TITANIC AND POMPEII; A TALE OF TWO DOOMED TOWNS

TITANIC

It was the late, great Walter Lord who famously described the sinking of the Titanic as being akin to the last night in the life of a small town. As with so many of Lord’s beautifully wrought descriptions and quotes, it was a phrase that has stayed with me over the decades since I first read it in A Night to Remember.

And, lately, I have come to understand that the phrase is even truer than was at first apparent to me. For the Titanic disaster was, indeed, very akin to the last night of a small town.

The town in question being Pompeii…..

Pray consider a set of coincidences and circumstances, a series of threads that bind the two events so tightly together, that it almost seems as if they have been stitched into one ageless parable.

Both Titanic and Pompeii catered to a relative few in surroundings of extreme, pampered luxury. The Roman coastal city was nothing less than a kind of first century precursor to Las Vegas;  a resort built to cater to-and for- the pleasure, ease and indulgence of the ruling classes. Awash with wine, wallowing in orgies, and with a surfeit of fine dining, entertainment and indulgence, they relied for their subsistence upon both a compliant middle class, and a functioning underclass of slaves, serfs and servants to maintain their sense of gilded ease and prosperity.

The Titanic was exactly the same, at least in first class. Not for nothing was she nicknamed the ‘Floating Ritz’ by the author, Joseph Conrad. That term, intended by it’s creator to be derisory, actually came to sum up all of that doomed, gilded magnificence over the course of time.

Far down below decks, hordes of toiling stokers worked back breaking, four hour shifts at a time, ingesting vast amounts of blinding, choking coal dust, even as the likes of the Astors, the Duff Gordons and the Wideners feasted on caviar and quaffed perfectly chilled champagne just a few decks above them.

Both Pompeii and Titanic went about their respective ways in blithe disregard of scarily adjacent natural hazards. The inhabitants of Pompeii literally played, whored and partied in the very shadow of the looming, smouldering bulk of Mount Vesuvius. On board the westbound Titanic, one ice warning after another was shrugged off and put aside with breathtaking indifference, as first class passengers struggled with the daily grind of swimming, taking the air, and enduring nightly, marathon ten course dinners that were the equal of any ancient Imperial feast.

Town and ocean liner alike exuded an air of huge, almost gilded permanence that seemed to overpower the normal, sensible faculties of even the most savvy of souls. An air of faux invincibility permeated both the streets of Pompeii and the plush, first class passageways aboard Titanic like some kind of awful sleeping sickness. And, when disaster duly befell both, there was some surprisingly similar reactions from those caught up in both dramas.

Nature took out these twin monuments to human vanity with almost effortless ease.  With fire in the case of Pompeii, and ice in that of Titanic. The steel grey, slowly reddening slops of Mount Vesuvius found an awful counterpoint centuries later, in the shape of the black, waterlogged iceberg. the implacable salt water assassin that punched, gouged and ripped open about a third of the hull plating of the Titanic.

Reaction to imminent doom ran the gamut in both situations, from disbelief to total, abject denial. Viewed from the crowded streets of Pompeii, the clouds of noxious, slowly rising ash and creeping molten lava seemed to be miles and miles away, as indeed they were at first. Aboard Titanic, few passengers could at first be coaxed into the lifeboats. That seventy foot drop, down from floodlit ship and onto a pitch black freezing ocean, was for the most part the catalyst behind that initial reluctance to leave the apparent warmth and safety of those brilliantly lit upper decks.

Yet both ash cloud and icy ocean encroached on their respective prey with an awful, unstoppable certainty. In city streets and on promenade decks in mid ocean alike, fear and uncertainty rose like a tidal wave of numb, barely checked disbelief and terror.

For the terrified citizens flooding the darkening streets of Pompeii, the sea offered the only realistic avenue of escape. Just as it did to the huddled throngs milling about on the boat deck of the Titanic all those centuries later. And, ultimately, it was the sea that would deny salvation to the great majority of people in both cases.

