“From London to Israel without flying? Is that even possible?” Mostly, telling people about my ambition to travel overland to Israel was met with incredulity. Crossing borders in the Middle East is hardly straightforward, and the ferries that used to go from Greece and Cyprus stopped years ago, another casualty of ‘The Situation’.
But it is possible. The cargo ship company Grimaldi allows paying passengers to piggyback on their regular freight passages to Israel. For me, travelling by cargo ship was a way of minimising the climate change impact of my travel. At around 400 Euros (US$520), it’s more expensive than flying. But passage includes meals and a cabin for the week long sail. I booked trains from London to Paris, then onto Italy, where we would embark.
Traveling by ship, I thought, would be an adventure. Freight shipping is the great circulatory system of the real economy. Despite the fact that we rely on freight shipping for almost everything we buy, from jeans to oranges to iPhones, few people see the enormous ships which supply our consumer needs – and I was interested to have a window into that world.
Freight ship is not the most stress-free method of travel. Would-be passengers are warned that ‘schedules are subject to change due to cargo and weather. And a fortnight before we embarked, our sailing date was put back five times – as well as a heart-stopping phone call informing me that the ship we’d booked onto was no longer calling at Israel.
In the end, the agent managed to transfer our booking to a different ship that did sail to Israel, albeit several days later than planned and from the Southern Italian port of Salerno, rather than Monfalcone. The changes meant that we spent an extra few days hanging around Italian towns, eating pizza and sampling gelatos. But our anticipated two weeks in Israel shrank to just one.
My biggest concern was whether I will be able to hack a week on board without internet, phones, or anywhere to really go. Cargo ships are not set up for passenger entertainment: the booking information says that in addition to our cabin there’ll be a lounge, a dining room, and the deck. For a week, this was our world. I packed five fat books as defence against boredom.
This guest post was sent to us by Lianna Etkind, who lives in Brixton, south London, with her husband.