BLUE AEGEAN Blog, Part Two: 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 second blog continues aboard the BLUE MONARCH with visits to Istanbul, Kusadasi and Patmos.

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

Saturday, August 18, 2007, ctd.:

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to writing and getting some exercise, which meant a clackety twenty minutes on the ship’s rundown elliptical machine and some stretches on the floor of the sun-parched and shaded gym. Between sets, I would walk out to refresh with the wind chill and watch for the PERLA, which was supposed to pass us somewhere in the Sea of Marmara. She was a barely visible speck on the stern horizon, playing hide-and-seek in the low-lying haze.

Istanbul ahead! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Istanbul ahead! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Masts and minarets. The WINDSTAR, unfurled in all her glory, sails past one of the world's most spectacular skylines. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Masts and minarets. The WINDSTAR, unfurled in all her glory, sails past one of the world’s most spectacular skylines. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Soon, the sprawl of Istanbul came into view, prompting me to take a quick shower and gather the cameras for what always promises to be a satisfying photo-op. As we neared the entrance to the Bosphorus, the WINDSTAR was hoisting her sails and heading out on our port side.

Gorgeous in any livery, the former Swedish American OCEANIC II is the Greta Garbo of cruise ships. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Gorgeous in any livery, the former Swedish American OCEANIC II is the Greta Garbo of cruise ships. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The BLUE MONARCH continued up along the Asian side of the waterway, assisted by a tug, turning toward the European shore across from the Ciragan Palace Hotel and back downstream toward the passenger terminal, where an excellent line up included the CLUB MED 2, the ultra gorgeous OCEANIC II (ex KUNGSHOLM, SEA PRINCESS, VICTORIA, MONA LISA — needing some paint to refresh all the tug marks on her starboard waterline!), an interesting Black Sea coastal vessel of apparent mid-1960s origin and Celebrity’s towering, angular GALAXY. The diminutive SEA DREAM I (ex SEA GODDESS I) was billowing a cloud of orange-hued diesel smoke as she prepared to depart from the shadows beyond the GALAXY’s stern. BLUE MONARCH took the berth closest to the Golden Horn, a few hundred yards away from the famed Galata Bridge, facing the backlit minarets of Suliymanye Mosque. A wonderful crescent moon hung high in the afternoon sky, its image set in the occasional billowing red flags around us.

Late but radiant, the PERLA makes her entrance. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Late but radiant, the PERLA makes her entrance. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
BLUE MONARCH at the head of the Istanbul line up. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
BLUE MONARCH at the head of the Istanbul line up. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

After documenting the arrival of the rather late PERLA, Christopher and I decided we would try to take one of the handsome little Turkish Maritime ferries to Istinye, a little hamlet on the Bosphorus beyond the second of the two great suspension bridges. We walked across the Galata Bridge and arrived at the ferry terminal to learn that there were no more departures, so decided we would take one of the Bosphorus sightseeing cruises. We did our best to avoid a wild-eyed, sun-parched man in a bright green shirt as we stood in line for what we learned would be a four hour excursion on a densely packed boat with blaring Electro dance music. Our persistent, twitching friend told us “his” tour was only an hour, so we followed him to an adjacent jetty and boarded a clapped out boat, which was refreshingly empty, and waited. And waited. Meanwhile, like Noah’s Ark on a rainy day, our fellow passengers filed on board, two by two, most puffing at unfiltered cigarettes, to fill every square inch of our battered, bobbing craft.

Night Club: the CLUB MED 2, as seen from a densely packed deck, smothered in swirling smoke. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Night Club: the CLUB MED 2, as seen from a the swirls of smoke on a densely packed tourist boat. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

An hour went by before the boat finally left, sputtering up to the first Bosphorus Bridge before feebly turning back to mercifully disgorge us. The ensuing dining experience was only a bit less exasperating, making our return to the relaxed and comfortable BLUE MONARCH all the more satisfying.

Night Gallery

The Golden Horn from a BLUE point of view. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The Golden Horn from a BLUE point of view. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Such finely sculpted masts are a thing of the past. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Such finely sculpted masts are now a thing of the past. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Spiked funnel! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Spiked funnel! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Over the stern from Hera Deck. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Over the stern from Hera Deck. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Only about 50 people were on board, allowing us a nice opportunity to wander the open decks and take some night shots.

