I’m only sleeping

Please, don’t wake me, no, don’t shake me
Leave me where I am, I’m only sleeping.

The Beatles – I’m Only Sleeping

I’ve been feeling quite fatigued the past few months, to the point where I have an almost irresistable urge to have a nap, every single afternoon. I don’t know if I somehow fell into the European way of living after the cruise, or if I’m just getting accustomed to being an old fart.

Either way, it’s been prevalent enough that I mentioned it to my doctor, who promptly suggested a sleep study. I’ve participated in a sleep study before, but it was at least a decade ago, so I’d forgotten most of it…well, aside from the go in and sleep part.

Last night, I did the sleep study again.

The first hurdle to cross was, I had to pass at least three Tim Horton’s along the way to the sleep clinic and it seemed each one called my name just a little bit louder. I wouldn’t be lying when I told you I had the “You’ve always got time for Tim Horton’s” jingle bouncing around in my head all the way there.

I parked and headed in. There was a creepy old guy there ahead of me. How creepy? You know in those movies that take place in Transylvania or some place like that, and the hero always encounters an old woman who’s creepy and has a bad eye? The old woman from the movie Drag Me To Hell fits the bill nicely.

Not necessarily someone you wanna sleep with

Not necessarily someone you wanna sleep with

Yeah, well, that was this creepy old guy, right down to the bad eye. I’m not even kidding.

When I came in, there was a TV on up in the corner, but he just sat, staring off in a different direction. Sort of toward me, but not quite. I said hi to him. He said nothing back.

Then a couple more guys showed up, not creepy, but also a solid decade or two older. So, even though I was the youngest guy there, scenarios went through my head. Creepy old guy takes over other old guys’ minds then come after the younger dude to…

I don’t even want to think about it.

The only advantage I figured I had was, he was heavier and they put him on the first floor and I was up on the second. I would have heard him tromping up the stairs.

Anyway, we hung out in the waiting room watching possibly one of the stupidest excuses for reality television show. House Hunters International. Seriously, who the hell wants to watch people go through three or four houses and pick one? Just don’t get it.

I was so happy when the staff dude came along to collect us. Then as we walked up the stairs, I saw the Tim Horton’s cup of coffee in his hand. “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?” I said. He just laughed.

Because I was the first one going to bed, I was the first to get wired up.

Now, for those of you who have never done a sleep study, there’s no way to adequately describe exactly how much they wire you up for one of these things. So, instead, I took some pics:

The full frontal

The full frontal

The overhead shot

The under-the-chin shot (or the up-the-nostrils shot)

The right side

The right side

The wrong side

The wrong side

I'm electric!

I’m electric!

To get those wires to stick to my scalp, they have to use substantial amounts of goopty-goo that’s actually conductive gel. He took one look at my stubbled face and slathered it all over my chin too. The he stuck the leads in, then glued it all down with generous helpings of tape.

I also got the tubes in the nose so they’d know if I stopped breathing. Got a couple of leads near my eyes so they could measure R.E.M. (rapid eye movement, not the band from Athens, Georgia) and more to see if I ground my teeth and more to watch for swallowing.

Are you Sarah Connor? Do you have my teddy bear?

Are you Sarah Connor? Do you have my teddy bear?

After about a half hour of getting wired up worse than the Terminator, I got to head off and read for a while. When I was ready for bed, I just needed to let him know and that would start Round Two of the wiring procedure.

After reading for about a half hour, he was just about wiring up Guy Number Two. I let him know I was ready to be tucked in, and he said, “Okay, I’ll be there in a minute. Do you want to use the washroom one more time?” Then, he added a strong, “Please.” Not, “please?” but “please.”

He didn’t want me having to get up in the middle of the night, needing a late-night tinkle when I was wired up like a Christmas tree.

Finally, I was ready. He pulled back the covers, I laid down, then he jacked in the various leads to a couple of boxes beside the bed. then he taped a small piece to the end of my left index finger that glowed red. It would let him know how oxygenated I was. I thought it made me look like E.T.

etHe said he just needed to test a couple more things, and I would hear him over the speaker. He left the room, and I heard him heading downstairs. Then, after checking to see if I could hear him on the speaker, he had me lay with my eyes open, then with them closed, then looking up, then down, then up then down. Switch to looking left to right, back to left, back to right. Then breathe deeply, in and out. Then hold my breath for ten seconds. Then breathe normally. Then, not breathe, but move my stomach in and out (which took me a second or two to actually get working). Finally, I was to move my feet, first pointing my toes downward, then up, down then up.

