Here’s what Lianna got up to on her carbon cutting voyage from London to Israel. You can find out why she wanted to avoid flying in How to get to Israel by boat – Part 1.
Day 1: Departure
Today, we sail! Confirmation came this morning that the Grande Europe freight ship will arrive at Salerno in Italy. After some final panic-buying of chocolate bars (what if they’ve never heard of vegetarians?!) I shouldered my rucksacks and headed to the docks.
The port borders a pleasure beach, so bizarrely, we wait it out surrounded by beach umbrellas and bronzing Italian families until the unmistakeable yellow and white hulk of our ship moves into view. There’s a nerve-wracking hour whilst the ship turns 180º and heads away from the port. She’s not leaving us behind though, but waiting for a dock to become vacant.
Two hours later and I’m on the top deck, the whole port spread out below. Cranes loading and unloading, dockers driving cars into the belly of the ship, and crew kissing their colleagues goodbye. The Grande Europe is basically an enormous windowless multistorey car park: 1,900 shiny new cars parked bumper to bumper, from the factories of Northern Europe and bound for showrooms in Israel and Cyprus.
Day 2: The passengers
It’s pretty exciting to wake and be at sea, nosing down Italy’s west coast. Out on deck, more excitement: Stromboli is visible on the horizon! My first sight of a live volcano.
I’ve now met all of our fellow passengers. There’s George, a jovial lecturer in archaeology, and his student Michael, both from Germany. They’re shipping excavation equipment to a dig in Jordan. There’s Jenny and Frank, a somewhat starchy English couple who have lived in New Zealand since the ‘60s. Franks spent much of his life working at sea as a skipper on dredgers. There’s Phil from Plymouth, who is realising the ambition of a lifetime on this voyage.
It’s become a daily ritual to go up onto the bridge each morning, where the officers in their smart khaki uniforms preside over a dizzying variety of screens, instruments, dials, buttons, charts and switches. As well as the computer tracking our course across the Mediterranean, the officers chart our progress with pencil and compasses on a real paper map. This surprises and pleases me, Luddite that I am.
The officers are very patient in answering my questions about life at sea. I ask Vincenzo, the second mate, if he knows of any women captains: the crew of the Grande Europe is 100% male. “It’s not a life for women – women want to relax and have a lifestyle, which isn’t possible when you’re at sea”. Humph.
Day 4: The food
The food on board is all delicious and Italian. Lunch and supper are typically pasta or a thick soup, followed by grilled fish with a green salad, plus sausages or a roast, topped off with fruit. All served with wine. Far from being a limitation, keeping kosher turns out to be a blessing as it gets me out of having to eat a full four courses, twice a day!
We dock at the Turkish port of Izmir this afternoon. As we draw into the harbour, the calls of the city’s muezzins drift across the water. I spend a happy few hours back on land, pottering around the labyrinthine market and nibbling on baklava, then back to the ship where the crew have been unloading JCBs all afternoon.
Day 5: Wildlife
Great excitement: today I spot dolphins! Three of them, leaping in the bow wave, as if they’re playing. Beautiful.
My days have settled into a routine of sorts. A breakfast of cornflakes and ridiculously strong coffee followed by a lazy day of chatting to passengers, reading, writing, and watching the Italian or Greek or Turkish coastline slide by.
Day 6: Almost there
I expected to be bored by now, to have cabin fever after a week spent with no internet, phones and pretty limited options of where to go. But I haven’t been at all. Just pleasantly relaxed.
Day 7: Dry land
The Israeli flag has been raised and Ashdod is in sight! I’m a bit hyper, eager to be ashore at last. We are told that getting through Israeli security will take some time, but I anticipated being in Israel in time for some falafel at lunch – that was optimistic.
Although we dock at 11am, Israeli border authorities board to question every member of crew and passenger and check passports. It’s not until 5.30pm that I actually manage to leave the port and our holiday in Israel really begins.
Lianna Etkind lives in Brixton, south London, with her husband.