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Our Cruise on Snake in the Grass,ah, Splendor in the Grass, no, Splendour of the Seas

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In planning our Mediterranean cruise, we had originally looked at an itinerary that included Alexandria, but Egypt was in such turmoil – even after Mubarak stepped down -that we had second thoughts. It wasn’t long after he left before it seems everyone went on strike – the police, the transportation workers, the bankers, and, believe it or not…the archeologists. I mean how bad does something have to get to have the ARCHEOLOGISTS go on strike. Like, who’s even heard of an archeologist striking - ever! As I pondered this I got to thinking that these guys had to have their own agenda and were simply taking advantage of the situation in Egypt.


Picture the archeologist. He goes out into the sandy, dry desert day after day, year after year. It’s 120 degrees in the shade. He spends most of the day in a state of near dehydration and potential sun stroke - all while sand storms blow sand into his crusty reddened eyes. He digs for dead things. He finds an old pot or two; stumbles upon a mummy’s curse here…a flesh eating scarab there …and in the course of all of this he is breathing in 2000 year old dust in some ancient crumbling tunnel. Then, when he gets home -wearing his sweat soaked clothing, covered in cobwebs, and reeking of essence of camel - the wife won’t let him get near her! Then it dawned on me - These guys weren’t going on strike…they were going on vacation!


However, irrespective of what the archeologists were doing, we ruled Egypt out this year because of all the uncertainty and settled upon another great itinerary.


But I digress.


In Transit


Our flight from Atlanta to Rome landed on time and we had an hour and ten minutes to connect to a 10:00 A.M. Delta flight 1082 to Venice. Our boarding pass for this flight (issued in Atlanta) did not list a gate, but instructed us to “check the TV monitors for departure gate.” Fine, but not only was there no Delta 1082 listed, there were no Delta flights listed at all. There was, however, an AZ 462 flight listed for Venice at 10:00 A.M. Not convinced I needed an Air Zimbabwe flight, I went to the information desk and learned that “AZ” was actually the code for Alitalia – which made sense as Alitalia was a Delta partner. Greatly relieved (as it was now 9:15), I went to the Alitalia gate and presented our boarding passes. From the look on the gate agent’s face, you would have thought that I had just presented him with a copy of Hammurabi’s Code as written in Sanskrit.


Gate Agent: “What is this?”

SailorJack: “It’s my boarding card.”

GA: (with a look of patient distain) “This is Alitalia (“the “you idiot” was left unsaid), not Delta.”

SJ: But Alitalia is a Delta Partner, the two of us have code share.”

GA: (somewhat alarmed) “You two have a cold? You are ill?”

SJ: “No. c-o-d-e share. This is a valid boarding pass.”


Apparently the concept of code sharing was completely foreign to him and he took a step back and picked up the phone. At first I thought he was calling security, but it turned out to be his supervisor. After studying my boarding pass, he somewhat reluctantly admitted that it might, in fact, be valid - but that it would have to be reissued as AZ 462. Again, greatly relieved (as it was now 9:35 AM) I finally received our AZ 462 boarding cards, but was informed that the gate had been changed to “B11”. “I am sorry,” he said, “but it is at the other end of the airport, I do not think you have time to make it.”


I don’t know if you ever saw an old TV commercial that featured O.J. Simpson running through an airport, leaping over suitcases, dodging other passengers, and hurtling baggage carts, but by comparison we made him look like molasses oozing downhill on a cold December morning - and made the gate with a minute to spare. Glancing out the window as we reached the gate I was relieved to see the plane was still there, but was somewhat shaken by how old the plane appeared to be. My first impression was that it may have originally been designed as a bi-plane, but as a concession to evolving technology, was built with only the one wing. (I could just imagine someone standing in front of the plane when it was time to go and yelling “contact” as he gave the propeller a mighty pull.) Reaching the gate, I handed the agent our cards and was rewarded with, “Oh, you actually made it.” A small victory, but I’ll take it.


