A quick set up:
I turned 50 on October 6, 2012. My wife surprised me about three weeks before, during a particular low spot in my life with a piece of paper. “Happy birthday,” she said. I opened the paper and quickly scanned it.
“We’re going on a cruise?” I said, and my mind kind of shut down with happiness after that. In fact, it wasn’t until several minutes later, as I was refolding the paper, that I saw the word “Greece” and just about shit. This is the story of what happened on that trip, taken almost exclusively from the diary I kept along the way.
E volavo, volavo felice più in alto del sole ed ancora più su
Mentre il mondo pian piano spariva lontano laggiù
Una musica dolce suonava soltanto per me
And I flew, I flew happily to the heights of the sun.
As the world slowly disappeared out there,
A soft music was playing just for me.
Volare – Domenico Modugno
Today started off with two missions. One was food, and one was my ZZ Top goal: to go and get myself some cheap sunglasses. Turns out I left mine back home.
When you live with me for any length of time, you’ll find out I’m a goddamn miserable bastard until I eat something. I’m not one of those skip breakfast kind of guys.
So, our first official morning on the cruise, I sit out on the balcony quietly going mad. Karen’s dragging her ass, getting ready at a comatose snail’s pace as I try and not say something snarky. I’m starving and I’m praying she’s going to get her face on before they shut down breakfast. There’s a small, somewhat compassionate part of me that reminds me she didn’t even get a nap yesterday, so she basically ran almost thirty-six straight hours and she’s as jetlagged as I am. Still. I’m starving!
Anyway, we make it to breakfast, and met some older travelers from Norway and a younger couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana that had the coolest accents.
Today we were a little more awake, so we took a more conscious walk around the ship and got a better lay of the land. Saw a couple of cozy little bars that might be nice to relax in later, then we stumbled into the presentation of the cruise itinerary. Let me give you a taste: “So, dere’s a stop at Mykonos (mee-kun-oze) dat’s nice an’ bee-you-tee-ful. Sure to be a highlight of da crooze. It’s a nice an’ bee-you-tee-ful place in Mykonos.” As we listened, we quickly determined everything was nice an’ bee-you-tee-ful and sure to be a highlight of da crooze.
We decided this presentation was not a highlight of da crooze an’ we left. On the way out, I went for a coffee refill and found a build-your-own-taco station. Yeah, baby! Nothing like unexpected bonus tacos. Did I mention I was starving?
We headed back to the cabin to get ready for our first stop. Bari, Italy was in sight and, as we came closer, I caught sight of some dolphins trailing the ship for a few minutes. The Mediterranean is almost smooth as glass today, and it’s a nice and bee-you-tee-ful 81 degrees F. Sunny and bright.
There was a point when I was leaning on the balcony rail outside our room, when the guy from the cabin next to us came out to light up a smoke. We got talking and I fell in love with his English accent. He was from Lincolnshire and, while we chatted about several subjects, it was one statement that stuck out. We talked American politics, so different from the British and Canadian politics we were both used to, and he mentioned Sarah Palin. Then he said, “Oh, that one’s as mad as a box of frogs. Crackers, she is.”
Mad as a box of frogs. Love that expression.
Back in the cabin, as we got ready, I pulled out the walking shoes I’d bought specifically for the trip and remembered something my son had said when I first brought them home. “They’re really nice, dad,” he said. “Do they come in men’s?”
A gorgeous city that venerates St. Nicholas…yes, the old St. Nick of Christmas. Our very pretty and very personable tour guide, Frederica, gave us the lowdown on all things Bari. She was very informative and a lot of fun.
She talked about one of the area’s chief exports, olive oil. Apparently there’s a legend about why there’s so many olive trees (about 60 million) in the area. The story goes that, when the Italian men went off to war, their wives–our tour guide called them the wee-mun–were very unfaithful. Each time they confessed to their priest, they were told to stop, but also told to plant an olive tree. Interesting that an area that specializes in “extra virgin” olive oil has a legend stemming from local wee-mun who couldn’t keep their clothes on.
Frederica told us olives need six Ss to grow:
- Scarcity of water
- …and one other that I can’t remember. Maybe it was Sex, judging from the story above.
Our tour bus finally came to the stunningly gorgeous city of Polignano, birthplace of Domenico Modugno, the singer of the song Volare, which means “to fly”. There’s even a statue of the guy, even though he moved from the city when he was nine years old. Still, the guy had a huge hit in 1958 with the song and everyone from Frank Sinatra to David Bowie has done a version of it since.
We first got to see the city from the outside, marveling at the stone and whitewashed buildings built right on the cliffs, towering over the Mediterranean. If you look closely, you’ll see caves at the base of the cliffs. There’s hotels and restaurants in them now.
Then we entered and were guided through the maze of its pathways, twisting and splitting off, down hills and up stairs. And everywhere, tiny little shops, eateries, bed and breakfasts and, of course, gelato shops. When I say tiny, I doubt many Canadians or Americans can appreciate this. I know I wouldn’t have been able to without seeing it for myself. North Americans are so used to buildings build to specific standards, to safety codes, etc. Then, to walk down into a cavelike room where, when it’s Karen and I and two others, it becomes hard to navigate and you have to scrunch up against one of the walls to let someone pass. No back entrance. If it’s in the shop, it came in through the front door.
Much of the city was built almost one thousand years ago, possibly even as much as two thousand. The stones of the streets are worn smooth from all the steps they’ve borne. After a while, we’d think we had the city’s layout down, then we’d find some quaint little offshoot we hadn’t seen before.
At one point, one of the other guides, who spoke just enough English for us to converse, saw me taking picture after picture after picture and asked me what the particular attraction was to the city. I could tell he honestly didn’t really see it. I explained to him that I came from a country with about 150 years of recorded history, that our buildings and architecture, even our mentality toward it, was completely different. I don’t think I got my point across, and that bothered me somewhat.
We had some spare time and
, to my utter dismay, the ZZ Top goal would need to wait. I found no acceptable sunglasses that day. on the way through the port into Bari, I grabbed a pair. Please disregard the previous crossed out statement as my wife points out that, seven pictures back, I am, in fact, wearing the ZZ Top specials. And yes, she’s gloating about it. She states the reason I forgot is that I am now five decades old now and suffer from CRS (Can’t Remember Shit). She’s insufferable.
And now back to our regularly scheduled blog.
Eventually, we clambered back on the tour bus to take us back to the ship. Of course they played Volare on the way back and a spontaneous, horrible singalong occurred. None of knew the words, so it was “blah blah mumble mumble VO-LAR-EH! OOOOH-OH!”
Still, eventually the song ended and it took all the self-control I had to not bitchslap the foursome behind us. Here we are, surrounded by a couple millennia of history, architecture and beauty, yet all they could talk about was Jersey Shore and getting drunk.
Mad as a box of frogs. Crackers, they were.
See part four here.