In the case of Pompeii, a tsunami triggered at the same time as the eruption of Vesuvius negated any hopes of a safe evacuation, even for a few. And, as it happened, there were pitifully few rescue boats available in any event.

Aboard the Titanic, a damning lack of lifeboats meant that most of her terrified human cargo would ultimately be upended into a darkened, freezing ocean several hundred miles away from the nearest land. And, while the Titanic carried more than enough life jackets for everybody on board her, it was that same, freezing water temperature that killed most within minutes. Some of those lost that night died without even getting their heads wet.

The destruction of both Pompeii and Titanic echoed down through the ages as twin, salutary lessons against placing too much faith in the limits of human ingenuity. And, eventually, the rediscovery of each would generate a tidal wave of awed, retrospective musings. Indeed, this piece is just such the latest example.

Today, the stunted Doric columns of excavated, exhumed Pompeii glint eerily in the mid day, Neopolitan sunshine. The entire place looks- and, indeed, feels-like a sixty-six hectare theme park that died screaming.  Two and a half miles down in the fast, frozen darkness of the Atlantic, the shattered corpse of Titanic sprawls across the ocean floor like some gigantic, wrecked skyscraper.

The booms of her cargo cranes lay folded across her forecastle like the limbs of some long dead pharaoh, frozen in both time and space. They find an echo in the ruts left in Pompeii streets to this day. by the passage of hundreds of chariot wheels as they clattered through the humid, hectic splay of the summertime resort city. On Titanic, the giant, eight ton port and starboard side anchors still hulk in their recesses, looking like huge, moss covered tombstones in a vast, underwater cemetery. The ship is a torn, jumbled, completely humbled cathedral of the dead.

Pompeii. Titanic. Separated by centuries, but wedded eternally in a state of violent death. Deaths so overwhelming and implausible, ruin so epic and complete that it hid each from view for years while, at the same time, already embalming and preserving their respective legends.

For the denizens of both, everything imaginable was done for their pleasure, ease and luxury, and almost nothing whatsoever for their safety. And that is their true, mutually appalling legacy. It’s also why we continue to be so horribly obsessed with both of them as well.

Today, we know full well what both looked like at the height of their brief lived pomp and glory. And today, their obvious, total ruin is there for all those who wish to see as well, etched in stark, singular clarity at the bottom of volcano and ocean respectively.

If progress really is measured by the passing of the years, then what are we to make today of these twin, epic follies of gilded grandeur?

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SAGA CRUISES TO JOIN THE ALL INCLUSIVE BANDWAGON IN 2020

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Artist’s rendering of Saga Cruises’ elegant new Spirit of Discovery, slated for delivery from Germany in 2020

Saga Cruises has formally announced what some of us have been expecting for some time. Namely, that the line will go all-inclusive following the introduction of it’s brace of bespoke new builds in January and August of 2020, respectively.

The two ships- Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure- will showcase the already included, hugely popular Saga USPs, including free door-to-door transfers, free insurance, and no extra charge on board restaurant reservations. But the addition of an all inclusive package on the drinks front will raise the appeal of the line to something possibly quite beyond it’s current, mandatory ‘fifty plus’ passenger demographic.

While this is undoubtedly a smart move on the part of Saga Cruises, it is also one that is gathering pace across the cruise industry as a whole. Remember that the British accented Marella Cruises is also going all inclusive effective from May, 2019.

Among the niche lines, ‘all inclusive’ has always been a tenet for the value and exclusive on board lifestyle that each offers. The likes of Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Seadream Yacht Club and Silversea have offered just such inclusiveness for a decade and more now.

Coming just a small step down, Azamara Club Cruises went all inclusive some time ago, and it is surely only a matter of time before it’s main competitor, Oceania Cruises, does the same. Also, look out for the stylish, yacht like Windstar Cruises following along the same path in the not too distant future.

