Tag: ferry (page 2 of 5)

Steaming to Syros at sunset

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Aqua Spirit ferry

The NEL Lines Aqua Spirit ferry departs Andros en route to Tinos and Syros on the evening of May 29 2015.

 

That’s the Spirit: While we were watching a beautiful sunset from our terrace at the Aneroussa Beach Hotel on Andros on May 29, a passing ferry caught my attention. It was the Aqua Spirit, one of several ships operated by NEL Lines, and I was surprised to see it in service. During the past year, many if not most of its scheduled sailings have been either disrupted or cancelled entirely because of mechanical problems as well as labour disputes by 500 seamen who claimed they had not been paid wages for months. In fact, just before we travelled to Greece in late May, online travel forums were peppered with posts by frustrated holidaymakers who wondered if they could rely on NEL Lines service for their summer island hopping itineraries.

NEL Lines has a 43-year history of shipping in Greece, but has experienced financial difficulties in recent years, reportedly teetering on the verge of bankruptcy at least once. Its frequent service disruptions have caused headaches for Greek citizens and tourists  seeking to travel between islands in the Cyclades. (The Aqua Spirit and its sister ship, the Aqua Jewel, operate on routes connecting nearly two dozen different isles in the Cyclades.)

 

New investors now running NEL Lines

Because of the continuing problems with NEL, Greece’s Coastal Transportation Council (SAS) met last Thursday (June 18) to determine if it would declare NEL in forfeit of its privilege to operate, and to decide if it would bar the company from running ferries in the Cyclades. As the Greek Travel Pages reported that same day, the Council did vote in favour of declaring NEL Lines in forfeit. However, it postponed its decision about banning the company from continuing to operate in the Cyclades after being advised that a new group of investors had taken over NEL and hoped to relaunch the firm once it had settled outstanding obligations to employees and government agencies.

The matter will ultimately be decided by Greece’s Alternate Shipping Minister, Theodoros Dritsas.

Greek Travel Pages said Hellenic Seaways has expressed interest in operating to the Cyclades from the Lavrio port in Attica in the event NEL is barred from providing the service.

Fingers crossed that the issue is resolved quickly …we have relied on NEL Lines for some of our Cyclades island hopping, and would have used them on our recent holiday had we been able to count on the Aqua Spirit sailing as scheduled.

 [Editor’s Update June 24 2015: Greek media have today reported that the Alternate Shipping Minister declared NEL Lines forfeit, thereby barring the company from operating ferries in the Cyclades.  Next step is for the Greek Shipowners Association for Passenger Ships (SEEN) to hold a process in which qualifying shipping companies can bid to win a 3-month operating permit for service to the Cyclades. For its part, NEL will be seeking new business opportunities to replace the lost ferry contract. Greek Travel Pages reported that NEL issued a statement saying: “The company is exploring ways to replace these revenues by leasing its ships for charter travel in Greece, or preferably abroad, granted that it has been proven that coastal shipping in this continuing and intensifying financial crisis is no longer a profitable business.”

[Update June 26 2015:  Greek Travel Pages has reported: “For the next three months the Greek coastal ferry operator Hellenic Seaways will run the route connecting the Western Cyclades with Syros and other islands of the Cyclades complex, according to a decision by the Greek Shipping Ministry.” In three months’ time, the government will open tenders for continuing service on the routes.]

 

Aqua Spirit ferry

The Aqua Spirit departs Andros on its way to Tinos and Syros

 

Aqua Spirit ferry sailing past Andros

Aqua Spirit steams across the horizon while we watch the sunset from our hotel near Batsi on Andros

A roller coaster ferry ride across rough seas in the Cyclades

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 The Blue Star Paros ferry rocks and rolls in rough seas as it crosses the strait between Tinos and Mykonos around noon on April 9 2015

 

Greek Easter celebrations got off to a chilly, windy and soggy start yesterday for thousands of Greeks and tourists hoping to spend the holiday weekend with family and friends on islands in the Aegean.

A powerful storm system swept across the Cyclades and other archipelagos, thrashing islands with cooler than seasonal temperatures, heavy rains, and wind gusting to force 8 and 9 on the Beaufort scale. Photos and videos shared on social media showed flooded beach areas on Naxos and Paros, as well as large waves crashing ashore at Amorgos, Mykonos, Syros and Samos.

Rough seas forced the cancellation of numerous ferries scheduled to depart Piraeus port at Athens, and there were reports that some Olympic Air flights to several islands, including Naxos, were cancelled as well. The port authority of Heraklion, on Crete, also ordered the suspension of ferry service from that island.

 

Bigger ferries tried to battle the seas

Many people whose ferries weren’t cancelled probably wished they had been — including, I’m sure, many of the passengers who travelled on the Blue Star Paros from Mykonos to Tinos yesterday. The video that I posted above shows the ship battling its way through enormous waves in the straight between the two islands. The film, which was shot by someone on Tinos, shows the ferry almost disappearing from view as it crashes through swells several storeys tall. I couldn’t imagine what it was like being a passenger as the ship rocked, rolled and swayed in such tempestuous seas.

The Nissos Mykonos ferry yesterday managed to sail only partway through its route from Pireaus to Syros, Mykonos, Ikaria, and Samos. It made it as far as Mykonos when adverse weather conditions prevented it from continuing the journey to Ikaria. The ship instead returned to Syros for safe anchorage, but because of brutal wind and waves there, it took over an hour for the crew to dock the vessel. The ferry was carrying 430 passengers who had to spend the night in Syros and hope the ship could resume its voyage today.

Meanwhile, light snow and hail fell on parts of mainland Greece and mountainous areas of some islands.

