Monday, April 30, 2012

Mezzes in Monemvasia

Dottie, our Cruise Director, scheduled the third lecture for 8:30 in the morning, not my preference but a time which actually worked well since we were scheduled to anchor off Monemvasia at 10:00 a.m.   and everyone was aboard ship.  The question became whether or not they would be awake and interested.  Dwight counted about 40 people as they wandered in…not a bad crowd for the time and situation.  The talk was on Minoan Crete and the Bronze Age Mediterranean.  It was well received and set the stage for passengers’ visit to Knossos.  Several people have told me since that it provided them with some meaningful context for their visit.
As usual, we anchored right on time; I don’t see how everything on the ship is run so punctually since there are no clocks visible.  Monemvasia is a tall rock island and its small port town located on the southern tip of the Peloponnese Peninsula.  It’s connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway.  Our ship tender let us off in the middle of the causeway and the question became which way to go:  to the small town or onto the island.  We opted for the town remembering a pleasant time sitting in a café by the shore on last year’s voyage.  We found the same café, had a seat by the water, and ordered an assortment of mezzes.  A few people we had met on the ship dropped by for a short visit, and at one point an assortment of cheeses intended for the next table was delivered to our table.  That triggered a round of sharing dishes that added to the buffet.  I was relieved to get through the third lecture and was happy to sit by the sea and enjoy the afternoon of wine, mezzes, and conversation.  We wandered back to the ship for a long nap, dinner at the Terrace Café, and early to bed to watch Zorba the Greek.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

One-two-three Corfu

Here we are back in Corfu for the third time in less than a year.  We decided it wasn’t worth the effort (off the ship, shuttle to the terminal, shuttle to the town, long walk to the Old Town) to get off the ship for lunch or shopping, and besides, I had a program to refine for tomorrow and another to write for Kusadasi.  So, we spent the day aboard our beautiful home.  Dwight’s immersed in a novel and I’m immersed in my lecture schedule.  Maybe it’s a good time for general observations.

·         Life aboard ship is not half bad, even with the stress of lecture preparation.  People wait on you all the time.  How can you complain about that?  It was maybe a mistake to take on the Rome-Venice schedule, but hindsight is 20-20.

·         Greetings are important.  The staff always greets you with a smile and asks how you’re feeling.  Fellow passengers avert their eyes and carry on without acknowledging your presence.  Significant?  Maybe all people should go through Oceania’s training classes.

·         Souvenir shops are the same the world over.

·         There’s nothing you can do about the weather, so you might as well not complain about it.

·         On a small ship, you meet people you like and find them again easily to enjoy their company.  On a large ship, you never see them again.

·         You recognize people you like instantly.  It’s all about pheromones, not a rational thing.

·         You never get too old to appreciate compliments.

·         It feels good to dress up every now and again as long as dressing up doesn’t involve uncomfortable shoes.

·         In an ideal world, one would travel with one’s hairdresser and manicurist and/or hair and nails nails that never grow longer.

·         Food is not that important to me.  Too much of it and my system just shuts down.  On the other hand, it’s nice to not have to cook.

·         Two and a half hours spent at dinner is too long. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Krazy about Kotor

The Port of Kotor

Pouring rain greeted our arrival in Kotor.  Kotor is a city in Montenegro, one of the states formed from former Yugoslavia.  Before Yugoslavia, Montenegro was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  I remember teaching about the ethnic groups included in that old Empire.  It was difficult to keep them straight then, and it’s still difficult.  We decided the people are Serbs, but the meaning of being a Serb is a bit unclear. The city sits at the end of long fjord, at least what passes for a fjord in the Adriatic Sea; it’s actually a deep river bed which is full of water.  It makes for an impressive entry for a ship; high mountains surround you on all sides.  We didn’t have any agenda for the day.  The rain cleared by mid-morning, so we wandered into town.  The Old City was just 5 minutes’ walk from the port, an easy walk for Dwight.  We proceeded through the gates and found a café which had an internet connection and served cappuccino…perfect! 

