No, this has nothing to do with London and the Olympics.
It’s summer. Many of you are traveling to Greece. Some from New York to Athens, which takes about 8 or 9 hours. It’s a grueling flight. Cramped seats, babies crying and parents who are oblivious, turbulence, and food that is…well, you know how it is. And, of course, you know what is waiting for you at the end of the flight – stern custom agents, baggage problems, and trying to get an honest taxi cab driver.
Thinking back to when I was a kid, specifically 1962, my family and I traveled to Greece and it took about 11 days. The difference? We didn’t fly on a jumbo 747 or Airbus, but we went by ship…specifically the R.M.H.S. Queen Frederica, named after the wife (queen consort) of King Paul of Greece. Before transcontinental flights became commonplace between Europe and North America, people traveled by ship. Now that was the way to travel!
A little background about the Queen Frederica. It was actually American built by a Philadelphia company, W. Cramp & Sons, in 1926 and was 17,232 gross tons, and was named the Malolo. In 1937 she was sold and renamed the Matsonia, and in 1948, sold again and renamed the Atlantic. Finally, in 1955 was sold to the Greek National Hellenic American Lines, refitted to over 21,000 gross tons and renamed the Queen Frederica. It had 1st Class accommodations for 190 passengers, 250 cabin, and 800 tourist class passengers. She ran the New York-Boston-Halifax-Gibraltar-Palermo-Naples-Piraeus route. In 1965 she was sold to the Chandris Lines of Greece.
Being only 4 at the time, I don’t remember much but some things about the ship and my time on it do stand out. For one thing, chicken pox! My sister, Christine, who was about 4 years older and I both came down with it 2 days after leaving New York. The ship’s Greek doctor and nurse came into the cabin and declared to my parents that we needed to be quarantined. Mom was horrified. Dad had other ideas. He quickly got out of his “American” frame of mind and slipped back into his “Greek” frame of mind, and told the doctor that he promised that my sister and I would not leave the cabin until the illness passed – of course, slipping into the doctor’s pocket a $20 American greenback ($150 in 2012 money), and $10 for the nurse too. We stayed. Isn’t Greek ethics a wonderful thing!
Dad was soon to follow – not from chicken pox, but seasickness. Remember, this was 1962. No stabilizers. Poor Dad. He only had one meal in the dining room – that’ll be discussed later. The rest of the time he stayed in the cabin. And since there were no stabilizers, when my sister and I were put to bed (bunk-beds) we were strapped in with seatbelts so we wouldn’t roll off. This wasn’t a pleasant Caribbean cruise with calm, glass-like water. The Queen Federica sailed the North Atlantic and we traveled during the month of March. Not the best time to travel the North Atlantic. Didn’t the Titanic sail that way?
One little memory that really stands out is Hershey chocolate bars. After the chicken pox period passed, my sister and I roamed the ship, and during the day, we use to watch the bartenders stock the bar for the night and they would give us the old fashion style Hershey bars – flat and big. I thought they were the biggest chocolate bars in the world and they tasted great. Strange how that small memory stays with you for almost 50 years. I’m getting old!
My Father told me of the first dinner in the dining room on board the ship and the only one he attended (remember, no stabilizers) We had the first seating and when everyone was seated, a voice over the loudspeakers announced a special presentation for Mr. and Mrs. Karapalides. To the surprise of my parents, the head waiter, dressed like an admiral from a two-bit dictatorship, with a busboy in tow, came out holding a bottle of champagne announcing that it was courtesy of Home Lines and George Burlotos. Yes, the famous George Burlotos of the Greek Spirit TV (Yia’saaaaaas), who, back in 1962 was a travel agent for Home Lines! George was, and still is a real gentleman. After that dinner, no one saw Dad again. They thought he was some rich, powerful man who must be dining in private with the captain, but little did they know he was dining in private alright, not because he was rich and powerful, because…no stabilizers!
To a 4 year old, the Queen Frederica was the biggest thing I had ever seen, but compared to today’s super ships, specifically, the 18 deck high, 1,187 feet long, 225,282-ton beast from Royal Caribbean called the Oasis of the Seas, the Queen Frederica was merely a rowboat, but it got the job done. Thousands of passengers traveled on the Queen Frederica between the United States, Italy and Greece but, the 1960’s was the end of the golden age of the passenger liners between Europe and North America and airplanes became the way to travel abroad. Finally, the grand lady was gutted by fire in 1978 and scrapped.
The trip by ship to Greece was slow, but relaxing. There were grand dinners, music, dancing, shows, and a place to sleep. Today, we are too much in a rush to get to places, and when we travel abroad, unfortunately, I too, think just like everyone else – let’s get to the destination as fast as possible so we can start enjoying our vacation. Here’s is a thought…why not start enjoying your vacation when you leave like they did when those elegant passenger ships were the way to go. God Bless the Queen.
There is a YouTube clip showing the Queen Frederica in a Greek movie filmed in 1965 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A00IAlQS_sU