Potential passengers now want more inclusive fares more than ever. Even more traditional British lines such as Fred. Olsen and Cruise and Maritime Voyages are now adding very cost effective, per day drinks packages onto most of their cruises of more than five nights’ duration. On the USA oriented front, big lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean also offer all inclusive drinks packages for purchase, though these must be arranged by Day One, and all passengers in the same cabin must participate.

Several factors are driving this; firstly, the relative weakness of the UK Pound against both the Dollar and the Euro is has bled UK travellers of around twenty per cent on average of their normal holiday spend, with the inevitable result that most of us are now getting more than a bit canny about which particular cruises we decide to splurge on in future. The continuing uncertainty about Brexit certainly does not help, either. And there’s mounting evidence that European passengers are beginning to shy away from US-centric itineraries in the current political climate as well. That last one could turn out to be a potential double whammy. Let’s hope not, for the sake of all concerned.

Interesting times, one way and another. As ever, stay tuned.

THE CELESTYAL CRYSTAL PART FOUR: TIME OUT IN THE TIMELESS ISLANDS

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Santorini from the heights

Though our week long cruise on the CelestyalCrystal would be very destination intensive, the extended stays at most of the places we visited meant that there was not always a hard and fast rush for me to need to get ashore. Especially if, like me, you know most of those islands very well indeed. In fact, returning to these wonderful islands is like revisiting old friends these days in so many ways.

And, to sure, it seemed wise to make time just to enjoy one of the smaller, more laid back of the Greek Islands- the CelestyalCrystal herself.

Naturally, most people cannot wait to get ashore to visit the islands themselves, and the lowering of gangways and/or tender boats at most ports soon produced an exodus of eager travellers, ready to get off the ship and get into full exploration mode. Those days, the ship would often go from boisterous and bubbly mode to calm, sedate repose in a matter of minutes.

To be clear, those were moments to treasure; just the simple, pared down pleasures of a well run ship on a bright, sunny day is a tonic for all sorts of things. A warm breeze, a cold beer, some delicious ice cream, maybe a book… this is what I always define as platinum chip quality relaxation time.

Always in the background is the crew, going through the ballet of the daily duty roster. At any port of call, around thirty per cent of the crew is obliged to remain on the ship, both to keep essential services (eg, the supply of cold ice cream) running, as well as to provide an adequate safety cover over all of the different departments on board.

These moments when a ship seems to draw breath, to gather herself and get ready for the next port of call, are ones worth savouring. All around you, people are working hard to prep and primp the surroundings. getting them ready for returning passengers and the occasional, small groups of visiting travel agents and port officials.

It’s always worth watching the expressions on the faces of those visitors as they are ushered from lounge to lido, pool deck to dining rooms. They always seem to look with envy at any passengers around in, say, the Jacuzzi, or on a comfortable deck chair.  It’s true of every ship in every situation. I’ve seen it so many times now over the years.

Of course, you can take your time over breakfast and lunch, too. Meander in and out of the buffet as many times as the mood takes you. Curl up with a cappuccino, or enjoy a few languid laps in the sparkling pool. Too hot out in that mid-day sun? Head for cover in one of the air conditioned, near deserted lounges, and just lose yourself in a book for an hour or so.

I love the slower, smooth tempo of those days, especially on a really port intensive cruise like this one. These cruises are like some fantastic fairground ride, whirling you through a carousel of islands of all shapes, sizes and colours. But, every now and then, it’s kind of nice to step off that carousel, to gather your breath, and just glory in all the good stuff that is around you, right at that very moment. You can jump right back into the fun places the minute that you’re ready to.

And sure, there’s something quite sublime and magical about tendering ashore to Santorini at about six in the evening when the crowds are still all ashore, up in the hills, but the worst of the heat has begun to fade. The play of the slowly setting sun against those massive, imperious rock formations is really something else to behold.

