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Saga Sapphire blog - Captains' blogs

27th April, 2015

Before today we had two days at sea, and the first of these was Anzac Day. As I wrote in my Istanbul blog, we were at anchor at Karanlik Liman, which is more or less opposite the memorials of Turkey and Britain on the Gelibolu Peninsula at the mouth of the Dardanelles. We were here early to be in place to receive the direct broadcast of the Anzac Dawn Service of Remembrance marking the centenary of the start of the Gallipoli campaign. We have a group of 80 Australians and one New Zealander on board, for whom this was a highlight of this cruise. Many of our British passengers joined them on deck and in the Britannia Lounge where the service was shown on the big screen. After the service it was time for breakfast.

This was followed by a lecture on the Gallipoli campaign, and then it was time for our own Remembrance Service. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was at this service and presented a wreath of remembrance. The wreath represented Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the War Widows and the Passengers and Crew of the ship. After the Service the traditional rum and milk was served with Anzac cookies. After lunch we picked up the anchor and for most of the afternoon cruised along the west coast of the Gelibolu Peninsula passing close to the different landing beaches, including Anzac Cove. This evening there was an Anzac Day Cocktail Party followed by a sumptuous dinner. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge featured a performance by one of the most beloved sopranos in the world, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. This was followed in the Drawing Room by a special dance party hosted by Michelle, Aaron and Danielle Mae, or by The Late Show with Dave Peterson at the piano in Cooper’s Bar.

After breakfast on 26 April, there was the Sunday Service lead by Canon Richard Hanmer followed by our Guest Speakers, Instructors, Beauty Staff and Cruise Staff presenting, organising, hosting and treating. The evening started with cocktail hour in Cooper’s with Dave Peterson at the piano and in the Drawing Room, where the Perfect Mood Duo entertained our guests. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge hosted a performance by Virtuoso Flautist Tara Rachelle. This morning we arrived at the pilot station at the early hour of 6 am, as we had a passenger who was so unwell that she had to be taken to the hospital. The ship was berthed at 7 am. Crete is the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean and has a rich history. Heraklion, named after Hercules, lies midway along the island's north coast and offers a wealth of interesting sights. On the waterfront stands a magnificent Venetian fortress. Echoes of Crete's Venetian period can also be found at the Loggia, an elegant Palladian-style public building where nobility and royalty discussed official business. The Archaeological Museum is one of the finest in Europe and houses many important artefacts recovered from the Palace of Knossos, in addition to other exhibits dating from Neolithic to Roman times. Undoubtedly the Jewel in Crete's historical crown, the palace of Knossos, lies three miles south of Heraklion. Excavated by the British archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, it shows how technically advanced the Minoan culture was by 1900 BC. Heraklion also has a large and colourful market, where our passengers were able to gain an insight into everyday Cretan life.

Soon after the officials had boarded, the ship was cleared and passengers could go ashore. Today’s tours were:

“Phaestos Palace”: Built over an older palace complex in about 1700 BC, covering an area of 195,000 square feet, the palace stands on a hill dominating the valley of Messara. From the site views of the Ida mountain range can be admired. It is believed that it was the former home of King Radamanthys, the brother of King Minos and ‘son of Zeus’. The structure’s superb architectural design and near-perfect construction are considered to be the finest and most typical of all Minoan palaces. The ruins of the Old and New Palace are both preserved: the Old Palace, with some remains dating back to Neolithic times, is protected under a modern shelter. The New Palace consists of a central peristyle court, flanked by storerooms and shrines on the west side, the royal quarters on the north and workshops on the east. The ‘theatrical area’ and ‘processional ways’ are situated west of the storerooms, and the Old Palace granaries are located in the lower strata. The West Propylon, the palace’s monumental entrance, is the most impressive known structure of its kind. The artefacts from the palace are now exhibited in Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

“Knossos Place and Arolithos Village”: Crete’s fertile soil and towering peaks witnessed the development of one of the earliest recorded civilizations on Earth, the Minoan. Knossos was the court of the legendary King Minos, whose wife Pasiphae gave birth to the Minotaur, half-bull, half-man. Entering the Great Palace through the West Court, one can easily understand why the legend of the labyrinth grew up here. It takes about one and a half hours to walk around the site and explore all parts of the Palace. During this walking our passengers admired the superb Royal Quarters: the Throne room with its antechamber and main throne, and the Queen’s Quarters where the wall above the entrance door is decorated with a copy of the famous dolphin frescoes. Apart from the Royal Palace there are also other buildings on the site, such as the Small Palace, the House of the High Priest and the Caravanserai. From here the tour continued with a visit to Arolithos, a replica of a typical Cretan village, built in the early 1980s to reflect the various aspects of traditional Cretan life. A stroll around the narrow streets of Arolithos gave one a feel of this Cretan village.

“Panoramic Crete”: Crete is an island of contrasts - cosmopolitan and heavily developed in some parts, rough and unspoilt in others. The scenery of the interior is constantly changing with harsh and barren land as well as lush wooded areas. The coach drove along the beautiful coast to Elounda, a popular holiday resort full of luxury hotels, elegant restaurants and pretty gardens. From here the tour went to the village of Plaka. Across from the village is the small island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony that guards the entrance from the Cretan Sea into the shallow bay. Today it is officially known as Kalydon: it’s houses and churches have been well preserved and the unoccupied island is a popular local tourist attraction. Spinalonga is also known for its small pebble beaches and shallow waters. And the island’s period of Venetian occupation is reflected in the fortress that surrounds the abandoned village. The last stop was Agios Nikolaos, a picturesque coastal town with a small lagoon called Lake Voulismeni in its centre, which is connected to the harbour by a channel dug in 1870. With its traditional fishing boats, walking trails, ever-present ducks and pigeons and numerous cafés, Agios Nikolaos is the most fashionable resort in Crete.

“Traditional Cretan Villages”: As mentioned before Crete is an island of contrasts, which could be appreciated during this trip. The first visit was to the hillside village of Thrapsano, which is renowned throughout Crete as the centre of the island's pottery workshops. It still produces the traditional storage jars, known as 'pitharia', that have hardly changed since the Minoan era. After watching the local potters at work, and admiring their technique, the tour continued to Peza which is a village at the heart of one of Crete's most important and longest-established wine-producing areas. Our passengers visited one of the wineries where they sampled the local produce, before returning to the coach to enjoy a panoramic drive through the city of Heraklion.

As soon as all the passengers and crew were on board, the pilot on the bridge and the compulsory tug boat made fast, we left the berth and headed out of the port. Once outside we disembarked the pilot and set course for our next port of call, Valletta.

After dinner this evening the Britannia Lounge featured the comedy and artistry of master marionette artists John Chisholm and Joseph Probst with their Stars on Strings. This was followed in the Drawing Room by Easy Listening with The Perfect Mood Duo and in Cooper’s Bar by The Late Show with Dave Peterson at the piano.

Captain Kees Spekman

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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