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.

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Cruising to fifty, part one: Taking flight

This is the first part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October. 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.

Well I’m leavin’ on a jet planeDon’t know when I’ll be back again.

John Denver

October 5, 2012

Two hours and eighteen minutes before I turn fifty. Shit!

I had a realization on the highway as we headed toward the airport and felt my heart drop to my stomach. We’d ensured the kids were well provided for, kissed and hugged them (probably too much) and left. But, more than a half-hour away from the house, I realized something horrifying and turned to the Wife. “Oh my God, I forgot to say goodbye to Maxx!”

Maxx is my dog. We’ve had him about nine years and I’ve walked him twice a day, picked up his crap, taken him to the vet, fed him, bathed him etc since we got him. You could say I’m his primary caregiver. And, in my excitement to leave, I forgot to say goodbye to him.

The wife smiled broadly. She was actually happy. I didn’t get it. “Finally!” she said. “Finally I come before that damn dog!”

maxx

That’s just hurtful.

We got to the airport, got through the baggage lines and then went to the appropriate gate to wait for the plane. We were ridiculously early, but I’d rather be early than late. However, I had put in a full day of work as the Wife did the final packing and getting us ready for a week away. So, when I basically unplugged from work at about 4:00, we were pretty much good to go and left about 90 minutes later.  For a flight at about 10 pm.  Yeah.

Anyway, we’re sitting waiting for the plane and the Wife jokes about throwing me off the ship’s balcony so she can upgrade to a hot Italian or Greek guy. “It’ll be easy,” she says as she leans over and pats my belly. “You’re top heavy.”

I gave her a look, reached over, patted a boob and said, “You’re not.”

Interestingly, she didn’t seem to find that as uproariously funny as I did, for some reason. Imagine.

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At one point, I figured I’d go get my last hit of good old Canadian coffee from Tim Horton’s. It was a long walk from our gate, but I figured with the all-night flight, I could use it, and God knows I had the time. So I finally found it, got in line behind three other patrons. The line moved at a glacial pace and it was then that I realized that each of these morons refused to take that fifteen minutes of time standing in line to actually figure out what the fuck they wanted, choosing instead to wait until they walked up to the cashier and only then decide to read the entire menu board in great detail before making their decision. Yes, I became rather vocal and spoke loudly of morons to the person waiting behind me. Yes, I’m that person.

Back at the gate, we finally get the word that the flight will be boarding shortly. The flight time is seven hours and forty-five minutes. Holy crap…we’re going to Europe!

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One the plane, we’re in the middle section of three seats, with me in the middle, the Wife to my right and a nice enough guy to my left. But then there’s the goddamn woman directly in front of me who stows her luggage, sits down and immediately kicks the seat back. The stewardess comes along and tells her to keep it upright until the seatbelt signs go off. As we leave the ground–and I mean literally as the wheels leave the ground, she kicks the goddamn seat back again.

But that isn’t the worst. About every two to three minutes, she reaches up, grabs a wad of her big, curly hair, fluffs it, then tosses it back over the headrest, pretty much into my face. Every. Two. Minutes.

When the meal is served, I’m sorely tempted to forfeit it just to hold it up high enough for her to fluff her hair into it. I wish for some sort of creamy soup. It doesn’t happen, unfortunately.

A side note on the meals. The first one was some sort of chicken and pasta. It tasted all right, but the chicken was as hard as plastic and the cheese at one side had morphed into an impenetrable glob of cold, hardened lava. There was some sort of cake thing that I believe was supposed to be spongey, but it was more coral-like. This meal was brought to you by the word, “hard.”

The Continental (which is code for “half-assed”) breakfast consisted of orange juice, yogurt and a hard danish. This meal was brought to you by the word, “prepackaged.”

Coffee? Yeah, the word here is, “unspeakable.”

Anyway, back to our friends in flight.

There’s the three older women beside the fluffer. One on our side of the aisle, two on the window side. They come on and proceed to cackle like three old witches in a Greek tragedy. As soon as the seatbelt sign goes out, they’re up and pulling bags from the overhead bins. Then they’re down and cackling. Then they’re up again. Down and cackle. Up and grabbing. Goddamn.

This could be a long flight. Ah well, at least they’re showing Men In Black 3. I haven’t seen that one yet.

See part two here.

