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SailorJack

If You Like To Think Of The Star As A Good Ship...Do NOT Read This Review

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After a long overnight flight we have finally arrived in Rome to begin our Mediterranean cruise - and our second cruise aboard the good ship Princess Star. This is our second visit to Rome and we are hoping that this visit will be a little less challenging than that of our previous foray onto the tumultuous and exciting streets of the Eternal City.

 

On our previous visit we had been buying some gelato at the Trevi Fountain and, as I had reached into my pocket to retrieve my wallet, I had been somewhat disconcerted to find that there was already another hand in there. I was pretty sure it wasn’t my left hand as it was otherwise engaged in tightly holding onto my camera bag. I did check to make sure that it was so engaged and was relieved to find that I still had it (the camera bag...not my left hand). Satisfied that all was in order on my left side, I looked down on the right side and espied what I first took to be a leprechaun of Italian descent, but who turned out to actually be a small street urchin dressed entirely in green – who was rapidly removing his hand (empty thank God) from my front pocket.

 

Before I could grab the little imp, and without even the good grace to look the least bit guilty, he threw me a sly grin and took off like a shot – quickly disappearing into the crowded piazza. I had told SailorJill at the time that if the Olympics ever had an event called the Pickpocket Disappearing Dash and Obstacle Run that kid had a real shot at a medal!

 

On this visit, however, I was vastly more prepared – having purchased an official Dick Tracy CrimeStoppers money belt that came complete with a secret compartment, a combination lock, and a fire tempered titanium dead bolt. Thus protected, we set out to explore the wonders of Italy’s capital city.

 

As we walked hand in hand through the romantic streets of Rome, SailorJill spotted a beckoning sidewalk café and suggested that we take a break and enjoy a glass of Barolo and an order of Biscotti. As SailorJill dipped her biscotti into the rich, red wine – a traditional way of enjoying biscotti in Italy – a slow angelic look came across her face and she reaffirmed her love of Italian food.

 

“Actually” I said, “what is now known as “biscotti” is really an American food - first concocted by the Biscotti Indians of northern Massachusetts and served as part of their annual feast to celebrate a successful corn harvest. Amerigo Vespucci, on his first trip to the Americas, had spent several weeks with the Biscotti tribe and so fell in love with this cornmeal cookie that the great Biscotti chief, Lleen-goo-inni, had the recipe written down and presented it (along with several other traditional tribal recipes) to Amerigo – which he took back to his hometown of Florence. As corn was not yet prevalent in Europe, Amerigo had his wife, Ameriga, substitute flour – and thus was born the cookie that Amerigo named after his gracious hosts in the new world - the Biscotti Indians.”

 

I was in the process of explaining to SailorJill the actual origin of several other “Italian” noodle-type dishes brought home by Amerigo when I realized that conversations at the other tables had stopped and the occupants were staring at us quite intently. Quickly checking to make sure everything was properly buttoned and zipped; I gave them a gracious wave and called out “Ciao” (“hello” in Italian). As a seasoned and experienced international traveler I have learned how to say three things in most languages – “hello”, “beer”, and, “I’m sorry – it won’t happen again.”

 

Amid the continuing stares of our former dining companions we settled our bill, and, as we left, I suggested to SailorJill that she might want to share the origin of biscotti with our tablemates aboard the Star at dinner tonight. “Jack, I am not going to embarrass myself by repeating that ridiculous story.” Oh, well. Win some, lose some.

 

Day 2 – At Sea

 

As this was a sea day (and our first full day aboard the Star), we decided to go exploring. There is much to revisit on the ship and much to see that we missed on our first voyage. Ever since I discovered the International Café on our last trip aboard the Star, I had made it a point to visit it at least once a day in hopes that I would arrive just as the cookies were being taken out of the oven – so that is our first stop on the ship tour. As we enjoyed our freshly baked cookie, I couldn’t help but think that the Princess people made a huge mistake in not locating the Complaint Desk adjacent to the Café:

 

Irate Guest: You call this a professional cruise line!! You aren’t going to get away with this!! My stateroom reeks of cigarette smoke!! I demand….say, what’s that smell?

Desk Clerk: I believe the chef has just removed a new batch of oatmeal raisin cookies from the oven and they are cooling on the rack. Here let me get you one.

Irate Guest: “Thanks. Ah, as I was saying, I want something done…say, these are pretty good. Anyway, I was wondering if something could be done…what’s that aroma now?”

Desk Clerk: It looks like Chef has just removed a fresh batch of Belgian chocolate chip cookies from the oven. Here, try one of the warm ones.”