Taking our seats in the plane (2A&C, if you must know), the first thing I noticed was the pilot enjoying a cigarette. While the “no smoking” sign was lit in our cabin, in all fairness, I have to admit that I did not see a similar sign anywhere in the cockpit. The second thing I noticed was the cute flight attendant taking a couple of drinks into the cockpit and closing the door. As the minutes ticked by I forgot about the guy in front of the propeller and just hoped it wouldn’t be someone from inside the flight deck yelling “Contact!”) The third thing I noticed was that we were not going to be taking off at 10:00 A.M. As the minutes dragged into quarter hours it became painfully obvious that not only did we not have to run through the airport like two gerbils with tales afire, but that we could have stopped, enjoyed a cappuccino, read the Sunday paper and still made our flight. (By the way, the cute flight attendant actually turned out to be the cute co-pilot. Sorry for the confusion.) Finally, a little after 11:00 A.M., flight AZ 462 was wheels in the well and we were off to Venice!


Pre-Cruise Days (1 & 2) -Venice, Italy


After a short and uneventful, flight our plane landed in Venice – the jumping off port for our upcoming Mediterranean cruise. Securing our baggage, we caught a bus to Piazza Roma and the free RCI shuttle from there to the ship, and, after a brief rest, we set about exploring the enchanting city of Venice.


Riding a Gondola


The first thing you notice about a gondola is that the left side is a little longer than the right side, which results in a slightly curved hull - much like a banana lying on its side. Apparently this is not due to the fact that gondolas are constructed by people currently in rehab, but is actually intentional! The theory, we are told, is that it should keep the boat going straight when the gondolier is paddling on only one side. However, as we came to learn, it actually makes the boat go in a wide circle so that after a very short ride you wind up right where you started – with the gondolier shrugging his shoulders as if to say “what can I do, I didn’t design the thing.”


The second important fact about taking a ride in a gondola is that if you have to ask how much it’s going to cost, you probably can’t afford it – which pretty much sums up my experience. In asking the gondolier how much the ride would cost, his reply, basically, was “how mucha you got?”


The third important fact is that there is an extra fee if you want the gondolier to sing from a medley of songs such as “O Solo Mio”, or famous Sinatra songs such as “Volare” or the ever popular “These Boots are Made for Walking.” (And, as we quickly learned, if the gondolier can’t carry a tune there is an extra fee to have him stop.)


Despite all of the above, SailorJill is adamant that we spend a sizable portion of our daughter Alexis’s inheritance on a gondola ride (we named her Alexis because if we hadn’t had her we could be driving one). “How can you come to Venice and not ride in a gondola?” was her take on the whole process.


Apparently there are two very Compelling Reasons to take someone on a ride in a gondola:


Compelling Reason Number 1: If you are married, your wife insists upon it.

Compelling Reason Number 2: If you are not married, you want to get lucky.


Our gondolier, Luciano, explains that he has had many trips were the gentleman has the gondola stop under a romantic bridge (for an extra fee) so that he can propose. (I assume the proposal was for marriage, but this being Italy I cannot actually attest to that fact.)


All that said, our excursion through the beautiful canals of Venice actually turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit to the city known as the “Queen of the Adriatic.” And, as we drifted along the canal arm-in-arm, I also learned that Compelling Reasons #1 and #2 are not mutually exclusive.


After departing the gondola, we head out for one of the very famous landmarks that we have been told is a “must see” - the Bridge of Size. By the sound of it I assumed it was probably in the garment district, and as Italian fashion is world famous, I thought that this might be the perfect place for SailorJill to do a little shopping. But try as I might I just couldn’t find it on the map and, even more surprisingly, I could not find any reference to it in our guidebook. Taking the book, SailorJill soon found the problem. “Jack, it is not the Bridge of S-i-z-e, it is the Bridge of S-i-g-h-s.”


