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North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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North Coast Current

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Aboard the Grande Ellade

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By Cecil Scaglione

We were never really sure what our next stop would be during our 10,000-mile voyage aboard the Grande Ellade. Imagine strolling out your front door into the heart of Salerno, the largest city on the Amalfi Coast, and grabbing your jacket tomorrow morning to saunter through Savona on the Italian Riviera. This, after ambling around Cyprus a couple of days earlier.
We spent from two to 14 hours in 16 cities and towns bordering the Alboran, Ligurian, Tyrrhenian, Mediterranean, Ionian, Aegean, Balearic, Irish, and North seas in temperatures ranging from torrid to teeth-chattering.
Shortly after we eight passengers boarded the 51,000-ton roll-on, roll-off Grimaldi Group automobile carrier in southern England’s bustling port of Southampton, we learned our first landfall. Civitavecchia, Rome’s port, was not to be. It would be Valencia, on Spain’s Costa Blanca.
That drove home the primary rule for our trip: be flexible.
It took this 10-story structure four days at its 20-mile-an-hour cruising speed to get us to Valencia, where El Cid battled the Moors and which houses what is believed to be the chalice Jesus and the apostles used at the Last Supper.
We had four hours ashore and, what was to become our practice, took a cab into town and arranged to meet the driver at a pre-arranged time and spot to return to the ship.
After a quick tour and taste of the sites, smells, and sounds, we relaxed over an al fresco brunch in a small cafe.
Our confidence soared at our next stop when we walked into Salerno for a five-hour layover.
Lunch was at a seaside restaurant with reservations cell-phoned in by Salvatore, the ship’s cook.
That evening we sipped espresso in the wheelhouse with the captain as we slid into the two-mile-wide mouth of the Strait of Messina separating mainland Italy from Sicily.
It took the better part of a day to slip through the 400 Greek Islands actually, 100 of them are Turkish before docking at Piraeus, Athens’ port city. We climbed a small hill for a panoramic
view of the acropolis and Parthenon before picking out a waterfront bistro for lunch.

First Officer Fabio Fois made repairs to the Grande Ellade's "whale watcher" crow's nest as the ship approached The Rock of Gibralter. photo: Cecil Scaglione (click on image to enlarge photo)
First Officer Fabio Fois made repairs to the Grande Ellade’s “whale watcher” crow’s nest as the
ship approached The Rock of Gibralter.
photo: Cecil Scaglione (click on image to enlarge photo)