Apparently all was well. Then it was time to sleep. Even with all these leads, I was still surprisingly mobile, and could sleep on either side. I sometimes sleep on my stomach as well, but that just wasn’t comfortable for me.

I have to say, on an average night at home, I can drop off pretty quickly. The Wife gets pissed at times, because it typically goes something like:

Me: “‘Night, honey.”

The Wife: “Night, babe.”

Me: “Love you.”

The Wife: “Love you too.”

Me: Snores.

But not last night. I started on my back and it wasn’t bad, but I usually fall asleep on my side. So I moved to my left side. That stupid tube going from nose to ear to throat was making itself known by digging into my cheek a bit. Then, of course, along come the thoughts. What if I can’t fall asleep? What if I’m up all night?

Then the dude in the room next to me started snoring. Not loud, but enough to hear it. I felt the frustration the Wife likely feels when I drop off in seconds. Bastard. I was still wide awake. Tired, but wide awake.

So, back to my back. Though it feels like I didn’t fall asleep there, I very likely did. Then I woke up again. Over to the right side. Tubes digging. Not comfortable. More discouraging thoughts. I should have read more, made myself really tired.

Back to the back.

And so on, through much of the night.

I knew wake up was around six in the morning, but being in a room with no windows, I had no idea what time it was. I had decided before going to bed that I would not use the desk clock feature on my phone, because I didn’t really want to know what time it was if I couldn’t sleep, and I’m glad I did.

But it’s interesting, because, of course, the dude watching the monitors knows exactly when I’m awake. So, when I woke up and rolled over, I heard him on the small speaker. “Good morning! Right on time. It’s 5:58. Just relax and I’ll be in soon.”

Yup, that’s me. It doesn’t matter what time I need to get up, I usually wake up a minute or two prior to the alarm going off. Good to see it still worked here as well.

He came in, unjacked me and we headed back into the room where he dewired me and handed me a small towel and facecloth to scrub some of that goopty-goo off. I went into the bathroom and, looking in the mirror, realized exactly how inadequate one little facecloth was going to be for the task.

I scrubbed it off my chin and anywhere else it was visible, then ran my hands under the water and finger-brushed my hair back. It was only 7:00 am and it was a ten-minute drive home. I had planned on grabbing a coffee on the way, but nope, it was straight home and right into the shower.

On the way out, I got an appointment card for about a month from now, when I’ll get my results. I already know what they’ll be. “You sleep fine, and if you want to get rid of that snore, lose forty pounds.”

Mark my words. In the meantime, I wait.

And now, here I sit, tired as hell. Though I can honestly say that I got wired on a Saturday night, and had to sleep it off.

Time for a nap.

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Cruising to fifty, part five: Lennon, linen and uncooperative pigeons

This is the fifth 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

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.


Now I am older
The more that I see the less that I know for sure
Now I am older
The future is brighter

Borrowed Time – John Lennon

October 9: John Lennon’s birthday

Sleep in day! Last night, prior to going to bed, Karen said, “We don’t get into Mykonos until later, so I’d rather sleep in. I don’t care if I have breakfast or not.”

This morning, I get up early as usual, grab a quick shower and, with Karen still snoozing, head off to grab some breakfast.

A little while later, I head back and find Karen up. She looks at me, crestfallen and says, “You didn’t bring me back anything?” Turns out that not caring if I have breakfast or not does not include hubby piling a plate high with pastries and bringing it back to the cabin for the wife who may or may not still be sleeping. The stereotypical wife move…don’t listen to what I say, read my mind and understand what I’m thinking at you.

So, off I go again, back up two decks, fight the breakfast crowds and get her a couple of damn pastries. Well, actually, scratch that because, as I’m leaving the cabin, the request for pastries suddenly changes to French Toast. To quote a tour guide…Jesus Christ!

Once I’m back, she’s still getting ready–seriously, for any female readers of this, please answer this question: Why the hell does it take women and teenage boys so damn long to get ready for anything? –so, I get to deliver the French Toast to the woman who didn’t care if she got breakfast or not, then head back out yet again to head down two decks to pick up tender tickets.