Of course, that was going to be my next guess, but I was glad to let SailorJill take credit for solving the mystery of the missing bridge. The bridge, so named by Lord Byron, passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the old prison on one side of the canal to the interrogation rooms on the other side. The story has it that the name comes from the sighs of the prisoners as they were led across the bridge to the executioner.


Today, a legend (probably promulgated by the Gondolier Union) has it that if you kiss your lover in a gondola under the bridge at sunset you will be granted everlasting love and be happily married for the rest of your life. Frankly, I think you have a better chance of marital bliss if you kiss your spouse under the bridge rather than your lover – but then again, I’m not Italian.


Our next stop is the famed Piazza San Marco. The Piazza (apparently Italian for “pigeon sanctuary”), is located at the lowest point in Venice (this is a very important fact as will be explained shortly). The San Marco pigeon sanctuary is home to approximately six million pigeons - all of whom are expecting you to pay 4 Euros to a vendor for a small bag of corn. However, the city has recently banned the practice of feeding the pigeons – obviously something the pigeons are still having trouble coming to grips with. As you casually stroll across the Piazza you can sense 12,000,000 little hopeful eyes following your every move. And if, God forbid, you reach into your pocket to retrieve something, you are quickly inundated by hordes of these little poop machines – each anticipating a possible illicit feeding.


The reason for the ban is based on the fact that each pigeon generates approximately two pounds (12.6 ½ Kilos) of guano a month. Multiply that by 6,000,000 pigeons and you can get a sense of the problem. However, up to now that hasn’t been a major issue because of the balance of nature – which comes by the name of “Acqua Alta” – Italian for “high water.” Remember, the Piazza is the lowest point in Venice and, as such, is extremely susceptible to flooding during times of high tides, heavy rain, high winds, low atmospheric pressure, or when tourists wearing very expensive Italian shoes are present. Sometimes the Piazza will flood several times during the day – once during the ship’s morning tour and again during the afternoon excursion.


As a result of these floods, the pigeon guano is temporarily washed away – leaving the Piazza fresh and clean for nearly 4.5 minutes. This cycle, however, is soon to be eliminated as the city completes its flood control project which will limit the cleansing flooding of the Piazza. So – no more pigeon feeding.


Day 3 – Kotor, Montenegro


We have arrived at the port of Kotor in Montenegro. Montenegro is a small country roughly the size of the golf course at the back of my house and it achieved its independence in 1996 and, contrary to what several awestruck teenagers standing on the deck in back of us thought, was NOT named after the L.A. based rock band Monte Negro. Montenegro actually translates as “Black Mountain” and it certainly lives up to its name. The port, surrounded by dark heavily forested mountains, has to be one of the top three most dramatic ports in the world.


Kotor is a picturesque medieval town that, like Brigadoon, looked like it could have just magically materialized from the 18th Century. And the town’s entire population (roughly the size of my high school graduating class) seems to be intent upon making our visit as pleasant as possible. In all of our travels this is the first time we have actually been stopped in the street by people thanking us for visiting their town and then suggesting sights we should be sure to visit. One elderly couple - who bore an uncanny resemblance to my dear grandparents (she couldn’t have been more than five foot three and her wispy grey hair was covered by a faded red scarf knotted under her chin; he was a little stooped by age and leaned on an old wooden cane, but still had a twinkle in his clear blue eyes) even insisted on guiding us to the start of the trail that led up to the imposing and foreboding fortress that stands guard high above the city. I had just asked them how old the fort was, but I think that the only word they understood was “fort”. I assume they thought we wanted to go up to the fortress, as the little lady took SailorJill’s hand and led us to the trail head. They were so nice about it that we didn’t have the heart to tell them we didn’t want to walk up to the fortress – which appeared to be approximately one mile straight up. But as they stood there at the trail head smiling at us expectantly, SailorJill turns to me and whispers, “you just had to ask them about the fort, didn’t you! Well, let’s go!”


