Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Mini-Cruise

After much fighting with wires, drivers and other techie stuff, Tim managed to get the scanner working on his computer. So I scanned some of Richard's photos of our holiday last week, and with a bit more effort Tim transferred them to my computer. Then I started writing.... and after about ten minutes the browser crashed. 'Recover post' did nothing, so I'm trying again... and ensuring I save draft copies several times!

We set off from Limassol port early on the Sunday afternoon. Our ship, the SS Ausonia, was towed out by a tug-boat. It was very calm, even once we were out in the Mediterranean, so much so that I was barely aware of the motion.

Lunch was served almost immediately, although as we'd bought filled rolls in the port we weren't very hungry. Still, the vast array of buffet choices was tempting, so we had some salads. We were a bit disappointed to find that coffee was not included along with the meal - nor was any other drink - but managed to find a comfortable lounge bar which sold reasonable coffee afterwards.

Our cabin was pleasant - reasonably roomy with quite a bit of storage space to unpack all our clothes. It looked out over a sundeck, with mirrored glass in the window so nobody could see in! The only problem was that it was directly underneath another sundeck, so when we tried to rest for a bit, we were almost deafened by the thumps of children rushing around exploring the ship! Still, there were plenty of other places to sit and read, the only disadvantage being a distinct lack of non-smoking areas. Most of the passengers were Cypriots, and this is a nation which, by and large, smokes very heavily.

The evening meal was more formal, with allocated places at tables and a menu (albeit not particularly well-printed!). There were four courses, each with two or three options including vegetarian ones. Service was smooth and efficient, and the food excellent. We were at a table with another 'foreign' couple and an Egyptian waiter.

On Monday afternoon, as per schedule, we arrived at Patmos. The stop at this island was one of the reasons we decided on this particular mini-cruise: it's the place where John the Apostle was exiled, and where he wrote the book of Revelation. We had booked a guided tour which was with other English-speaking people and a bilingual guide. We all had to climb into a small 'tender' boat (like a bus on water) to get from the Ausonia to the shore.

Of course we weren't allowed to take any photos inside the cave of the Apocalypse, or the monasteries. We had to buy a postcard for this image of the inside of the cave where - apparently - John (or his scribe) did most of the writing. To the Greek Orthodox majority of visitors this is a very holy place; they lit candles and kissed icons. To those of us who are Protestant Christians, and even to some with no faith, it was still an awe-inspiring experience.

I took several photos of the various places we visited, on the digital camera which I later lost. Sigh. Richard took a few although most of them had me in the foreground - such as this one, where we waited to go inside a monastery. We lost track of the number of different places we visited; each of them was fascinating but since we had to fit the tour into about three hours, we didn't really have long enough anywhere. It would be good to go there again one day, with longer to see around at our own leisure - and fewer crowds of people!

This is part of another postcard, showing another of the monasteries. In one of them, the Greek Orthodox people were able to take part in a brief communion service, but of course this option wasn't open to Protestants. Still, it meant we had slightly longer in the museum. Perhaps the most awesome things we saw were preserved documents from the Bible - one ancient piece of papyrus, and some beautiful calligraphy-style copied works from the Middle Ages. I began to see how the monks and priests several hundred years ago really did work to give glory to God in the painstaking care they took to preserve and copy the Scriptures.

After the tour, we did get a chance to shop in the harbour town - Skala, as it's called locally - which was pleasant and cool. To our surprise and delight we found a small bookshop which had second-hand books, many of them in English, upstairs. This is a most unflattering picture of me, but editing it out cut out too much of the rest of the photo!

Although we left the ship via tender, the Captain had managed to manoevre it into the harbour, so we could re-board whenever we liked. No doubt he saved a bit by not having to book tenders again, but I'm sure he must have regretted this decision heartily over the next 16 hours. The Ausonia bumped the side of the dock on the way out, and we had to wait for 16 hours until an inspector arrived from Athens to check that the ship was still seaworthy. As a result, we missed out on the trip to Kos which should have been on our schedule.

