A cruise on board the Atalante
"Holy Land and Egypt"

My brother and me had at first booked a 2-day cruise to Israel on the Atalante. But due to Jom Kippur (religious holiday in Israel) the cruise was cancelled and Paradise Cruises graciously offered us a 3-day cruise instead without surcharge! So we stood at the pier at Limassol in the morning of 9.10.2000 and asked wether we could leave our luggage on board until official embarkation time in the afternoon, as there was no left-luggage in the port. This was not allowed (probably they feared we were terrorists trying to sink the ship with a bomb!). The bow of the ship, I noticed, looked rather rusty. We could manage to leave the luggage in the custody of the customs officer then. When we came back in the afternoon the bow of the ship was miraculously white. Apparently a bit of make-up for the old lady during the day.

Atalante 9.10.2000 Limassol click to enlarge
Embarkation We got to our cabin 285, the cheapest category, with no useless luxury in the way and a very functional closet, that looked self-made. Well, take it for "handicrafted". Our cabin was a real step-back to the times when budget-cruising was young. Our fault, we had booked the cheapest possible category. I judge the cabin to be appointed in the early seventies! But the beds turned out to be quite cosy and soft despite their coarse design.

Still in port your humble narrator first visited the areas off-limit to the passenger, this is the boat deck, which could use a paint job and the sun deck above the boat deck where I took a really deep look through a hatch at least 5 decks down into the shaft leading to the engine room.

After departure from Limassol bound for Israel and later Egypt we had at once the life-boat drill. 72 fellow German passengers where there among the 350 passengers in all. The other passengers were a mix of pretty many nationalities. A sheet of the German tour operator TUI circulated, saying that due to the security situation in Israel (the 2nd Intifada just beginning)  the ship may be redirected to the north to Beirut, if things worsened.

After sun-set my brother and I went to the foredeck, which is still reminiscent of the cargo-passenger times of the ship with its raised forcastle that was off limits to the passengers. We wanted to look for the stars (my brother is a hobby-astronomer) and the dark wide freighter-stile foredeck is well apt for this. After a while my brother noticed that the North Star shifted it's position from portside of the wheelhouse to the starboard side, so we were changing course from an eastern course to directly south! We went straight to the reception and asked the personnel whether we would change the order of port-calls from Haifa - Port Said to Port Said - Haifa. They told us no, no, if it had been decided to change the itinerary, they would have known. So we went to the evening show, where they told us half an hour later that the ship would first call at Port Said and then proceed to Ashdod due to the tense security situation in Israel! The evening shows feature good singers and a quartet of Show Girls. Quite nice but no big deal. The Main Show Lounge is quite new and well appointed.
Suez Canal Society Building - were the ship berthed
Early next morning we arrived in Port Said and the ship was berthed directly in front of the gorgeous old building of the Suez-Canal-Society . The Princesa Victoria, though on regular announced call at Port Said, had a far less prominent berth!
A three-hours coach-ride to Cairo lay ahead were we visited the Egyptian Museum in mid-day heat. Thereafter the coach took us through dense traffic to the site of the Pyramids of Gizeh. If there hadn't been the traffic jam it would have been possible to go inside one of the Pyramids. But we visited the entrance-temple of the Chefren-Pyramid and strolled around the Pyramids themselves. Stay away from the local souvenir dealers, you literally don't get rid of them!

After buying the obligatory silver neck-lace plate with my name in hieroglyphic, which comes with a hieroglyphic alphabet, at a short bus stop on the return ride (the orders have been taken on the coach-ride in the morning), we were again on the road for Port Said. Soon it was dark, a circumstance that urged the Egyptian drivers on the street to take severe measures: only when it was pitch dark they reluctantly switched on the tiny position lights (but not the main lights! Don't waist energy!). On the long coach rides we ate our lunch boxes we got on board instead of a lunch in a restaurant. This arrangement, which is common with Louis Cruises too,  saves a lot of time that's better spent on the country's sites of interest.

Back on the pier in front of the Suez-Canal-Society building the way to the gangway was so crowded on both sides with Souvenir dealers, you literally couldn't step sideways, there was virtually no gap between their tables. We all were trapped in one narrow passage through this mini-bazar to the gangway, our ears ringing with "Half price" offers. We left Port Said during our buffet-style dinner in the modern dining room that now replaces the old one with Messageries Maritimes decor.

foredeck with raised forecastle

Next day we arrived at the port of Ashdod , but lay in the roads for one hour waiting for something we didn't know (for a free berth?). We already thought the excursion to Jerusalem may be cancelled due to the delay. During this time I managed to get on top of the raised forecastle, which still features the original ship bell of her time as "Tahitien". I think this is the last cruise ship with a raised forecastle!

During security check at in Ashdod we were recognized by the good-looking female immigrations officer and friendly waved back. Ok, that was no good idea, because two young lads who were in Israel theother day and did not have enough of the security checks, who even want to come back 3 days later, that was beyond Israeli security forces grasp and a disregard of their effort! So we got an extra interrogation for 3 quarters of an hour, while the busses waited for the last passengers.

A coach ride of approx. 1 hour or 1,5 hours took us to Jerusalem. We were there just 3 days ago on a cruise aboard PRINCESA VICTORIA but the situation had chanced in as much as the Palestinian Autonony Territory (with Bethlehem) was out of bounds now. The visit of the church of Nativity had to be cancelled therefore. The passenger-insurance company did no longer cover the risk in these areas! But Jerusalem itself was quiet enough to see all the important places as the Chruch of the Holy Grave, the bazar, a part of the city-wall from the times of King David, the Wailing Wall (were there was almost no vistitors not even praying Jews; because of the security situation?), the medieval city walls. Our guide was a former German Jew who had emgrated to Palestine before the foundation of Israel and had fought in the independence war of 1948.

Afterwards we stopped at a diamont cuttery, where you could buy real diamonds at "bargain prices", this means you get a 5% discount check in the bus, then you get an additional discount when you say you are from ATALANTE and if you still can't decide to buy, your tour guide helps you negotiate an even lower price. Then you have bought a piece you would get for the same price anywhere! But still a nice souvenir of Israel, because you can watch the diamond rings being made in this factory, so you can be sure it's a real handicrafted piece made in this country. 

In the late evening we departed Ashdod. Unfortunately we never found the time to dip into one of the two nice pools on the aft decks, that were kept full of water even though there was almost nobody who took a swim. 

Next morning we managed to get a bridge visit at 10:00 o'clock, which was extremely interesting, because the complete French equipment of 1953 was still in place! The second officer showed us around. 
At 11:00 o'clock we arrived back in Limassol. 

Au revoir, cher ancien paquebot TAHITIEN! 
me on the stern of M/V ATALANTE
 back to ATALANTE