Irate Guest: “Thanks, these are really good!”

Desk Clerk: I’m glad you enjoy them. Here, let me give you a little gift box of assorted warm cookies. Now what were you saying?”

Irate Guest: “I forget.”

 

As we continue our tour of the ship we discover, tucked away in a little corner on Deck 14, the answer to Fatty Arbuckle’s most private dream – all-you-can-eat free soft serve ice cream. Up until this discovery I had sort of figured that a soft serve was something Serena Williams gave you when she was in a good mood, but “soft serve” is actually a kind of mutated ice cream and comes in two flavors – vanilla and chocolate. It comes out of a stainless steel milk machine - you just pour milk in one end and (I swear I am not making this up) ice cream comes out the other end! Apparently, however, the ice cream dispenser machine - containing some sort of a lactic thermodynamic hydrogenator - is much more technologically advanced than a milk dispenser machine, as it is securely ensconced behind a counter where only specially trained technicians can properly activate the multi-lever operating system that dispenses this frozen concoction.

 

After standing in line for a few minutes, my turn came at last and one of the two lady operators asked me what flavor I would like. “Vanilla”, I replied. The resulting cone was like a work of art in progress…as the velvety smooth ice cream slowly filled the cone and then rippled upwards -ending with a flourish that left a little curlicue on top. As it was presented to me, the technician asked if I fancied Sprinkles. Not sure if that was the name of the other attractive lady operator (and cognizant that SailorJill was standing directly in back of me) I knew immediately that this was one of those questions that had no right answer and I was poised to give my standard response to this type of question – “No hablo anglais” - when the lady operator pointed at a bowl of colored confections.

 

Well, as it turns out, the good people at Princess – apparently concerned that a daylong diet of soft serve ice cream would not provide enough calories to sustain life at sea – have also provided a selection of sugary confections that can be placed on the ice cream. These substances are called “sprinkles” because, well, because “would you like some sprinkles” sounds so much better than “would you like to cover your ice cream with sugar?”

 

Day 3 – At Sea – Dinner at Sabatini’s

 

Before describing our confrontation with this dining venue, readers need to be aware that Sabatini’s spelled backwards is “S’in-it-abas” – an ancient Roman phrase which roughly translates as “eat-till-you-drop”. As we were to find out, dining at Sabatini’s comes close to qualifying as a contact sport – pitting you against a team of highly skilled waiters.

 

Our first indication of looming trouble was when the Maitre d’ introduced us to our TWO waiters – who informed us that the only decision we had to make was the entrée. Upon inquiring as to why we couldn’t select anything else – an appetizer for instance – the response was a wide grin that would have been the envy of the Cheshire Cat. After making our entrée selection, Waiter #1 appeared with a plate the size of a Spartan shield - piled high with antipasti – and downloaded onto our plates sweet, succulent sundried tomatoes, porcini mushrooms marinated in EVO and tarragon, zucchini slices bathed in an aged balsamic oleo, and lightly spiced artichoke hearts. When he finished, Waiter #2 arrived and proceeded to pile onto our plates finely marbled slices of prosciutto, ripe, juicy melon balls, and slices of air cured beef in a Mediterranean tapenade.

 

As he departed, Waiter #1 reappeared. It turns out he hadn’t been finished at all – he had simply gone back to the kitchen to reload! This time he brought steamed mussels in a rich garlic sauce, deviled crab cakes topped with caviar, potato latkes, cubes of rich, pungent goat cheese and baby shrimp basted in a delicate herb butter sauce.

 

Successfully, if not somewhat dazedly, we worked our way through this mélange of delicious antipasti and awaited our entrée. It was not to be. Waiter #2 returned bearing plates of seafood mousse, lightly fried and breaded brie, fillets of anchovies, and fresh salmon roe. Demonstrating that we were up to the challenge, we again ate all that was placed before us. Basking in victory, I unnotched my belt a couple of notches.

 

But our waiters were not yet ready to accept defeat and retaliated with bowls containing spaghetti alla scoglio, cannelloni stuffed with ground sirloin and ricotta, and gnocchi in a creamy Alfredo sauce. It’s OK, I told SailorJill. We just have to make sure that they don’t give us anything else. “Just say, No!”

Apparently anticipating our plan, our waiters countered with a clever diversion. Our Maitre’d stood on one side of our table and charmed us with stories about his native Tuscany. His descriptions of the Tuscan countryside were so enthralling that we failed to notice the stealthy movement on the other side of the table. Too late, I turned to see our plates were now holding slices of hot pizza – loaded with a variety of enticing toppings.

