Volos, Makrinitsa and France – All In One Day
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
“Bitte.” It means “please” in German, and it’s today’s German Expression of the Day here onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2.
Each day, the printed Programme of the Day offers up a small lesson in the German language to English-speaking guests, which I think is really neat. Bitte not only means please – as in, ein bier, bitte (a beer, please), but also “you are welcome.” So, if you say “Danke” (thanks) to someone, they will likely reply with “Bitte!”
However, as we are docked alongside in Volos, Greece today, a hearty “Kalimera!” might be more appropriate. It means “Good Day” or “Good Morning” in Greek, and what a good morning we had.
Volos is located about 300 kilometres north of Athens, and a little over 200 kilometres south of Thessaloniki. It’s also a very industrial city with modern, squat, and generally unattractive architecture owing to a catastrophic earthquake that ravaged the town in 1955. While it may not have the romanticism associated with its island counterparts like Mykonos and Rhodes, ships like EUROPA 2 call on Volos because there’s plenty to do, just outside of town.
Today, Hapag-Lloyd offered excursions to the historic Pelion Steam Train, and to the impressive sites of Meteora. Once again, our little group was taken on a tour by the folks from the Pelion Tourism Association – and we discovered some interesting sights not far from Volos.
Our main stop today was the small town of Makrinitsa, nicknamed “The Balcony of Mount Pelion” thanks to its commanding perch along the mountainside. From the cruise pier, it’s only perhaps a 30-minute drive up the mountain to reach Makrinitsa, though it’s worth noting that almost the entirety of the road takes place on a narrow switchback. If you’re prone to motion sickness, this might be one to take something pre-drive.
If Volos isn’t the idyllic paradise you think of when you picture Greece, Makrinitsa most certainly is. It’s a small town – fewer than 1,000 people call this hilly mountainside home – but it’s bustling with tourists who flock here to walk its cobblestone pathways, dine in its cafes, and admire the small streams of water that constantly run off the mountain.
We also had the chance to peek into the Makrinitsa Folk Art and History Museum of Pelion. I can’t tell you where it is, exactly; it’s location is rather hard to describe without saying, ‘take a left at the fountain, walk down past the Cathedral, follow the path through the woods with the trees that are just alive with wasps, and you’ll find it.’ Seriously – it’s the most hidden, out-of-the-way museum I’ve ever seen. If you visit Makrinitsa, ask a local – otherwise you’ll never see it!
The museum houses a number of important artifacts from the history of Pelion, including working phonographs, ancient Greek texts, and a depiction of how a typical Greek would have lived at the time of the building’s construction in the mid-1800’s.
As with nearly every place in Greece, well-fed stray dogs and cats roam the streets of Makrinitsa. The entire place feels like you’ve stepped back in time by a century or two; here, life moves at a more sedate pace than down in Volos, with its massive container terminals, ferry connections, and busy waterfront that reminds me more of a town on the French Riviera than Greece.
Back onboard EUROPA 2, this afternoon was my last chance to really explore this striking ship – and there were two suites that I absolutely had to see for myself.
At the top of EUROPA 2’s accommodations are the Owner’s Suite and the Grand Penthouse Suite. It’s exceedingly rare for one, let alone both, to be empty, but on this short voyage, they are. If I thought it was tough to drag myself away from my spacious Grand Suite, I personally see no reason why anyone in their right minds would ever even venture out of these two palatial suites.
There are two Grand Penthouse Suites onboard EUROPA 2, located on Deck 10 and numbered 1002 and 1003. They’re 840 square feet (78 m2) of pure living space, coupled with a 108 square foot (10 m2) balcony that includes a full-sized table and chairs, and two chaise loungers. That’s the technical data, at least.
Accented with gorgeous dark wood veneers on everything from closets to the stand from which the retractable flat-panel television resides in, this is a tour-de-force of shipboard accommodations. The bathroom – which is twice the size of the average cruise ship stateroom – sports a rainfall shower with built-in aromatherapy steam functions, dual glass vanity sinks, dual mirrors, and a massive whirlpool bath, ahead of which is a day bed for sunning and relaxing within view of the bank of floor-to-ceiling windows that also leads to your private balcony.
If (and only if) you can pull yourself away from the bathroom, you’ll find a separate bedroom with walk-in closet, a work desk area, and the aforementioned retracting flat-panel Bang & Olufsen television.
You’ll also find a living room with a full-sized table, a massive L-shaped couch, another flat-panel Bang & Olufsen television, and a separate toilet for guests. There’s also original artwork in these rooms by artists like Damien Hirst that are not found elsewhere on the ship. It’s a great room for entertaining guests in, as the bathroom and bedroom can be separated via sliding doors from the living room.
Oh, and the complimentary bottle of Dom Perignon chilling on ice doesn’t hurt either. You’ll also get to have dinner with the Captain, and get your pick of priority reservations at any of EUROPA 2’s dining venues. All that’s missing with this fabulous room is a cigar and some brandy, and heck, your personal butler can no doubt fetch both.
Right next door, however, is the Owner’s Suite. There are two of these Category 11 suites onboard EUROPA 2, numbered 1000 and 1001, located just aft of the Navigation Bridge.