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The Wife’s looking a little tired. Or, she’s thinking of how much better the pics will look with a hot Italian or Greek guy…

The Difference Between Cats & Dogs

I think most people tend to have strong feelings when it comes to dogs and cats.  God knows my father-in-law does.  Hates them both.

Me, I’ve always grown up around both species and I love them both.  I’ve always been aware of the “surface” differences.  I think the exerpts from the diaries illustrate it better than I ever could…

Excerpts from a Dog’s Daily Diary:

8:00 am – Dog food! My favorite thing!

9:30 am – A car ride! My favorite thing!

9:40 am – A walk in the park! My favorite thing!

10:30 am – Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!

12:00 pm – Lunch! My favorite thing!

1:00 pm – Played in the yard! My favorite thing!

3:00 pm – Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!

5:00 pm – Milk bones! My favorite thing!

7:00 pm – Got to play ball! My favorite thing!

8:00 pm – Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!

11:00 pm – Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Excerpts from a Cat’s Daily Diary:

Day 683 of my captivity: My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the floor.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a “good little hunter” I am. The audacity! There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of “allergies.” I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage. Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow — but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released – and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded! The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicate with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe for now…

I mean seriously, doesn’t that just sum it up perfectly?

But it occured to me today, that the differences run a little deeper than slobbering ecstacy versus conniving evil.

I think dogs can tell time.

And cats are masters of human observation.

Let me explain.

What made me notice today was, every day when I leave my office for lunch, my dog, Maxx, gives me this look like, “you gonna?” and, when I enter the kitchen to grab something to eat, he immediately trots to the patio doors.  He knows what time it is.  Because if, for any reason lunch is delayed, then he comes down to the office, sits, and stairs at me.  I’m sure if he could, he would tap his foot and look at his wrist…well, if he had a wrist.

He does the same thing in the morning.  If I’m not vertical by 7:00, Maxx is sitting at my side of the bed, chin propped on the mattress, looking at me.  And shifting uncomfortably.  I swear I’ve received mental messages along the lines of, “Dude!  Really gotta GO here!”

Again, in the evening, I don’t even need to look at a clock to know when it’s 8:30.  8:30 is when Maxx seeks me out wherever I may be in the house, then sits beside me, looking at me.  And shifting uncomfortably.  If I leave it too late, he works in a little added incentive of some particularly spectacular smelling dogfarts.  That’s something special that money can’t buy, let me tell ya.

Then there’s the two cats.  Patch and Noots.  Now, before I get shot, Noots should actually be “Newts”, but dammit, it’s my blog, so I’m spelling my way.  Anyway, these two cats share approximately one brain cell between them.  But hey, they’re loveable.

However, what I’ve learned from watching them is that they seem much less time sensitive…they’re more in tune with what I do, not when I do it.  Here’s an example.  Let’s go back to Maxx at lunch.  He knows it’s noon, so he knows it’s time to go outside.  Patch and Noots on the other hand, don’t make a move until I slide the patio door open.  Then Noots is all what’s going on outside?  And Patch is all I wanna get outside!  I wanna get outside!  And Patch constantly tries to follow Maxx out the door.  I never let him.

So, you’d think, once the patio door is closed, he’d still hang out by it, right?  Wrong.  Because he knows the next step.

Everytime Maxx comes back in, I give him a treat (makes it easier if he ever gets loose…”Maxx wanna treat?” and back in he comes).  Of course, I can’t just give Maxx a treat, so I give the cats a treat too.  So, once the patio door is closed, with Maxx still outside, they know the next stage is treats.  So Patch assumes the position in front of the cabinet door where the treats are stored, and Noots takes up position on the same kitchen chair every time.  And there they stay until the door opens, Maxx comes back in, and all get their treats.

Want more proof?  Everytime I have a shower, when I’m done, Patch saunters into the bathroom.  As I put in my contacts, he hops up on the bathroom counter.  Then he sits and stares at me until I get a thin stream of water flowing out of the sink for him to drink.  Every damn time.  No matter if I have a shower at 5:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.  And he doesn’t do it with anyone else in the house.  Just me.

In fact, if someone comes anywhere near the bathroom, he immediately bails and runs like hell.  Why?  Because my wife hates him up there and beats his ass until he gets down.  So he’s avoiding the beat down.

So, basically, the dog watches the clock.  The cats watch me.

Me?  Hell, I’m just the one that got trained by three animals to hand out treats.