Sorrento

Christina O

Back in Rome after our Sorrento trip we went to stay with our friends Donatella and Carlo at their Appia Antica house, always a great pleasure and one that we always look forward to do. Although back in Rome my mind was still set on finding out what the two vessels anchored at Sorrento were!

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The “mystery vessels” anchored near Sorrento.

I remembered that I had used a ship-tracking web site [1] to follow a cargo ship bringing a car from Japan to Mozambique and I decided to give it a try to see whether it would help me to identify them. Bingo! As soon as I checked for the activity around Sorrento, it was easy to find them as they were the only two stationary vessels at the time. Their names were the Royal Clipper and the Christina O so, I immediately searched the web and this is what I found.

The Royal Clipper is a passenger cruise ship operated by Star Clippers to carry passengers on holiday around the world. In autumn and winter it visits the Caribbean while in spring and summer it sails from Barbados to Lisbon and Rome and then it does Mediterranean itineraries departing from ports including Lisbon, Rome and Athens.

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Photo by Orlica (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The ship is interesting as it has a steel hull and five tall masts in a design that follows that of the Preussen, a famous five-mast German sailing ship built in 1902 and known by sailors at the time as the “Queen of the Queens of the Seas” that unfortunately was lost in 1910 at Crab Bay after a collision. The Royal Clipper is the largest “true sailing ship” built since Preussen and the largest square-rigged ship afloat [2]. It carries over one acre of sails (5202 m2) operated mechanically by a rather small crew for its size!

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Photo credit: by Orlica (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The interesting information that I got about the more spectacular of the two ships encouraged me to continue my naval mystery-solving work. What I found for the Christina O was extremely interesting although I must admit that even before checking the web, being from the “baby boomer” generation, I have guessed what yacht it was although not its many features and history.

The Christina O is today a private yacht that once belonged to Aristotle Onassis, the billionaire Greek-Argentinian businessman. It is considered as one of the most legendary yachts afloat with an amazing history, full with high society life, politics and romance. It was aboard this yacht that Ari (as Onassis was known) and Maria Callas, had their colourful and stormy romance that lasted for over ten years.

Maria Callas still is perhaps the most famous soprano the world enjoyed and she earned the nickname of “La Divina” (the Divine) for her singing style. Her relationship with Ari ended and then he married John Kennedy’s widow Jackie, a long-time friend and their wedding took place onboard of the yacht. Previously, the Christina (the name that Ari gave the yacht) hosted the wedding celebrations when Prince Rainier of Monaco and actress Grace Kelly wed in 1956.

The super yacht was a symbol of great power at the time of Ari’s life It had many important visitors and a few really illustrious ones including, apart from Callas and Jackie, Winston Churchill, Richard Burton, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Grace KellyElizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Rudolf NureyevFrank Sinatra, and John F. Kennedy!

Onassis next to the original Christina.

The yacht was originally the HMCS Stormont, a Canadian anti-submarine frigate launched in 1943 that, after serving as a convoy escort during the Battle of the Atlantic and being a support ship at the Normandy landings, was purchased in 1954 at scrap value of US$34,000 by Onassis who subsequently re-named it Christina after his daughter and spent USD 4 million to convert it into probably the most luxurious super yacht of its time!

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HMCS Stormont: Picture taken by an employee of the Canadaian Government, and greater than 50 years of age [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

After Ari’s death, Christina -his daughter- donated the Christina to the Greek government as a presidential yacht. Then the yacht got its third name: Argo but, regrettably, it was allowed to deteriorate until it was purchased in 1998 by fellow Greek shipping magnate John Papanicolaou who spent USD 50 million to recover it re-naming it Christina O in honor of the by then deceased Christina.

Among other amenities, the Christina O was fitted and still has a master suite (now known as the Onassis suite), eighteen passenger staterooms, and numerous indoor and outdoor living areas, all connected by a spiral staircase. The aft main deck has an outdoor pool with a minotaur-themed mosaic floor that rises at the push of a button to become a dance floor. There is also a helipad on the promenade deck. At 99 metres long she is still among the top 50 largest yachts in the world.

Since Papanicolaou’s death in 2010, Christina O was rented for private charters and cruises and in 2013 was placed for sale at a price between USD 21 and 32 million [4]. Despite all the money invested on the yacht it has not been sold because of its overhead expenses.

In 2005 she was placed for charter with Camper & Nicholsons International, the oldest yacht brokerage company in the world. At present Christina O cruises the Mediterranean during summer, clearly including Sorrento! while in winter the yacht travels to the Caribbean. It costs €560,000 (Approximately USD 592,500) per week plus its expenses.