Outwardly, the layout is exactly the same as the Grand Penthouse Suite next door, but with a décor similar to that of my Grand Suite – soft, earthy pastel colours in place of the very masculine dark woods of the Grand Penthouse. This room, however, includes more personal space than you can shake a stick at – 1,066 square feet of living space and a 161-square foot balcony. To put things in perspective, I’ve sailed in mainstream cruise staterooms that barely broke 150 square feet. You could fit the entire room on the balcony of this suite.
Everything here is bigger than in the Grand Penthouse Suite: bigger dining room table. Bigger couch. Substantially-larger bathroom (if that was possible!) with a massive, circular whirlpool tub that’s nearly on par with what you’d find out on the Pool Deck. It’s stunning.
What I do like about these suites is that there’s nothing ostentatious or over-the-top about them. There are no Grand Pianos or conference tables that seat 12 like you see on some of the mainstream ships in their “best-of-the-best” categories. These suites, like the rest of EUROPA 2, are designed to appeal to people who are accustomed to having a certain lifestyle and who do not wish to leave it behind while on vacation. To that end, they’re smartly-designed, intelligent and soothing. For VIP’s, everything you could possibly need is at hand – and that includes your personal privacy.
You know the saying, “If you have to ask how expensive it is, you probably can’t afford it”? That’s the case here. Both Grand Penthouse and Owner’s Suite fares aren’t published in the official Hapag-Lloyd Cruises brochure. Instead, a simple line of text – “on request” – runs through the pricing list. So, for now, I think my ten-minute visit will probably be as close to I get to sailing in one of these suites for a very long time to come.
This afternoon, we were invited to take in a very special wine tasting with EUROPA 2’s Hotel Manager and head Sommelier. But we didn’t do it in a restaurant or lounge; no. We sampled wines (with some exquisite cold cuts and cheese) deep in the bowels of the ship, on Deck 2 in EUROPA 2’s provisioning area, tucked neatly between two watertight doors.
EUROPA 2’s onboard wine cellar is a thing of beauty. There are over 800 different kinds of wine stocked onboard, from a bottle that retails on board for €17 all the way up to the two most valuable bottles – both French – which go for nearly €1000 apiece.
White wine – easily the most popular kind of wine onboard – has its own entire temperature-controlled storage area. Red wine shares its space with beer, which is the least-popular alcoholic item onboard. Being a German ship, I found that an interesting fact, since German beer is so darn good. Spirits have their own storage area, as do soda, soft drinks, and bottled water.
EUROPA 2 Hotel Manager Frank Neumann also explained the philosophy behind drinks onboard EUROPA 2. Despite being an ultra-luxury product, drinks aboard EUROPA 2 are typically not included in the cruise fare. Neumann says this has a lot to do with the clientele onboard EUROPA 2; if they were to offer a handful of complimentary wines each evening – as, say, on a river cruise – that ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not work for their guests. These are people who likely have their own cellars at home or who, at the very least, tend to be on the connoisseur side of things.
While there is a greater push for lines to go all-inclusive in North America, I think Neumann has a valid point. Plus, let’s not kid ourselves – if you can afford to sail EUROPA 2, the €5.30 for a cocktail is not going to set you back anything measurable. There’s also a very European (perhaps even German) practicality to this arrangement: you’re paying only for what you use. Don’t drink alcohol? No problem – you’re not paying for it.
Tonight, we dined in the restaurant I have been looking forward to all cruise long: the French-influenced Tarragon Restaurant on Deck 4. Besides being seated in one of the most alluring settings I think I’ve ever seen aboard a ship, the food was almost annoyingly perfect. I mean, I have had good food before – we all have – but this was something else.
To start, I had the beef tartar, which was succulent. I think it’s only the second or third time in my life that I’ve partaken in it, and it was most memorable. After that, it was time for mushroom soup – again, stunning – and coq au vin, which I love. This coq au vin, however, will be the one I measure all other meals against. Criminally good. Dessert…oh, who remembers? Paired with red wine and good company, I was just enchanted to have been there.
Tonight was absolutely flawless. My meal at Tarragon may have been the best meal I’ve ever eaten (no kidding). And the ship? The ship was a grand beauty gliding silently across the waves that sprang up out of nowhere. She barely shuddered. She barely moved. She didn’t rattle like so many ships do when in the motion of the ocean. She just continued on into the night, her bows pointed towards Kusadasi and the conclusion of our short time here onboard.
I hate to say it, but for me, I think EUROPA 2 is best experienced as a special occasion. This is the ship to honeymoon on; the ship to renew your wedding vows on. To take that long-awaited retirement celebration. To splurge and book passage for a month straight. She’s in a class of her own – and she deserves every one of her five-and-a-half stars from Berlitz.
Our Live Voyage Report onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 continues tomorrow as we disembark in Kusadasi, Turkey and explore the ancient ruins of Ephesus! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
Follow along with our entire journey!
Europa 2, Greece to Turkey
|Friday, September 19, 2014||Istanbul, Turkey||International Flight to Turkey; embark EUROPA 2; evening touring Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia||Overnight onboard ship in Istanbul|
|Saturday, September 20||Istanbul, Turkey||Overnight; official start of Voyage.||24:00|
|Sunday, September 21||Cruising the Dardanelles Strait|
|Monday, September 22||Mitilini /Lesbos, Greece||04:00||18:00|
|Tuesday, September 23||Volos, Greece||07:00||17:30|
|Wednesday, September 24||Kusadasi, Turkey; Izmir, Turkey||Disembark EUROPA 2; afternoon touring||Overnight stay in Izmir, Turkey; onward journey.|