 

Outflanked, but not defeated, we called upon our reserves and demonstrated that we were made of sterner stuff; only to then be confronted by bowls of savory, aromatic minestrone soup. It’s OK, I again told SailorJill. “We can do this.”

 

Upon finishing our soup, Waiter #1 appeared - bearing a slightly disappointed look. “Congratulations”, he said, “not many people make it this far.” Frankly, I felt that I had just made the Sabatini Hall of Fame. I was beginning to wonder why he was taking defeat so easily, when, with a big grin he stepped aside and Waiter #2 appeared. My God, I had forgotten about the entrée! With a huge grin, Waiter #2 placed before us platters containing two coldwater lobster tails with clarified butter, grilled jumbo sea scallops, and a half dozen tiger prawns. Their smiles, however, where short lived as I unleashed my secret weapon – Sans-a-belt slacks. Undoing my belt, the elastic waistband expanded by three inches and I cruised through the entrée – but with little room to spare.

 

That’s when they applied the coup de grace – the dessert cart. Seduced by the aroma of strong Turkish coffee, we each take a piece of Hazelnut and Brazilian Chocolate Crème Brule topped with vanilla infused whipped cream and crowned with raspberries steeped in Grand Marnier. But try as we might, we could not finish it. We surrendered.

 

As we staggered out of Sabatini’s I am sure I heard our tag team of waiters cry out, “Next challenger, please.”

 

Day 4 – Alexandria, Egypt (First Day - Cairo)

 

It is Day 4 and in the early morning light we can see the Egyptian coast looming ever larger over the horizon, and excitement is building as we revel in the fact that we have an unbelievable two days to spend in this wondrous country. I have to admit, I feel somewhat akin to a child on his first visit to Disney World. Thanks to television and the big screen, I have, over the years, become utterly fascinated with the lives and times of the ancient Egyptians - the names roll of the tongue so readily – King Tutankhamun, Queen Nefertiti, Imhotep, the Ptolemy kings, Elizabeth Taylor, Ra, and Isis. Now we are about to walk on the very land they trod so many eons ago!

 

After what seemed an eternity we are ashore at last! While I am excited to be in Alexandria and amongst the Egyptian people, I have to admit that I feel somewhat of an initial let down. I mean, they walk just like you and me. I was looking forward to learning how to walk like an Egyptian! Well, maybe it was only the ancient ones as shown in pictographs that had the distinctive walk, but why write a song about it if it isn’t true anymore?

 

Oh well, times change. Putting my disappointment behind me, we board the tour bus for our trip to Cairo to begin our grand exploration of Egypt. Our first stop is the Pyramids of Giza. They are magnificent! They look just like the pictures – only bigger. The highlight of our visit was the opportunity to actually descend into the nether regions of the pyramid to see the actual burial chamber secreted deep within the recesses of this magnificent structure. Based on the sloping tunnel we had to take to reach the chamber I am estimating that the ancient Egyptians were approximately three feet tall. I base this on the fact that at a little over six feet, I had to basically bend over double to navigate the corridor. This is not an exercise for the faint of heart or those suffering from claustrophobia. Picture a dark, narrow tunnel, imagine the hundreds of thousands of tons of rock pressing down from overhead, remember the curse of the mummy (and the flesh-eating scarabs scurrying around on the passageway floor), and hope you don’t take a wrong turn. But, as I make my way down the tunnel, semi-squatting with my knees bent, one hand held out and up in front of me so I don’t bump my head, and my other hand stretched backward to guide SailorJill it suddenly dawns on me - I was - could it really be? Yes, it could! I was actually walking like an Egyptian! The song was right after all – you just have to be inside a pyramid to do it!

 

After visiting the pyramids we are taken to a stretch of sandy desert to take a ride on a camel. I am extremely leery of this adventure, but SailorJill thinks it would be “just grand!” As it turns out, my friends, camels are large ugly, smelly, ungodly beasts with bare knees, long necks, and evil hearts - and they make an unearthly braying noise that would make your blood run cold if heard on a dark moonless night. The camel to which I was assigned was named “Gamal” (apparently Arabic for “Spawn of Satan”) and he stood (at the hump) over 7 feet and weighed in at around 900 pounds. Having had some experience with horses when I worked on a ranch in New Mexico, I walked around to the front end of Gamal to introduce myself and give him a pat on the head.