I am rushing to book it for next year, trusting that I will get sufficient friends to join us on our next visit to the Mediterranean…

 

[1] https://www.vesselfinder.com/?imo=5076705

[2] http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com

[3] https://www.yachtcharterfleet.com/luxury-charter-yacht-23156/christina-o.htm

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/aristotle-onassiss-yacht-christina-o-put-up-for-sale-8682877.html

If you are still interested on more details on the Christina O, this page is useful: http://www.mychristinao.com/

 

 

 

Sorrento

After our brush with history and ruins, it was time for a bit of hedonism so we headed for the Amalfitan coast and Sorrento in particular. To visit the latter was my idea as I had nice memories of an earlier visit we did in the 90s. It was a slightly more relaxed Bushsnob at the steering wheel but only because of the impeccable navigation of my daughter and the crisis control of both her and my wife!

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The mighty Vesuvius. Picture credit: Jeffmatt at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Eventually we turned off the main road and I drove the final part through a stretch of road only suitable for one Ape[1] at the time, unaware of whether it was a one-way path while praying that no other car or even an Ape would come the other way! After 2 km of suspense and after pruning a few trees, we arrived and I even managed to park the car out of the way under the direction of our host. The road was suitably called Via Nastro Verde (Green Ribbon road) as it was framed by all sort of trees, including the famous Sorrento lemons, the raw material of the not less known Limoncello.

Airbnb described the flat as being located on the hills above Sorrento with an easy access to the town via a path downhill. The place was at a farm and the view of the bay of Naples breathtaking at first and, once you manage to regain your wits, very interesting.

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The view of the Bay of Naples from our window.

Close to lunchtime, after having exhausted the ample supply of hazelnuts and cherries left by our host we judged that our settling in was over and it was time for exploration. The Bushsnob agreed to scratch his siesta and to accompany the other members of the party for a descent to Sorrento, so far a nice sight well below us. We looked for and found the path so we started our descent. Somehow, a friendly brown dog got attached to us and, although we attempted to chase him away, it somehow liked us and stuck to us.

The path was as well signposted as steep as it consisted of 2 km of steps. Although it was tough on the elderly, we managed to negotiate it quite well, guided by our recently acquired guide dog that -insanely in my view- kept running down and and then up the steps all the time, making me feel even more tired. Once we reached town with our knees trembling but still functional, things improved and our eyes could be lifted from the path to look around.

The first thing we noted was that the dog was still with us! Feeling guilty but realizing that trying to chase it away was not an option we decided to put up with its company for the rest of the day if necessary and that if this persisted, we would bring it back to our hilltop whatever our means of transport. The dog meantime was clearly unaware of our plans and, after walking for a couple of blocks, it found his own lowlands relatives or acquaintances and joined them to spend the rest of the Saturday in good company.

Somehow relieved that the dog issue resolved itself, we wandered around the city that, being a Saturday and in summer, was rather crowded and we were surrounded by shoppers at all times. My Sorrento memories already started to crumble during the first couple of hours!

Having tested the way down and found it hard on the knees we firmly decided that going up the hill at night was not an option. We then decided that our return would be by bus so, in mid afternoon, we walked to the station only to find that the last bus to our destination was departing in a couple of hours as it was a weekend. Clearly, we would travel back by taxi as an early dinner was not on the cards.

After spending some time at the central and popular Piazza Tasso and visiting the 14th century Saint Francis church, we decided to explore the Marina Grande to find a place for a seafood dinner by the sea as -wisely- we judged that the closer Marina Piccola from where all ferries operate would not be the right place, somehow.

As usual in Italy, lots of people had similar thoughts to ours with the result that Marina Grande’s restaurants were rather full when by the time we arrived. After having a look at the offer, the fact that Sophia Loren was a patron of the Di Leva Five Sisters restaurant clinched our decision and we took a table next to the beach. Although Sophia was not there at the time (she was clearly unaware of our presence), we were served by one of the sisters who knew her and we even managed to meet another three of the sisters. Both food and service were excellent. Curiously, a later look at Trip Advisor showed that the restaurant only had 2.5 stars and some very rude remarks by mainly foreign customers!

Dinner and ice cream over, a taxi was called and off we went, all the way up the hill to our flat. Of course we did not know that the way back for vehicles was over 20 km so we needed more money to pay for the taxi than for a dinner for three! So the result of the first day at Sorrento was not good and by the time I went to bed I had no hopes for a fun Sunday!

As usual I woke up early and spent a long time watching the sea below us and following the ferries coming and going to destinations such as Naples and Capri. Then I noted a large yacht anchored a few hundred metres from the Marina Piccola. Although I did not have binoculars -for the sake of travelling light- I could see that it was some kind of a luxury yacht such as those that belong to the royal families and I decided that it belonged to one of them.

Sunday was a relaxed day and, as expected, did not offer anything special apart from a “mongrel-less” walk down to town, an early dinner and a bus return for a Euro 1.50 fare! The second day at the city did nothing to improve my sinking feeling that Sorrento is not what I thought it was. Later on, talking to friends we learnt that weekends are not the best time to visit the place so I got somehow more enthusiastic but not enough to return there for a while.

The following morning, the day of our departure, I -again- got carried away with sea contemplation and immediately noted another vessel that had arrived during the night or early morning. It had lots of masts so I decided that it was one of the many tall ships that tour the world that had decided to join us at high-living. It added more interest to the already superb view.

