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the 2023
Cruise Diary:

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Cruising the Mediterranean, and Visiting France... Part 3

Friday, April 28, 2023

At the Greek Island of Mykonos

his morning I was stiff and sore all over my body –
no doubt the after-effects of that tumble I had yesterday, in Istanbul.  I could not have gone on shore in Mykonos, even if being there had been on my bucket list!  So Heather went exploring the place on her own, and I had a nap.

Upon waking, I resumed work on my FaceBook post about the soggy day in Istanbul.

When Heather returned from her exploration, she was as happy as can be.  The town centre is beautiful – all white buildings – and then, up a nearby hill, there is a row of 500-year old windmills, which have become an iconic symbol for Mykonos.  Heather walked to the base of that hill, and very much enjoyed seeing the windmills.

But the most fascinating and remarkable thing about her day turned out to be not Mykonos, but an encounter with another tourist from the ship, whose life has all sorts of commonalities with ours.  This person and his wife once lived in Winnipeg; their son lives in Ottawa (where we go every year, and where we have family); and they now live in West Sacramento, California, just blocks away from our daughter, Rachael!  When she returned to the ship, Heather told me about the encounter, and the two couples spent the evening together in one of the ship's lounges.  We now have their names 2 and their California address, and when Heather and I are next visiting Rachael and her family, we will get together.

By day’s end, much of my muscle discomfort had dissipated, thankfully.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

It’s my Birthday!

’m 82 years old today!  I can hardly believe it!

I’ve spent the day on board ship, even though it was moored, during the day, at Piraeus – the port city connected to Athens, Greece.  But… isn’t visiting Athens a bucket list item for many people?  True, but back in 2011 – on our first Mediterranean cruise – we visited Athens, and Corinth, and now, both Heather and I have agreed that nothing could equal that experience.  Back then, we actually managed to be alone on the normally crowded Parthenon, and to walk on the streets of ancient Corinth!

So, today, we chose to have a quiet and restful day on the ship.  I was able to complete, then upload to Facebook, the story of our soggy day in Istanbul, and by day’s end, there were many appreciative responses from dozens of my online family, friends, and acquaintances.  Count that as a birthday present!

This evening, my birthday dinner was both ordinary and extraordinary.  It was just our usual table, with the usual menu, and our regular servers: Edmon, and his assistant, Noelia.  But there was that big bottle of champagne to be dealt with, and Heather decided that Edmon should open and serve it before the dinner began.  A waiter popping a cork is difficult to ignore, so I told the people in the table next to us, what we were celebrating.  They were so gracious that I decided to ask Edmon to bring them some glasses and pour champagne for them, too.  Certainly, Heather and I could never have finished that bottle by ourselves, so it was really fun to share it around.  We thus made the acquaintance of four people from the U.S. – lifetime best friends with one another: an engineer, a school administrator, a nurse and a doctor.  We chatted with them throughout dinner, and thoroughly enjoyed making their acquaintance.

Then – with the main course finished – Edmon came in with a birthday cake, and he, Heather, and our four new friends began to sing “Happy Birthday.”  Before the song was over, the whole room had joined in, and finished with applause.  Thus my birthday was wonderfully celebrated.

From the dining room, we went to see a performance by a fellow who was advertised as both a comedian and a magician.  I didn’t enjoy his performance as much as I had hoped – his “sleight of hand” was pretty good, but he roped members of the audience into his act, and made them distinctly uncomfortable.  One of his “victims” – a woman – decided to get into the spirit of things, and she actually got the audience laughing with her own antics, even more than the magical humorist did!

By day’s end, FaceBook has certainly rounded out the pleasure of the day!  Not only did 65 people post birthday wishes, 32 clicked a “like” on my story of the soggy day in Istanbul.  Very gratifying.

So, that’s been my 82nd birthday.

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Sunday, April 30, 2023

Sunday Church, and Exploring Santorini

oday being a Sunday, I felt that it could not be allowed to pass, without going to some sort of Christian worship.
  The cruise ship’s information said that at 8:00 AM, there would be an “Interdenominational church service, led by fellow-passengers,” so Heather and I went down to the specified location just before 8:00 AM.