Sunday, August 19, 2007:

INSIGNIA makes her mark on Istanbul. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
INSIGNIA makes her mark on Istanbul. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Having been to Istanbul several times (most recently, this past May), I really did not need to do much exploring. Although it is one of my favorite cities in the world to explore on foot, the heat and humidity was, by 9:00 AM, stifling. So, Christopher (who never needs convincing to visit an Internet Cafe) and I headed off to find the nearest available WiFi hot spot. As we started to leave the ship, Oceania Cruises’ INSIGNIA was arriving, so we stopped for a minute to get some footage.

Greetings from the sweltering shade of Cafe Milano! Photo by Christopher Kyte, copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Greetings from the sweltering shade of Cafe Milano! Photo by Christopher Kyte, copyright Peter Knego 2007.

We finally located a friendly place in the midst of a cafe complex with colorful outdoor bean bag seating called Cafe Milano, and settled on a shaded terrace with Turkish coffee, cappuccinos and water. Four hours later and a bit crumpled, it was time to return to the ship.

Gentleman and Master Mariner, Captain Eleftheriou, assisted by the Istanbul pilot, guides BLUE MONARCH out of her berth. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Gentleman and Master Mariner, Captain Eleftheriou, assisted by the Istanbul pilot, guides BLUE MONARCH out of her berth. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Captain Eleftheriou invited us to the bridge for the 2:00 PM sailaway. He and the pilot guided us out stern first, allowing the BLUE MONARCH to pivot fully around and head up stream past the GALAXY, PERLA (which when new, neither of us realized just how exquisitely sculpted her lines would look in this boxy new millennium), OCEANIC II, INSIGNIA and CLUB MED 2.

Finned and furious, the GALAXY racing through the Sea of Marmara. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Finned and furious, the GALAXY racing through the Sea of Marmara. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Once past the panorama of Topkapi, Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, I dragged the cameras up to the gym for a tortured workout with occasional breaks to see whether CLUB MED 2 or GALAXY would overtake us before we reached the Dardanelles. GALAXY obliged, passing a half mile or so off our port side, looking imposing and shark-like in the mild chop of the Sea of Marmara.

The captain’s cocktail party was in the El Greco Lounge at 7:00 PM. We showed up toward the end and had a quick visit with the captain before he had to return to the bridge for the Dardanelles passage. We enjoyed a table for four with Yana and Dimitri from Chiliabinsk, near Yekaterinberg, Russia, who were a part of group of twelve visitors from the former Soviet republic.

The show was entitled “Broadway” but I fizzled out half way through and returned to the cabin and an early night’s sleep.

Monday, August 19, 2007:

Again, awake at 7:15! If only I could do this at home…

Breakfast time in the Helios Bar. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Breakfast time in the Helios Bar. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I made a quiet exit and headed for buffet breakfast in the Helios Bar, where the sliced tomatoes are always brilliant, especially when mixed with olives, cucumber, and feta cheese — no dressing required. The only thing I am missing each morning on the BLUE MONARCH is some authentic Greek yogurt, although there is honey for the regular kind. Otherwise, the fresh fruit, muesli and occasional egg have kept me satiated.

Sur la pont.....(enroute to) Lavrion. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Sur la pont…..(enroute to) Lavrion. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
"Santa Fe" and my daily cappuccino, aways served with a smile. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
“Santa Fe” and my daily cappuccino, aways served with a smile. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I spent some time writing from my usual El Greco corner where friendly Fe Famularcanio served me a cappuccino, then went to visit Captain Eleftheriou, where we were able to reminisce and catch up over some more cappuccino before he was due back on the bridge to bring the BLUE MONARCH into Lavrion. His office is paneled in warm woods and even features an original photo mural of a French chateau from the ship’s Paquet days.

Leaving Lavrion, with the ex Renaissance CLELIA II and DREAM (ex TKI KARADENIZ) in the backdrop. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Leaving Lavrion, with the ex Renaissance CLELIA II and DREAM (ex TKI KARADENIZ) in the backdrop. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Lavrion is a rather charmless port and not part of the regular itinerary, but a large group of Chinese passengers was due to embark during our short “technical” call.

