BLUE AEGEAN Blog, Part Three: 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 third blog continues aboard the BLUE MONARCH with visits to Rhodes and Santorini.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2007:

ZENITH on the horizon in Rhodes roads. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
ZENITH on the horizon in Rhodes roads. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

At 6:45 AM, I parted the curtain to a misty, lilac glow over the barren promontories of Asia Minor. Rhodes was near.

I grabbed the cameras and headed to the flying bridge as the sun rose just off our port bow. Off the starboard bow, in the roads, Pullmantur’s ZENITH lingered like a sharp-edged shoe box behind the far more graceful silhouette of OCEAN MONARCH. In the distance, AEGEAN tWO was berthing in the crescent-shaped outer harbor while the old terminal near Rhodos town was occupied by PERLA, AIDA CARA, and CRISTAL.

French face with a Greek "lift". Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007
French face with a Greek “lift”. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007
BLUE bell. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
BLUE bell. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I went to the bridge to observe the maneuvers and was welcomed by now familiar faces, including Captain E, Staff Captain Nikolaos, Chief Officer Themis and Maria Panopoulou, the Chief Safety Officer. With the harbor at almost full capacity, we were in a holding pattern, so the good captain asked me if now was a good time to obtain my coveted “face shot”. With the sun directly ahead and its light evolving from grainy pink to gold, the timing was perfect. I was escorted down into the linoleum land of crew territory for my quick visit to the foc’s’le head to face the ship’s elegant (despite the modular addition) structure. It’s all about those gently canted wings and the angled wheelhouse windows. A delightful discovery was the original bell, with “RENAISSANCE 1966” arced across its face (since rescued from the shipbreakers and now in the author’s collection).

What a kisser! AIDA CARA at Rhodes. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
What a kisser! AIDA CARA at Rhodes. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Once back on the bridge, I heard the ZENITH’s pilot being ordered to bring the ship to her berth next to a U.S. naval ship on the very end of the remote breakwater. Soon, we followed, sailing in past the backlit ZENITH, AEGEAN tWO, and, at mere yards distance, OCEAN MONARCH. Although it was tempting to disembark with the other passengers, the captain had told me OCEANIC II was due in at 10:00, so I kept a vigil at the stern, watching as various hydrofoils, a Blue Star ferry and the fascinatingly ungainly ANTHI MARINA kept the turquoise harbor waters stirred up. I eventually ran into sleepy Christopher, who had woken too late for breakfast, in our usual El Greco corner, nurturing a duet of cappuccinos.

Garbo returns! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Garbo returns! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Finally, the faintly lit OCEANIC II appeared in the northwestern roads, like a shy, introspective Garbo, reluctant to enter the bustling harbor. She lingered for an aching eternity, as my neck and arms were singed to a shade of dark Navajo on yet another oppressively hot morning. Finally, a ripple at her bow indicated forward movement. Persistence paid off as she made a regal entrance in perfect sunlight, occupying a berth across the basin.

It was too hot to linger on the dock as we awaited the noon shuttle, which dropped us off across from CRISTAL at the main terminal. We entered the magnificent walled town of Rhodos with its mix of Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Medieval architecture. With all the ships in port, it was bustling with humanity. We wandered the maze of cobblestone streets, staying under shaded awnings as much as possible until we found a nice little cafe with a gentle breeze to enjoy a chicken skewer.

From there, it was off to the Mythos Cafe, one of the (then) few internet places in Rhodos town, where my Mac Powerbook was seemingly incompatible with their ethernet connection. As I left Christopher to find another option, the cafe’s owners quietly advised me to try sitting outside, where an occasional WiFi signal could be intercepted. Wonderfully, I found the fastest connection of the week, so I sat, having to turn my legs to either side as wide cars meandered past, and updated this journal, fortified with another frothy cappuccino and a glass of ice water.

On the road in Rhodes. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
On the road in Rhodes. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

We had time to wander the shopping area, but the heat and heavy laptops led to an early retreat to the ship. There was a moment to stop and photograph the pretty PERLA and the interesting and not-unpleasant looking AIDA CARA before climbing aboard the shuttle back to the BLUE MONARCH. Even the Turks and Greeks were exasperated by the heat, as we made the short journey back to the ship.

ZENITH in Pullmantur livery at Rhodes. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
ZENITH in Pullmantur livery at Rhodes. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

An ever-brilliant sail-away found the BLUE MONARCH skillfully maneuvering out of the harbor and doing a 180-degree pivot across from the now perfectly lit ZENITH before heading into the slight chop of the Aegean on a westward course to Heraklion. The lovely coastline of Rhodes was visible out the cabin window for the next hour or so as we prepared for dinner.

Our first and possibly only formal sit down meal at table 42 (for two), with full service in the dining room proved to be a pleasing experience. Our waiter, Leopoldo, was friendly and flawless. He made sure the water was filled and brought each course quickly and with a smile. I ordered just about everything I could eat, from a smoked salmon appetizer to chicken broth soup, a fresh green salad (with handy olive oil and vinegar), tender yakitori chicken (Japanese food on a Greek ship — why not?), a vegetarian mousakka, and some really good vanilla ice cream. Since it was captain’s farewell night, there was a Baked Alaska and swizzler parade to endure, but it was nice to see that both passengers and dining staff seemed to be enjoying the process.

Good Bye from Captain E. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Good Bye from Captain E. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

We made it to the rather full El Greco for the farewell cocktail party where Captain E. gave a very heartfelt farewell. A Turkish lady Christopher met early on in the cruise invited us to join her husband and her in one of the few vacant seating areas, offering us some fresh almonds and pistachios from Istanbul. When the staff marched in with flags from every country represented by the multi-national crew and performed “We Are The World”, she welled up a bit and said, “This is good! People! Together!” I gave her a high-spirited high-five and we had a mutual toast to peace and prosperity.