While Dwight enjoyed the emerging sunshine, I wandered through the town and found a couple of interesting spots:  an old Orthodox church where the priest and a penitent were chanting; an old Roman church full of dreary icons; a maritime museum which had models of sailing ships.  After my tour, I was still a little unsure about the history of the town, but decided it didn’t matter.  I collected Dwight and we wandered around looking for the perfect restaurant.  We found a seafood restaurant next to the Church of the Holly Spibit.  They served the freshest fish I’ve had so far—sea bass European style with head, etc. 

Back at the ship, we had gotten an invitation from the ladies who live next door to us who run the art program on board.  They invited us to dinner to compare notes.  It was an interesting evening.  We both have a few issues about our “employment,” but it’s great to know that we’re not alone.  They’re from Australia and will be doing another voyage Barcelona to Rome in a couple of weeks. 
The skies had all cleared for our sail away, so we could enjoy the views of the fjord as we departed.  All in all, we had a great day in Kotor

Friday, April 27, 2012

Doing Dubrovnik Again

Old Town Dubrovnik from the City Walls

Up early this morning for my 9:30 lecture.  There was a good crowd and it was well received.  I’m feeling a little better about this whole project.  The new cruisers are a lot loser and less formal crowd.  It’s funny how a group of unrelated people can have a vibe.  There’s a group of over 100 cruisers who come from the same retirement community in Central Florida.  They have a travel club.  It’s a good group…reminds me somewhat of Seniors Outdoors with less of an outdoorsy agenda.   So my speaing schedule worked out well; now I’ve got a couple of days off.  My next lecture is two days away at 8:30 in the morning.  I might as well enjoy a break.  

We docked in Dubrovnik at noon.  Dwight wasn’t interested in wandering into the Old Town again which is a fairly long shuttle ride away from the dock.   I decided to take another jaunt into town partly because we need some toiletries and I was hoping to find them.  Just inside the gate to the Old Town was the entrance to the Wall Walk.  I decided to give it a try, bought a ticket and climbed the stairs.  It’s an interesting tour, but really wore me out with the ups and downs of stone steps.  My old joints are feeling the humidity.  I’m looking forward to the new ankle, but now it’s my knee that’s bothering.  I guess I’m getting old. 

Goodbye Venice

When we returned from Ravenna my lecture schedule was waiting for me.  The schedule was set by the Cruise Director.  She never consulted me, which I thought a bit strange, but not my call.   We were scheduled to sail away from Venice at 4:00 p.m. and my first lecture was scheduled for 5:30…a good time since people would be on board and “into” things Venetian—the first lecture is Venice and the Fourth Crusade.  The second lecture will be tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.  All-in-all I’m happy with that schedule.  People will also be on the ship in the morning since we’re not scheduled to dock at Dubrovnik until noon.  We stayed on board all morning trying to do laundry.  Yesterday was debarkation/embarkation day; the Rome-Venice crowd would be debarking by 9:00 a.m. and the new group was to be on board by 6:00 p.m.  I thought it was a reasonable assumption that the new crowd would be busy in Venice today. WRONG!  They had all come to Venice early and were spending the day doing laundry.  Met some nice people in the laundry room

Evening came with laundry finally done.  After a reasonably sunny day, a slow drizzle settled in just in time for the sail-away from Venice.  What a disappointment that must’ve been for the new people, but it didn’t bother me since I watched from the room resting up for the evening “performance.” 

Showtime!  I actually had a good crowd.  It was thrilling to talk in front of people for the first time since we left Rome, and it was a good feeling to be prepared for the cruise.  There were more than 100 people in the auditorium.  Problem was, I was tired from a long drive yesterday and a long morning fighting the laundry-room crowd.  Oh well, so I was a little flat.  The lecture was well received and I’m finished in time to get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow’s show.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Raving about Ravenna

