By John Faraclas and Anny Zade
We all dearly want to see things from the bright side of life, particularly during this era of Covid which prohibits lots of things; one must create good, safe vibrations and think positively if we are to get ahead…
As you all know from previous coverage, over the last ten years we opted in criss-crossing Planet Ocean by any means of transport and particularly Europe in early Spring and Autumn covering the entire mighty continent using different routes. Over the last six years we have travelled from London to Athens by car using the last leg – and vice-versa – by passenger ferry services, especially that of ANEK, but never before have we done so during the festive season of Christmas and the New Year.
This time despite getting in advance the Met report and knowing the approaching adverse weather conditions – from UK all the way down to central Adriatic – but believing and controlling our capabilities – thanks to Anny Zade’s driving skills, we took the chance as it was imperative to avoid crowded air terminals and aircraft which do not offer in our view the health and safety a car offers, needless to say with the support of passenger ferries.
Enjoying our first day in France with an overnight stay at Dijon – sweet mustards complementing our mini-dinner, and then for two nights in Italy’s Parma – City of Culture for 2021—having travelled via Mont Blanc’s famous tunnel – just managed to get through as snow conditions deteriorated, we made it on time at the Port of Ancona almost in broad daylight – even though it was late afternoon, for once again to board our lucky ship, the Olympic Champion! Whilst on the hill-tops on the outskirts of Ancona – with breath-taking panoramic views, we saw on the horizon the familiar figure (shape) of the Olympic Champion: a great relief given the traffic we encountered from Parma to Ancona with many lorries creating a moving iron wall…
Excellent pre-boarding service from ANEK’s local office, with thorough Covid protocols and checks, as well as checks from the local port authorities for us and our pet, Lord Casper behaving like an English gentleman!
Long queues on the pier where the Olympic Champion was stern-berthed, of private cars, motor bikes and containers – TIRs, evidence that the logistics supply chain was …alive and kicking. Apparently many of these lorries we had spotted and overtaken on our way to the port. Seems that this break, so to speak with Covid, brought back the much needed goods on the move to supply up and down Europe. Mind you, the number of lorries from Folkestone down to Ancona comprised the 60 to 65 centum of the traffic. The ship had a minor delay and we witnessed an amazing turnround time-wise given the hundreds of vehicles leaving and entering; a proof of well-trained crew.
A warm welcome and further checks by the ship’s crew before driving down the ramp to the ship’s lower garage.
After collecting our keys from the reception as well as our wi-fi internet connection codes, we were ushered to our cabin, an excellent-sized cabin with an amazing sea view. It was coincidentally the very cabin we had all previous three times – nothing is by chance. Accommodation ample and safe, airy so to speak and fully equipped. We had a sip of the complimentary Rakomelo, a very special Cretan liqueur before going for dinner in the main ship’s restaurant. Well-deserved for Anny Zade given that she was driving for three days!
Christmas décor all over the vessel; in alleyways, restaurants, bars, staircases. Christmas trees meticulously decorated and garlands all around. Nicely selected Christmas carols as well as Christmas songs… The warmth of the festive season at its best! Above all the crew in a happy mood, a very jovial atmosphere.
Indulge is the right word to mention here; we were indulged with the delicious, freshly prepared dishes, beautiful paired with exceptional drinks, oh yes, those lovely Cretan wines making you enjoy this fabulous shipboard festive atmosphere as well as cold beers. Obviously the Greek cuisine, one of the best out of all over Planet Ocean was our very choice with tzoutzukakia accompanied by Greek-style fried potatoes and excellent mult- vitamin salads… And Anny’s choice of chicken breast as main course, again with ANEK’s excellent fries, was superb. Worth mentioning the fact that due to the health protocols and Covid only 40 percent of passenger capacity was taken. Given also that she’s a big vessel with many bars, restaurants and seating saloons it was comfortable and safe for all, with the crew observing that everything was in order!