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The ship doesn’t actually dock in Mykonos. Instead, the passengers are ferried back and forth from ship to island to ship on small boats. Instead of everyone lining up, they issue tender tickets so you know the rough time you should be ready, and they call your number. We got tender 17.

So, I head back up to our cabin again, vowing never again to listen to my wife or punish myself by actually getting up early ever again. Finally, Karen was ready and fed, then we headed up to the deck to look at Mykonos and wait for our number to be called.

They started calling the tender numbers around 1:20 and, judging by how many boats came to the ship and how long each one took, I guessed we wouldn’t get called before 2:30. Karen guessed it would be before then. So, of course, a bet was wagered. If Karen won, she could buy all the jewelry she wanted in Mykonos, which is dangerous, because God knows Karen loves her jewelry, and Mykonos had been pushed as a great place to buy it. Now, on the other hand, if I won, then she gets absolutely no jewelry whatsoever.

We settled in to enjoy the warm weather and wait. Understand that we were out on a deck. People were all around us. Not necessarily close by, but milling around in the general area. At one point, I felt a bit of…pressure. Okay, so, let’s just be honest here. I dropped a rather raucous fart out on that deck. It was not quiet. I looked over and was rewarded with Karen’s jaw dropping as she smiled that oh no you didn’t smile of utter shock. Yeah. Like she should be shocked…have you met my wife? Anyway, I calmly, clearly and logically explained that I’m fifty now. I can do this now. I’m allowed.

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She didn’t seem amused. But then she cheered up. They called tender 17 at 2:20. Daaaaaaamn.

We took our short boat ride to Mykonos, which is simply beautiful from the ship, but when we got off the boat and hit the main street, it’s solid jewelry stores and restaurants. Nothing else. And the restaurants, which are mostly open air, each have waiters doing everything they can to entice you in, to prevent you from walking ten feet (no, I’m not exaggerating here) to the next restaurant. Annoying at first, it kind of became fun after a while, because you could mess with them. “Oh, sorry, we were thinking of heading over to that one…”

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While on the main drag, I watched a massive flock of pigeons. They would mass on a roof, then one or two would head off into the air, then they’d all take off, fly in a great, main square-circling arc, then all light back on the same roof. They did this about once every two or three minutes.

Until, that is, I mentioned it to Karen and she pulled out the video camera to catch it. Then, they just sat there. I kept telling her to watch for the tell-tale launch of the first couple of birds. Of course, the next time, as though they all got the same memo at once, they took off en masse, with no warning. Karen kept missing it. It was quite amusing to watch.

The best shot we could get of the uncooperative birds. Doesn't come close to doing them justice.

The best shot we could get of the uncooperative birds. Doesn’t come close to doing them justice.

And then there were the cats. Cats everywhere, just like yesterday in Corfu. As a cat lover, I completely dug the Greek cats.

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We broke off the highly commercial main drag and angled over to the general direction of the now-unused windmills. Once off that main drag, the true character of Mykonos came to the fore.

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The windmills, five of them, stood iconic, like the Easter Island faces, out to sea. They had once been used to mill grain, and now two or three had become private residences as the rest fell into disrepair.

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The guy sitting out front here, I believe actually lives in this windmill. When I asked if I could take his picture, he simply ducked his head and stopped moving.

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From the windmills, we took a moment to add some graffiti to the most incredibly dusty car I’d ever seen, then moved on.

I love the two additions here..."I wish my wife was as dirty as this car," and the answer, "My wife is."

I love the two additions here…”I wish my wife was as dirty as this,” and the answer, “My wife is.”

My addition: "Experimental test dirt. DO NOT WASH."

My addition: “Experimental test dirt. DO NOT WASH.”

We headed down into the confusing, but charming back alleys, reminiscent of the Italian city of Polignano we’d visited a couple of days previous, these streets were narrow, sometimes close enough to touch both sides with arms outstretched. Everything was clean with a whitewash that covered virtually every building on the island. Some of the shops here catered to the standard tourist fare and, of course, jewelry, there were also some more interesting shops.

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As we came to a small courtyard in the middle of the maze of the city, I saw a t-shirt that I quite liked hanging outside a particular shop. I went inside to see if they had it in my size, then spied a series of shirts based on the art and music of John Lennon. And this happened today, on what would have been Lennon’s 72nd birthday. On a small island of 5000 people. In Greece. Shirts I’d never seen before. Go figure.