Conversation centered on the benefits of this trip.
The low cost our fare for five weeks was 1,551 euros each was high on the list. So was the food. Because Grimaldi is an Italian company (based in Naples), our menu featured Italian cuisine, with wine complementing lunch and dinner.
The facilities ranked almost as high, as a veteran of a half-dozen cruise voyages pointed out, “This is the biggest cabin we’ve ever had.”
At Izmir, near Turkey’s ancient archaeological city of Ephesus, the following day, we opted for a cab to the main marketplace in town to look and loiter before grabbing lunch.
With only two hours in Alexandria, once the capital of the Western world, the next day, we clambered aboard a couple of cabs for a quick tour of some pre-argued sights that we never got to see because the drivers extemporized and took us to other sites as well as the compulsory jewelry shop.
At Limassol, our port of call the following day on the Greek-controlled south coast of Cyprus, we grabbed a bus for the 80-cent 15-minute ride into town and had all day to tour the market, mosque, and medieval museum in the Byzantine castle where, according to tradition, Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre in 1191 and crowned her Queen of England.
We were awakened the next morning by the grumbling anchor chain and spent the day rolling gently among a dozen or so other ships waiting for the Israeli port of Ashdod to reopen at sundown. It was Saturday, the Sabbath, and the whole country was shut down.
Once berthed, we arranged for a 10-passenger bus and guide for a tour of Jerusalem before heading back to Salerno, where we had all day this time and got to see the cathedral that houses the bones of St. Matthew.
We slipped softly by the candy-like lights of the Amalfi coast in the mellow Mediterranean evening before pointing north to Savona. A Ligurian eatery there looked like an unimposing pizza parlor from out front but, as we were urged by a mother and daughter we stopped for advice, we went to the restaurant in the rear and stood in line for 45 minutes for one of the finest meals of the entire trip. Seafood, of course.
Portugal’s Setubal, with its tailored terrazzo streets, was our last warm-weather stop. We picked up some pharmacy needs for Salvatore and had a beer in MacDonald’s with a couple of ship’s off-duty officers we bumped into ashore.
Our next day at sea went from growling to gorgeous as we headed for the lock that protects Britain’s Bristol harbor from one of the highest tides in the world. The lock is 18 meters high to
keep out the 14-meter tide.
Youngsters with surf boards head to the nearby Severn River to catch the tidal bore that runs upriver when the ocean moves. There’s a life-size bronze statue downtown of Cary Grant, who was named Archie Leech when he was born here.
It was an overnight trip to Cork in southern Ireland, where we cruised by the picturesque panorama of Cobh, the seaside community where survivors of the Titanic were taken, with its rows of multicolored “unisex” homes running down the hillside to the shoreline.
The Ellade’s foghorn awakened us the next morning as we discovered the North Sea deserves the bad rap everyone gives it. It always has a chip on its shoulder and we began to bounce around like that chip. We zig-zagged for two days awaiting the demise of a storm that whipped up Force 10 winds, killer waves, and freezing spume all around our vessel.
The seas softened and temperatures tumbled as we cleared the northern tip of Denmark. The only warmth we ran into in Stenungsund, a 30-minute ride from the port of Wallhamn, was the people’s friendliness.
During our four-hour layover the following morning in Denmark, we grabbed a bite and some local goodies from the outdoor market in the Esbjerg’s gingerbread town center.
It was a six-hour Marscape run the following night as we glided through the massive industrial complex surrounding Antwerp.
Since we were scheduled to dock for only 3 1/2 hours as the ship loaded 130 tons of fuel before returning to Southampton to start its five-week tour all over again, we skipped the one-hour cab
ride into the city (and one hour back) and opted to pack and prepare for our airport runs and flights home two days away. However, we wound up spending more than 12 hours tied up because United Nations frogmen closed the only harbor entry/exit lock to inspect it for security breaches. Reminding us to the end that you have to be flexible.

Do-It-Yourself Entertainment Aboard a Freighter

There’s no beginning or end to the rolling kaleidoscopic memory of our 35-day Grimaldi freighter voyage. There’s the hair-raising pick-off-the-pedestrians cab ride along Alexandria’s bustling seafront, the breath-taking uprush of pigeons from Setubal’s square, the startling beauty of a flaming-haired Cypriot long-legging it thru a sudden thunder shower as we sipped a comfortable beer in a tented outdoor bistro, the “Don’t Worry America, Israel is Behind You” T-shirts in Jerusalem’s bazaar, the sun sliding silently over the Italian Riviera city of Savonna’s boat basin while we nursed a deliciously soft gelato, and more.
If you enjoy catching such glimpses of the world around you and perhaps take a quick peek into your soul — sign up immediately for a any of the dozens of freighter trips offered to pretty well
anywhere you want to go in the world.
We were told right up front: “We give you good food and we give good accommodations. The rest is up to you.”
If you cannot amuse yourself, fuggedaboutit!
The most-asked question about our five-weeks at seas was: “What did you do with no movies or shows on board?”
First of all, the eight passengers as well as the 20-plus officers and crewmen had movies and shows on board in compact disks and DVDs. After all, the Grande Ellade is home to every member of the crew for four months or longer at a time. They get ashore only if their off-duty shifts coincide with port time.
While at sea between our stops at 16 cities we did laundry, trimmed hair, manicured hands and/or feet, and lounged in the sun on deck chairs.
We also played cards and charades, worked on jigsaw puzzles, took turns hosting happy hours before dinner, wrote Christmas cards, knitted afghans for family or friends, re-did address books, took photos of pirouetting porpoises, read, and headed up to the bridge to check our position and ETA (estimated time of arrival) at our next port.
Some worked out daily in the small gym. Others challenged various members of the crew at table tennis. A couple squeezed in a few games of handball in the hangar-sized Number One deck below the waterline. Another had a one-on-one cooking seminar with the chef.
We also raided the kitchen for tidbits, made ourselves cups of espresso or cappuccino, and sat around sipping libations purchased from the ship’s larder or picked up at the last port. In between, a few managed to watch a couple of movies.
— Cecil Scaglione


About Cecil Scaglione: Cecil is a former San Diego Union-Tribune writer and for a number of years has been a world traveler, writer and currently a syndicated columnist.

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Aboard the Grande Ellade