Day 3 – Cruising the Dardanelles

Gin, Sushi and the Dardanelles

The forward superstructure of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' EUROPA 2 glistens this evening as we arrived early at Mytilene, Greece. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The forward superstructure of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 glistens this evening as we arrived early at Mytilene, Greece. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pleasant surprises were on the menu today aboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 as we made our way through the scenic (not to mention busy) Dardanelles that separate Istanbul from the Aegean.

The first and most noticeable surprise: we’d be getting in to Mytilene, Greece early – by an entire day. Instead of arriving tomorrow morning, the Officers here onboard EUROPA 2 managed to get us an earlier transit time for the Dardanelles, which in turn allowed us to arrive in Mytilene tonight at 6:30 p.m instead of early tomorrow morning. With only 155 nautical miles to cover between Istanbul and Mytilene, our journey was not a particularly fast one – perhaps 12 knots at best – but it’s one that guests here seem to have approved of.

Do Not Disturb: when the red light is on, crew know to leave you be. It is controlled from inside your suite. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Do Not Disturb: when the red light is on, crew know to leave you be. It is controlled from inside your suite. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

By the way – for what it’s worth, I’ve adopted “Mytilene” as my approved form of spelling for a town that seems to have an enormous number of variations, from Mitiline to Mytiline. Perhaps the standards guy was out having an ouzo…

In many ways, my “evening of sadness” last night has worked out in some unexpected ways. In an attempt to recover the sleep that I just flat-out did not get last night, I popped the “Do Not Disturb” light up on my suite door and slept on and off until 12:30 p.m. After having a 12-hour liquid diet, I felt well enough to join the world again.

This afternoon, I kept my haircut appointment at the Ocean Spa - and wasn't disappointed. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
This afternoon, I kept my haircut appointment at the Ocean Spa – and wasn’t disappointed. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Here’s why I am so impressed with that: I stayed in my suite until well past noon. Given the late hour, I wouldn’t ordinarily expect my suite to be touched until the evening turndown service, yet when I returned to the room just an hour later, it had already been made up, restocked, and cleaned. I was flabbergasted. I expect a good level of service on any luxury line, but that pleasantly surprised me.

At 2:00 p.m., I made my way down to the Ocean Spa on Deck 5. Yesterday afternoon I’d arranged for a haircut, and I felt that keeping my appointment might be just what was needed to rejoin the world, so to speak.

The hair salon in EUROPA 2's Ocean Spa. Banks of large, oversized windows are off-screen to the right. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The hair salon in EUROPA 2’s Ocean Spa. Banks of large, oversized windows are off-screen to the right. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

My stylist, Kathrin, was friendly and efficient. She’s only been on the ship for three weeks, but she seems to love working here. In fact, all the crew here onboard seem to be very proud to be working for Hapag-Lloyd.

For €39, my men’s shampoo, cut and blow-dry was exactly what I needed to start looking and feeling human again. It was also one of the nicest shipboard salons I’ve seen, with large oversized picture windows framing the cutting stations. I also loved that, unlike many shipboard spas, there was no ‘hard sell’ for product at the end. The entire experience was genuine. Highly recommended!

Sailing to Mytilene, numerous passenger ferries outran us as they raced to meet their schedules. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sailing to Mytilene, numerous passenger ferries outran us as they raced to meet their schedules. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
While onboard EUROPA 2, there was time for Suite indulgences...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
While onboard EUROPA 2, there was time for Suite indulgences…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...and my stateroom TV allowed me to follow our progress with the stern cam (shown) and Bow cam channels. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…and my stateroom TV allowed me to follow our progress with the stern cam (shown) and Bow cam channels. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

As we sailed south toward Mytilene, numerous ferries passed us, outrunning EUROPA 2’s luxuriant pace as they raced to make their next port of call. No doubt their passengers looked on longingly at our ship, which must have looked spectacular in the Mediterranean sun.

EUROPA 2's onboard Art Gallery on Deck 9 features a constantly-changing array of works and exhibitors. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2’s onboard Art Gallery on Deck 9 features a constantly-changing array of works and exhibitors. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In the afternoon, EUROPA 2’s onboard gallery exhibitor Jessica Bauer showed us some of the spectacular artwork she’s brought with her for this voyage, including a series of works by Riccardo Gusmaroli that feature small paper boats arranged in interesting and unique topographical formations. If I had a spare €10,000, I’d have snapped one up in an instant. They were over-the-top cool. However, I am a few Euros short, to say the least. In fact, Bauer’s entire gallery display has two overriding themes: travel and paper and to that end, nearly all the works exhibited one of both of these characteristics.