We had a stroll at the ships’ designated pet area so Lord Casper, our sweetie Maltese doggie, felt comfortable before bedtime. Anny and his Lordship had an early night but I had to find my way around the ship… an expedition I always do. All passengers and crew were wearing masks! I came across the fruit machines and other electronic adult games … and toys and all were perfectly selected and placed to please the casino and pub enthusiasts – I could judge as in my university years I was privileged to work during my summer holidays at Phonographic Hire Limited, one of Planet Ocean’s biggest entertainment entities; memories of dozens of types of fruit machines, pin-tables, TV games – including tennis, soccer, you name it. Talked to at least two dozen passengers coming from almost the entire EU, exchanging views on the markets, covid and the forthcoming Christmas and New Year… I’ve got some excellent and wise replies from people from different backgrounds, thus having a full picture which greatly helps for our reporting.
What a day in all respects, eh! Add the total Solar Eclipse sweeping across Antarctica which wasn’t either by chance; going back to our previous coverage we had planet alignments, very helpful for humans, their mood and behaviour and our Cosmos…
Without an alarm we woke up at six: Anny and Lord Casper headed for the pets designated area and myself on the outer upper deck’s port side to watch the sun rise. What an experience that was given the strong wind; just managed to take the magnificent Sun King rising from the northern Greek mountains – knowledge of geography a must and my phone’s application was very informative. On all our trips we have been extremely lucky and never missed the sun rising…
Down to deck 9 at the main restaurant for breakfast; continental-Greek for Anny Zade, English for myself… Friskies for Lord Casper. Breakfast on board any type of vessel is great, an experience one shouldn’t miss. Ships’ cooks create miracles and waiters as well as waitresses complement same with their exceptional service skills and sea-wise manners. AND you can’t forget the top of the range morning coffees, brewed for all circumstances, needs and tastes. Don’t forget Aroma is a Greek word… AND that smell of Greek coffee aroma is inspirational too! All ship-shape and Bristol fashion..!
Being an exceptionally sunny day, we decided to go down to the well-protected stern deck and enjoy the passage from the utmost northwestern part of Greece – the islets of Othoni, Erikoussa and Mathraki, via the Straits of Corfu – Corfu Island and the Albanian coast, and managed to see what we haven’t seen in a lifetime. All the way clear skies, amazingly good visibility; it was a great cruise that money can’t buy. Sheer luck of course! Butrint National Park on the Albanian Coast with its lagoon and Hellenistic as well as Roman antiquities just in front of us in one of the greenest and best preserved coast lines of the Med. Butrint is designated as a world heritage site. The northeast part of the Island of Corfu was yet another extravaganza for the eyes!
Whilst entering the Gulf of Igoumenitsa the ship reduced speed for safety reasons, mainly to avoid wave-impact on the surrounding area which is a huge natural resort with small boats and even swimmers particularly in the summer; another interesting cruise…
At 12:15 we stern-berthed at the Port of Igoumenitsa – Greece’s second biggest western gateway to Europe via the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, where the majority of lorries and private cars left. Sunny day all the way – from sunrise to sunset! We were more than fortunate as thereafter the weather got worse and Covid brought more chaos, checks and restrictions. We’ve made it!
A semi-light…lunch honouring fish dishes. A big wow! Sauvignon Blanc for me, the special Kritopelagitis, whilst Anny, due to her driving duties opted for Cretan Samaria fizzy water. I felt jealous of her sea bream and she equally felt so over my cod…
Worth mentioning that all Covid and other relevant health protocols were observed and thanks to the well trained and disciplined crew all was in order; as said above ship-shape and Bristol fashion! A good example to be followed by other means of transport. We excel in all aspects of sea-transport by far over land-based ones, and that’s a fact!
A light coffee and a rest to be ready, charge our batteries for after our arrival, at the port of Patras in northeast Peloponnese, for the last leg drive to Athens.
A big thank you to master and crew as well as to ANEK for their hospitality making this special pre-Christmas journey memorable. A sea passage is a passage, but a pre-festive sea passage on board ANEK’s tonnage makes the difference with the entire crew lifting the morale of all passengers.
On all counts, ANEK must be voted Passenger Ferry company of the new Millennium; Happy and healthy 2022!