Watching those vast, grizzled walls of ancient granite turning shades of gold, green and burnished rust is spellbinding stuff. Early evening in the islands throws up all sorts of beautiful sun and seascapes that the sheer brilliance of the noon day sun largely negates.

A kind of low, shimmering rosy haze dusts the line of the horizon as the sea turns a fine shade of blush red. Walls of rock embrace you even as they blacken in the shade of the setting sun. Sunlight glances against a wine carafe standing sentinel atop a chequered table cloth, sitting above a gnarled stone quayside where idly bobbing, brightly coloured fishing boats sit tethered like sated swans. Seabirds arc, dive and swoop against a backdrop soundtrack of chirping tree frogs and sizzling sea food, probably freshly caught that same morning. The sounds of bouzouki music begins to kick in from some local musicians, playing in one of the nearby bars.

It’s a tender, mellow time of day, and it showcases these wonderful islands in an entirely different light. Quite literally, as it turns out. And, as sunset softens and fades like slowly vanishing fog, the first glimmering stars make their appearance, ‘like pin pricks in the fabric of the universe’ as someone once wrote quite wonderfully.

Forget the shopping. Forget the history. Just for now, at any rate. This is Greece in the raw; stunning, magnificent and almost bereft of crowds, even in the last, lingering days of high summer.  Intimate and yet grand at the same time, low key and languid,  it’s a dreamscape wrought in stone, sky, sea and time. And yet, one in which you are completely and utterly wide awake.

Lovely stuff.

CELESTYAL CRYSTAL PART THREE: MEANDERING AROUND MYKONOS

MYKONOS
Mykonos headland, featuring the ‘famous five’ windmills

At around seven on Tuesday morning, I woke to sudden, complete stillness aboard the Celestyal Crystal. The engines had stopped, and any forward motion had dropped away from the ship. No shouting or sudden stampede of passengers running along the corridors disturbed the peace. One quick glance outside of my cabin window would soon reveal why.

We had already docked hard and fast alongside at Tourlos, the main harbour berth at Mykonos. Early morning sunshine glanced against a silver tinted seascape speckled with small excursion boats, crawling across it like so many exotic water bugs. On the fine, razor sharp line of the horizon, a faint wisp or two of funnel smoke betrayed the imminent arrival of an inbound, ferry, carrying another boatload of day trippers bound for sun and fun on the island that, for all it’s hype and flashiness, still remains very much the supermodel of the summertime Aegean cruise circuit.

Those people might well have been in a hurry but, with a full twenty four hours to play, relax and party on Mykonos, yours truly was well and truly not.

I had the priceless advantage of having been to Mykonos many times over the years so, for me, there was no indecent haste to get off the ship and try to cram in everything, like someone at an all you can eat buffet with a set time limit. Instead, I lingered over a long, lazy breakfast outdoors on the near deserted pool deck. Gorgeous fruit, piping hot coffee, freshly made croissants and some of the local ham set me up nicely for an intended, early morning shopping trip to pick up a few bits and pieces. And then I spied the empty hot tub…

There was not another soul in sight, save for a couple of crew members prepping the adjacent Thalassa bar for its imminent opening. So I sagged like some supine, harpooned hippo into that hot tub. With sunlight dancing across the open teak decks, i watched as hordes of passengers from the nearby MSC Poesia poured ashore in a vast, maddened swarm that put me in mind of the exodus. That sun was just beginning to climb in the sky and, this being late August, the heat was truly blistering.

I had no intention of following them into the random, hectic jungle of Mykonos’ bewildering warren of narrow, crowded streets. These were originally created back in the Middle Ages to confuse gangs of marauding pirates, but these days they constitute a raft of honey traps for today’s dollar crusaders. Each shop is full of ‘authentic’ Mykonos souvenirs, apparently.

