…Airport to Zakynthos. 🙂
Got up this morning… well actually, I didn’t get up this morning, because I’d never been to bed to start with! 😊
Today would see us fly out to Zakynthos (also known by its Italian name of Zante) and, as we had to leave the house for Newcastle Airport at 3.00am (the middle of the night!) I decided it would be better just to stay up and binge-watch something on Britbox rather than go to bed only to be woken two or three hours later.
We set off just as the three o’clock news came on on Radio Newcastle, through the silent, darkened streets on the road to the airport. Normally we’d take the A1 most of the way but as there are major modifications taking place on that road, recently it has been closed overnight, so we had to take a different route.
The night was calm and cool (about 8°C with not a breath of wind); I was pleased about that as I was dressed to suit our destination rather than our home town. We arrived at the airport around 3.40am and made our way to the long-stay car park, where we drove around for a few minutes looking for a space.
Then we trundled our cases along the pavement towards the main terminal building. Contrasting with the dark, quiet streets devoid of traffic, Newcastle Airport thronged with people; happy holidaymakers like us who were looking forward to a long-awaited break in sunnier climes, and less happy people whose ‘plane had landed about 20 minutes earlier, signifying that their holiday had come to an end. 😊
The Jet2.com check-in desk was open, and the short queue moved quickly. We checked our luggage in and received our boarding passes, then made our way to security; the queue was not too onerous and we got through very quickly. Then our time was our own! Glancing up at the Departures board, we were advised that the gate information for our flight would be available from 5.15am, more than an hour from now. 😊
As we’d not had anything to eat or drink before leaving the house (who eats at that time of the morning?!) we went into a small café and ordered a large Americano each and a croissant. Then we made our way closer to the departure gates and found a lively bar where the squashy faux-leather seats were much more comfortable; we each ordered a pint of cold Guinness. Smiling broadly at each other, we agreed that the only time it is forgivable to drink beer at 4.45am is at an airport, awaiting the flight for your holiday. 😊
Soon the departures board advised us to go to Gate 2, which was only a stone’s throw away. We showed our boarding passes and passports, then went down the stairs into the cool night air and across the tarmac to our waiting Boeing 737-800, where we entered the aircraft by the rear doors.
Stashing our carry-on bags in the overhead lockers, we took our seats and clicked our seatbelts closed, ready for the four-hour flight. Well, it would normally be four hours but, because we were going to have a strong tail wind, our pilot informed us it would only take three hours 20 minutes, and we’d be flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet.
The aircraft was pushed back on time and taxied to the runway, where we soon roared off into the early morning light, the deep navy-blue of the pre-dawn sky starting to show faint tinges of orange at the horizon.
I spent some of the time reading and playing games on my tablet. Once we’d reached cruising height, the seat belt sign was switched off and the refreshments trolley started making its rounds; I ordered a couple of glasses of chilled Prosecco but Trevor had already fallen asleep, unsurprisingly after our early start.
The time passed in its usual inexorable way and, eventually, a change in the engine pitch of the aircraft told us that the captain had reduced speed as he started his descent into Zakynthos. Shortly afterwards, the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign came on, and we looked out of the window with interest and anticipation as the aircraft glided lower and lower towards the runway, landing with quite a resounding thump. We were here!
It didn’t take long to collect our cases from the carousel and exit the airport to look for the Newmarket Holidays rep. It turned out we were the only people on our trip on the Newcastle flight; the majority of the others had come in from Gatwick, and they were already on the mini-bus waiting for us.
It made a refreshing change that the transfer time from the airport to our accommodation this time was only 10 minutes. Sometimes we’ve had an hour and a half on the coach to our destination, on top of the flight. So we arrived at the port of Zante and caught sight of our home for the next seven nights – the gulet M/S Hemera.
Yes! We are doing a cruise with a difference this time, on a chartered two-masted yacht around the Ionian Greek Islands. The Hemera holds a maximum of 18 passengers and four crew, and she is a traditional Turkish gulet, a wooden-hulled sailing boat with two masts. In fact, I’d never heard of a gulet before this trip, and I looked it up on Google to see what the definition was (to quote from Wikipedia):
“A gulet is a traditional design of a two-masted or three-masted wooden sailing vessel (the most common design has two masts) from the southwestern coast of Turkey, particularly built in the coastal towns of Bodrum and Marmaris; although similar vessels can be found all around the eastern Mediterranean. Today, this type of vessel, varying in size from 14 to 35 metres, is popular for tourist charters. For considerations of crew economy, diesel power is now almost universally used and many are not properly rigged for sailing.“
The Hemera looked rustic and charming and it was with a great sense of excitement and anticipation that we made our way up the rickety gangplank and stepped aboard. Our cabin would not be available until 3.00pm, giving us a couple of hours to explore the nearby pretty little town of Zante. In the meantime, we could safely leave our cases and bags until our accommodation was ready.
