Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The cruise, part twos

Next port was Taormina in Sicily. Sicily, of course, is the home of the Mafia and pine nuts. They’re obviously not very sensitive about the Godfather label. Saw a store called “Don Corleone Objects”. T-shirts were sold featuring horse heads.

The picturesque city of Taormina is Pinocchio’s village cut into a mountain. By this time my tolerance for “charming and shopping” was about eleven minutes. It used to be you would go through these little towns to find items you could not find elsewhere. Now everything you could buy in Taormina you can get off the internet. Cheaper. So after zipping through the main drag, snapping pictures we’ll probably toss, we went back down to the beach which was lovely but disappointingly not topless…although I tried to convince my wife it was.

Yes, had pizza. No, it’s not as good as Chicago’s.

Back on the ship for “50’s night”. All the waiters named Zoltan were dressed as car hops. The Vegas type show that night had a 50’s/60’s theme. Eight of the whitest performers in the world belting out Little Richard hits. A gay tenor in a letterman’s sweater saluting “the King”. And if English is your THIRD language you shouldn’t be singing Paul Anka solos. Picture Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Oh vhy of vhy can’t vee tell dem, dis iz not a poopie luvvv?!”. Highlight was the Connie Francis medley. Nuff said.

Everywhere you go on the ship someone is taking your picture. There’s us getting on the boat, us getting off the boat, us hiding from Vera.

Other stewardesses fold guest towels into cute animals. Vera folded ours into swastikas.

Next destination: Santorini. The Greek islands have been the inspiration for many classic works of theatre and MAMA MIA.

Santorini is built on volcanic rock. According to legend (and Donovan), underneath is the lost continent of Atlantis. That’s a stop on the Titanic Mediterranean cruise.

The capitol city, Fira Town, rings the high cliff like a gleaming row of bottom teeth. To get up there you can either take a cable car for 3 euros or ride a stinking donkey for 8. A Jewish couple we met chose the donkeys. It was the first time a Jew EVER selected that option.

Don’t shortchange Santorini by thinking it’s just a party island. They manufacture great natural sponges.

More charm, more stores, more views, more churches, more steps, more ruins, more crowds. “God, this is spectacular. Let’s go.”

All kidding aside, I can’t say enough about Crystal cruise lines. The service was phenomenal and even though I’m sure the help resented and hated us privileged passengers, they never showed it. If you’re going to take a cruise, do it on Crystal…unless it’s to Africa, where pirates attack ships. The only guns on board are the props for the LES MIS medley. Special thanks to our waiter Marinko and Vera for not killing us in our sleep.

Reluctantly, we debarked in Athens and immediately immersed ourselves in the local culture by checking into the Hilton. (Hey, we had Hilton miles. It was free.)

Athens must be Greek for air pollution. But the citizens don’t notice because they’re all smoking.

Couldn’t have picked a better week to be in Athens. They were hosting the gala Eurovision competition. 38 countries were competing in an international singing contest. Imagine the worst of AMERICAN IDOL, UP WITH PEOPLE, and THE GONG SHOW. Abba won this years ago and we’re all still paying for it. Finland won this year. First prize was being able to occupy Norway.

Can’t say much for the local hospitality. Two taxi drivers wouldn’t pick us up and we went into a cafĂ© and were refused service because we weren’t Greek. I hope one of the many Starbucks in Athens only serves Americans.

We could see the Acropolis from our hotel window. But decided to visit it anyway. Turns out it’s more than just the site of the big Yanni concert, it’s the Birth of Western Civilization.

Warning: It’s a schlep. And most of the good statues have been moved to the British Museum. But it is a truly awesome sight. I mean, to see where Yanni actually performed for a TV audience of over a billion people – wow!

Warning #2: Between the number of tourists and the current restoration project, it’s better to buy postcards of the Parthenon than take your own pictures. There’s no way to take a photo and not have scaffolding and a crane in the shot…which detracts somewhat from the whole “antiquity” thing.

In the underground museum in the Parthenon is a sign that says: “No flash photography. No posing”. To accentuate that point they show a drawing of a smiling girl with a big X across her face.

I was hoping to stumble upon a gyro stand that had a sign “Established 430 BC”.

Flew to London Friday morning. Stayed at the Washington Mayfair. The lobby gives the impression it’s a swanky hotel. Our room, however, was the flat Oliver Twist stepped up to when he left Fagin.

Be prepared for sticker shock. The US dollar is worth 40 pence. Best value: souvenirs at the London Bridge in Lake Havasu.

Tried to go to the Ritz Hotel for high tea, don’tcha know. Unfortunately there’s a six to eight week waiting list. Pity. And we sooo wanted to pay $140 for two pots of tea and a finger cucumber sandwich.

For you ghoulish attraction fans: the basement of Harrods has a memorial to Princess Di and Dodi. It’s next to housewares. Don’t miss it.

Oops! Last November the BBC forgot to renew their license allowing them to tape programs in front of live public audiences. Seems no one in the entire mammoth organization knew it had to be renewed. Last week they got busted. So now while they try to rectify that, all of their sitcoms and other audience shows are done before live audiences of BBC staff members. This includes a teen targeted music program. Today’s hot breakout British bands are performing for a bunch of 55 year old news writers.

Meanwhile, on Channel 4 there’s a series called “99 Ways to Lose Your Virginity”.

Beauty is not wasted on the youth. Every other teenage coed has a face that looks like a knee. And now they all dress like the Spice Girls. That must be “Way #1” of the 99.

Finally a good restaurant in London! There’s now a TGI Friday’s in Leicester Square.

Went to the National Gallery…gift shop. According to the books on display there was an exhibition of American Painters in Paris 1860-1900. I wonder how it was.

Saw the new London revival of Sondheim’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Good but no Crystal Symphony production. And no Mr. Clean coming on stage during curtain calls to remind us of the big art auction on the Lido Deck.

Caught up with Omid Djalili, one of England’s better Iranian comics. Also had dinner with Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue, the creators of my favorite sitcom since the last one I created -- COUPLING. Went to the exclusive Groucho Club. Seems odd that the man who said he’d never belong to any club that would have him as a member has a club.

And now we’re back home with cherished memories, photos, new plates, and a Mastercard bill the size of Portugal’s national budget. But it was worth it. Except for maybe 50’s night. See you at Weight Watchers.


rorybaldwin said...

Eurovision - hilarious. I think they were meant to be orcs.
London - expensive.

Scribe LA said...

Steven Moffat... yay. Any trade secrets from the evening?

VP19 said...

So the Finnish act won Eurovision? Heard something on the BBC last week that its representative (a heavy metal band with alleged satanic overtones) was drawing all sorts of criticism from several countries. That may be the most controversial Eurovision selection since Dana International, an Israeli transsexual, won it a few years back.

Anyta said...

I liked the idea of going for my holidays to Greece. I'm not sure about Athens, but Santorini... My friend told me that it's worth visiting this island. I was searching through the internet good Santorini hotels and finaly my choice is La Perla Villas - it's in Oia. I hope I'll not regret about this choice...

shtove said...

But is there anything interesting in Europe? Apparently not.