My regret in deciding to join the cruise in Rome was missing the stopover in Ravenna we had planned.  Having a rather stubborn nature, I decided that on Sunday we should rent a car and drive to Ravenna, about 2 hours away.  Renting a car on Sunday in vehicle-free Venice is not an easy proposition, but we managed to get it done and headed down the coastal road in an angry little red Italian/Korean car.
Ravenna was worth the trouble, and it was a lot of trouble.  We drove into town without a clue where to go.  We had passed a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town, so we went back to them to see if we could pick up a map.  We thought about having lunch there as payment, but since the entrées started at 25 Euros, we decided the map was not worth that much.  Holiday Inn—I owe you one.   It was Sunday and everything in town appeared to be shut down, but we finally found a little café still serving lunch.  What a nice lunch it was:  fresh pasta and red wine, the best we’d had in Italy.  Sitting there looking at the deserted square, I panicked thinking the monuments might be closed, but fortunately such was not the case.  There are eight World Heritage sights in Ravenna; we were only able to visit 3.
I have shown slides of the mosaics in Ravenna in all the classes of Western Civ and Humanities I’ve ever taught.  They are even more impressive in person.  Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire ruled by the Visigoth Theodoric in the 5th century.  The mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo all brought tears to my eyes they were so beautiful.  Photos can never do justice.  

As icing on the cake, we visited the grave of Dante—may he always rest in peace in Ravenna and may the dusty, dirty, noisy city of Florence never get him back.  Ravenna itself is a lovely little town.  Put it on your next travel itinerary.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Viva Venice

St. Mark's Square

We’ve visited Venice before, but never approached the city via a cruise ship from the sea.  Arrival by ship is magnificent!  We sailed within 500 yards of St. Mark’s Square and got a bird’s eye view from the ship’s top deck of the network of canals.  We were docked by 9:00 a.m. and ready to go ashore.  A shuttle boat takes passengers from the port directly to St. Mark’s Square; fortunately, it’s very accessible with a ramp and kindly attendant to help.  We were a little unsure what to find in Venice as far as accessibility; our memories mainly consist of walking narrow streets over innumerable bridges. 

Arriving at St. Mark’s Square you would swear that at least 2/3 of the earth’s population had congregated there.  Moving around was next to impossible.  The line to enter the Basilica stretched from the front door almost to the docks.  Dwight found a perch on a folded table (the cost of occupying an actual café table in the Square was too precious) and I went to reconnoiter.   Nothing but people everywhere I looked.  We returned to the dock where there was a Tourist Information booth which had a handy guide called “Accessible Venice.”  They’re at least trying.  We studied the available options—there were suggested itineraries from about 6 starting points throughout Venice.  The key was to take a water bus to the different areas and make your way from there.  The waterbuses run on routes much like a subway system.  We figured out how to get to Rialto on the Grand Canal.  The area seemed to have a lot of side streets without bridges, and such was the case.  In the Rialto area we found a nice Osteria serving pizza and half litres of decent wine.   Good stop.  Good lunch. 

After continuing the waterbus route to the end of the line at the Plaza de Rome, we walked back to the port, which was quite a haul for Dwight.  Something, other than the incredible crowds of people, had felt different about Venice.  One of the crew members pointed out that it no longer smells bad.  I regret both the crowds and the lack of smell.  Venice is special and everyone should see it at least once; we’ve seen it 3 times.  The Marina is beginning to feel like home.  We’re looking forward to a new start to a new cruise.   Fruit basket turnover tomorrow.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Now we've Done Dubrovnik

Old Town Dubrovnik

We both liked Dubrovnik.  We docked a good distance from the town and the ship again supplied a complimentary shuttle.  After our experience with the crowds flocking onto the shuttle in Corfu, we decided to take a taxi into town.  The driver, of course, offered us a special panoramic tour for 50 Euro, so we took him up on it.  It was well worth the money (which would’ve cost twice that per person if we had taken the ship’s shore excursion.)  It was an hour’s drive up the cliff and along a spur which separated the coast from an inland river.  It was a beautiful drive and our taxi driver, although dour in the old Communist style, was friendly.  We saw much of “new” Dubrovnik—the city had been rebuilt after the Serbs bombed it in 1991-92.  It’s hard to believe that actually happened with no one in the world lifting a finger.