Time to sign off as BLUE MONARCH sails onward to Mykonos, where there is hopefully a fast WiFi connection…

Yanni, our cabin attendant, hails from Fourni, an island in the eastern Aegean. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Yanni, our cabin attendant, hails from Fourni, an island in the eastern Aegean. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A gentle wind whipped along the upper decks as BLUE MONARCH passed a white stucco village on rocky Tinos. The ship saluted with a vigorous blast of her whistle, giving the small gathering on the flying bridge a good startle. In the distance, serene Mykonos beckoned. Large white specs at the new terminal gradually revealed themselves as CRISTAL and PERLA. Behind us, the OCEAN MONARCH and AEGEAN tWO approached steadily. The BLUE MONARCH came to a stop just off the breakwater near Mykonos town and soon the rattling of the bow anchors resonated throughout the ship. We obtained our tender tickets and waited on the after decks to watch the other two classic ladies approach. The OCEAN MONARCH anchored a mile or so away, leaving space for the AEGEAN tWO between us. The iridescent blue water was possibly the calmest I have seen in this normally windy hamlet, reflecting the golden afternoon sun, the gray brown rocks and the glaring white of the buildings in the cove.

Local tender boats, most painted pale blue and white, came alongside, each puttering off with a full load of passengers. We joined one of the last so that I could find the right spot (in this case, the starboard stern) to get some good footage of the BLUE MONARCH. Since I was shooting into the sun, I was only able to capture the gist of her slender silhouette.

The luxury charter yacht, LADY K II, enters Mykonos' old harbor. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The luxury charter yacht, LADY K II, enters Mykonos’ old harbor. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Shortly after we landed, a rather stunning yacht, the LADY K II, sailed into the old harbor.

Mykonos town in the afternoon light. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Mykonos town in the afternoon light. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A couple hours at the Stairs Cafe (where the WiFi connection varies) helped me catch up on the blog but basically curtailed any wandering through Mykonos town. I’ve lost track of how many times I have visited this bit of Greek paradise but I hope one day that the weather and/or timing will allow me to escape to one of its legendary beaches for a dip in the Aegean.

Twilight of the goddesses. OCEAN MONARCH and AEGEAN TWO light up Mykonos. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Twilight of the goddesses. OCEAN MONARCH and AEGEAN tWO light up Mykonos. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

By 9:30, Christopher and I were ready for dinner, so we settled in at one of the local cafes and ordered some chicken souvlaki. Unfortunately, by the time it was ready, we had to leave for the ship, so we took it away in containers and eventually ate it with our fingers in the Helios Bar area, having caught the last tender from shore.

BLUE MONARCH at night. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
BLUE MONARCH at night. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I’m sure the BLUE MONARCH looked radiant as she slowly motored out of the anchorage, but our view of the twinkling AEGEAN TWO and OCEAN MONARCH was sheer (quite literally) heaven.

The moon descended toward the horizon and turned a blood red hue, lingering directly over the PERLA, which followed us on a northeasterly course toward Kusadasi. There was a festive Limbo party in the Helios Bar as we glided through the silky sea, but once again, I began to fade. As I walked back to the cabin it was really tangible just how much fuller the ship seemed since taking on nearly 200 more passengers during our calls at Istanbul and Lavrion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007:

Blog All-Stars, BLUE MONARCH (left) and AEGEAN TWO together at Kusadasi. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Blog All-Stars, BLUE MONARCH (left) and AEGEAN TWO together at Kusadasi. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Poor Christopher. There was no stirring him after he endured a sleepless night. Apparently the new occupants of the cabin aft of us are loud and shrill and seem not to need sleep. So, at 6:45, I headed up to deck to see what ships were going to join us for the morning at Kusadasi. There was a gold-tinged lavender sunrise ahead of us, the CRISTAL and OCEAN MONARCH to our starboard and the “just can’t take my eyes off of” AEGEAN tWO steaming in behind us. More digital delight.

As soon BLUE MONARCH tied up, most of our fellow passengers were swept into local tour buses for what would surely be a fascinating, if wilting visit to Ephesus. I enjoyed a quick breakfast on deck (kudos to the friendly egg chefs who delivered my “over easies” to my table). After depleting the stores of tomatoes, olives, feta, and cucumber, I gathered my cameras and headed out into Kusadasi and along its crescent of beach to get some perfectly lit views of the BLUE MONARCH and her berth-mate, AEGEAN TWO. What a lovely sight, a miniature 1960s French liner and a miniature 1950s Italian liner. It could only happen in this very place and time.

On the distant horizon, RCI’s SPLENDOUR OF THE SEAS was approaching, her shiny green glass, balconies, rock climbing wall, and towering slab sides making all but the boxy CRISTAL feel like polar bears on melting sheets of ice.