It was about a 10 minute walk back into town, and we strolled along the harbour front, basking in the hot 28 degree sunshine and looking at the sun dancing and glittering on the Ionian sea. Several other gulets, yachts and pleasure craft were moored up nearby, and every now and again a loud blast of a foghorn would announce the arrival of the local ferry.
Arriving in town we saw many little cafés, tavernas and open-fronted restaurants. As we’d eaten nothing since breakfast (at 4.00am!) we decided to have some lunch, and we picked an attractive little place called Alektor.
First thing’s first – we ordered the obligatory freezing cold pint of local beer, which I accompanied with the house salad which was delicious, containing crisp lettuce, tomatoes, onion, walnuts, prosciutto and local cheese, served with a delicious balsamic dressing and fresh bread. Trevor chose a tuna salad which looked equally appetising.
As we sat and enjoyed the ambience and the weather, we saw one or two stray cats roaming among the tables, hopefully in search of a titbit or two. We had that fantastic “this-is-the-first-day-of-our-holidays” feeling, as we sat there enjoying a second beer in semi-somnolent state.
Afterwards we took a slow stroll along the front and looked in the shops, many of which sold the usual holiday ‘tat’ as well as fridge magnets and postcards. We bought one of the former for my aunt, and several of the latter, along with the stamps, to send home. This gave us a good excuse for having another beer while we wrote out our postcards. 😊
We found a nice little bar which had some high tables and stool set outside. However, one of the stools was on one step down from the table, which meant whoever sat there (Trevor, as I needed the table to write!) was low down, only their head and shoulders visible. 😊
After we’d written out the cards and posted them, we decided to make our way back to the Hemera, as it was nearly three o’clock and our cabin would be ready. We’d be able to have an hour’s power nap to make up for some of our lost sleep.
Back on board, we found we’d been allocated cabin #1 and we carried our bags along while a crew member took our cases. From the ‘main’ deck at the stern we had to walk through the wheel-house and along a short corridor to our cabin. It was small but functional, with a double bed, a shelf the width of the cabin to stash your stuff, a wardrobe, drawer and cupboard, and an en-suite bathroom containing a shower cubicle, lavatory and sink. It was basic, but clean and comfortable. The bed looked very inviting. 😊
After we’d emptied our cases, we had to leave them outside the door to be taken away, as there was no room to store them anywhere in the cabin. We then settled down for a sleep, setting the alarm to go off in just over an hour’s time.
After waking up feeling a bit more perked up, we made our way back along to the main deck where some soft drinks, water, fruit and other nibbles had been laid out. We were due to have our welcome aboard meeting and safety briefing at 6.00pm, and in the meantime it allowed us to meet some of the other passengers; there are 14 in total including Trevor and me, and four crew. 😊
Our Newmarket Holidays rep introduced herself as Wendy, and outlined the delights we would be experiencing in the coming days. She then introduced the skipper, Captain Yanni, as well as the engineer Mohammed and the deckhand/barman Abdul. A party atmosphere prevailed as the bar opened and dinner was served at 7.00pm.
Dinner consisted of a hot and cold Greek buffet. There were chicken and pork skewers, Greek salad, grilled aubergine and courgette as well as cheese and bread. It was just the right amount of food to stave off any hunger, but not leave you feeling like a stuffed pig as is often the case on the big cruise ships. 😊
As we sat on the open rear decks enjoying our meal and the company of our fellow passengers, we watched as the sun dipped lower in the sky. We’d hoped for an amazing sunset but the sun dropped below a mountain, instead leaving some interesting back-lit cloud effects. The lights came on in the harbour front dwellings, reflecting beautifully on the sea’s surface.
We then decided to venture ashore once again, deciding to find a cocktail bar and enjoy just the one drink before going back. We certainly wouldn’t be having a late night tonight! I enjoyed a really good Aperol spritz and Trevor had a beer while we sat in this little bar and listened to the music and enjoyed the ambience.
Then it was back to the Hemera for our first night on board. The air-conditioning had been on in our cabin, so it was nice and cool. Opening our little windows a little to let in the fresh sea air, we settled down in our compact little space, and slept soundly.