When I did eventually drag myself ashore, it was just intended to be a quick, mid afternoon run to grab the bits and pieces that I needed. But the chance to pick at some of the fabulous local souvlaki, washed down with an ice cold Mythos beer, was simply too good to resist. Inevitably, I fell back through the rabbit hole, and succumbed to that siren, Mykonian vice of languid people watching in extremely pleasant surroundings. The sun was high in the sky and, by now, i was well and truly in full slouch mode. The late afternoon thus passed in a smiley kind of buzz; Mykonos induces a kind of trance like vibe and state in novice and regular visitor alike if you let it. Truth be told, it’s not the worst fate that you’ll ever encounter if you simply yield to it.

It’s late evening, and the crowds have now died down a little. Most of the small armada of cruise ships that poured torrents of visitors ashore has long since gone now. Lit up like a Christmas tree, the Celestyal Crystal sits quietly at rest. Seabirds soar and swoop in her wake as she tugs gently at her own mooring ropes. From on board, the sound of soft, sultry samba flirts with the twilight. Little pools of light dance on the shimmering waters that surround her. Birds and tree frogs chirp at a manic tempo on this muggy August night. There’s a buzz abroad in the ether that is well nigh hypnotic. It’s subtle, wonderful stuff that comes complete with a side order of Aegean starlight.

In Montparnasse, the piano player is tinkling gamely away at some old Cole Porter tune. Huge, louvred windows look out across the headland and down onto the tables of Little Venice, where hundreds are dining alfresco right at the water’s edge. The Chocolate martinis served at the bar are artworks in themselves, the welcome from owners and staff alike as intimate and fulsome as the place itself. This is quintessential, old style Mykonos nightlife in a nutshell.

Sure, there are clubs galore-both indoors and outside- to suit every mood, style and taste. You’ll hear everything from pounding techno and trance to rare, vintage Motown, by way of every other musical genre in between. Mykonos is a true smorgasbord of different musical options and, in the long summer nights, she rocks, rolls and shimmies through each night until the sun peeps it’s head above the horizon once again.

But Montparnasse is still something else. In a world full of Audis, it remains a sleek, streamlined Rolls Royce of a venue. It’s amenable rather than adaptable, fine fillet steak rather than nouvelle cuisine. Light, lush, and with an ambience that lingers, Montparnasse is elegant, effortless fun.

I called it a night at about 0130, by which time the place was still going strong. Back aboard the Celestyal Crystal, there was still time for a couple of languid, laid back night caps, sprawled in a wicker chair back outside at the Thalassa Bar.

Above my head, a pale full moon cast a wan, ghostly shadow on the ink black Aegean. In the distance, car headlights flickered and glared like scores of glow worms. On board, only the hum of the ventilators disturbed my reverie. Somewhere below me, a small motor boat spluttered into life, bumbling across the briny as I swigged the last of my champagne.

Life right then felt special, elevated; good. Sometimes you just have to savour the moment like fine wine and, right then, I was in full ‘life is good’ mode. A warm night, ice cold champagne and a beckoning, freshly made bed all made for a truly dreamy combination.

Best of all was the knowledge that days more of this unreal, totally artificial slice of good living lay just over the horizon. For the rest of the week, someone else would be doing the driving, the cooking, and the cleaning. All really had to do was just rock up when ready, and dig in. Lovely stuff.

 

CELESTYAL CRYSTAL PART TWO: GETTING TO KNOW THE SHIP……

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Our week long Greek Islands and Turkey cruise was not my first time on the Celestyal Crystal; in fact, it was my third trip sailing aboard her in these waters since 2012. So, to me, she is a ship that is quite familiar. And, being quite small, her size lends her an air of informal intimacy that is one of the things that I really do love about her.

She’s also quite endearingly quirky; originally built as a car ferry for the Baltic trade and then extensively rebuilt to work as a cruise ship, the Celestyal Crystal is a wonderfully angular piece of seagoing architecture; very much a one-off ship. In comparison to many of the huge, purpose built floating resorts of the moment, she’s quite an enigmatic little ship, and one well worth getting to know.