The unusually severe Holy Week weather follows on the heels of what many Greeks say was the coldest and snowiest winter in memory, during which at least three separate storm systems battered the islands and mainland. You can view photos and videos of the winter storms in my posts on January 2, January 17, and February 14.

Wind, rain and cloud is expected to continue today but the forecast shows gradually improving conditions, with sunshine, for Easter weekend. Ferry service from Piraeus and Heraklion could resume later this afternoon (Friday April 10) if the weather improves.

 

This video shows the Nissos Mykonos ferry attempting to dock at Syros after it had to cut short its scheduled voyage to Samos because of the weather.

 

Marathi: a get-away-from-it-all Greek Island

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Marathi island

This was my first view — from a ferry — of the serene bay on Marathi where the tiny island’s restaurants and rental rooms are located

 

Stavragos Taverna Marathi

while this is a view of the bay from the taverna terrace at Stavragos, one of only three places where people can eat and  stay while visiting Marathi (photo from a  Stavragos group page on Facebook).

 

Island escape: Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed by city life — the crowded streets and sidewalks, incessant urban noise, construction all around and illuminated advertising signs everywhere I look — I daydream about getting away from it all on a remote Greek island few people know about. Somewhere like Marathi.

A tiny isle situated about 12 nautical miles east of Patmos in the Dodecanese island group, Marathi is off the beaten tourist path and free from crowds, traffic, noise and light pollution. According to Kalispera Greece, the English-language version of a Swedish website about Greece, it’s an ideal spot for someone seeking a Robinson Crusoe-style escape from the demands of contemporary urban life.

That’s because there simply isn’t much there —  just “three tavernas, three pensions, two jetties, one cemetery, one tiny church, a few goats and a pretty nice sandy beach. There are no shops, no cars, no scooters, no villages and no roads,” Kalispera Greece says.

 

There aren’t many people, either. A recently-published travel article on the website for the UK newspaper The Telegraph called Marathi one of Greece’s 11 least populated islands, with only 12 residents in summertime and just 3 during the winter.

No crowds? No traffic? No bright digital ads? No noise besides birdsong, crowing roosters and jingling goat bells? It sounds idyllic to me, and in online holiday reviews many Marathi visitors have used the word “paradise” to describe the island.

 

Marathi island

A hilltop view of the Marathi bay and nearby Arki island. (Image from the website for The Pirate Rooms and Taverna on Marathi.)

 

Marathi bay

Side view of the Marathi bay in another photo from the public Facebook group page for Stavragos Taverna and Rooms

 

I haven’t stayed on Marathi yet, but I have been enthralled by the dream of enjoying some quality rest and relaxation there after getting a brief glimpse of the isle nearly five years ago.

We were riding the Nissos Kalymnos ferry from Patmos to Samos at the time. The ship had just stopped at the island of Arki, and I was on the open deck enjoying the scenery as we headed to the next port of call, Agathonisi.  As we passed a crescent-shaped bay with a sandy beach on Marathi, I spotted several people watching us from a vine-sheltered terrace at what I assumed was either a private vacation home or a holiday rental villa. I felt a tinge of envy, imagining how restful it must have been for those people if a ferry sailing past once a day was one of the few interruptions to the island’s prevailing peace and tranquillity.

 

Several weeks later, when I was organizing photos I had shot during the ferry ride, I couldn’t stop looking at my pictures of the Marathi beach and bay. I wanted to learn more about the island and, a few Google searches later, discovered that I had photographed Stavragos, one of only three properties on Marathi with a taverna and rooms for rent.

Click on the link below to view additional photos and read more about Marathi on page 2 of this post.

 Stavragos Taverna

When I saw this building from the ferry, I thought it was a private vacation home. It’s actually rental accommodations and an excellent restaurant — Stavragos Taverna and Rooms.  It has four rooms for rent, and serves seafood and home-cooked Greek cuisine at its seaview garden terrace.

 

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2014 Greek holiday report Part 6: Off to Syros

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Naxos Town

This was one of our final views of Naxos Town on May 24 2014, as we departed Naxos on the Aqua Jewel ferry

Ermoupoli Syros

bound for Ermoupoli, the port and capital city of Syros island

 Parikia town on Paros

with a brief stop en route at Parikia. the main port and town on Paros

 

[Editor’s note: This is the sixth instalment in an ongoing series of photo reports about our 2014 spring vacation in the Cyclades and Athens. The previous posts reviewed our 5 days on Naxos. To see any or all of the earlier reports, click on the following underlined links:  Part 1 ; Part 2 ; Part 3 ; Part 4 and Part 5 .]

 

Saturday May 24

Moving on: It was another sunny morning, but we wouldn’t get to enjoy the beautiful weather. After breakfast, we had to pack, take a taxi to the port, and ride a ferry to Syros for the next leg of our 2014 Greek holiday.

We didn’t want to leave Naxos. After three consecutive visits here in the past 12 months (and three others in previous years), it almost feels like a second home, and the island has become our favourite holiday destination. And why wouldn’t it be? Naxos has everything we want for a vacation — Wonderful scenery, unpretentious attitude and laid-back ambience, friendly and hospitable local residents, delicious food, reasonable prices, and plenty of things to see and do. 

But it was time to move on and, much as we love Naxos, we were equally eager to visit Syros. We have heard countless good things about it during the past 10 years — including lavish praise from people who live on Naxos, as well as from other regular Naxos visitors. In fact, I can’t recall ever hearing anything bad about Syros. By all accounts, Syros could well be another island we would fall in love with and want to revisit again and again. And if, for some reason, Syros didn’t strike our fancy, Naxos would still be there for us.

Please click on the link below to continue reading the report on our journey from Naxos to Syros.

 

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