We were dropped off at the entrance to the World Heritage Site Old Walled City which has a long entry way with flat paving stones, easy enough for Dwight to manage.  We found a comfortable bar where Dwight perched while I made a small tour.  The highlight was the Maritime Museum which had models of all the sailing ships that had sailed the Adriatic waters since the Greek trireme. 
Back on the ship for a noon departure, everyone was complaining that we didn’t have enough time in Dubrovnik, but I was happy since my last talk was scheduled for 5:30 and everyone would finally be on board.  The talk, which concerned Venice’s part in the Fourth Crusade, attracted twice the usual crowd and was very well received even though I had shortened it almost in half.  I feel a little like I’m getting my mojo back; I wonder where it went?  One friendly Texan even offered to buy me a drink afterwards.  It reminded me of how much I sometimes miss friendly Texans, and to put the cherry on the top, it turned out he attended the same elementary school I had attended in Houston.  Small world.  Sleep on that. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Corfu Town

Corfu Old Fort

It was really good to arrive back in Greece.  Evidently, the sun is happier there as well because Apollo greeted our arrival and never really left.  My talk had originally been scheduled for 8:30 in the morning, but since we went through a time change and 8:30 would’ve been 7:30 on our body time, the Cruise Director happily suggested that lecture time be changed to 4:30.  That would be before All Aboard time, so there wouldn’t be many people on the ship, but the later time still worked better for me.

The ship offered a shuttle into town, so we took it to the large main square and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Old Fort.  Corfu was controlled for many years by Venice; the buildings are squarely built and have a yellowish tint.  The Main Square and streets leading from it were very accessible, so we found a nice sidewalk restaurant and had a delicious fish soup for lunch.  I tried to remember all the Greek we had learned last year.  Wanting to be prepared for my afternoon talk, we returned to the ship after lunch for a nap and shower.  Do you think Americans are getting ruder every yeard?  It's always really a scramble to board a bus, and handicapped seem to be last.  I would say it's because we don't teach manners any more, but my generation has no excuse.  We were actually taught; we've just forgotten.
Main Square, Corfu Town

The evening lecture was, unsurprisingly, sparsely attended.  It was the Iliad and Odyssey talk I practiced on Camarata before departure.  That time, it took me a little over an hour.  Last night, it took about 40 minutes.  I’m learning that the Cruise Director was right—that’s about the extent of the attention span of cruisers.  I am, however, getting the same people attending and they seem to appreciate my efforts.  I’m looking forward to giving the talk on Venice since it will be the only one that actually works well for this voyage.   

Friday, April 20, 2012

Time in Taormina

Taormina, Sicily, was a beautiful spot.  We were anchored off-shore; the winds were fairly high and steady, raising whitecaps on the water, so Dwight and I decided to stay aboard Marina for another relaxing day rather than endure a choppy ride to the pier.  Also, the town sits on a high shelf on a cliff and is quite distant from the port; the cruise line did not provide a shuttle to town and taxis are evidently less than reliable.  Staying on board proved to be a good choice, although I would’ve liked to have seen the prime attraction, an ancient Greek theatre.   For once the sun was shining, but the steady breeze made it cool on deck.  I sat down in the library with a book, looked up, and was shocked by the sight of a large volcanic cone covered with snow—Mt. Etna.  It was uncovered only long enough to gasp and then the cloud cover returned.  The Southern half of Sicily was settled by the Greeks, so at least we’re getting closer to my old Greek friends.  I’ll be glad when we turn into Adriatic waters.   