 

As I approached him, he sort of cocked his head and looked at me out of his left eye. As I reached out to pat him he lifted his lips as if to smile and displayed an overbite that would have made Julia Roberts proud. That was the moment that he spat on me. Right in the eye! His aim was too good for this to be an accident…little ‘ol Gamal had done this before.

 

“A thousand pardons, Effendi”, said Ameen (our handler and guide), “he meant no harm – it is just his way of saying ‘hello’.” I accepted that at face value and I could only surmise that later, at the end of our ½ -hour ride, when Gamal urinated on my foot, that it was his way of saying “good-by”. I mention Gamal’s last demonic act because camel urine has about the same consistency as Mrs. Butterworth’s maple syrup. I must now decide whether to finish the tour barefoot – or to carry the sticky essence of camel with me for the rest of the day. Not only that, but due to some sort of negative ion magnetic attraction involving camel urine and leather, every grain of sand within two meters of me has now attached itself to my right shoe. I now understand the origin of the footwear term – sandal. (Note to future adventurers: don’t wear your good shoes to a camel ride!)

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

The act of actually getting up on a camel is the most hazardous part of riding one. The motion of a camel rising from his kneeling position is very similar to the start of a ride on a mechanical bull - and at least one of our companions would have fallen off headfirst if our handler had not grabbed him and pushed him back up. (Getting off at the end of the ride can be equally problematic, but here you have the option of simply leaning over the side and falling off onto the soft sand – something I should have done much earlier.)

 

Eventually we were all mounted and began our trek. Surprise number one: when a camel walks, both feet on one side move at the same time – so the front and back left feet go forward and then the front and back right feet. The result is a distinct swaying motion that takes a little getting used to. The second surprise was a little more eerie. I earlier referenced the camel’s long neck. As it turns out, it is also extremely flexible! It was only a few minutes into our ride when Gamal’s neck and head actually turned around a hundred and eighty degrees and he stared at me face to face. He was still walking forward but he was now staring backward and his face was only inches from mine. Concerned that Gamal may be getting ready to say “hello” again, I began to bob and weave so as to spoil his aim. So here I am, already swaying from the camel’s gait and ducking and weaving while sitting on a camel’s hump nine feet up in the air. From behind me, SailorJill – always helpful – yells out “Jack that reminds me; whatever happened to your bobble head doll collection?”

 

I don’t know if it was unique to Gamal or endemic among all camels, but Gamal apparently suffered from allergies - as he would, from time to time, perform a biological process best described as a burp/sneeze. The burp/sneeze, in turn, would usher forth a considerable amount of viscous green mucus. I know it was green because the first time he did it, he turned around and wiped his nose down my left pant leg. So, as I was swaying back and forth on this desert schooner I was now listening for the next sneeze in order to pull my legs up. Then, just when you figure it can’t get any worse, one is exposed to the explosive nature of …camel flatulence! I will spare you the details of this, but if you take nothing away from this review, heed this advice: Should you ever go on a camel ride do everything you can to exercise your God given right to be on the lead camel!

 

Later, after visiting the amazing Sphinx, we made our last stop of the day at a museum. As I was about to enter, I noticed the security officer staring at me quite intently. I admit I must have looked a little unusual … standing there with a large gooey sand incrusted right shoe, a very large green smear down my right pant leg, exuding the musky aroma of essence of camel, and, for all I knew, with sand fleas hopping out of my hair. “Ah”, he nodded knowingly, “I see you have met Gamal.”

 

Later, after touring the museum we board the bus – exhausted, but happy - for an uneventful three-hour drive back to Alexandria. I don’t know if you have seen the movie, “What about Bob”, but there is a scene in which Bob (who suffers from car sickness) has taken a bus to New Hampshire. By the end of the trip, everyone is sitting as far forward as possible and Bob has the back ten rows of seats to himself. Well, that pretty much describes my ride back to Alexandria. Even my loyal companion, SailorJill, managed to find a reason to talk with someone in the front row.

 

But, it has been an eventful day. Not only have we been deep inside a pharaoh’s tomb, had lunch in the shadow of the fabled Sphinx, waded in the historic Nile River, and, in an awesome museum, seen some of the magnificent treasures of King Tut, but I now have a personal understanding of the workings of both ends of a camel’s gastrointestinal tract. What more can you ask of a shore excursion!