OK, I told her, we’ll start up the path until they leave and then come back down. After trudging up a score of yards or so and nearly out of breath, I turned around to look back down the rock strewn path and there they stood - smiling and waving up at us. I gave them a quick wave thinking that should do it. But, no – they just stood there, arm in arm with those warm little smiles. So, with a sigh of resignation, we turned our attention to the path ahead of us and, without the benefit of Sherpa porters and oxygen tanks, slowly inched our way up the steep mountain – step by laborious step. And, basically, that is how we came to be, I suspect, the first North American couple to actually reach the fortress- without first establishing a base camp - and remain married.


The views from up there, however, were spectacular. It seemed as if we were on top of the world – looking out over majestic mountains, idyllic streams and rills, the fabulous Kotor harbor, and, of course, the medieval town of Kotor itself. Now if someone would just come up and carry us back down!


Back from our trek up and down the mountain, Sailorjill went to do a little shopping. While she was shopping I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I began feeling the effects of the hike and actually got nitsicko more than once. I think it was more like three times. Maybe 4. When SailorJill eventually returned she noticed that I was a little unsteady on my feet and asked if I was OK. “To tell the truth”, I said, “I got a little nitsicko while you were gone. “I’m sorry, Jack. Sit back down and let me massage the back of your neck. That should make you feel a little better.” This was working out just great until the waiter appeared: “Would you like another bottle of Nitsicko beer, sir?”


I tried to explain to SailorJill that Nitsicko was the national beer of Montenegro, and that I had been totally upfront about it; however, the resulting stare I got was colder than the beer I had been enjoying. Sometimes a guy just can’t win.


Day 6 – Kusadasi (Ephesus) Turkey


This is our second visit to Kusadasi and Ephesus – an area of Turkey rich in history. On our last visit we learned that Ephesus was (at the time) the second largest city in the world and was home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Temple of Artemis.


We also learned that, as was true in so many parts of this world at the time, control of Ephesus changed hands many times; but the main impact on the area took place in 190 BC at the Battle of Magnesia. It was here where a badly outnumbered Roman army – far away from home and severely weakened by hunger - defeated the army of the Seleucid Empire. Not only were the Romans victorious, but they were able to capture the huge herds of Seleucid cattle around Magnesia and on the plains of Lydia, and they were able to impose 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 by their milk during the coming months. 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.


On this trip, in addition to a return visit to the ruins at Ephesus, we elected to visit the House of the Virgin Mary – purported to be the place where the mother of Jesus spent her last days. The simple stone house was located high on a hill amidst a setting that can only be described as serene. One could sense that this was, indeed, a holy place. Under the house was a natural well that provided water for Mary and the spring still runs true with cool pure water. Visitors are allowed to drink the water from the well and most people (including SailorJill) filled small containers (provided by the tour company) with water to bring home.


Returning to Kusadasi, we visit the Grand Bazaar to do some shopping. As it was a little after twelve, I kept an eye out for something to eat and spotted a display in one stall consisting of what appeared to be various nuts and fruit. Entering the stall I inquired of the owner as to the price of the bag of nuts. With a knowing grin he responded, “Effendi, these are more than just what you call “a bag of nuts.” It is a potion handed down from the ancient Ephesians and is comprised of cashews, dried figs and apricots, special herbs, and blossoms from the Jasmine tree. It is called Turkish Vyagra and is why the Sultans, Blessings Be Upon Them, were able to have so many wives in the harem.


As an experienced and knowledgeable international traveler, I knew that the spiel was meant to justify the high price for the bag of nuts and was merely a fairy tale used to impress the novice tourist. But, as I was quite hungry, I bought 12 bags. Coming out of the stall, SailorJill noticed by bulging tote bag:


SailorJill: “What’s in the tote, Jack?”

SailorJack: “Trail mix.”


Day 7 – Bodrum (Turkey)


Bodrum is situated where the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas meet and it is a gorgeous town that boasts clear blue water, great diving, sun swept beaches and a myriad of beckoning islands that lay just a few miles off shore. Once just a sleepy little fishing village it has become a holiday resort of some renown for Turkish and European vacationers, and has a population of about 20,000 (nearly 60,000 during the summer).