The place chosen for worship – a mid-sized theatre – was a bit odd:  On the stage there was a lectern, and a table, on which sat a cross and two candles.  But at one side of the space there was an active and open bar!  True, not a lot of people had chosen to go there for a drink at 8:00 AM, but... a bar?  Really?

And, the bar, as well as that entire side of the theatre, was located right on the ship’s main thoroughfare.  Just as we were sitting down, a voice over the public address system boomed out: “Ladies and Gentlemen, now is your chance to go onto the island of Santorini, Greece.  You just board the tender down on Deck 4…” followed by a long list of loud instructions.

Seven people were scattered about the theatre – sitting quietly, obviously waiting for the church service to start.  After five minutes, with nothing happening, I stood up and addressed them: “Does anyone know if there is any sort of plan?”  One lady thought there was supposed to be a pianist, and an order of service, and song books.  But there was nothing.  A man dressed in a staff uniform came in, and said, “Is the microphone on?”  The answer was, “We don’t know.”  He went into a sound room, turned things on, and handed me the mic.

And so, I ended up ad-libbing the “passenger-led” worship service.  I had become the “passenger” who led it.  The people thanked me, after I had brought the brief occasion to a close with a priestly blessing (during which, incidentally, all seven of them devoutly crossed themselves).

But, it’s a sign of the times that, out of a shipload of more than 4,000 people, only seven, plus a retired Anglican priest and his wife, would show up for Sunday worship.

Afterwards, Heather and I had breakfast, then disembarked, and went in to Santorini.  This Greek island would definitely be on Heather’s “bucket list,” were it not for the fact that she and I had already visited it, back in October, 2011. 3  But it is extremely beautiful, and Heather longed to visit it again.  White-painted homes, shops, and blue-domed churches sit high atop a cliffside, which is actually the edge of the caldera of an ancient volcano.  If you want to visit the town, you have to cross the water from the ship in a fairly small boat (most cruise ships are too big to pull up to the pier), then walk, or ride a donkey, on a zig-zag paved path the hundreds of metres up the cliffside… or go up in a gondola.

I have a kind of natural vertigo, which has grown worse and worse as I age, but I was willing to go up in the gondola, so long as I could look at the floor of the cab, and not out the window.  But I was not prepared for the small boat ride from ship to shore.  The ocean swell was quite high, and as the boat moved close to the pier, it began vigorously rocking from side to side.

I could not stand up on my own.  When most of the other passengers had stepped on to the pier, I needed two big sailors to help me off the boat, and when my feet were on level ground, I was not at all certain that I could remain standing up.  There were shops right beside the pier, and I moved unsteadily into them, and asked if any of the shops could sell me a cane.  I absolutely could not trust myself walking without one.

A cane was found for me, and soon, after paying 25 euros for it, I began walking steadily behind Heather, to some shops, to a restaurant where we promised the server we would buy some lunch when we returned from the top of the caldera, and to the gondolas.  I needed, and used, the cane for the rest of the day – although, thank the Lord, by the time I’m writing this, my balance has completely returned.

We took the gondola up to the top.  I looked at the floor of the cab the whole time, protecting myself from further vertigo, wooziness and imbalance.  We wandered about in the town, and I took a few pictures.  Heather happily went into shops, while I stood outside, observing human life.

I had noticed a man, who appeared to be the owner of shops on both sides of the narrow street.  He would sometimes assist customers, and at other times he appeared to be giving instructions to the staff.

We continued our wandering – me still relying on my cane – and eventually we began to return by the way we had come.  In due course we started to pass the pair of shops with that individual owner.  Then, Heather spotted a shirt for sale that she felt I simply must have, so in we both went.

Suddenly that owner-fellow roared in to the section where we were, carrying a box and shouting in a language that I did not understand.  He threw the box on a counter, and continued yelling at a couple of staff members.  A shopper came by me, muttering, “This is awful!  I’m leaving!”  His shouting got more extreme.