 

Day 5 – Alexandria, Egypt (Second Day - Alexandria)

 

We are visiting another site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the famed Lighthouse of Alexandria. Reputed to be as much as 450 feet tall (876.766 ½ meters), it was said that the light from its fires and reflective mirrors could be seen from as far as 100 miles out to sea. Built of huge colored stones, the massive Lighthouse stood as an imposing sentry to Alexandria’s harbor for nearly 1000 years before disappearing. There are many theories as to what destroyed the structure – earthquakes, tidal waves or sabotage; but I think it was demolished by one of the most destructive forces known to nature – six year olds.

 

I have arrived at this conclusion after learning that the Lighthouse was a well-known tourist destination and that it was not uncommon to have groups of young school children visit. I suspect, based on my personal experience of hosting our daughter Alexis’s (we named her Alexis because if we hadn’t had her we could be driving one) 6th birthday party, that it would have taken only minutes for a group of, oh, say 30 six-year olds to reduce the Lighthouse to complete rubble once the teacher took her eyes off of them to flirt with the cute guard on duty.

 

Whatever the cause, divers have found what they think are the remnants of the Lighthouse lying on the bottom of the harbor and have begun mapping the location of the huge stones. And, as the Egyptians at that time wrote on stone tablets, I suspect that if the divers ever recover the visitor’s log, the very last entry engraved on the tablet will be something like “First grade class from Ptolemy Middle School of Reverse Engineering.”

 

Day 9 - Kusadasi, Turkey

 

Kusadasi, the gateway to Ephesus! In the first century Ephesus was the second largest city in the world and home to the Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Over the ages, control of Ephesus changed between numerous empires, but perhaps the main impact occurred in 190 BC at the Battle of Magnesia in which a badly outnumbered Roman army – far from home and weakened by hunger, defeated the army of the Seleucid Empire. As a result of the battle, not only were the Romans able to capture the huge herds of Seleucid cattle around Magnesia and on the plains of Lydia, but they imposed exceptionally favorable surrender terms in the Treaty of Apamea.

 

Consolidating his victory, and in order to prepare the army for the coming winter, the Roman commander, Lucius Cornelius, ordered that the cattle be conserved and not slaughtered and that the troops should be nourished instead by their milk during the coming winter. Thus, the battle had two historical outcomes – it finally secured Greece for the Roman Empire and it provided the first documented use of the milk of Magnesia.

 

But I digress.

 

We have arrived in Ephesus and it is truly an amazing area. Everywhere you look you can see where people are busily excavating ancient ruins. I suspect that these sites will yield fascinating details regarding the development of past civilizations - and the implications of such research in regards to our own civilization can only be surmised.

 

As a member of America’s “Baby Boomer” generation I will be the first to admit that the technology of our modern civilization is changing so fast that the latest developments often escape me – despite my best intentions to stay current. But, I didn’t realize how far behind I had fallen until we neared one active “dig”. Here, I overheard several young technicians gathered around a computer discussing carbon dating for old fossils. I tried not to take the age thing personally, but heck; I’m still trying to understand the intricacies of internet dating.

 

One of our stops in Ephesus is at the site of the ancient Temple of Artemis. In its day it must have been a magnificent structure – so large that its construction actually took 120 years – leading to speculation that this may have been the world’s first cost/plus construction contract.

 

In 140 BC, Antipater of Sidon (no relation to Antipasto of Napoli), a Greek poet, described the Temple thus: I have set eyes on the hanging gardens of Babylon, and the statue of Zeus, and the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus, and the Colossus of the Sun, but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those marvels lost their brilliancy.

 

Today, all that remains of this ancient marvel is a single reconstructed column rising up from a marsh. One can only gaze out across the empty fields and imagine what this wonder of the ancient world would have looked like in its glory days.

 

We next visited the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Now, I know what you’re thinking – is that a great name for a Bed and Breakfast or what! Surprisingly, you wouldn’t be far off the mark! However, in your wildest dreams you will never guess what happened here so I will try to summarize. It appears that there were these seven Greek brothers who went into this cave with several bottles of Dr. Good and then fell asleep - for two hundred years! This event has only happened twice in the history of mankind (the other one occurred in 1987 and was documented in the movie “Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century – where Buck fell asleep for 500 years!)

 

History does not tell us what eventually woke the seven up, but upon awakening, their leader, Ripstocoles Winklocrates, and the other six brothers wandered into Ephesus and marveled at all the changes that had occurred while they had slept for two centuries. Their appearance after 200 years was deemed a miracle - as the village was in desperate need of another tourist attraction. The mayor welcomed these magnificent seven men into the village and arranged seven brides for the seven brothers in order to keep them in Ephesus. As the miracle of the Seven dwarfed all other legends in the area, people flocked to Ephesus to see them – much to the delight of the village elders – who gave the cave its cool name, charged admission, and watched the city’s coffers grow. When the seven sleepers eventually died they were buried in the cave – which allowed the village elders to increase admission by several Drachmas.

