July 19th to 21st, 2010 (Adventures at sea)
(7/10) Now the long-awaited cruise adventure begins! We picked up our luggage, checked in for our trip, then eagerly boarded the Star Clipper for our first clipper ship experience. The masts and rigging are truly impressive and even though this is an older ship, it is sparkling, clean, and the accommodations comfortable. After a much-needed shower and the tedious chore of unpacking, we joined our fellow passengers at dinner. (The first dinner was just “OK”, We gave the lobster soup and tiramisu an A- and the lamb and salad a C.) Our tablemates were a very nice, but shy, couple from Paris. Since seating is open and mealtimes flexible, we only got an inkling of how multinational this trip was going to be! The evening ended enjoying music in the Tropical Bar before heading to a welcome good night’s sleep.
(7/11) We awoke to glorious sunshine through the port window as we continued our cruise to Mykonos. The breakfast buffet was wonderful, but I restrained myself to just a veggie omelet and wonderful Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. We got a better overview of our fellow passengers during the mandatory lifeboat drill and staff introductions. The staff come from 17 different countries and passengers from at least seven – with Germans and Brits in the majority. All announcements and briefings are done in three languages – English, German, and French. Impressive – especially since the cruise director’s native tongue is Spanish!
After a relaxing morning on board, we took a tender to shore for lunch and an exploration of Mykonos – a lovely small island in the Cyclades that is strongly dependent on tourism. It is also located near the island of Delos, famous for its mythological, historical and archeological sites and thought to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. (Unfortunately there wasn’t time to take that tour.) We enjoyed walking the narrow streets between the white-washed houses and shops in search of a restaurant recommended by Ilias – “Phillipi” – which we eventually found with the help of locals, but only to discover that it didn’t open until 6 PM! So now, totally lost, we continued walking and found ourselves quite far from the main marina, but in the area with the island’s famous windmills and the quaint section known as “Little Venice”. We had lunch at Sunset Café and Taverna while enjoying the view, the waves splashing against the seawall, and the antics of a tame local pelican. I enjoyed the daily special – grilled sea bass (served whole) and vegetables – while Paul feasted on his favorite meal – mussels. We finally found our way back to the main town and had a cappuccino while “people watching” – then returned to the ship at 4:30. While Paul napped, I relaxed topside – then we enjoyed cocktails and snacks in the Tropical Bar. After a shower, we joined several “rare” Americans for dinner – tasty soup and tenderloins. The highlight of the evening was watching the World Cup soccer final with our European friends on a big screen in the bar. Sleep came easily!
(7/12) We enjoyed a wonderful morning, highlighted by Paul joining in the “mast-climbing!”. Since he is afraid of heights, it was quite a coup, but quite scary in spite of the harness. After docking in spectacular Santorini, we took the tender ashore at noon. Since we were here nine years ago and had the “ride the donkey to the top” adventure, we opted for the quicker and cooler cable car ride up to the main town of Fira. We then walked down to the main square and took a taxi to the town of Oia on the tip of the island to again enjoy lunch at Ilias’ friend Christos’ wonderful restaurant “Skala.” It has a killer view and fabulous food! We started with ouzo and yummy baked feta with tomatoes and peppers, then shared a “Skala Salad” (mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, pine nuts, and a wonderful local soft cheese). Our main courses were mussels for Paul and cumin flavored meatballs for me – both served over Greek Basmati rice with fresh peas – delicious! A fantastic dry white Santorini wine washed it down beautifully. Even though we were stuffed, Christos treated us to honey with yogurt and raisins and two glasses of sweet local dessert wine. Oia is beautiful and, we think, much more charming (and less “touristy”) than Fira. It is worth the trip if you have the time (15 Euro each way by cab). Back in Fira we enjoyed cappuccinos and more beautiful views before returning to the ship.
After Paul had his nap and I worked on my journal, we joined some new friends from Australia for late cocktails, then dinner at 8:00. Since we had such a huge late lunch, we tried to avoid all the courses and calories, so we had a delicious smoked trout starter, then Paul had the snail soup and I opted for lemon sorbet. Dinner was swordfish for Paul and chicken in white wine with a nice vegetable medley for me. The 10 PM entertainment was a “fashion show” and some singing and dancing by the crew – fun, often funny, and occasionally shameless advertising by the “Sloop Shop” (gift shop). Spirited dancing followed until after midnight!