Layered paintings in the Weltmeere Dining Room, Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Layered paintings in the Weltmeere Dining Room, Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Weltmeer Dining Room is a work of art in its own right...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Weltmeer Dining Room is a work of art in its own right…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...right down to the digitized-looking pattern on the carpeting. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…right down to the digitized-looking pattern on the carpeting. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

It’s the ideal complement to EUROPA 2’s own onboard art collection, which totals 890 individual pieces and spans nearly every deck, suite and public area. The collection features works by Gerhard Richter, Ólafur Elíasson, David Hockney, Damien Hirst, Adam Fuss and Hans Hartung, along with – deep breath – Jeppe Hein, Georg Küttinger, Ingrid von Kruse, Eva Hild, Minjung Kim, Cornelius Völker, Rupprecht Mathies, Kubach & Kropp, Tenka Gammelgaard, Christiane Baumgartner and Christian Schoppe. To name a few.

This traditionally-styled pottery outside Elements Restaurant on Deck 4 is modeled after traditional Asian pottery. Notice, though, the corporate logos that have been worked into the design. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
This traditionally-styled pottery outside Elements Restaurant on Deck 4 is modeled after traditional Asian pottery. Notice, though, the corporate logos that have been worked into the design. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

If you’re curious about the onboard artwork, have a peek in your suite: a comprehensive brochure has been produced for EUROPA 2 that details nearly every work of art onboard. You can conduct your own art tour with this, or join in one of the guided art tours that, if you really wanted to, could surely take hours. Some pieces of art – like original works by Damien Hirst – can only be seen in the ship’s top-of-the-line suites.

Onboard resident art gallery exhibitor Jessica Bauer shows us some of Europa's 890 pieces of onboard art. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Onboard resident art gallery exhibitor Jessica Bauer shows us some of Europa’s 890 pieces of onboard art. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

On our late afternoon art tour, some of the genius of this art was on display, most prominently with the identical sculptures that adorn the port and starboard staircases of Deck 4. The sun light passing through the windows changes the appearance of these esoteric sculptures with each passing hour, creating a space where the light and shadows are constantly evolving.

Light streams through the enormous, four-deck-high bank of windows that line EUROPA 2's midship staircases. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Light streams through the enormous, four-deck-high bank of windows that line EUROPA 2’s midship staircases. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After such cerebral stimulation, it was time to stimulate the palate with a Gin Tasting in Herrenzimmer. Although alcoholic drinks are not provided gratis in the public rooms aboard EUROPA 2, certain events – like this Gin Tasting – are.

Gin & Tonic, anyone? Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Gin & Tonic, anyone? Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Although Gin historically is a Dutch drink, the vast majority of Gin produced today comes from the United Kingdom. If you’ve never had it before, it’s strong – very strong. But it can also be quite delicate, as I found out, depending on what botanicals are used along with it.

To that end, our small press group sampled four kinds of gin, done three separate ways apiece. That we were still standing at the end of it is nothing short of miraculous.

Herrenzimmer, located on Deck 4, has nearly 40 different kinds of Gin, and five different tonics. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Herrenzimmer, located on Deck 4, has nearly 40 different kinds of Gin, and five different tonics. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

First, we started off with a Tanqueray No. Ten gin from London, England. Taken neat, it hits you like a bullet train – but with a surprisingly pleasant aroma, thanks to the inclusion of citrus fruits. In fact, adding a slice of mandarin orange and some ice made it exceedingly palatable, though I can’t say I’ll be ordering neat Gin at any time in the future.

Our Gin tasting table. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Our Gin tasting table. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Gin Number Two was the Tanqueray Rangpur, featuring the Indian fruit of the same name. This one had an even heftier kick when taken neat, and I joked that I’d found I had a small cut on my upper lip because it just burned like hell after the smallest taste. Again, on ice with a mandarin orange slice seemed to do the trick, releasing some of this gin’s inherent ginger and bay leaf tastes.

My favorite cocktail of the bunch: Scottish Gin mixed with tonic and a maraschino cherry. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My favorite cocktail of the bunch: Scottish Gin mixed with tonic and a maraschino cherry. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

But the Brits aren’t the only ones who can make a mean Gin. We also sampled the German-made Monkey 47 – Schwarzwald Dry Gin that hails from the Black Forest region. This Gin includes sloe, fir and honeysuckle, and is exceedingly good. It’s also the closest I could come to drinking it neat, but with some tonic, it really made for a fantastic drink.

