January 3, 2014

Tough Work

Im not complaining, but vacationing is tough work!  We are however, getting pretty good at it. It’s something of a tupperware list for us more than a bucket list, we do have a list and we are not so much checking things off before we shed this mortal coil, but rather stocking up for the winter, the winter of our mal-content; that is the day when we are longer Residents of Europe.  It’s the opposite of a burning fuse, i’ts this self imposed deadline where we will call this adventure to a close and move onto the next one, so we are dotting our geographic i’s and crossing our cultural t’s. Making certain not to have missed too many of the important corners of Old Europe.

If I had made concert T-shirts for this vacation, they would have been black, duh, and some lone rooster on the front, maybe 3 cocks, and the title would have been something like “Playing the B-Side”. 

Rome without the Vatican
Athens sidestepping the Acropolis
Istanbul sans Hagia Sophia
Naples -no- Pompeiians
The Back door to Ephesus

In all of our international richess, we found ourselves in (personally) conquered cities  with the time and energy to dig a bit deeper, to visit the B-List of attractions, to attempt to see a more genuine article.  Caveat, we were on a cruise ship, so our visits were brief and shallow, between 6 and 36 hours in any one port.  We did a lot of research and hit the ground strolling. We packed a lot of absorptive attention into our days, fueled by coffees of various thickness and quality. And spent a fair penny on public transportation, always our M/O in a foreign country. 

It was interesting to be in Turkey for the days before Christmas, there were a few Christian churches we wandered into, which were shouting their Christ-Was-Here story, but for the most part there was very little evidence of Kris Kringle about.  Lots of roasting Chestnuts competing with the turkish sesame bread and floating fish sandwiches, but not the deluge of music and lights that is greater Europe.  

The Mosques (a plenty) were as wonderful as my memories had colored them. We re-visited one and ducked into another under renovations, avoiding the main ones looking for the “other” and trying everything not to look like Western Tourists.  As we rode out into the suburbs of Istanbul we were amazed how its fabric seemed to be shopping centers and mosques, is this what America looks like to Europeans?  churches and fast food joints?

We bought our next few years worth of peppercorns and apple tea at the Egypt Spice Market
, some himalayan rose salt as well, because after all aren’t the Himalaya’s closer to Istanbul than is France? No rugs this time either, I told you it was the B-side tour!

In Athens we spent our day next to the Acropolis, they have built a world class museum there and have collected the treasures of the Acropolis and brought them into a proper environment for interpretation and study. The museum effectively houses the Parthenon, while being 500 meters away from it, everything but the building stones reside IN the museum, and in a manner that facilitates comprehension. All the ART is there if and where it can be separated from the architecture, that is to say the sculptures and the frieze. It was a treat!  It also made clear the controversy over the Elgin Marbles. While I think it is time for them to be restored to Greece, thanks go to the British who, having removed them from the site, were able to arrest the deterioration process, and it is clearly the removed statuary which is in the superior condition.  The Museum has reconstructed all the bits and bobs, with plaster casts of the (now) British sculptures, and the quality of the removed pieces is so evident, it makes one instantly glad that the Imperialist thugs bought  and borrowed what they could, and a bit afraid for how caustic our environment has become in the past hundreds of years.  The Acropolis has survived for 2500 years and in the recent past our air and rain have become so harsh, that its washing away our civilization!

While much newer, our Ship of Dreams itself, the Norwegian Jade, was a pleasant floating hotel. The seas were mostly calm, the food was mostly excellent, the entertainment was mostly bad, but life aboard a ship like this is a fun way to pass ten days. It’s a vacation, and being on a ship combines the ease of a beach holiday with the work of historical adventure, our days were full of culture and the nights were bacchanalian. We played volleyball and trivia on the “sea days”, passed hours on bikes in the fitness center, hot tubs and art lectures and then dressed up for cocktails and dinners, making new and never to be seen again friends from the wide world.  We had our favorite corners for breakfast, our favorite staff to chat up, our secrets spots onboard, and we learned, by the end of the cruise, which piano bars to avoid.  

For Oscar it was an interesting cruise, it took him a while to find his tribe. The days were so busy with historical fare that there was scant time to find and make friends. Some families leave their kids on the ship, but we are from the school of FFF, so we tugged and pulled the entire time.  By about mid-cruise, Oscar had a few room numbers and started staying out later than his wiser parents. We met a lot of military families, upper level officers, posted to one base or another for 3 years a la foix, so it was interesting asking the kids about that life and comparing their responses with their parents.  One thing we noticed is that they are usually educated on base, and therefore never get a chance to learn the culture or the language of their hosting countries, what a shame!  Oscar was “suited-up” from the first day, looking great in his slim black suit, this set him apart from the casual Americans and the rowdy Italians (lots of rowdy Italians). The Italians seemed to band together, taking over entire stairways late at night, too cool to sit in an empty lounge, too young to be served alcohol, not wanting to be reminded that they all had parents sleeping somewhere on the ship and being oblivious to the people walking through their midst.  Life on a cruise for an adolescent is a chance to play grown up, its a insular city, new rules, safe and yet exotic; everyone is new and equal and its interesting to watch the mechanics. Its not too different from what the oldsters are doing, everyone inventing themselves, talk comes easy, table-mates rotate, one has neighbors and friends for a week and then we all get to move back to our real lives.  Its interesting listening to Patricia and I as we keep changing our introduction story:  we are from France, we are from America, we live in Bordeaux, we are from California, New York, Missouri.....  Its nice to have a second language on a european cruise!  Next time I’m going to wear an ascot and wander the decks with a walking stick and a monocle....Daniel de von Bain III, maybe I’ll wear white gloves and start smoking for the occasion.

Our close friend Linda was traveling with us, so we had our own posse from time to time. A cruise is a great event to share, and while our days were sometimes apart, the beginning and the end of each day was always a fun time to come together and enjoy the retelling over a flight of martini’s in one of the dozen bars on the ship.  Christmas morning, was quiet, but we got the tempo up a bit once we started opening some presents and tossing about balls of streamers Linda had imported from England, some strange and wonderful traditions there. The wine and the beef were pleasantly from America, the chef was from Barbados, and the ship itself was of Hawaiian origin (built in Germany). The crew was as international as possible, with plenty of Croatians amongst the brass for some reason. Everything on board is in english, and a few secondary languages too. The ship was refurbished in 2011, but seemed new to the touch, they seem to be continually updating and upgrading every surface and element, there is no waiting for anything to NEED replacement, it’s done before anyone might notice. The entertainment was lacking on this cruise so fortunately we had each other. The singers couldn't sing, and the piano players seemed to only know how to play medleys!?  There was one fantastic show, part magic, part cirque, loud music and great lights, acrobats in the audience and it left us wanting more, kind of summing up the whole experience....what over already?...bravo...bravo!