I moved quietly up beside him, and said, in English, “You’re upsetting your customers, sir... they’re leaving!”  He probably said the Greek equivalent of “F___ off” and continued his tirade.  We turned to a clerk who wasn’t in his line of fire, though she was visibly uncomfortable, and, expressing our concern for her discomfort, we ended up buying me a t-shirt which says, in big letters, “It’s all Greek to me!”

Finishing our walk in the town, we came down, once more in the gondolas, and then we had a very, very, Greek lunch on the pier, in the restaurant to which we had promised to return.  Then we went back across the water to the ship.  The rocking of the shuttle boat wasn’t as pronounced as it had been when we came out, but I was still very glad to be back in our stateroom.

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Monday, May 1, 2023

Another Sea Day – on our way to Kotor, Montenegro

e’re going from Santorini to Kotor, a place of which I have never heard.  It’s in Montenegro. 
I spent much of today doing a lot of work on my website, editing and coding stories from the early days of our cruise.  An analogy struck me as I worked: Heather went out of the cabin to attend a couple of onboard quiz and trivia games.  Doing puzzles of various kinds obviously keeps her mind alive.  I found that doing HTML coding is what keeps my own mind alive.  It was so satisfying to see my blog posts, with working hyperlinks and nice formatting.  I also re-edited some of the prose.  Good mental health!

11:08 PM
Now, at the end of the day, after going with Heather to a shipboard stage production, I’m quivering with frustration!  Like the Five Skies production, that we went to on April 20, the performance was extremely skilful, but the story was about young singles meeting one another on dating apps, and the rock-style music was unbearably LOUD!!!!

The whole thing speaks of a marketing focus of Princess Cruises that is certainly not aimed at my generation….  What are they thinking!?  Do they believe that thirty-somethings will fill a 5,000 passenger ship at $7,500 per person?  People in their thirties are trying to make a living, raise a family, pay off student loans, and pay a mortgage!  Few, if any, can afford to take three weeks to sail around at great expense.

So that’s my grump.  I spent the second half of tonight’s show with my fingers pressed against my ears.  I actually heard the words of some songs through my blocked ears, which struck me as unique.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2023

At Kotor, Montenegro

rior to this trip, I had never heard of Kotor. 
Waking up this morning, I saw that we were in some kind of fjord – tall mountains coming almost straight out of the water – but with a town at the end of the bay, and roads clinging to the sides of the mountains.  It is very beautiful, but, knowing that the only way to go ashore is by “tender,” and with memories of Sunday’s experience on the Santorini tender, I had no interest in disembarking.  Heather stayed on board, too.

At the end of the day, we watched, on the stateroom television, the recorded “port lecture” about Kotor, and Heather then regretted that we did not disembark.  I regretted it a little, myself.  Certainly, seen from the ship, the town and its surroundings are extremely picturesque.

I spent almost the entire afternoon trying to book a hotel for the coming weekend in Barcelona.  It was very frustrating.  The hotel-accomodation website set up a booking, but when I entered my credit card, they asked for a “zip code” and would not accept my Canadian postal code, so the booking did not go through.  I then wrote directly to the Eurohotel, where we had stayed before the cruise began, and they replied, saying, “you can book through our website.”  So, I found and entered the site, which turned out to be entirely in Spanish.  Long story short, I eventually booked successfully, but the process took the entire afternoon!

As has happened regularly during the cruise, at dinner we fall into conversation with folks at the next table.  Nice people and fun.

And, I’m continuing my Facebook posts about the cruise - today completing and posting an account of our day in Santorini.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Exploring Messina, Italy

e have sailed from Kotor, around the “heel” of Italy, to the city of Messina, located on the strait with the same name, where the “toe” of Italy almost touches Sicily. 
No “tenders” were required here!  When the ship tied up around noon at a full-sized pier, Heather and I disembarked with the intention of exploring at least part of Messina on foot.

Then, not far from the pier, we came to a lovely park, where a hop-on-hop-off bus was boarding passengers.

“Why not!?” we said, and proceeded to buy two tickets from a man who was standing there, selling them.

