This is the eighth and final part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October. You can read the others here:
part one | part two | part three | part four | part five | part six | part seven
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.
I’m comin’ home, I’ve been away too long
Been away so long, I’m coming home
Coming Home – Ian Thomas
As sad as this is to admit, I had exactly zero knowledge of Croatia as a country, let alone the city we’re visiting today, Dubrovnik. So, with that as our starting position, we headed out into the promise of rain and thunder storms to visit an ancient walled city.
And what we saw was just as magnificent as Polignano, Mykonos and the Acropolis had been.
Walking around Dubrovnik, I realized each location had its own individual charms, its own personality. For Dubrovnik, that personality was strong, proud and reverent, without any of the expected pomp or ceremony. Expected, because that’s the North American way. Polignano was the birthplace of the singer of Volare, but you didn’t see t-shirts, little statuettes or posters with him all over them. You didn’t hear the song piped over speakers 24/7 like you would if it was somewhere over here. And it was the same with Dubrovnik. No overtly cheesy marketing. There was a majesty here. For a city that was made entirely of stone, it had a warmth. It felt part of the landscape, unlike the glass and steel blocks I see in Toronto, where they have to shoehorn in a “green space”…
Dubrovnik has experienced more than its share of turmoil and destruction, most recently through the bombing by Serbian forces about twenty years ago. As we walked its streets, we saw the chipped stone created from bullets and mortars. Though, to me, they added to the city, showing how it could come back from the violence.
Yet today, it’s a vibrant hub. Yes, it has been slightly spoiled by capitalism, but with an apparently proud and resilient populace.
Walking its streets, we were told that, back in the city’s history, the wealthy citizens could not build ostentatious buildings that overtly displayed their wealth (and how cool was that, that the wealthy would go for it? Take that, you horrible One Percenters!), so the buildings are instead tasteful and reserved, and, to me, all the more impressive for it.
There’s an area that was once an orphanage and we were told a fascinating story. The nuns were said to have cut a small bit of cloth from what had essentially a diaper that had once been worn by the infant Jesus. The story goes that, no matter how often a piece was cut, the next morning, the original garment would be whole again. Kind of a play on the feeding of the masses, to diapering the masses. Anyway, I thought it very cool.
The garment is now sealed in a chest and on display within the city.
We carried along, deeper into the city and stumbled upon a seller who bound notebooks in beautiful handmade leather covers. I couldn’t resist and had to buy one.
We’d both received an iPod with a audio walking guide to the city, but at times it became a touch confusing as to where we were supposed to be and at other times, we just wanted to go in another direction. Though, I have to say, it’s a touch disconcerting when you feel you’ve followed the map and the directions to the letter, and, as you stand in the middle of a wide open square, you hear, “As you look up, you’ll notice the archway…” Uh oh. No we don’t.
Eventually, after forsaking the audio guide altogether and just wandering contentedly for a few hours (and we could easily have spend a couple of days wandering this city, to be honest), we got back to the ship and Karen’s back was bothering her. All that walking and hill climbing had finally caught up with her.
Wait, I thought I was the old person in this story?
Anyway, I went up and had lunch with the couple we’d met from the other night, and it’s at this point I have to correct the timeline a touch. In the last blog, I mentioned we met a fun couple after Athens, Jeff and Allison. It was actually the evening previous to that when we’d met them with the Pet Sematary lady. And last night, we ran into them again.
Okay, timeline corrected. Anyway, as Karen soothed her back, I looked up Jeff and Allison and we headed up to the top deck to check out the massive barbeque. Oh yeah, burgers, chicken and ribs. Damn. This is where I learned more about their very cool jobs. How often do you run into a couple who both are real life CSI guys? That was good for hours of chatting, let me tell you, though, to be fair, I’m sure they’d taken a vacation specifically to get away from talking shop, then along comes the Canadians with their stupid questions.
Though, to be honest, I was equally fascinated to hear two people talking about their pet goats with all the glee and glowing faces I usually reserve for my cat and dog stories. Two very nice, very friendly and very fun people.
By then, it was time to head back to the cabin and wake up Karen. Then, as this was our last evening on the ship, I could only sit by helplessly as the Jedi Master of Packing utilized the Force to get all of our purchases into the already-jammed bags. I think at one point I swear I heard her mutter, “Pack or pack not. There is no try.”