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Sorrento in the Rain

The announcement was made Tuesday night that because of expected high winds we would not be going to Amalfi/Positano, but would be diverted to Naples.   Amalfi is a tendered port, and we could dock in Naples.  I wasn’t particularly disappointed since Naples looked to be the easier port for Dwight to visit.  In fact, they offered a shore excursion available to mobility impaired (a rarity) that was only a bus drive to Sorrento.  The tour offered a panoramic view of the Italian Riviera, two hours of free time in Sorrento, and an early return which would allow me time for a nap before the evening’s presentation.  It was a good idea only spoiled by the constant rain which accompanied us.  Sorrento is a pleasant little town.  We dodged the obligatory visit to a shop featuring inlaid enamel and found shelter under the awning of a coffee shop on the main square which also offered free Wi Fi.  It was actually fairly pleasant given the circumstances.  The heat of last summer’s voyage is beginning to look good.  I’m grateful I bought a rain jacket in Cannes.  We hope Greece will be warmer and drier.
Mt. Vesuvius

I had invested a lot of worry into the evening’s presentation because it really didn’t have much to do with our next destination—Taormina, Sicily.  I’ve never heard of Taormina, Sicily, but it was originally settled by the Greeks and one of the main attractions are the ruins of an ancient Greek/Roman theatre, so I took advantage of that to combine a talk on Dionysus with the history of Western Theatre.  It was well received by the sparse crowd, and I was looser than I was for the first presentation.   Maybe I’ll actually make it through this first cruise.  The last two lectures are ones that were planned for the outbound portion of the next voyage at Corfu and Venice.  At least the Venice one actually concerns Venice. 

After the talk, a man came up to me and asked, “Are you a humanist?”  Being wary of my response, I told him that I’m a Christian/pagan/humanist.  He then said, “Let me just ask you directly, Are you a Unitarian?”  He’s a nice guy, a Unitarian from Vermont.  I guess I’m unmasked. 

Showtime in Sardinia

Upon arrival in our stateroom, I found my lecture schedule waiting for me.  I thought it was really strange.  I wouldn’t be speaking for 4 days, not a bad thing after an international flight, but they didn’t have the Florence talk on the schedule at all.  Of course, that was the one I wasted the most sweat on trying to get ready.  So basically I’ve had four days to get nervous.   I didn’t realize what a stressful situation this would be.  We’ve shared tables with people at dinner and I’ve tried to sell them on coming, but there are a lot of activities available on this ship that I’m competing with.  Maybe the Greeks would appreciate the agon because it’s been agony for me.  The first lecture scheduled for today—four days out of Rome—is The Legacy of Rome.  This lecture I cobbled together from an old Western Civ lecture.   When I met the Cruise Director Dottie on our first day aboard ship, I asked about time.  She said 40-45 minutes per talk was max; people would start to lose interest and wander away.  Of course, I had prepared for an hour, so I was already in trouble.  I’ve been reworking my slides, deleting some and adding others based on what’s happening with shore excursions.  The set of lectures for this cruise are really not destination oriented, but I just didn’t have the time to do the research so had to stick with stuff I had.  Frankly, I’ve been sweating it.  Oh well, it’s Showtime.

Dwight and I spent the day on board.  I even worked out.  Sardinia looks nice from the ship, but I don’t feel cheated by not going ashore.  Keeping my fingers crossed, I reported to the theatre in time to meet the stage manager and get hooked up for sound.  Several people straggled in, and the show began.  It went pretty well.  I was a little flat, but the small crowd appeared interested and I brought it in in about 50 minutes.  Not too bad overall.  Time to relax and get ready for tomorrow’s show. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fun in Firenze

It was finally an almost-sunny day when we docked in Livorno.  The major reason for docking in Livorno is to visit either Pisa or Florence, 15-minute or one-hour drives distant respectively.  We had previously visited Pisa and remember it well.  We had also previously visited Florence, with less happy memories.  I convinced Dwight that we should rent an angry little Italian car and drive to Florence to try to dispel unhappy memories of a dirty, dusty, noisy Florence.  So I became the calm driver of an angry little Italian car equipped with a crazy Italian GPS maven who kept repeating, “Exit right at the next exit,” and off we went to Florence.   Some of our old bad memories have been replaced by better ones, or at least different ones.  Florence is still far from the ideal place to visit.  I think I prefer to see all that beautiful Renaissance art work on my PowerPoint screen where it can be admired at leisure rather than knocking through crowds and ruining your feet on cobblestones.   Dwight braved his way through several blocks of hard stone streets before we found an internet café for a light lunch of sandwiches and Chianti. 
I tooled at top speed around Duomo square and into the Medici chapel, which I hadn’t seen before, and back we came.  We were thinking of driving through Lucca on the way home, but a heavy rain changed our minds.  What a fun day in Firenze!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Rainy Day in Monaco