Similar to our experience in Marseille, France, the bus was soon driving uphill, to the highest elevation in the city, where, a thousand years ago, a church, Il Tempio di Cristo Re (the temple of Christ the King) had been built.  The church is still there – a massive structure, that, apart from its dome, looks more like a fortress than a church.  Which makes sense, since it was actually built on the remains of a medieval fort!  We got off the bus, and, although we didn’t go into the church (it turned out to be closed), I took a bunch of pictures of the surroundings, and before long we “hopped on” the next bus.

We thought the bus would eventually go to Messina’s commercial district, but when it turned and headed back up the hill to Tempio di Cristo Re, we decided that we should walk in the general direction of the shopping district, and so, we “hopped off.”  Before long we were making our way along Via G. Garibaldi, and came across an ice cream shop.  Ice cream seemed very tempting, so we stopped and enjoyed a couple of cones, while seated at some outdoor tables.

a church, set below the surface of the city
Chiesa Santissima Annunziata – Messina, Italy
…three metres below street level!
Then came one of the most special moments of our entire trip.  We had finished our cones, and were walking further into the commercial district, when we spotted what seemed to be a church which was somehow at least three metres below street level.  Some stairs led down to a door, which was open, and as we looked, a couple of tourists came out, and up the stairs.  We went down, and went in.

The interior was a perfectly preserved, and beautifully kept, twelfth century church.  It’s a working church – there are regular services there.  But a government tourist guide was also on duty, and happy to answer questions.

We learned from her that, in 1908, the city of Messina was almost entirely destroyed – levelled, flattened – by a violent earthquake.  The only building left standing, and completely untouched, was this church, called the Chiesa Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani (basically a church honouring the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary).  A widespread assumption grew that God himself had preserved it from the earthquake.  So, when all the surrounding destruction from the earthquake was bulldozed – with the resulting mix of dirt and brick and concrete making a level surface three metres higher than the original ground level where the church stood, a protecting wall of brick was built to keep the new surface of the city from crumbling towards the church walls.  The result is that the church stands at the bottom of something like a well, while the city around has gradually been rebuilt over the subsequent one hundred and fifteen years.

We poked around, with the guide beside us, showing us artwork, and a wonderful miniature village of Nazareth, complete with angels and the newborn baby Jesus in his manger.

Finally we left, and made our way back to the ship, as happy as can be.

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Thursday, May 4, 2023

Visiting Sorrento, Italy

he ship has stopped in Naples, for the second time on our cruise. 
Heather and I disembarked, but not to go to Pompeii.  Heather had a deep desire to go south, along the coast, to visit the town of Sorrento.  So, at the terminal entrance, a cab driver offered his services, and we accepted.  Past the Pompeii ruins we went, through an extensive residential area of very old, but maintained and, lived in, residences.  Finally, our driver announced that we were now in Sorrento.  He showed us where he would wait for us, and we headed out to see the place.

To me, it was just a typical European shopping district.  And, we did such ordinary things as getting money out of an ATM, and, later, buying some ice cream.  And we walked around, looking at the buildings, and peering in the windows and doors of shops.

In due course, we went to where our driver was waiting, and were driven back to the ship’s terminal.  I was a bit worried, though, because our driver was constantly sneezing and blowing his nose.  He said it was allergies, but what if it was, in fact, something communicable?  If it was, since we’ve been forty-five minutes in a closed car with him, we’ll probably catch it – but it’s too late to do anything about it, now.

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Next: End of the cruise; a remarkable cathedral; coughing; the journey into France; and more….


2  Yes, we have the names, and full contact data; I just choose not to publish such information on the Internet.  Apart from stories about my own immediate family on this blog, when I do use people's names, they're invented names, and the person's privacy is protected.
Click here to get back to the narrative.

3  Back in 2011, I wrote in some detail about our first visit to Santorini.  I included an account of one of the most terrifying bus rides I have ever experienced.  You can read about the beautiful island, and the harrowing bus ride, here.  That bus ride was not offered on this 2023 trip, and, if the road on which it went is still in use, it would start from a pier that is more than a kilometre away from where we landed.
Click here to get back to the narrative.