We took an extended break for dinner, laughs and good conversation with Jeff and Allison again, and then back to the room to watch Karen pack and then haul the bags out to the hallway for collection.
And with one last 6 am wake up call, we settled in for the last sleep on the boat.
Oct 13: Heading home
Another early morning and a bittersweet one. We were heading home to see the kids (and my dog), but we were leaving Europe. The gentle rocking of the ship on the Mediterranean would not put us to sleep anymore.
We got ready, grabbed a quick breakfast, back for a quick final check around the room and then headed down to 42nd Street, the theatre where most of our tours had started and where they would call us to leave.
From there to shore, picked up our luggage, then a 45 minute wait for the shuttle back to the airport. Karen said, “Pray it’s not the same driver we had driving us here.” Oh yeah, Frodo. Forgot about him.
It was Frodo. Dammit!
For the record, he was better this time around. I’m assuming he’s happier ferrying people out of his country rather than in.
Then we were at the airport. It was 11 am. We couldn’t even check our bags in until 2 pm. Which meant we couldn’t get past Customs until after 2 pm. Which meant we were left fighting to even find some seats to part ourselves for the three-hour wait. Note to self: Arrive in Venice 24 hours prior to cruise. Plan to leave Venice 24 hours after cruise is finished.
Eventually, after walking around and around and around, we finally snagged a table with a couple from London, Ontario.
At 2, we checked our bags then headed over to the Customs check in. This was the best entertainment we had the entire day. We were all lined up in those snaking lines you see in every airport, bank or any other place where you line up. It’s not a straight line, it’s a zigzagging maze made from posts and ropes.
Anyway, we’re in this line with our carry-on luggage. When we started in the line, we did the standard motions: stand around, then shuffle forward a couple of feet, then stand around some more. The only break from this is the hairpin turns at each end of the cattle herd. Anyway, it doesn’t take long to notice this miserable old lady with a face that honestly made the Wicked Witch of the West look hot. She was sort of trying to subtle about it, but not really. As we watched, she would crowd the person in front of her, then position herself so she was side-by-side with them, then, as she got to the hairpin turn, she’d scoot in front of that person, usually to a series of pursed lips and hateful looks. But no one said anything.
I pointed this out to Karen, and, for the next half hour or so, as we stood in this line, she became our entertainment. There were quite a few of these hairpins, so she was pulling the move each time the line doubled back on itself. And it didn’t take long for me to start laughing out loud at her. Which was even more fun, because then she’d turn and look at me, sour expression firmly in place, and give me the stink eye. Now, I’ll admit, there was a point where she seemed to linger near a younger couple and I began revising my opinion, thinking she might have been their mother/grandmonster trying to catch up with them.
Until she blew by them at the next turnaround. At that point, we started up a conversation with that couple as we passed them. Eventually, it became a spectator sport for a lot of us in line.
Then Karen said, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if she got up to the Customs Agent and they told her to go to the back of the line?” We all agreed that would be sweet justice, but shit like that never happens.
She carried on, and the closer she came to Customs, the bolder she got, fairly elbowing people out of the way to get through that line quicker. By the way, all this effort she expended likely managed to move her up no more than five or six places in line. It might have saved her five minutes.
Anyway, she finally made it to the Customs Agent, presented her paperwork, gave us the stink eye and waited to be waved through. But wait! What was this? Something wrong with the paperwork? The Customs Agent gestured for her to head back to the ticketing area, where she would have needed to stand in line again, and then have to brave the gauntlet of the Customs line yet again.
As she shambled away from Customs, entrance denied, I couldn’t help laughing at her. Poor old lady.
Shortly thereafter, we made it through Customs with no issues and found some slightly more comfortable seats near our gate. Only four more hours until our flight.
If I didn’t write horror prior to this, seven hours in an Italian airport would have been a way for me to start.
Because they had to bus us to the plane, we actually started the boarding an hour prior to the flight. Then, after all that waiting, we were on the plane and the plane was in the air. There was no woman flipping her hair over the seat, everything went smoothly. I even got to read an entire Ian Rankin novel on the flight.
As I finished my notes of this amazing journey, this incredible gift that my wife gave me for the simple act of surviving fifty years on this planet, we were over the Atlantic Ocean at about 32000 feet (9800 m) and traveling at 531 mph (853 kmph) and it was -61 degrees F (-52 C) not three feet to my right.
And not three feet to my left was the woman I loved.
And we were heading home.