It was raining when we arrived in Monaco and it’s raining now while we await departure.  Monaco is probably one of the few cities in the world that can look good in the rain.  Shoved in against the mountain cliffs, the streets are tidy and the buildings and gardens well-tended.  As we walked through the port, we were approached by the driver of an open air tour bus.  He offered us two of his three covered seats.  The bus was one of several that circulate allowing you to get on and off during the day, and was perfect for our purposes.  We rode around for a while, got off at the prince’s palace, ate a nice lunch of seafood at a small French restaurant, and continued on the tour back to the warm and dry ship.

Monaco is a study in excess.  Two-thirds of the residents are foreign, making their “homes” in Monaco for tax purposes only.  To walk around the port filled with humongous yachts is enough to make you thankful you don’t need to keep up with those Joneses.  The yacht docked next to us seemed to be large enough for an extended family or two.  Our bus driver pointed out a new 20-story apartment building under construction which would have only one apartment per floor, each floor complete with a swimming pool and garage.    Such is life in Monaco.  We’re moving on.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

No Cannes Do

Our first night at sea and our first day in port were uneventful.  We departed Italy in early evening and headed for the French Riviera with Cannes being our first port of call.  It was cloudy and rainy when we anchored, but the skies cleared somewhat by afternoon.  We tendered into port, walked around for a little while, had a sandwich, and then headed back to the ship for a nap.  It was as a recovery day.  Someone (I won’t say who) was crabby and tired.   Cannes is a nice little resort town, but doesn’t hold much of interest on a rainy day.  I hate to say, “Been there; done that,” but we had.  It was good to hear the rhythms of French again and to communicate in another language. 

Meanwhile, we’re getting to know the Marina which will be our home for the next 20 days.  It’s exactly like the Nautica, only more so.  I miss the more relaxed atmosphere of the smaller ship, but on the Marina there is more activity, beautiful art work, and the quality of entertainment seems to be a little higher.  (I hope that goes for the lecturer as well.)  Fortunately, our cabin is mid-ships which makes it easier to get around on the bigger ship.  We offered to share a table at dinner and met a really nice couple from Michigan who are on board with a group of alumni from Purdue and Wisconsin.  Somehow we managed to stay awake to hear the Italian tenor sing at the evening program.  All-in-all, it was a good recovery day. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Automobile, Planes, Bus and Ship

Does anybody have fun travelling?  Not me.  Airplanes are uncomfortable, airports are dreary, and security checkpoints are annoying.  Your best defense is to buy a dime novel and stick your nose in it until you reach your destination.  Mary Higgins Clark provided me with enough diversion to get through it all. We arrived in Civitavecchia to board the Marina just as the book reached its denouement, although I’m not sure I can stay awake long enough to completely untie the knot.     That doesn’t matter; I’ve already figured it out.  We’ve unpacked in our deluxe, ocean view stateroom (Dwight lied about the suite) enjoyed a nice dinner in the Main Dining Room, and are climbing into bed at the reasonable hour of 10:30 p.m.  Tomorrow, we’ll have plenty of time to explore our new surroundings.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Here we are again, packing to leave our beautiful and enjoyable life in Durango.  Why?  Why not?  I just listened to an interesting interview with Jonah Lehrer who wrote a book called  Imagine: How Creativity Works.  He says that creativity comes from putting youself into sitautions where you must interact with a totally different group of people from you own mileu and norm.  One of my tasks as Guest Lecturter aboard is to host tables at dinner.  I'm looking forward to that.  It's so stimulating to talk to different people and get different points of view.

Right now, I've just had too much to drink and too much to pack into a rectancular box that must weigh under 50 poinds.  Life is stressful.  But tomorrow I'll have the opportunity to recover by spending several hours as a prisoner of American Airlines.

And so to bed....