I bought one of each. Happy birthday, John. Happy birthday, Tobin.

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Speaking of the population of 5000, apparently this island sees something like almost a hundred thousand visitors a year. Mykonos is becoming known as a party destination, much like Ibiza. That kind of saddens me, as I know it will eventually impact some of the culture I got to see today.

This is my...okay, I don't know what the hell I'm trying to do here...

This is my…okay, I don’t know what the hell I’m trying to do here…

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We then entered another shop, and it was, quite frankly, surreal. It was filled with shawls, scarves, wraps, sheets and other clothing, all white linen. Now, there was a bit of a language barrier, but from what I understood, all the clothing had been handmade by a pleasantly cheerful old woman sitting at the back of the shop, smiling and nodding at anyone that came in. She had learned the method from her mother and it had been a skill handed down from one generation to the next. Not something you see much of in North America.

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I can’t imagine any North American business person ever considering opening a business in one of these back alleys. A hundred square feet at best, no storage, no access to receive stock, no way to advertise, no place for a massive neon sign…and yet, we see business after successful business making it work here.

And not one franchise to be seen yet on this trip. Nice. I can’t express how refreshing it is to not see a familiar chain store.

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So, no franchises, but they DID have stairs leading nowhere. Bizarre.

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On our way out of Mykonos, back to the boat, we saw a fat old pelican sitting at a public faucet. He appeared quite content for all the attention he received, though I wouldn’t ever want to piss him off. He was big.

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I would have like to have taken a second boat over to the island of Delos, the birthplace of Apollo. No one lives there and it’s the site of an archeological dig. One of the tour guides described the island as quite barren and rocky, like walking on the moon.

Though Karen had won the bet fair and square, she actually couldn’t find any jewelry that caught her attention enough to buy. And yes, I’m well aware of how much of a bullet I dodged there.

We got back to the ship and ate dinner with the same group from last night and an added group of three from Edinborough, Scotland.

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Took a few nighttime pics, then headed off to bed earlier tonight. We’re up at 6:00 tomorrow for Athens.

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 531See part six here.

Cruising to Fifty, part four: Corfu cats, Christ and classic rock

This is the fourth 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

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

October 8

Today, we left Italy and landed in Greece. Corfu, to be exact. Beautiful country, beautiful scenery, amazing mountains, cliffs, water.

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We left the ship and clambered on the bus for a trip to two different places in Corfu.

On the bus

On the bus

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.

The entrance to the Achilleon

The entrance to the Achilleon

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.

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Catching ourselves in a mirror

Catching ourselves in a mirror

For anyone local to me that reads this blog, imagine Robert McLaughlin’s Parkwood Estate, but built up on a mountain.

Rubbing for luck...why does every tourist attraction have one of these?

Rubbing for luck…why does every tourist attraction have one of these?

Karen checks out an ass...

Karen checks out an ass…

...and she likes it!

…and she likes it!

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.

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After the Achilleon, we got back in the bus for our next destination. Kissing for luck before we fall off the road and roll down the mountainThis 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.

Outside the monastery

Outside the monastery

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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.

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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.

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Loved that, whoever this guy was, now he was a bird perch.

Loved that, whoever this guy was, now he was a bird perch.

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.

Our ship, the Splendour of the Seas

Our ship, the Splendour of the Seas

In front of our ship

In front of our ship

We grabbed a late lunch and then sat out on the balcony and watched as the ship left the Corfu harbour.

The light blue waves are the water stirred up from the ship turnig 180 degrees before leaving port

The light blue waves are the water stirred up from the ship turnig 180 degrees before leaving port

Heading out of port

Heading out of port

Then, once at sea again, had a nap. Hey, I’m old. I’m allowed.

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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!

LedZep

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.

One of the towel animals our room guy left for us

One of the towel animals our room guy left for us

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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?”

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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.

Cruising to fifty, part three: Volare and a box of frogs

This is the third part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October.You can read part one here and part two here.

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

October 7

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!

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 154-2And I’m fifty now, so I’m allowed to be curmudgeonly.

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?”

Bari

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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.

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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:

  1. Sun
  2. Stone
  3. Scarcity of water
  4. Silence
  5. Solitude
  6. …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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 249See part four here.