Size wise, she comes in at a svelte 25,611 tons. There are 476 cabins, of which something like fifty-three are balcony suites. Of the remainder, some 163 are inside rooms.

The rooms on Two Deck are pretty small but, as you move up the ship, cabins open out in terms of space. I was in a Four Deck cabin on this trip-4221, to be precise- and it came in at around 170 square feet overall.

With that came twin beds that could convert to a double, and a comfortable sofa and table combination in a separate sitting area. There’s a good sized television with about a dozen channels. Wardrobe space is decent, as is the open drawer space. Because the Celestyal Crystal is a pretty informal ship in terms of evening dress, you won’t have to overdo it on the formal wear front.

The bathroom is small, with a toilet and shower only and a selection of in room toiletries, but it’s surprising how easily you manage. And the shower, too, was really good. In general the room was much like the rest of the ship, solid, functional and comfortable, easy to navigate and pretty handy for everything. In fact, two of the four lifts and the main, after staircase were literally right outside my door.

On this cruise, the Celestyal Crystal was full to capacity, with around 1200 passengers booked for the week long round trip from Piraeus. It was a fascinating mix of passengers: Greeks, Spanish, French, Germans, Canadians, Americans- even a handful of Brits. Over the week, it would coalesce into a pretty easy going, well mannered crowd, one that was well looked after by the ship’s crew of 406.

Touring the ship was akin to rediscovering an old friend. I’d quite forgotten how charming the Thalassa Bar and Terrace at the back of Five Deck is, with it’s centrally located hot tub overlooking the stern, and scores of wicker chairs and tables scattered across the fantail. With the port side reserved for smokers, it became a popular hangout at all hours of the day and night. In fact, it was nothing unusual to see scores of people sitting out there in the small hours of the morning, enjoying the balmy Aegean breezes.

Centre stage, at the top of the ship is a small pool set on a teak deck, surrounded by cafe style tables and chairs. It has a sliding, perspex roof overhead, perfect for shelter from the sun when needed. With a forward bar- the Helios- and live music both at lunch and dinner, this was an intimate, raffish little place to just kick back as the ship meandered between the hedonistic sprawl of the Greek Islands.

You’ll find sun loungers aplenty on the deck overlooking the pool, and on the stepped series of terraced decks at the stern.

Aft of that pool complex is a pair of buffet restaurants set up for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. The offerings are the same in both sections, but with some delightfully indulgent Greek twists. After all, when was the last time that you saw chicken wraps on an afternoon tea buffet? And delicious they were, too.

In terms of interior spaces, there was the main Muses Lounge on Eight Deck; a forward facing show lounge set on two levels, this was the main venue for the evening production shows held on board. It leads neatly into the Eros Lounge, with it’s row of floor to ceiling windows facing out to port. This was a popular, late night venue for some sultry, after dinner samba and soft rock.

There’s also a full service spa up here on Nine Deck, with all the treatments that you could want at an extra charge.

There is a small, adjacent Sports Bar and a neat little casino here, too, but the other main public room is the surprisingly large disco, wrapped around the ship’s funnel on Deck Ten. It has glass walls looking out on three sides, an aft facing bar, and a decent sized dance floor for such a small ship. On our cruise, the disco was invariably full most nights, right through until the early morning hours.

There are two main formal, sit down dining venues, one aft on Eight Deck, and the other on Five Deck. Both are open seating and, on our itinerary, they offered full dinner service right up until 2200 each night. And, while it was wonderful most nights to just kick back and enjoy dinner and live music under the stars, sometimes it did make for a nice change to just come inside and enjoy some succulent Greek and international fare, served with a lot of flair.