Yuliana, the "white rose" of Bulgaria. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Yuliana, the “white rose” of Bulgaria. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The show, “A Journey Around the World” in song, had the entertainment staff singing and kicking it up, covering everything, from an earnest and almost operatic “Danny Boy” by talented Liverpool-based singer James to Turkish folk songs and even a Chinese traditional dance. Yuliana, a sultry Bulgarian Cameron Diaz, paired up with Kostas, the bazouki player and the ship’s electric violinist for one of the most exotic gatherings I have seen on a shipboard stage.

Even late at night under the stars on Hera Deck, the air was thick and hot, but not enough to prevent Christopher and me from enjoying a chat about our ever less divergent political persuasions as the BLUE MONARCH gently rolled in the slight swells.

Thursday, August 23:

I arose at 8:30 AM, having had a rare good night’s sleep, to find BLUE MONARCH in not terribly scenic Heraklion, Crete. The colorful OCEAN VILLAGE (ex SITMAR FAIRMAJESTY, STAR PRINCESS, ARCADIA) was off our starboard bow in a line up that included Minoan Line’s FESTOS PALACE and Anek Line’s KRITI. On the other side of the quay, across a dusty parking lot, lay our old friend OCEAN MONARCH. Just behind her was the GOLDEN PRINCE, which once sailed for Epirotiki as the APOLLON. Further off on the south side of the harbor entrance were AEGEAN tWO and PERLA.

I wandered off to take some photos of the various ships, returning at 9:30 to find the breakfast buffet in Helios Bar completely closed up. Mea culpa for not reading the program, but it was a bit frustrating to watch staff being served eggs, cereal and yogurt after I was turned away.

Bella Maria. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Bella Maria. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

As we pulled away at 10:30, the wind caught my hat and blew it down to the very edge of the deck house beneath the bridge. Valiant Maria, the chief safety officer, made a quick dash and rescued it before it became a part of the Aegean landscape. As this unattractive but very useful prop of mine has been just about everywhere with me for the past three years, I was truly gratified, enough to assuage Maria’s unfortunate news that the grumpy chief engineer suddenly called off my quick visit to the engine and control room, after all. I remember this pretty lady with the golden hair from a cruise in Royal Olympic’s OLYMPIC (ex EMPRESS OF BRITAIN, QUEEN ANNA MARIA) in 1997 when she was a new cadet.

A cappuccino and writing time in the El Greco ensued before Christopher and I ascended to the heat of Helios to fix my blood sugar with a double helping of Greek salad. Now we are entering the spectacular caldera of Santorini, so this will continue at the the next available opportunity.

Thursday, August 23, 2007, ctd.:

Santorini ahead! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Santorini ahead! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

After the first wave of tenders came alongside to take passengers on tour to the archaeological site, BLUE MONARCH slowly motored toward the anchorage beneath the mighty cliffs, passing WINDSTAR and OCEANIC II. AIDA CARA was laying further down the caldera while the wonderful “usuals”, PERLA, CRISTAL, OCEAN MONARCH, and AEGEAN tWO followed us in. Words defy the beauty of Santorini: the waters are the most breathtaking of blues and the cliffs are bathed in light. Despite the multicolored stucco of Thira Town at its top (which looked so much more fetching when just painted blue and white), its stark, serene beauty is a conduit to the ancients and the most mysterious of natural wonders.

Even my reverence for Santorini’s beauty could not hold up against the heat and the bustling crowd queued up for the cable car to the top. This scenic spot is just not capable of comfortably accommodating all the cruise ships that descend upon it in peak season. Thankfully, although there were seven ships in port, none of them were megaships with 2,500 to 3,000 passengers to discharge.

A scenic spot in lovely Thira Town. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007
A scenic spot in lovely Thira Town. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007
A caldera full of lovely ladies. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
A caldera full of lovely ladies. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Chris and I enjoyed a nice chicken souvlaki dinner with a partially obstructed view on top, then came down to queue up for the tender back to BLUE MONARCH. Unlike previous visits where my ship stayed at one of the anchorage spots, most of the visiting vessels were moving about the caldera or, like AEGEAN tWO, exiting it entirely and returning to retrieve everyone before leaving.

The PEARL of Santorini. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The PEARL of Santorini. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Back on the bridge, I was given a taste of a mildly sweet and seedy cactus fruit picked from the cliffs beyond our bow. Captain E. pointed to the spot where SEA DIAMOND sank this past Spring, some four buoys past the main anchorage. Although we were scheduled to depart at 7:15, a group of forty or so passengers were stuck in the line at the top, not reaching the ship on the final tender until 8:15. By then, the skies had dimmed, revealing stars, the moon, and a glittering line up of some of the most interesting and beautiful ships in the world. BLUE MONARCH was the first to part company with the gathering, making her way through moderate seas to Piraeus.

I hate the melancholy of the final night on any cruise. Packing and good byes are both unpleasant necessities. One hopes to encounter the friends made on such trips in the future, but life usually has other things in store. Hopefully, next year, the good captain and his crew will be with BLUE MONARCH or another fine vintage ship worth experiencing. But will I ever see that nice couple from Chiliabinsk, that imposing but adorable Turkish lady, sweet “Santa Fe” or any of the other faces from the past week again?

End of BLUE Blog

Very special thanks: Mr. Yiannis A. Angelopoulos, Spiros Christodoulatos, Martin Cox, Captain Nikos Eleftheriou, Captain Nikos Giannokopoulos, Darakis Georgios, Stephanie Kokkali, Christopher Kyte, Bianca LeMoeul, Chantal Lundgren, Giorgios Nakos, Staff Captain Nikolaos, Maria Panopoulou

 

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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