 

As we left the cave our guide suggested that it may well be this legend that accounts for “seven” being considered a lucky number in many cultures as well as the basis for many of our cultural references. Be that as it may, it made for a good story and a humorous end to our stay in Ephesus.

 

Day 10 – Athens, Greece

 

We have arrived in Greece (Motto: Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime) and are looking forward to a day of exploring the ruins of ancient Athens. Our ship actually docked at Piraeus – the port for Athens. We have been told that touring Athens is extremely easy to do on your own, so we have elected not to take a tour, but to take the train into Athens and use our copy of Fodders as our guide. Immediately outside of the port entrance, we are approached by a man who was offering an “excellent” exchange rate:

 

“Sir, I am Darius and I have the best exchange rate in all of Athens – 200 Drachmas to the Dollar.”

 

As an experienced international traveler I, of course, spotted the con immediately. Holding my guide book out so that he could see I had done my research, I told him that I happened to know that the exchange rate is far more than 200 to 1.

“Jack.”

“Not now Jill, I am in the middle of negotiations here.”

“But, Jack, the Greek currency is…”

“It’s OK, Jill. Let me handle this.”

 

Turning to Darius, I told him that I wanted 260 Drachmas to the Dollar.

“Jack, there is no more…”

“Jill, I know what I’m doing. Just give me a minute.”

“OK, sir, I can see that you are far more experienced in these matters than I first thought, so I will give you my best rate of 240 Drachmas to the Dollar.”

I suppressed a smile and told him that it was 260 Drachmas – take it or leave it!

Jack, for Pete’s sake listen…”

“Jill, we don’t want him to sense discord here, I think I can get 260!” Turning to Darius I said, “well?”

With a look of resignation on his face, Darius replied “You drive a hard bargain, but I agree to exchange at 260 Drachmas to the Dollar.”

 

Giving Darius a $20 bill, I pocketed our 5,200 Drachmas and started walking to the train station before he could change his mind. Pulling out the guidebook, I showed SailorJill that the official exchange rate was approximately 242 Drachmas to the Dollar. “And I got 260! Am I good or what?”

 

Jack, when was that book published?”

“Ah, 2001.”

“Jack, I kept trying to tell you - Greece scrapped the Drachma in 2002. The Euro is now the official Greek currency. They don’t use Drachmas anymore!”

“Well, that may be, but I still got a great rate!”

 

As I mentioned earlier, getting to Athens is relatively simple. Coming out of the port gate, one simply turns left and walks about a mile (5.2 kilometers) to the train station. Here you pay 1 euro (Note to future travelers: Drachmas won’t work) and hop on the Green Line. Fifteen minutes later you are in Athens.

 

Upon getting off the train in Athens the first thing we saw was the Parthenon! Nothing symbolizes Greece to me more than this magnificent gleaming white structure sitting high atop the Acropolis. It is an enduring symbol of ancient Greece and brings to mind a time when mythical gods - Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Apolo Ono –sat high upon Olympus and oversaw the travails of mankind.

 

After a lifetime of learning about Greece through such epic historical movies as Hercules, The Odyssey, The Iliad, Troy, Mamma Mia, and my very personal favorite - the amazing Clash of the Titans, it is easy to see how one can get caught up in the moment by actually being here where it all happened. In my enthusiasm at actually being here I pointed towards the sky and shouted out my favorite line from Clash of the Titans – “Release the Kraken!” Understandably, the Kraken did not appear, but two security officers did – and two German tour groups moved noticeably further away. So much for spontaneity.

 

Before heading back to the ship, SailorJill wants to stop at the Plaka and look at some of the souvenir stores and do some shopping. Among the souvenirs are the usual hats, t-shirts, and Parthenon fridge magnets, but nothing that is really unique. Now don’t get me wrong, I am as willing as anyone to help shore up the Greek economy by buying some knickknacks, but I was about to suggest to SailorJill that we take a pass on the souvenirs when she spots a large natural sponge.

 

“This is perfect”, she says.

“It’s a sponge!”

“But look at the label Jack, it comes from right here in the Greek Islands, soaks up to 20 times its weight in water and has a picture of a cute Greek fisherman on it…it’s a perfect souvenir.”

“It’s 6 Euros…for a sponge!”