With Celestyal, all drinks come included in the fare, together with something like three complimentary shore excursions per passenger. In terms of the drinks, there’s the option to upgrade to a premium package that includes brands such as Havana Club, Grey Goose and house champagne for around fifteen euros a day. It’s a good deal but, to be honest, many people will find the included drinks package more than enough to be getting on with.

As with most European cruise ships, in cabin breakfasts and a basic, ‘any time’ menu that includes pizza, burgers and other fast food, comes in at an extra charge. There is no midnight buffet or late night snacks service as such but, to be honest, you don’t really miss it, either.

Five Deck houses the reception and shore excursions desks, as well as a small shopping area that has everything from sweets to fine couture, sun tan lotion to fine perfumes. It’s only allowed to open while the ship is actually at sea, with the opening hours usually being posted on the shop’s glass door.

So, this is the Celestyal Crystal. She’s intimate, warm, unpretentious, bright and pretty.  Yes, sometimes she’ll feel crowded when you’re looking for a lunch table, but the crew works wonders at clearing tables. And, in terms of a crew that is hard working and eager to please, you’d be hard put to find better on any line anywhere.

So- this is our ship. Grab a chair on the Thalassa Terrace, and watch the twinkling lights of Piraeus disappear over the rim of your wine glass. There’s a lot of fun in store over the next few days…….

MYKONOS DIARY; A society round up with our Social Correspondent, BUBBLES DE VERE

MYKONOSBUBBLES

“Well darlings, it’s all fur coat and no knickers.  Just fur coat and no knickers…..

But- that’s enough about me. I bet that you’re all just bursting to read about my exploits on Mykonos…..

Well darlings, it was first off to a private salami tasting session at the Greek Naval Academy here on Mykonos. Eat your heart out, Katie Price, or whatever the hell it is that you’re called this week.

Well, what a night! All those handsome young sailors, standing at attention for little old me! I almost didn’t know where to begin, darlings. And don’t even get me started on the senior officer’s mess…….

Anyway, after my three o’clock reverse colonic irrigation (thank you Boris and Nigel, you’re both such angels) it was time for my early, pre-dinner cocktails at Caprice. Then, just as I was sashaying along the waterfront, the sun disappeared behind this humunguous moving object. I’ve never seen that much solid mass moving in slow motion since the launching of the Titanic, darlings. No wonder I put Moet on my corn flakes….

Of course, it was that whore, Desiree….

Now you know me, darlings. I’m not one to gossip. Really, I’m not. But the woman looked like a badly wrapped Easter Egg in a stretch kaftan. And the last time that I saw THAT many chins at the same time, was in the Beijing telephone directory. Thank you Giorgios, darling, they’re the little pink pills on the right….

And I’m still having nightmares about those nasal hairs, darlings. Honestly- they were waving in the breeze like the tentacles of a Portuguese jellyfish. I half expected to see Tarzan swinging from side to side across them. Now there’s a man that I could teach a thing or two about swinging, if you get my meaning….

But- that Desiree. Talk about desperate! I hear that she now lets her gentleman admirers pay for her ‘favours’-whatever the hell they are- with Monopoly money. Given how old and decrepit the fat, pear shaped, sozzled, witless hag is, I would have said that Confederate currency would have suited her just as well!

Still, I’m not one to gloat, or spread gossip, as you know full well, darlings. And after all, it’s not her fault that she’s got an IQ that’s lower than a slug’s dangly bits, is it? Meow, baby!

Anyway darlings, I must dash. I’ve got a three o’clock at Tourlos with an American aircraft carrier. Catch you later, cupcakes-ciao!”

 

CELESTYAL CRYSTAL PART ONE; THE JOURNEY TO PIRAEUS

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Celestyal Crystal

To say that I had been looking forward to this seven night trip on the Celestyal Crystal was something of an understatement. For, while I’m an avowed fan of Celestyal Cruises’ intimate, Greek accented product, this was going to be a completely different experience to anything that I’d ever had with them before.