We have elected to take a boat tour here because one of the stops is Black Island which lies just five miles (26.8 ½ kilometers) off the coast. Black Island is actually quite green, but the island is named after the black mud found in the caves on the island. People who should know better claim that applying the black mud to your face and then running and jumping into the ocean will enhance your natural beauty. Legend has it that Cleopatra had the mud shipped to her and (I swear I am not making this up) Elizabeth Arden uses the mud in some of her products!


But as we approached the island for our first stop and witnessed hoards (well, several) women with bodies in various shades from pale white to sunburned red – all sporting black mud covered faces- race for the water, I gave grudging admiration to the guy who thought this whole thing up. Someone back in the first Century BC, stuck in a little backwater fishing village, came up with a way to turn black mud into gold coin:


Entrepreneur: “Buddy, there has to be an easier way to make a living than getting up before dawn and sitting in a smelly fishing boat all day! What else do we have here in Bodrum?”

Fishing Buddy: “That’s all there is. Of course we have all that mud in the caves over on Black Island, but that’s it – fish and mud.”

Entrepreneur: “That’s it! We’ll sell the mud. We can use it to make building bricks or…no, wait! That sounds like way too much work. I’ve got it…we can tell women that the mud in the cave has a secret ingredient and if they put it on their face it will make them look years younger. They will flock to the island and we can just sit back and charge admission! We’ll clean up!”

Fishing Buddy: “But who is going to believe that! Putting mud on their face? They would have to be crazy.”

Entrepreneur: “You’re right. We need a hook. Say, let’s send some of the mud to that hotty down in Egypt – what’s her name, uh, Cleopatra. If we can advertize that Cleo uses it we will have to beat the women off with a stick!”

Fishing Buddy: “But what about our boat – we have a lot of money tied up in it and in this economy in Bodrum nobody is going to buy it.”

Entrepreneur: “There you go again with the negative vibes. OK, how about this - we’ll load the boat full of mud, hire some cute girls in uniforms and send the boat over to the Greek islands. We can advertise a Seagoing Personal Application treatment – SPA for short – for rich Greek women who want to spend a day at sea and get our special mud treatment -we’ll make a killing!”


Could this have been the start of the cruise industry – I’m just saying?


On our second stop, where we were to have lunch and do some snorkeling, our boat was surrounded by some enterprising vendors in small boats who were offering various knickknacks for sale. It was quite a spectacle, they would throw something up to us to inspect and if we didn’t want it we would throw it back down to them – or throw money if we decided to keep it. It was almost a carnival atmosphere as packages flew up and down as vendors and passengers negotiated prices and traded jokes.


That’s when one particularly adept and enterprising young vendor yelled up to me: “How much for the blonde woman?” I smiled and shook my head thinking that would be the end of it.


“We give you eight goats!”


Up to now my life can pretty much be divided between my relatively lucid periods on the one hand and those times when I, for no apparent reason, take complete leave of my senses. I can only assume that I was experiencing the latter when, caught up in the moment, I shouted back down:


“She is certainly worth at least twelve goats.”


As soon as I said it I kicked myself. No, that’s not correct. Even as I was saying it I was kicking myself. My only hope was that SailorJill was somehow otherwise engaged and had not heard. Turning as nonchalantly as possible I cast a casual glance over my shoulder only to find SailorJill staring at me with her little Mona Lisa smile. I immediately sensed that I would be buying jewelry at our next port of call.


“I was just joking with that guy down there,” I said, somewhat hopefully.


“Of course you were, Jack. Discussing my net worth in terms of goats in front of a boat load of complete strangers just off the coast of Turkey is really quite hilarious. Do you really think I’m worth 12 goats?”


“Well, he started it!”