The last Gin we partook in was from Scotland – the Darnley’s View Spiced London Dry Gin. Distilled five times in a pot-still process, it’s still produced largely by hand from 10 botanicals including juniper, cinnamon, nutmeg, Guinea pepper, cumin, clove and angelica root. Added to some Thomas Henry tonic (made in Berlin) and topped with a maraschino cherry, I’d actually order this drink again.

So there you go – you never know what you’ll learn onboard EUROPA 2!

Dinner tonight was on Deck 9, at Sakura, EUROPA 2's Japanese-themed specialty restaurant. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Dinner tonight was on Deck 9, at Sakura, EUROPA 2’s Japanese-themed specialty restaurant. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
We had all the sushi, sashimi and tempura we could handle - and it was all prepared freshly just feet from our eyes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
We had all the sushi, sashimi and tempura we could handle – and it was all prepared freshly just feet from our eyes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Dinner tonight was Japanese-themed, as we ventured up to the starboard side of Deck 9 to dine in Sakura, EUROPA 2’s onboard Sushi and Sashimi restaurant.

Normally, I don’t eat Sushi when I travel. It’s not because I don’t like it, rather it’s because in my hometown of Vancouver, we are fortunate to have some of the best Japanese food outside of Tokyo. The freshly-prepared sushi, sashimi and tempura we had prepared for us tonight, however, were out-of-this-world good. Perhaps even better, there are no cover charges for any specialty restaurant aboard EUROPA 2, though reservations are recommended due to their intimate size.

Captain Christian van Zwamen introduced his Officers in the Theatre tonight. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Captain Christian van Zwamen introduced his Officers in the Theatre tonight. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

To end my night, I took in the Captain’s Welcome and “CUBE” Show in the Theatre. Captain Christian van Zwamen introduced his fellow Officers to guests in both German and perfect English, and then the show began.

EUROPA 2's two-story theatre is located all the way on Deck 4, and spans Decks 3 and 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2’s two-story theatre is located all the way on Deck 4, and spans Decks 3 and 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

CUBE, as you might expect from a ship like EUROPA 2, is unlike anything you’ve seen at sea. It’s part acrobatics, part multimedia work of art, part Tetris game. Really. The show makes heavy use of lighting effects, geometrical displays, and nine dancers who all move about the stage in interesting ways. Set to a thudding high-tech soundtrack, it’s perfect for the multilingual crowd here onboard the ship – you could understand the show without knowing English or German, frankly.

The imaginative show, CUBE, was presented tonight at 10p.m. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The imaginative show, CUBE, was presented tonight at 10p.m. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I’ve always said that much of the mainstream cruise entertainment bores me to tears. Things like tributes to ABBA and the songbook of Rod Stewart are okay for one or two go-rounds, but they’re specific, English-based and, frankly, tired. CUBE may not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s original, creative, and certainly unlike anything I’ve ever seen at sea. Bonus points for that.

Tonight, I suspect it will take nothing for EUROPA 2 to lull me to sleep. Here onboard the ship, the hard part isn’t being comfortable – it’s convincing yourself to not become a hermit in your own suite!

EUROPA 2's swimming pool at night. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
EUROPA 2’s swimming pool at night. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 continues tomorrow as explore Mytilene, Greece! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

Our voyage on Europa 2 will take us from Istanbul to Kusadasi, Turkey. Illustration courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Our voyage on Europa 2 will take us from Istanbul to Kusadasi, Turkey. Illustration courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Follow along with our entire journey!

Europa 2, Greece to Turkey

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Friday, September 19, 2014Istanbul, TurkeyInternational Flight to Turkey; embark EUROPA 2; evening touring Blue Mosque & Hagia SophiaOvernight onboard ship in Istanbul
Saturday, September 20Istanbul, TurkeyOvernight; official start of Voyage.24:00
Sunday, September 21Cruising the Dardanelles Strait
Monday, September 22Mitilini /Lesbos, Greece04:0018:00
Tuesday, September 23Volos, Greece07:0017:30
Wednesday, September 24Kusadasi, Turkey; Izmir, TurkeyDisembark EUROPA 2; afternoon touringOvernight stay in Izmir, Turkey; onward journey.
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