the sculpted funnel in all its glory. Bridge/Jupiter Deck is covered in blue plastic surfacing and is largely used by officers and staff, although the passenger gym is located in the deckhouse underneath the funnel casing. Lovely, traditional teak promenades follow on either side of Hera Deck, leading to an awning-covered cafe with attractive wooden tables and chairs. Just beyond the cafe and underneath a streamlined goal post ventilator, the upper of two rectangular, teak-encased swimming pools overlooks the stern. There is a narrow terrace on aft Apollo Deck, leading down to the stern pool and a virtual sea of teak on Venus Deck. Canted railings reminiscent of those on the FRANCE, INDEPENDENCE, and CONSTITUTION, make this one of the most elegant looking fantails afloat.

BLUE MONARCH’s Casino, facing forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
BLUE MONARCH’s Casino, facing forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
An entirely random shot of the carpet at my feet in the El Greco Lounge. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
A totally random shot of the carpet in the El Greco Lounge. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Internet Cafe, facing starboard. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Internet Cafe, facing starboard. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Wine Bar is a new addition. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Wine Bar is a new addition. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Much like her precursor, Paquet’s ANCERVILLE of 1962 (currently landlocked in Shekou, China, as the vastly rebuilt SEA WORLD), the RENAISSANCE’s public rooms were situated aft of the accommodation on the two levels now known aboard BLUE MONARCH as Apollo and Venus Decks. On midships Apollo Deck, from port to starboard, there is a small casino, the photo gallery and a duty free shop, leading to the El Greco lounge (originally the RENAISSANCE’s Grand Salon, which spans the full width of the ship and serves as the showroom and muster station. It is served by a bar on its forward starboard side and there is a large dance floor and band stand aft. On its aft port side, there is a newly-added Internet center, followed by a wine bar. On the aft starboard side, there is a children’s playroom.

The Cinema, facing forward. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Cinema, facing forward.  Note RAAK Fuja lighting fixtures. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Disco, facing aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Disco, facing aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A dedicated cinema with its original, stylish French seating and RAAK Fuja light fixtures is directly below on midships Venus Deck, followed on the starboard side by the Disco, which was originally the Cafe de Paris.

The embarkation lobby, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The embarkation lobby, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Dining Room, facing aft. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Dining Room, facing aft.  Note Erminio Lozzi tree tapestries. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The entry lobby and restaurant are located on Dionysos Deck and occupy the same footprint as the original dining room and lobby, although both have been considerably remodeled over the years.

Our comfortable cabin, AFS-11, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Our comfortable cabin, AFS-11, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter
Knego 2007.

Our comfortable cabin, AFS-11, is located on port Apollo Deck, just aft of the modular accommodation added in the ship’s early Epirotiki days. It features a brass picture window, two narrow berths, original wooden dressers and a tiled bathroom with shower. It’s location is perfect, with almost instant access to the El Greco Lounge or the open deck above.

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Check-in was informal and painless. After obtaining my ticket and boarding card, I proceeded to various counters to get my security photo and my passport stamped and exchanged for a voucher before skipping the welcome on board photo. A nice touch was the friendly staff, who circulated through the terminal to offer cold water and juice to the newly embarking passengers.

I was relieved to run into Christopher in the embarkation lobby, who had just arrived with errant luggage in hand, following his journey to the airport. We had time to grab a bite at the embarkation buffet before the BLUE MONARCH readied to sail. There was a nice assortment of salads, cheeses, pasta, chicken, fish, and meat.

Smoke over Piraeus. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Smoke over Piraeus. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I felt the sun searing through the layers of my ungainly hat, wraparound sunglasses and sticky sun screen as we awaited departure from the flying bridge. Once the gangway was hauled up and the lines loosened, the ship took no time in backing out of the Kanellos basin into the main shipping channel. She made a very skilled maneuver under the watchful eye of veteran captain, Nikos Eleftheriou, who was in command of OCEAN MONARCH during my three night cruise last October.

Those lovely goal posts from Hera Deck. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Those lovely goal posts from Hera Deck. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Facing forward from the fantail. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Facing forward from the fantail. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

As the BLUE MONARCH entered the Meltemi-whipped Aegean, mandatory boat drill was held in the all-accommodating El Greco Lounge. After that, there was time for us to wander around the outer decks, linger in a deck chair and watch the rugged scenery and passing ferries before open-seating dinner in the restaurant. My courses included stracciatella soup, garden salad with fresh olive oil and vinegar, and eggplant parmesan with some very tasty vanilla ice cream for dessert.

During the bazouki performance by Kosta from Bulgaria, I could feel the waves of jet lag rolling in. Suddenly, despite my thorough enjoyment of such acts — I’ll take a good bazouki player over Andrew Lloyd Weber, loquacious cruise directors and spinning stages any day! — it was time to get some rest.

For some reason, my slothful morning sleep-ins have become a thing of the past. Today, like clockwork, I sprang out of a deep sleep and immediately parted the curtains to see if anything of interest was floating by. Next, I was out on the terrace to enjoy a wind-swept breakfast and the beginning of our passage through the Dardanelles.

End of Part One

Much More To Come…

Special thanks: Martin Cox, Christopher Kyte, Bianca LeMoeul

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

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."
Peter Knego

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