As I desperately searched for something more mature to say, the vendor down below yells up, “we might be able to go to nine goats.” He was not helping matters at all and I frantically looked around to see if there was something I could throw down to him to make him go away…like maybe a really large anchor. But by now, a small crowd was gathering around our end of the boat. “What’s going on,” I heard someone ask. “That guy over there is trying to trade his wife for some goats.”




This was really starting to get out of hand and out of the corner of my eye I could see SailorJill’s Mona Lisa smile morphing into a wide grin. I immediately sensed that I would be buying EXPENSIVE jewelry at our next port of call.


Day 8 – Santorini (Greece)


Let me start off by saying that Santorini is exactly what one pictures when thinking of a Greek island. If you looked up “idyllic” in the dictionary there would be a picture of Santorini. The island was originally named “Thira” by the Dorians, but was changed by the Venetians to “Santorini” in honor of Saint Irene. The island, basically, is what is left of the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history (about 3,600 years ago). As a result of the eruption most of the island simply dropped into the sea. The resulting Tsunami has been estimated to have been as high as 820 feet. Of course the word “Tsunami” hadn’t been invented back then, so the huge wall of water was known by its Italian name – Beegawave. Anyway, the Beegawave completely destroyed the Minoan civilization on the nearby island of Crete. It is also said that much of the ash that spewed forth from the volcano remained in the atmosphere and actually hid the sun for almost two years. – an event that may well have been the inspiration for the song “Goodnight Irene.”


As a result of the volcano sinking into the sea, the towns and villages of Santorini are perched atop the cliffs that once formed the upper rim of the volcano and are as much as 300 feet above the sea. Therein lies the problem. Visiting Santorini involves much the same strategy as was required back in 1944 during the Allied assault on Normandy. We approach land in our troop ship and anchor off shore. We are loaded onto landing craft which take us to the beach. Crowded on the beach we huddle in long lines looking for a way to scale the cliffs.


There are (if you are not taking a ship’s tour) three ways to get to the top – a cable car which can only take 1,200 people an hour, a climbing path with 600 steps, or ( and I swear I am not making this up) on the back of a donkey. Depending upon the number of ships in Santorini, taking the cable car can involve hours of waiting. The other two alternatives both involve using the path of 600 steps. Therein lies another problem. The donkeys drop little land mines along the steps that pose serious problems for those brave enough to attempt the climb. (Note: Future visitors who elect to walk should not wear their good shoes.)


SailorJill thinks it would be “just grand” to ride on a donkey. I am more than a little worried as these were the same words she used to get me aboard Gamal during a previous visit to Egypt – a camel ride from which I have yet to fully recover. Nevertheless, I graciously accede to her wish and we cautiously approach the donkey vendors. One of the first ones we approach apparently has had a lot of experience dealing with New Yorkers as his little sign said, “Ride my Ass – 5 Euros.”


Finally mounted on a pair of donkeys we started our journey up the path rather uneventfully until I noticed “Cowboy Bob” ahead of us. Apparently Bob had already had an eye-opener or two before the ride because he suddenly broke into Gene Autry’s “I’m Back in the Saddle Again.” At least he was until he tried to lean over and slap his wife’s donkey’s backside, whereupon he slipped out of the saddle and landed in one of the many landmines that littered the walkway. His wife, obviously concerned about him, was last seen urging her mount up the pathway – obviously hurrying to get him a change of clothes.


Once atop the island, we took a bus to the picture perfect town of Oia and spent hours going through the shops, admiring the heart- stopping views, and enjoying the fine wine that is grown on the island. It was another highlight of our Mediterranean cruise.


Day 9 – Mykonos (Greece)


We have arrived at Mykonos - probably the most happening port in the world and one I have been fantasying about since the first day I booked this cruise! Why, you may ask? Well, quoting greektravel.com, “if you are young, have money to spare and want to have a wild time, meet new people and possibly have sex with them, you will love Mykonos.” This is my kind of island! Well, not exactly the “young” part, or even the “money to spare” part, and certainly not the “wild and want to have sex” part – but other than that they are describing me down to a T. I can hardly wait to get ashore!