(7/13) Today our destination is Yithion in the southern Peleponese. Since we were here nine years ago and took the same excursion to “Mistra”, we enjoyed the chance to take it easy. Before anchoring at 10:30, the morning event was a “photo safari”, where passengers could travel around the ship in tenders to take pictures of the ship in full 4-masted rigging. After a snack at the luncheon buffet, we took a tender to shore and returned to the same small seaside spot for some more typical Greek fare –roasted sardines, fried zucchini, and mussels in a tomato and cheese sauce. The mussels were large and tough, so we threw them to the fish and enjoyed the sauce with bread. A short walk through this town revealed nothing remarkable, so we returned to the ship to get out of the blazing sun. Dinner choices seem to be getting better. Tonight we both enjoyed cream of mushroom soup, then Paul had knuckle of beef with vegetables and dumplings (crème brulee for dessert) and I had sea bass followed by a pear tart with sabayon sauce. We lingered so long with our Australian friends that we missed the movie about sailing around Cape Horn, which was apparently amazing. Once again we had late night “music with Peter” and dancing before collapsing. Tomorrow is a day at sea, which will be welcome and relaxing
(7/14) This is our first clipper ship experience and we’re enjoying the relaxed ambience and active sailing. The service is more laid-back than on the Wind Star – but we like the pluses of both ships. The Star Clipper is well maintained and every day you see staff polishing the brass, varnishing, painting, repairing sails, welding, etc. – a real working vessel. Our cabin is comfortable, though small, with adequate storage, seating, and a safe. However, this ship is NOT for those who have difficulty walking because there are a LOT of stairs and obstacles to navigate. The 140 passengers are quite diverse, with the majority German, followed by British and Australians. There are 13 Americans and also folks from France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Mexico. Ximena, from Mexico is truly an amazing tour director who speaks the three main languages. It means that all announcements and briefings are three times longer, but it certainly has jump-started the French and German language sections of my brain!
The crew does their best to provide lots of activities both in port and at sea. However, since the majority of the passengers are in the over 60 category, most of the water sports and deck activities seem to be mainly enjoyed by the 20-50 crowd. There were just three young people on this trip – a young German girl with her grandmother and a California family with an 18 and 20 year old. Two events seem to be popular with all ages: the mast climbing, and the “All Hands on Deck” tacking maneuver with about 10 people manning each of the heaving ropes and slowly, on Captain’s orders, turning this huge ship a full 360 degrees.
Meals today were again quite good. The lunch buffet theme was “Neptune”, with a huge variety of fish dishes, including baked fish, mussels, fish soup and stew, smoked fish, etc. (as well as chicken, beef, pasta, rice, potatoes, & vegetables), salads, breads, and desserts. For dinner we enjoyed the cream of broccoli soup followed by delicious beef goulash for me and sea bass for Paul. We sat with Janna from Italy and her 87 year old “Papa” who speaks no English, but reminded me so much of my late father… Dancing came next – then sleep!
(7/15) We woke early for our 7:30 arrival in Corfu. After a quick breakfast, we boarded buses for our first excursion on this trip and after about a 30 minute ride arrived at Achillion Palace in the village of Gastouri. This impressive neoclassical structure, high on a hill, was built in 1890 by Empress Elizabeth (“Sisi”) of Austria and niece of King Otto of Greece after the death of her son. (I looked up the long, sad history of her life – but it was too much to include here.) She took refuge in Corfu and greatly admired the Greek hero Achilles, so named the palace after him. Following her assassination in Geneva in 1898, it was bought by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1907, and later confiscated by the Greeks in 1914. Only the first floor was open to visitors, so it is now a limited, but fairly impressive, museum. We then toured the gardens highlighted by the many terraces, views of the sea, and statues including two of Achilles – Achilles the Victor and Dying Achilles. Several other interesting facts that were not mentioned on our tour: this was the birthplace of England’s Prince Philip and was the site for the Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only.”
Our other stop was the main town of Corfu where we only had a chance to briefly tour the old town, including the Basilica of Saint Spyridon (patron saint of Corfu whose visible remains are still in the church and said to have magical powers) and the amazing fortress built by the Venetians. The huge esplanade (main square) was quite impressive, flanked by narrow streets, shops and cafes. Regretfully, we had less than an hour before we had to board the bus to return to the ship. The only downside to cruising on a sailing ship with such an ambitious itinerary is the short port stays (Mykonos was an exception) due to extended cruising time. However, we were assured that we would have more time ashore along the Dalmatian Coast.
Corfu is a very pretty island – lush green with varied terrain and groves of orange, lemon, olive and cypress trees. The population is about 100,000 with half living in the main town. The port was busy, but nothing enticing for exploring, so we had lunch on board as we sailed away. We relaxed on deck as we passed Albania and the rest of mainland Greece. Ximena, the tour director, provided a “fun Spanish” lesson in the library. It was basic vocabulary and phrases for travelers – but fun to translate it into English, French and German. We will have another lesson on Friday. Dinner tonight was disappointing. Many chose the chef’s selection of osso buco – but it had so much gristle and fat that Paul’s small serving had virtually no meat. My peach melba was a canned peach half on a scoop of ice cream, drizzled with a little raspberry syrup. They do such a fabulous job with the breakfast and lunch buffets that we can’t figure out why dinners are so unpredictable. The heat today was wilting, so we went to bed early.