Monday, May 22, 2006

How I spent my May vacation and savings

Okay, here's what my wife and I were doing for two weeks while Howard graciously looked after my blog. Thanks too to all of you who suggested restaurants and points-of-interest. Some we did. Others we would have had we had more time. Why a Mediterranean cruise? Because I'm lazy! Being the reluctant traveler I liked the idea that I could unpack once, just look out my window and the destinations would come to me.


The plan was to pick up the ship, Crystal Symphony (rumored to be the finest, confirmed by their brochure) in Lisbon, sail to Gibraltar, Barcelona, Sorrento, Taormina, Santorini, and ending in Athens. From there we’d spend a day in Athens (soaking up the ruins), two in London (getting soaked), and fly back home to LA. Happy to report all went as planned. Except as I write this I don’t know if it’s 5:00 tomorrow or 9:00 yesterday.

Twenty hours traveling door-to-door from our house to the hotel in Lisbon. The most beautiful sight on the whole trip was our luggage coming down the carousel in the Lisbon airport.

Lisbon was fabulous. Someone told me the big attraction was butter. He’s right. I wouldn’t fly twenty hours for it but as butter goes, yeah, pretty great.

Lots of statues but none of Portuguese’s most famous son -- Davey Lopes. Despite winning a Golden Glove in 1978 and hitting 17 home runs twice.

Stayed at the Pestana Palace. It calls itself a hotel & national monument. Vasco da Gama had a weekly poker game in our room before setting out to discover the new world.

The “Mediterranean look” is very popular in Lisbon.

They also have a scaled down Golden Gate bridge and soon a “Disney’s Adventures”. Can Starbucks and Shoney’s be far behind?

No SUV’s, which was very refreshing. Most of the cars looked like little shoes.

Saw an ad for the Champagne Club – “Lisbon’s premiere gentleman club. Continuous table dance and striptease from 10 pm – 4 am. Beautiful girls from all over the world. The ideal CORPORATE environment.”

Boarded the Crystal Symphony for our luxury cruise the same day the last Titanic survivor died. It’s a gorgeous ship. Much nicer than the Love Boat and there were no sad washed-up sitcom stars wandering about (although at the start of the cruise half the women did look like Florence Henderson and by the end they looked like Roseanne).

Which brings me to the food. It was very good. Of course the British thought it was spectacular.

They use 60 tons of foodstuffs for the ten day cruise (59 for the Americans). The galley staff is 90. There is a guy who cleans fish for ten hours a day. The year I worked for Mary Tyler Moore I envied that man.

Our stewardess, Vera, was very efficient. As a girl she was der Fuhrer’s chambermaid.

The hardest working man in show business was our cruise director, Mr. Clean. Picture Dwight D. Eisenhower in an admiral’s uniform, complete with Ike’s tremendous flair for comedy. He comes from your typical entertainment background -- Anti Sub detection unit in Viet Nam and defensive linebacker for the San Diego Chargers. Not only did Mr. Clean host all of the evening entertainment, (“how many of you folks are from out of town?”) he was also the co-anchor of the ship’s “Good Morning” show on channel 27 (“in the top of the news today, the scarf tying class has been moved to the Harmony Deck”), and the (dear God) “5:00 Funnies”.

There are 9 bars, the first one opens at 9 AM. And once a day a “Friends of Bill W.” meeting (AA). By the end of the cruise half the passengers should have attended.

They offer a Beginning Sushi class, whatever that is. Would have signed up but it conflicted with my “Folding Napkins” class.

First port was Gibraltar. Instead of paying a fortune for a ship-arranged tour we hooked up with Arthur, a guy on the pier with a van. Other than the fact that Arthur should have been in a Friends of Bill W. meeting himself, he gave us a great tour. The rock of the Gibraltar consists of limestone formed hundreds of millions of years ago, or, for the “Intelligent Design” people – last June.

From the top you can see Spain and Africa. Arthur thought he could also see Japan. Friends of Bill W, Arthur.

There are 300 apes that reside on Gibraltar. None any cuter than the one on my wife’s head. They are amazingly smart creatures. One won 10 euros off of Arthur playing three card monty.

As for the city of Gibraltar – it’s Catalina with a synagogue.

I always had this fear that when we left for the day sightseeing, Vera was in our stateroom trying on my underwear.

Entertainment Tuesday night: A Judy Garland impersonator. I don’t know, there’s something really creepy about a Judy Garland impersonator who isn’t a man.

Karaoke night – I sang a duet with noted FBI profiler, Clint Van Zandt. There was chemistry. I could feel it.

On formal night the Captain and his officers were introduced. I felt much more secure knowing my future was in the hands of the crew from DAS BOOT.

Met some lovely people from Toronto, Croatia, and ten houses down from us.

Port two was the amazing city of Barcelona (Starbucks on every other corner). Crystal offered a variety of guided tours. Those who signed up received a tag – BAR-A, BAR-B, etc. to differentiate their tours. As a result, all these people were walking around with tags that said BAR-F. Not really what you want to see on a cruise liner.

My wife continued her quest to visit the great museum gift shops of the world. One of these days we’re actually going to go into a museum.

