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James Skinner on Carrys On Cruising The Med
Part 4: my cabin was tucked away between the ship’s kitchen and the funnel shaft

‘No, this is not about any pusher’s party! I’m back on track with my Mediterranean cruise.
First day is strictly sailing, from dawn to nearly sunset heading towards the first destination on the vacation agenda. It’s probably the first and last time you’re able to enjoy a full day at sea on most modern day cruises. From then on, it’s non-stop port-to-port calling. It’s also known as ‘exploration day’ or ‘sniff-sniff day’. In other words, it’s when four hundred or so passengers play hide and seek, keep bumping into each other and all act as Indiana Jones searching for the hidden beauty saloon, the toilets and eventually the nearest bar for an early morning snort. It’s the time when most are trying to get to know the way around their floating hotel. What is incredible is the number of times they keep tripping in and out of the various exits leading to the numerous open-air decks. It’s as if they were checking, yet again to see if the sea was still there! ‘Gee Maude! Look how blue the water is.’ Bill, a retired yank from Boston looked at me and added, ‘Sir, would you be so kind as to take our picture?’ He hands me his super-sophisticated photo-taking gadget and as a Good Samaritan, I oblige. I’ve made yet another new acquaintance. As you see, I was no exception. I must’ve been in and out about ten times during the first hour of the morning. The sea hadn’t changed a bit.

My old rust bucket was by no means a pushover. She had her history and secrets like any grandiose lady. The paint encrusted portholes, the ‘obstacle race’ passageways, the antique winches transfixed in time and seemingly glued down to ‘iron, wooden-and-tar, seen-it-all’ decks, the majestic funnel and complementary masts; they all seemed to complete a picture of the past. As mentioned very early on, the beauty of sailing on any sixties or seventies liner is the feeling of real contact with the sea and its surroundings. You’re part of its history. Looking over the bows, as she ploughed her way through the ocean, grudgingly tossing and rolling, clocking up the miles, I felt as if she had only one thought on her mind – ‘Istanbul here I come again with a new bunch of holidaymakers!’ Yet somehow, she was still very much alive and well and full of life!

Upstairs, downstairs and in your lady’s chamber passengers continued to bump into each other. I go back to my cabin to fetch my binoculars; a must on this kind of holiday. On the way out I run into Niko. ‘How do I get out on deck?’ He asks: ‘Port or Starboard?’ I suddenly realise, seamen have a language of their own such as fore and aft, speed in knots, poop deck and so on. ‘I don’t know. Which is the nearest exit?’ He smiles and points, ‘straight along that way, first staircase to your right, up onto Apollo deck. Go through the dinning saloon and turn right again.’ He chuckles, ‘you can’t miss it!’ I’m not kidding. As these old ships have been renovated and re-renovated, one thing they keep doing is ‘adding’ cabins. Hence you could find, as I did, that my cabin was tucked away between the ship’s kitchen and the funnel shaft (I’m guessing!). Nevertheless, I finally made it back on deck.

Eleven o’clock is Bingo time. Oh, yes! No sea package-holiday is complete without having a go at putting a series of dry peas on a cardboard full of odd and even numbers as they are shouted out by your cruise director. Whoever invented this dreadful game must have been a masochist. Having suffered a couple of sessions, I decided it was beer time. Once again I go exploring. One thing is certain, any cruise ship worth its salt (pardon the pun) has more bars per square ‘knot’ than any other holiday spot in the world. I love it! I’ve found the Venus deck open-air bar. It also caters for a buffet lunch. Cold lobster salad followed by Greek fish soup and an apple did me fine. Coffee, brandy and a Montecristo number 4 finished off my first lunch on board. I’m slowly drifting into a sea style ‘siesta’ when the loudspeaker comes to life, yet again!

16:00 Quiz time! I am dragged down into the ‘El Grecco’ saloon by my wife who had somehow persuaded me before we embarked on this voyage to participate in ‘all’ the activities offered during the cruise. I hadn’t counted on entering a ‘how to be a millionaire’ contest or any other intelligence testing games. ‘The rules are simple’, says Gary with mike in hand, pouncing around on the stage. ‘Join up in gangs’, he lets out a false chuckle, ‘no more that six, or have a go on your own. I’ll be asking you twenty questions of general knowledge based on you as an international public’, another chuckle, ‘and the group or person with the most number of correct answers wins a bottle of champagne’. He blears out the last word as if Pavorotti were ending a Verdi opera solo. I look at my wife and she detects the poison in my tears!

As it so happened, this turned out to be one of the most entertaining events that were generally repeated on most days of our holiday. I now realise why so many television viewers enjoy this type of program. Questions ranged from politics to movies to geography and of course, anything to do with our voyage. What President of the USA wrote novels? Did Ingrid Bergman smoke in her role in ‘Casablanca’? What is the island of Rhodes famous for? All these might seem simple, but believe me that as the ship’s engines continued to pump away en route to Istanbul, I couldn’t think of a better way to ‘continue’ with my second brandy and cigar as I triumphantly wrote down under question 5: ‘Chicco’. I was answering the question: ‘What Marx Brother played the piano?’
18:00. Engines have stopped. Tugs are taking over. I look out over the railings of Dionysos deck and notice a similar activity going on to when we departed from Piraeus. We’re arriving at Istanbul!

© James Skinner.July 2002.


James Skinner

As expected,the ship was a sixties rust bucket all spruced up for the umpteenth time, just like Bette Davies in ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’

James Skinner

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