I went back on board to retrieve my laptop, arriving at the terminal’s internet center just as it opened at 8:30. A good ninety minutes in a nice air conditioned room with crew members hastily typing e-mails to family and friends would allow me a chance to update the blog and hopefully free my shoulders and mind of the internet in Patmos this afternoon.

I returned to the ship in time for a cappuccino, again courtesy of the delightful Fe, and then darted back and forth between the stern and the bridge to see who would sail first. An army of passengers marched off the SPLENDOUR’s gangway as a gaggle of Turkish musicians in red folkloric garb saluted them. A whistle blew, perhaps the OCEAN MONARCH’s? Who could tell with the behemoth SPLENDOUR blocking the view?

The wheelhouse, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
The wheelhouse, facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Vintage gauche in the BLUE MONARCH's wheelhouse. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Vintage gauche in the BLUE MONARCH’s wheelhouse. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I took the opportunity to document the lovely BLUE MONARCH’s wheelhouse, with its angled windows and original French panels and instruments. Captain E. introduced me to the friendly Turkish pilot and then pointed out his pretty wife, Deborah, who was on the starboard Hera Deck promenade with their angelic daughter, Rania. I said a quick hello between whistle blasts, continuing my treks between the flying bridge and stern as the easily-traversed BLUE MONARCH backed out and followed the CRISTAL to Patmos. The OCEAN MONARCH and AEGEAN TWO were not far behind.

Sadly, I missed the PERLA pass us in the narrows an hour or so later while I was the cabin. Christopher, who seems utterly shocked that he is now a fan of this former “wedge” ship (and has joined a “Friends of PERLA W” support group), said she looked magnificent.

I hear the anchors rumbling, so must head up to deck to document our arrival at Patmos. More soon..

Tuesday, August 21, 2007, ctd.

Louis Cruises' PRINCESA MARISSA arrives. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Louis Cruises’ PRINCESA MARISSA arrives. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
AEGEAN TWO for me and you! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
AEGEAN tWO for me and you! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

As we settled into position, the unexpected PRINCESA MARISSA aproached from the south. Apparently, her draft will allow her to berth in Patmos’ small harbor, so she slid past us and sailed into the backlit basin to join, surprise, the CRISTAL. From the north, the OCEAN MONARCH and AEGEAN tWO approached, joining the BLUE MONARCH in their weekly dance.

A perfect 3/4 BLUE. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007
A perfect 3/4 BLUE. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007

Chris and I got a seat on the aft/starboard side of the little tender boat, which swooshed past the sunlit port side of the BLUE MONARCH. Her sharp, elegant lines were at their very best in a dramatic 3/4 waterline view. The overall panorama of three classic liners in paradise was, for this ship enthusiast, surreal.

Patmos pastoral. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Patmos pastoral. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Modeling with my models. Photo by Christopher Kyte, copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Modeling with my models. Photo by Christopher Kyte, copyright Peter Knego 2007.

After enjoying a honey yogurt in a sidewalk cafe, Chris and I took a scenic walk along the winding hillside road for a few studies of the gathering of the former AUSONIA, RENAISSANCE and DAPHNE, which looked like a row of finely detailed Mercator models in the still waters of the anchorage.

MONARCH to MONARCH One. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
MONARCH to MONARCH One. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Patmos sunset. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Patmos sunset. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

I returned to the BLUE just in time to miss first seating dinner in lieu of standing atop the flying bridge and documenting the paradise, both floating and stationary, around me: a golden sunset over the bow; the floodlit Monastery of St. John at the top of the mountain to port; and the AEGEAN tWO and OCEAN MONARCH aglow and dressed in beaded running lights.

MONARCH to MONARCH Two. You can't "danae" the former DAPHNE is a beautiful sight! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
MONARCH to MONARCH Two. You can’t “danae” the former DAPHNE is a beautiful sight! Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Captain Eleftheriou mans the bow thrusters. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Captain Eleftheriou mans the bow thrusters. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Greek night in the El Greco. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
Greek night in the El Greco. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
CRISTAL moon. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.
CRISTAL moon. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The exit parade began with the MARISSA, followed by OCEAN MONARCH and her BLUE fleetmate. I’m not sure who followed next, CRISTAL, or AEGEAN tWO but in the late evening, after a wonderful Greek night show in the El Greco, under a now-half moon hovering over Homer’s wine dark sea, CRISTAL overtook us. Far off our stern, the OCEAN and AEGEAN were like dim, setting stars on the horizon. We would all meet again in the morning.

End of Part Two

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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