The line is known mainly for it’s short, port intensive three and four night sailings around the Greek Islands and Turkey. Typically, these allow for a few hours each in a whole raft of ports, gifting you short but delicious snapshots of each. Like a kind of floating tapas menu, the line lets you opt in and out of each one. But, of course, time is at a premium, so you always have to try and use it wisely.

But not on this itinerary. Oh, no….

On this seven night run, we would be gifted a full twenty-four hours on Mykonos, almost forty-eight hours on Santorini, a full fifteen hours on new itinerary addition, Milos (about which a lot more later)  and even a full twelve hours in Heraklion. In short, a vast amount of leisure time that cried out to be exploited to the full, and most definitely not just another whistle stop tour around those gorgeous Aegean Island gems.

But first, I had to get to Athens. And, for the first time ever, I was going to use the scheduled services of Aegean Airlines, from London Heathrow’s Terminal Two. I had read a lot of good reviews about Aegean, and so was quite keen to try them out for myself.

The airline flies trim, tidy Airbus A321’s on the three and a half hour journey from London to Athens. Economy Class seating was three across down two sides, bisected by a service aisle in the middle. A handful of Club Class seats up front had about the same legroom, but with the middle seat removed in each row,

Legroom was fine for me (I’m about 5′ 6″ by the way) though the blue leather seat itself felt a bit uncomfortable at first. But, where Aegean Airlines really scores is in the on board product and, even in economy, it sets a benchmark that most other European flg carriers don’t even begin to approach these days.

How so? Well, when was the last time that you were offered sweets before take off? Free beer and wine complete with serviettes (remember what any of those things are, BA?). And it goes on.

Aegean Airlines serves a full hot, three course meal to all passengers. Choice? Well, you can either take it or leave it. But it is the mere fact that the airline offers you a choice at all that elevates it well above any competitor. And the food, like the wines, is Greek accented. It gives you an authentic taste of the host country before you even get there; a sweet little appetiser to the real thing. It’s well thought out stuff, and you really do feel as if you are being indulged, rather than nickled and dimed yet again.

Flight wise, we landed in Athens about ten minutes late, at around 1805 hours Greek time. But the airport staff, though busy, was brisk. I was through customs and immigration in minutes and, as I got to the carousel, my luggage was already there.

Outside, and the August early evening heat smacked me like a sucker punch, but my driver was already waiting and, within minutes, we were barrelling along toward the port of Piraeus. Auto repair shops and arid mountain peaks flashed by at a frantic rate of knots, until the looming suburbs of Piraeus obliged us to slow down a bit.

Before I knew it, I was in the shadow of the ship. The Celestyal Crystal sat perfectly poised on a slowly reddening seascape. The sound of traffic horns and braying, honking tug boats filled the evening haze, but the ship herself was as still and serene as a landscape painting. I was on board within ten minutes of getting out of the car.

Two hours later, and I’m sitting in a wicker chair on the aft facing Thalassa Terrace, nursing some glacially cold Greek wine as darkness rolls across the sky like some slowly unfurling carpet. There’s that sudden, first delightful shudder of the engines that always takes everybody by surprise, for some reason. And, suddenly, floodlit buildings ashore are falling astern as we swing loose, and head out into the midstream.

I can hear tree frogs chirping in the bushes ashore, and then there’s the tinny, self important whistle of a small, fussy local ferry as she tries to barge past us like some startled cat. Like the lady of a certain age that she is, the Celestyal Crystal does not deign to reply; and, after all, real ladies never like to be seen in fast company.

Now the port of Piraeus is falling astern like some slowly sagging, brilliantly lit birthday cake. I’m beyond tired by now, but the sheer, age old exhilaration of departure helps carry me over the bar.

When I do hit my bed, I go out like a light. But tomorrow will bring Mykonos into close, intimate focus and, asleep or awake, I’m already dreaming of the rest of this week, and all the fun it will bring.

 

 

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