Before hitting one of Mykonos’s famed beaches SailorJill wants to do some shopping. She is looking for a pendent necklace or earrings, but wants something “unique.” Eschewing the ship’s recommended jewelry stores, we spot a small, but elegant looking establishment displaying discreet signage that read, “VanCleefe, Arpage, and VanDemeer: Purveyors of Fine Jewelry since 1898.”


Entering the store we are greeted by a very distinguished silver-haired gentleman wearing a finely tailored tuxedo:


Distinguished Gentleman: “Welcome to VanCleefe, Arpage, and VanDemeer, sir. I don’t believe you have visited our establishment before – did you arrive on your private jet this past evening?”

SailorJack: “Ah, no.”

DG: “I agree, private jets are so passé – I should have known that a discerning gentleman such as yourself would have selected a more understated carriage – perhaps a chartered flight?”

SJ: “No.”

DG: “First Class on yesterday’s Olympic Air flight?”

SJ: “Actually, we arrived by boat.”

DG: “Of course! Was that your beautiful yacht I saw tying up at our private marina this morning?”

SJ: (pointing out the window): “Actually that’s our boat out there.”

DG: (somewhat puzzled): “Which boat?”

SJ: “The big white one.”

DG: (Gasp!) “Not the one that apparently just rammed some sort of giant piñata!”

SJ: “Well actually that’s an NCL ship and those streamers are painted on, but we are on the one anchored to the left of it.”

DG: “Sir, being new to the island, perhaps you were unaware that we have a very nice Wal-Mart on the other end of town.”

SJ: “Perhaps later, but for now we would like to see your selection of fine Cubic Zirconia earrings, please.”


As the Distinguished Gentleman started stuttering, SailorJill grabbed my arm and steered us to the exit and we departed VanCleefe, Arpage, and VanDemeer: Purveyors of Fine Jewelry since 1898.


After eventually finding the “perfect” set of earrings (No, not at Wal-Mart!) we head to the beach for a few hours of idyllic sunning and lounging. This being Mykonos we have our choice of a nude beach, a topless beach, or the Burka beach. As I always enjoy sunning with most of my clothes on (and wanting to remain married) I, of course, selected the Burka beach.


Day 11 - Split, Croatia


This ancient city, thought to be over 2,000 years old is named after the Spiny Broom, which, contrary to what you may think, is not Darren’s name for Endora’s mode of transportation, but is actually a type of bush (Calicotome spinosa) that is common to the area.


During its 2,000 year history, Split was conquered by so many different countries that it appears the only country to not rule Split at some time or other in the past was Iceland. However, overcoming its polygamous past, modern day Croatia declared its independence in 1991 and, befitting its stature as an important new nation, the first country to recognize it as an independent country was…Iceland.


The biggest tourist draw here is the Palace of Diocletian – the only Roman emperor to ever voluntarily leave office. And if you saw his palace you would understand his motivation to move to Split -the palace is/was magnificent. In its heyday 10,000 people lived within its walls.


Several years after his retirement a delegation of Roman senators travelled to Split and begged him to return as Emperor to restore order to Rome. His famous reply was “Nuts!” No, wait – that was General McAuliffe’s reply to the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. Diocletian’s famous reply was that he couldn’t return (and I swear I am not making this up) because his garden, particularly the cabbage, needed tending. I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have done in his place…Emperor of the Entire Known World or Cabbage Patch Attendant – tough choice.


The Statue of Gregory of Nin is another one of the “must see” items in Split. It is a dramatically huge and imposing looking statue and has a very large left big toe that has taken on a very shiny golden hue. This is not due to the fact that Gregory suffered from gout, but is due to the fact that it is believed that rubbing the toe brings good luck – something, apparently, that an untold number of people have obviously done over the past hundred years or so.