Favorite store name in Barcelona: Very Cheap.

Favorite crew member name: Chief Electrical Engineer – Odd Magne Olsen.

Unlike half the ship’s guests we did not buy a bottle of Absinthe. That’s a liqueur made from wildwood that is banned in the US because apparently it is, well, an opiate. So now we had passengers thinking they’re seeing giant lizards and gryffins. Or, in the case of crew members, an iceberg.

Stopped by a couple of the Gaudi designed homes (not to be confused with gaudy). He was a 19th century architect who was probably the first to work on Absinthe. All of his creations looked like a cross between Sleeping Beauty’s castle, a Fun House, and Jimi Hendrix’s final acid trip. Playful and spectacular, they are not to be missed.

Jesus Christ was taking pictures with tourists in front of the main Gothic cathedral. The fact that he’s doing that these days, collecting street change, suggests that the bumper sticker isn’t true -- Jesus doesn’t save.

Strolled down the famous Las Ramblas shopping street with its colorful stores, flower vendors, and caf├ęs. Lame street performers though. A guy who swallowed balloons. Name me a girl on Santa Monica Blvd. who couldn’t do that.

We had a medical debarkation while sailing by Corsica. Amazingly, there was no mention of it the next day on the “Good Morning Show”. But Mr. Clean did say that Clint Van Zandt’s lecture on “Famous Unsolved Cases of the FBI” was an enjoyable hour not to be missed.

The problem with cruising is that when you reached your destination you had only a few hours to see everything, which of course is impossible. So instead of a leisurely day of sightseeing, it was the AMAZING RACE. Case in point: Sorrento, Italy, the Jewel of the Amalfi Coast. In one nine hour period we saw Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, had lunch, bought ceramics, visited the Hotel San Pietro, took pictures of the picture of Hillary Clinton, covered most of the countryside, stopped for fifteen breathtaking photo ops, shopped for Italian schmatahs, bought gelato, searched for more Absinthe, and toured Pompeii. The AMAZING RACE is easier.

We accomplished all this by hooking up with two other couples and hiring a local taxi driver to be our guide and drive us for the day. Rafaele. We zipped around the Amalfi coast, taking treacherous hairpin turns and naming Grace Kelly movies. Blaring out of his speakers was the Three Tenors singing “My Way” and “Blue Moon”.

Meanwhile, Rafaele pointed out all the landmarks of this history rich area. “Over dere is where dey do the movie, TUSCAN SKY with Diane Lane.” The castles and 500 year old buildings probably were significant too be we didn’t hear about them. “Over dere is where dey do the movie, ONLY YOU with Robert Downey Jr. and Billy Zane.”

Since there were not enough fossils on the ship we had to see the ruins of Pompeii. 2,000 years ago this town was buried and hermetically sealed when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and rained volcanic ash on it. At some point there may be another eruption and 2,000 years from now archeologists will uncover all these people frozen with hand held audio tours pressed against their ears.

Didn’t see the whorehouse paintings, which apparently is the highlight of the site. The perfect Ancient Roman corporate environment.

I asked a guide where Jor-el’s house was. He didn’t get it. Maybe after the Superman movie comes out.

Truth in advertising: A chain of gas stations named AGIP. Considering the prices, “a gyp” is exactly what they are.

Stores in Italy close between 1-4. Finally, a country that is husband-friendly.

For Mother’s Day I asked Vera to have a half dozen roses delivered with a card. What a nice surprise when Debby entered the room and there were the flowers and the receipt. No note, but the receipt was very heartfelt.


THE REST TOMORROW (yes, this is my longest travelogue ever)


Paul Duca said...

Sounds like you had a great time...tell me, was this a large or small ship? My mother and sister went on a Mediterranean cruise a couple of years ago. Their vessel was touted as a smaller, more intimate one, that could go into smaller, less touristy ports.

Stephen Gallagher said...

Which brings me to the food. It was very good. Of course the British thought it was spectacular.

That probably means there was a lot of it. When we moved house, all our new neighbours recommended restaurants in the area and the highest possible praise was, "The food hangs off your plate. My wife couldn't finish hers."

And we Brits still can't quite believe our luck when faced with a buffet. We think if we can only eat enough that one time, we'll never need to pay for food again.

Emily Blake said...

Pompeii was kind of fascinating. When I went, I chaperoned ten teenagers who only wanted to hear about how people used the bathroom back then. Our tour guide, who smoked like eighty thousand cigarettes as an ancient Italian remedy for his viscious hangover, obliged by going on about how the ancient Pompeiieans used their own pee to bleach clothes. Those kids couldn't tell you anything about what actually happened to the city, but they remember cleaning clothes with piss.

DrBear said...

I think they tore down the Davey Lopes statue after he managed the Brewers into the ground.

Scoopy said...

Completely unrelated, but Lifetime aired the previously-referenced FRASIER ep last night (the one with Niles and Lillith sleeping together).

It was very cool to have read the meatiest scenes only days before seeing it enacted. What timing!

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Cruising is my favorite way to travel.

Tiago said...

Starbucks maybe on the way but a statue of a portuguese baseball player...
We can all rest assure.