On Tuesday we were given free drinks with all our meals, which I'm sure helped to keep people cheerful as we sat and looked out at Patmos for hours! By early afternoon, we set off again on a revised schedule, and arrived at the lovely island of Tinos by early evening. There were plenty of shops, still open, clearly geared at tourist so we wandered around for a while before finding ourselves at the top of a small hill, where this church was the centre of attraction. After dark it was floodlight, and really very attractive. We didn't go inside, though.

On Wednesday morning we arrived at Volos. We thought this was a bit of a mistake, really - it's a port in mainland Greece, apparently the third or fourth largest city in the country, and famous for having been the home of Jason (of Argonaut fame). However it was basically just a large, busy city. We would have preferred the revised schedule to have missed out Volos and visited Kos, and we were not alone in this!

Some people had booked excursions from Volos, but they included two-hour drives in coaches to and from the places to be visited, and we didn't really want that. So we wandered around the town in the morning, went back to the ship for lunch, and then sat reading by on one of the decks outside, taking advantage of the relative emptiness of the ship as most other people were out and about.
On Thursday we arrived in Santorini in the morning. This is part of a volcanic island, but we did not stop for long enough to visit the still smoking crater. I was rather dubious about visiting the town of Thira, which is at the top of a cliff. The only way to get there is via cable-car, or via donkey, unless one wishes to walk up 560 or so steps. We decided the cable car would be quicker, cooler,and less terrifying for someone like me who does not like heights! Sure enough, it only took five minutes and I shut my eyes for most of the journey. Richard took this photo looking down into the harbour where the Ausonia was anchored. This time we had to take tender boats to and from the shore!

Santorini was a delightful town with lots of interesting shops, although as I lost my digital camera here (and can only assume it must have been stolen since it wasn't where I must have left it, nor had any of the shop-owners nearby had it handed in) I have mixed feelings about it. It was as Richard took this photo of an unusual church tower that I realised the digital camera was missing. I was already feeling hot and sticky but we rushed back to the place where we had stopped for ice-creams a little earlier, and I was very upset to find the camera gone.

Of course we had to get back down to shore again, and by this time it was nearly 12.00 noon. The last tender for the Ausonia was due to leave at 1.00pm so we had plenty of time to catch a cable-car. Or so we thought! Unfortunately, when we reached the place where the cable-cars started, there were crowds and crowds of people waiting. Not just from our ship, but from other ships which had arrived shortly afterwards. With only six cars taking six people each, we guessed it would be at least an hour and a half before we got a place.

So our only option was to go back to the steps. No way was I going to ride a donkey - the poor things looked hot and tired, and not very happy, besides probably being uncomfortable! But more than that, the thought of riding down that many steps was not something I could even consider. So we set out to walk.... not easy since we shared the steps with the donkeys, and there wasn't a whole lot of shade. There was no way to avoid stepping in donkey mess, either. By the time we'd walked down those 560 steps I was utterly exhausted, my legs were shaking, and my clothes were totally stuck to me! The only thing I wanted was a cool shower - something which, thankfully, was easy to take as soon as we got back to our cabin before lunch.

In the evening was the final dinner, at which some people dressed up a little more than usual although many didn't. Richard's tie never came out of the wardrobe all week! The waiters, mostly Egyptian and Filipino, were a talented bunch - a couple of times during the week, including that last evening, they entertained us with some songs. On the last evening they sang 'Leaving on a jet-plane' and others with similar sentiment!

For the grand finale of the evening - and the culmination of a week of absolutely fabulous food - the chef had organised baked alaska. For 350 people. The waiters did a parade around the room with one each, set alight to brown the meringue outside. Actually it wasn't the best dessert I'd eaten during the week, but probably the most impressive.

So that was really the end of the trip, although it took until Friday mid-afternoon to get back to Limassol. It sounds quite a short trip, and we had been a bit worried the time might fly past, but in the event it actually felt like more than five days. I suppose seeing somewhere new each day means there are plenty of different experiences, and we certainly felt more relaxed by the end despite the many stresses (see the post below this one!).

1 comment:

Lora said...

Thank you all you effort to get your describiton of your trip to us. The day at Patmos sounda particularly interesting to me.

Also thank you for your kind words about my Grandfather.