OK, while all of this historical stuff may be interesting I know what of lot of you are wondering…while in Croatia did I get a chance to play Picijin – the country’s national sport. The answer is… YES! While at the beach a group that was one player short invited me to join in. And, for a beginner, I think I handled the ball relatively well at times, but, as SailorJill suggested, a little luck might have been involved. (There may be something to rubbing old Gregory’s toe after all!) For me, one the highlights of playing this spirited game was the constant shouts of encouragement I received from the other Croatian players. As I tried to reach the ball I would often hear my teammate call out “te igra poput moj stari coviek” which I have since learned roughly translates as “you play like my old man.” I assume his father must have been a natural at Picijin as well!


One of the rules of Picijin, apparently, requires that the person committing the most errors has to buy a round of Rakia (the national drink of Croatia) for the entire team. Apparently that meant me - as my four teammates stared at me expectantly. So it was off to the beach bar we went – along with SailorJill. As it turns out “Rakia” is apparently Croatian for “instant drunk.” It is made from distilled fruit -apparently any kind will do – and can be as much as 150 proof and is served straight. The fact that we made it back to the ship in time may be due entirely to SailorJill’s request to see a rule book when the team informed us that the rule actually required that I buy two rounds of Rakia.


A Special Public Service Announcement to my single male readers: Croatian women are good looking. I mean REALLY good looking. And they are tall. REALLY tall. I think the legal minimum height for Croatian women is 5’11½”. Put the average Croatian woman in a pair of 5” heels and you have the beginnings of a sequel to the “Amazing 50 Foot Woman.”


IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The research summarized above was done with the full knowledge, and under the close supervision, of SailorJill!


Homeward Bound


Finally back in Venice, our grand tour of the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Aegean Seas is sadly over! At the airport to catch our flight back to the states we give our boarding passes to the gate agent and he looked at us and said, “I have good news – you have been upgraded to first class!” We couldn’t believe our good luck and once aboard the plane we raised our glasses of Champagne and toasted Saint Gregory’s Really Big Toe!

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I'll post some really great pictures as soon as I can get them downloaded, uploaded, overloaded - whatever the technical term is!

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OMG, you should be a writer....that was one of the most entertaining reviews I have ever read!

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Love,LOVE your review..............you have quite the talent............can't wait for the pics!!:):)

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LOVED your review. I couldn't stop laughing. You have a great style of writing.

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I thoroughly enjoyed your review! I laughed so hard about the goats I had tears rolling down my face. Your style of writing is extremely informative and entertaining!

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This is not even my ship but I loved your review. It was the funniest, most entertaining review I have ever read. I am laughing just thinking about it.

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I am glad I deceided to read your review, very entertaining. You have a great sence of humor. Loved it.

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For me, the pictures in my head are good enough. By far the most entertaining read on this website. Very well done!

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I have tears streaming down my face and my dog is staring at me like I have lost my marbles.


I lost it with the - “She is certainly worth at least twelve goats.” :D

If you aren't a writer, then you have missed your calling! LOVED this review! Waiting for the pics.

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Oh my goodness. . .You know something is funny if you are alone and you can't stop laughing and you keep looking around for someone to share this with! Thank you for a great start to my day! Julie

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Awesome review to read! Thanks for the laughs and the play by play.


I went to the Greek Isles in the early-mid 90s with my family on a similar cruise from Venice. The donkey's brought back a lot of memories.

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I've read and enjoyed all your reviews. This is one of the best.

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I have tears streaming down my face and my dog is staring at me like I have lost my marbles.


I lost it with the - “She is certainly worth at least twelve goats.” :D


If you aren't a writer, then you have missed your calling! LOVED this review! Waiting for the pics.


I have to echo that I was laughing so hard from begining to end you missed your calling..I loved everything about this and want to travel with you and the goats wherever you go.

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I am enjoying the review too, even though I just clicked on it because of the name of the thread to find out why a ship was a snake in the grass.

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The next best thing to being on a cruise is reading a SailorJack review. Keep cruising good sir.


I highly recommend reading his Dream/Nightmare review. :D


When's the next cruise? And any observations on the ship itself? ;)

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