My contemplation was cut short when I realized that it was time for our trip back to Rome as we had a time to return our car. Not all was lost though as in Rome we would spend a couple of weeks in the company of our daughter and good friends although only part-time as they are working.

It was an uneventful return journey, but the view of the Bay of Naples -the highlight of the visit- and the images of the ships anchored at the bay stayed in my mind. I then decided that I would investigate them further but you will need to wait for the next post to find out if my efforts borne fruit…

 

[1] The Piaggio Ape (bee in Italian), is a three-wheeled light commercial vehicle produced since 1948 by Piaggio and now by Piaggio India. It is a common vehicle used by Italian farmers as it allows them to negotiate very narrow roads.

 

 

 

Car rental drama

We took the opportunity of the presence of our offspring in Italy to join them for a break of our retirement routine and visit that wonderful country. Although most of our time was spent with our good friends Donatella and Carlo, we also had time to explore a bit of what the Italians know as “the most beautiful country in the world” not without reason.

So, after considering the various travel options for our Southern Italy outing, the family decided to take the plunge renting a car with the bushsnob as the driver. Although I have enjoyed driving in Italy during our earlier periods in Rome, I was more reluctant to accept the responsibility now. I tried to argue that I had not driven in Italy for over 6 years, that I needed time to re-adjust to the Italian traffic and that it would get worst as you move down South. Even mentioning my advanced age and its accompanying shortcomings failed to make a dent on their resolve.

So, a car was hired and I drove!

We planned to visit Herculaneum (Ercolano) and Pompeii (at the request of wife and daughter) and Sorrento, my favourite place in Italy at my request.

Once driver-designate, I revealed to them that I still had an Avis Preferred card, a relic from my days of work-related flying with British Airways (BA). Avis and BA had an agreement that yielded miles to your membership to the airline’s reward programme. So we went for Avis and, from decision day onwards, aware of my new responsibility, I started to watch the Roman traffic with the consequence that a knot started to develop in my stomach!

We booked a Fiat 500, well in advance. We chose it for being an economical car, but also -very importantly- to be small enough to go through the many narrow and often windy roads found in Italy, not to mention parking!

Finally the 8 June came and we were kindly taken to our car-collecting point at the Via Laurentina -chosen for easy exit from Rome- to collect the vehicle and to start our odyssey or at least that was the way it felt to me. My nerves were barely under control when we arrived to the office. We proceeded to wait for our turn as the lady in charge was dealing with another customer. Walking up and down inside the small office was also a tall and black-bearded man on the cellphone, rather agitated, arguing and gesticulating wildly.

We saw no change after having been there for a while although the attendant had seen us. Suddenly she announced that we were better off going to the bar next door to have a capuccino as she had a foreign customer to finish with as well as another serious problem to solve as the morning had not started well. The bearded man was apparently the serious problem. Slightly taken aback we obliged and took advantage to stay a bit longer wth our friend Donatella for a while longer, always a pleasure.

We estimated 20 minutes as sufficient time to solve the on-going issues and we returned to the office. Despite this, the bearded was still there and we were still ignored! As we waited for the second time, we heard that, despite the bearded man booking the car of his choice well in advance and given Avis clear specifications on the colour, make and model of what he needed, they had offered him another, quite different one!

A few minutes of evesdropping later we obtained more information. The bearded man wanted a white Mercedes coupe and Avis presented him with a grey station wagon. He was indignant and would not accept the swop! I thought he was just being difficult but then we learnt that what he was renting was his wedding car and it became obvious that his future wife was at the other end of the phone and she was not taking another car for her most important day!

After about an hour, finally the bearded man to be married departed with instructions to take the station wagon to another office in the centre of town where someone would replace his station wagon for the right car. Although the story sounded very convincing and the bearded man to be married accepted it, I had doubts on its outcome.

While this exchange went on, the knot in my stomach was worsened by the misgivings that we were facing a difficult morning at Avis Laurentina and also that it was getting rather late! I was not disappointed…

When our turn finally came we produced our booking and needed documents. Very soon we were informed that we would not have the car we booked but another one that luckily, as the seller put it, belonged to a much more expensive class, was larger, more comfortable and as a special favour, it would not cost us more! Instead of our Fiat 500 we she offered a Nissan Juke, something I never heard of until that moment. We tried to explain to the attendant that we had booked the Fiat 500 because of it being smaller, etc. But she would not take any of our reasons and she repeated three times that what she was offering was a better deal, a fact that was beginning to irritate us.

After a while, realizing that it was either the Juke or nothing, we decided to accept the change as it was now getting really late and our friend could not wait for us anymore! So, after a quick inspection we said farewell to Donatella and signed up for the “improved” offer while the lady continued repeating that it was a better deal!

Luckily the drive through Southern Italy went very smoothly and later, when returning the car we learnt that the bearded man to be married did become the bearded man married after all and that, apparently, he got the right car, eventually!