“Jack, it’s a souvenir I can actually use – look at how much water this sponge soaks up!”

Biting my tongue, I forked over 6 Euros and became the proud owner of what I can only describe as our own personal Abzorba the Greek.

 

With our purchase completed we were headed back to the ship when SailorJill suggests that we stop at a cute little sidewalk tavern and “try some Uzi, the Greek national drink.” I was about to correct her and tell her it is actually Ouzo, but I figured what the heck…a couple of shots of either one will knock you on your butt, so we settled in under a shady umbrella and enjoyed a shot of Uzi.

 

Day 12 – Naples, Italy

 

We have arrived at our last port of call and we are looking forward to an exciting day. Naples actually serves as the gateway to many exciting destinations – Herculaneum, Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii, the Isle of Capri, and the Amalfi Coast.

 

One of the “must do” things in Naples is to enjoy a pizza…as this is the city where pizza was originally developed. We couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into an original Pizza Margherita…until we saw the headline in the newspaper – “Secret to Naples’ Delicious Pizza: Coffin Wood.” It turns out (and I swear I am not making this up) that thieves have been digging up coffins, dumping the bodies and then breaking down the coffins and selling the wood to pizzerias to fuel the pizza ovens. Now I’m all for recycling, but just what do you think has been soaking into that wood as it lay buried for an untold number of years? In commenting on this crime wave, Capitano di Polizia Vittore Cappelluti assured the public, “even though I am working with only a skeleton staff, make no bones about it, I consider these to be grave offenses and the thieves will face stiff sentences when apprehended.” That may well be, but I can assure you that when we get back to the States I am going to check to see if Tombstone frozen pizza comes from Naples!

 

Deciding to hold off on the whole pizza thing, we board the tour bus for Pompeii. We are eager to explore this legendary city that served as a major port during the days of the Roman Empire. Sailing back in those days was a dangerous affair – as well documented in the movie, “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad.” Not only were the sailors exposed to the sometimes violent nature of the sea, but they had to contend with the seductive songs of the Sirens who would lure their boats onto the rocks, avoid the sorceress Circe who turned sailors into pigs, steer clear of the island with the blind Cyclops, and avoid looking at Medusa and other Gorgons! To top it all off they had to work in very close proximity to other sailors who hadn’t taken a bath in months!

 

One can completely understand, then, that when the ship finally reached Pompeii, the sailors, their pockets flush with months of pay, would immediately head to either the famous public baths for a cleansing soak or to one of the many temples to offer thanks for their safe deliverance. (If you are buying any of this then you are still probably watching reruns of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver.”) The sailors, of course, would immediately head to one of Pompeii’s famous, ah, Gentleman’s Restoration and Recreation Centers! Here, skilled professionals would ease the, ah, constrictions that had been built up from being away from land for so long. On a per capita basis, Pompeii had more Restoration and Recreation Centers than any other city in the Roman Empire – including Rome itself!

 

I mention all this because our first stop on the tour is, of course, one of the most prominent R&R Centers in Pompeii – the Lupanare. The graffiti scratched onto the outside walls, our guide tells us, is from satisfied patrons who were attesting to how well their, ah, constrictions had been alleviated inside the establishment.

 

And from the “From the Past We Learn of Our Present” category, our guide offers up the information that the professional fee for the center ran from 2 to 16 Asses (1 As equaling about ½ a Sesterce) - depending upon the type of service(s) offered up by the professionals inside the establishment. (Note: SailorJill has prohibited me from commenting or expanding further upon this information.)

 

On the way back to Naples, we take the drive along the Amalfi coast – one of the most scenic, dramatic and beautiful drives one can take – in fact, National Geographic lists it as one of the 50 greatest drives in the world. The road skirts the edge of the towering cliffs and it is 500 feet straight down to the glistening blue-green waters of the Mediterranean. Cantilevered villas and hotels - agleam in their bright pastel colors and nestled between lush groves of lemons and olives – cling to the steep slopes, seemingly immune to the laws of gravity. The road, running along the stunning coast, offers postcard views around every turn.

 

There is a prophetic saying that the best way to stop an Italian from talking is to tie his hands behind his back. While this sounds very poetic, in practice it is a strong argument against actually giving Italians licenses to drive. In the English language an adjective is a word used to describe a noun. As best as I can determine, in Italian the left hand serves that purpose (the right hand being used for punctuation and emphasis). Italians, it would appear, invented texting – they just don’t need a cell phone to do it. I mention all this as our driver, Luigi, defying the accepted principle of actually keeping at least one hand on the steering wheel, turns around to answer a question from one of the passengers – just as we are approaching a particularly dangerous looking hairpin curve. The fact that we are here to talk about it is a testament to Luigi’s ability to steer with his knee and the fact that due to the traffic we were only going about 10 miles per hour.

