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.
Someone is waiting just for you
spinning wheel is spinning true
Drop all your troubles, by the river side
Catch a painted pony
On the spinning wheel ride
Spinning Wheel – Blood, Sweat & Tears
Today, we left Italy and landed in Greece. Corfu, to be exact. Beautiful country, beautiful scenery, amazing mountains, cliffs, water.
We left the ship and clambered on the bus for a trip to two different places in Corfu.
I had high expectations for our tour guide after Frederica yesterday. Today’s tour guide was an older woman, I’m going to guess 55-60, who seemed to amuse herself long before anyone else. As we drove to our first destination, she took frequent pauses to laugh at her own jokes or anecdotes.
Yeah. She wasn’t funny.
Okay, well, that’s sort of a lie. I’d say she wasn’t consciously funny. She did, however, have this habit of getting pissed if it looked like rain, which it did off and on all through the tour. So, she’d exclaim “JESUS CHRIST” out of nowhere. As an example, she might be pointing out a mountain, so the accompanying dialogue would be something like, “And over there is a beautiful mountain and JESUS CHRIST it better not rain!”
I can’t do it justice, but trust me, everyone on the bus chuckled every time she did it. She did it a lot over the four hours we spent with her.
The first place we visited was at the top of a mountain–with one hell of a ride up and down it. There were long, curving sections with honest-to-God hairpin turns…think about that for one second. Take one of those big comfortable buses designed for travel. Now, put it on the side of a mountain. Now, give it a super tight hairpin turn. Repeat. A lot. Now, add in a “JESUS CHRIST!” every time we encounter one.
We eventually made it up this crazy mountain to a half-castle, half-mansion, known as the Achilleon built by the estranged Empress of Bavaria Elisabeth, better known as Sisi (or Sissi, depending on which spelling you prefer). Apparently she travelled throughout Europe avoiding her husband, eventually finding a home in Corfu.
For anyone local to me that reads this blog, imagine Robert McLaughlin’s Parkwood Estate, but built up on a mountain.
We spent a solid hour or so there, and everywhere you turned, there was another beautiful section to discover. Really, the place was absolutely stunning. Then to imagine everything being hauled up this mountain and built with the technology of 1890…it boggles the mind.
After the Achilleon, we got back in the bus for our next destination. This involved a harrowing ride back down the mountain and through all those damn hairpin turns again. There were times when I looked out the window of the bus and could not even see the edge of the road, just a long drop to the ocean below. Got the blood racing, let me tell you. JESUS CHRIST!
Once we were down on more level land, we headed to the northern area of Corfu. The old tour guide droned on. I mean, you can only handle so much of:
“As we pass troo dis cahn-tree, don’ t’ink. Don’ t’ink, juss breede in all in, fill your lungs wit all de byoo-tee aroun’ you. Juss let it fill you and calm you and make you ‘appy.”
I have to admit, she put me to sleep for a bit.
We headed to a small monastery, also built on a mountain, but nowhere near the crazy trip we just experienced.
I’ve decided, having forgotten the real name of the monastery, to rename it the Greek Church of the Holy Felines. Seriously, there was more cats than I’d ever seen collected in a single place, ever. Cats in the hallways. Cats in the gardens. Cats on ledges. Cats in flowerpots. Cats in boxes. Cats just hanging around. Chillin’ cats.
To be honest, I lost interest in the monastery and became completely fascinated with the cats…as you’ll be able to see from the pictures.
Back on the bus, back down the mountain and tour guide did point out one thing that absolutely fascinated me. We passed a small inlet that had a large outcropping of rock rising from the waves. Apparently this was where Ulysses landed after his experience with both the Trojan War (as chronicled in Homer’s The Iliad) and his adventure-filled return home (as chronicled in The Odyssey). That outcropping of rock? That was supposedly the petrified remains of his ship. It totally captured my imagination and drove home how much history lived in these mountains and valleys.
We had a very quick stop in “old town” then back to the bus one last time and back on the ship.
In the end, we got incredibly lucky, passing through at least two major rainstorms, but seeing only sun whenever we got out of the bus.Whether it was Jesus Christ or the Greek Gods smiling down on us, I’ll never know.
We grabbed a late lunch and then sat out on the balcony and watched as the ship left the Corfu harbour.
Then, once at sea again, had a nap. Hey, I’m old. I’m allowed.
Woke up and got all dolled up for the first (and, though we didn’t know it yet, last) formal night. We sat with a nice couple from England and an older couple from Ottawa along with their son, which was a cool surprise. Even cooler, the mother knew people from Killaloe, the town not far from Barry’s Bay where I went to high school.
The Ottawa couple were taking their son on a cruise as a celebration for him gaining his MBA from Rotman. Turns out he works for PriceWaterhouseCooper, very close to one of the offices I work out of in Toronto. Even four thousand miles away…
After dinner, we scooted over to the Top Hat bar for a game. Now, I’m the first one to admit I’m not much of a game guy. But when you advertise Classic Rock Trivia, dude, I’m there.
The game consisted of them playing a three-to-four second snippet of a classic rock song, and then we had to provide the title of the song. Oh come on, this is like taking candy from a baby, I thought.
Turns out three-to-four seconds of a song is a stunningly short amount of time. Damn, this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. And what made it even worse? There was this guy and his wife a couple of seats over that obviously knew the damn songs too. The host would play a snippet, both of them would bop along with it, then immediately go to the sheet and start scribbling. Messed with my mind, I tell you.
Anyway, I got a little jammed on a Led Zeppelin song. I knew it was Led Zep, but I got stuck on remembering only two parts, the “gonna give you my love” part and the “waaaaaaaaay down inside” part. I. Could. Not. Remember. The. Title. JESUS CHRIST!
Got a much-needed assist from Karen with another song. I knew it was Blood, Sweat & Tears, and I wrote down What Goes Up. Karen looked at that and said, quietly, bless her soul, “Isn’t that one Spinning Wheel?” When she’s right, she’s right.
He gave us a chance to replay a couple of the riffs, and I had him hit that Led Zep song one more time, and Whole Lotta Love just popped in, just like that.
When it was done, we had to pass our sheets to a neighbouring table to mark. I got a 16 out of 16, with Karen’s assist. Turns out the table that marked ours had a teacher or two, so I had to laugh at the “16/16! Well done!” note at the bottom.
And that other couple, the one I was sweating over? 14/16. Yeah, baby! The Canadians kicked ass! Apparently the host had never seen anyone get a perfect score before. So, we scored two Royal Caribbean umbrellas. As the Boy would say, “Dope!”
Victorious, we came back to our room and ended up chatting with our room guy. He’s the one that decorated the room for my birthday and made sure everything was perfect. Great guy, from Romania, where Dracula’s castle is.
Karen decided to pull down the birthday decorations down. As she’s doing it, she says, “Isn’t it cool how they got the little Royal Caribbean anchors on these streamers?”
Yes, it was cool, but when I’d said that the night before when I noticed it, she’d looked at me like I had two heads. Typical woman. Ah well, it was good for a laugh.
And then, I finished up another perfect evening writing the notes for the day out on the balcony with the distant lights of Greece in the distance, along with the running lights of a couple of other ships at sea with us, and enjoying the warm breeze of the Ionian Sea.
Really, does it get any better than this?
See part five here.