 

Once we are reassured that we would not be taking the express route to the beach below, we enter into a pact that the next person who attempts to ask Luigi a question will be duct taped to the back of the bus and forced to listen to endless renditions of ‘O Solo Mio” on their iPod.

 

Day 12 - Rome

 

After departing Naples we sailed for Rome and, early the next morning, bade farewell to the many new friends we had made over the past two weeks and took a cab to the airport. As we sat at our gate reviewing one of the most fascinating cruises we have ever taken, we came to the conclusion that the Star was really not a good ship after all - it was a GREAT ship. We will surely sail on her again, but only after months of rigorous and strenuous training in preparation for a rematch at Sabatini’s!

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WOW!!!What a Great review!u must be an English teacher or writer!!!:):)

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Please provide all information on your next cruise: itenerary (sp??), ship, cabin number, table assignment, shore excursions, and what times you will be at the IC. I want to go with you and SailorJill........someone who has an uncanny way of explaining historical facts to the layman and someone who always has a half FULL glass. Thank you for making my morning! Happy travels!

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Oh goody, SailorJack you are back!!! I haven't even finished all you've written yet as I've got to run out and buy a box of tissue to wipe up the laughter tears.

 

Can't wait for the pictures.

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I must be missing something. I don't understand the title with such a nice review.

 

He got your attention didn't he!? ;):D

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I must be missing something. I don't understand the title with such a nice review.

 

It was just a play on words. I started off by saying we were on the GOOD ship Star and finished by saying it was not a good ship...it was a GREAT ship.

 

And, as Larsen so aply noted, it does get one's attention.:)

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SailorJack! If you ever decide to write a book, please let us know. I'll be first in line. Thanks for the laugh!

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Thank You Sailor Jack for yet another completely accurate and fact-filled review. I cannot wait to take this itinerary myself, and now I know to avoid Gamal. ;)

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WOW!!!What a Great review!u must be an English teacher or writer!!!:):)

 

Glad you enjoyed it. Not a teacher or a writer...just a bloke who likes to cruise and write about it.

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As always ... you have MADE my Monday morning!! I almost spewed my coffee during the camel missive ... they really ARE vile characters!!

 

Thank you for a fabulous review and a good laugh!

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Reading this beats the he** out of reading the morning paper, that I just finished before starting to read Sailor Jack's review.

I wish I had read this first!!!! But then, Sailor Jack's humorous approach did completely offset the doom, gloom and politics that the newspaper is filled with.

 

Thanks for improving my day by at least 200%, Sailor Jack!!!

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The reviews are already starting to come in for SailorJack's latest epic adventure:

 

".....reminiscent of the best of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope road movies....." -- Cinema Fan Weekly

 

"The special effects break new barriers -- but is it really necessary to show us Gamal's nasal secretions in 3-D? I nearly lost my popcorn...." -- Edna Schwermer, The Tifton Gazette

 

"It's nice to finally see the Native American influences on Italian cuisine receive the respect they deserve." -- Runs With Biscotti, Native American Film Society

 

"Did we get royalties for this?" Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad; and Susanna Hoffs, The Bangles

 

 

 

Seriously, another wonderful review that I particularly enjoyed, having just visited many of these ports.

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The reviews are already starting to come in for SailorJack's latest epic adventure:

 

".....reminiscent of the best of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope road movies....." -- Cinema Fan Weekly

 

"The special effects break new barriers -- but is it really necessary to show us Gamal's nasal secretions in 3-D? I nearly lost my popcorn...." -- Edna Schwermer, The Tifton Gazette

 

"It's nice to finally see the Native American influences on Italian cuisine receive the respect they deserve." -- Runs With Biscotti, Native American Film Society

 

"Did we get royalties for this?" Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad; and Susanna Hoffs, The Bangles

 

 

 

Seriously, another wonderful review that I particularly enjoyed, having just visited many of these ports.

 

Very clever!:D Your humor may be more warped than mine!:D:D

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Bravo, Jack! Did you know that Gamal was the first name of an Egyptian president? Do you think mayhaps that the camel's name was a political statement, or even a karmic reincarnation?

 

Great review, as always. Glad to see your ship avoided all Japanese barges this time.

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