and Bookends' Cruising to Crete
James Skinner finally comes ashore
Santorini is paradisiacal - a gorgeous town
As I complete my geriatric cruise series I cannot help but write
my final chapter with the weird feeling of a lump in my throat. The bomb
blast caused by inhuman terrorists in a nightclub on the far away island
of Bali, causing umpteen dead and wounded does not induce ones mind
to gear up for a pleasant journey of creative writing. Ironically, as
I sat in the lounge of the Apollo deck, the evening before our return
and disembarkation at Piraeus, my inner senses still savouring the ending
of a fantastic Round-the-world final cabaret show, I was suddenly
brought back to reality.
Willy, one of my American fellow tourists next to me said, you know,
my friend didnt want to come. He paused and added, hes
a New Yorker! I looked at him and smiled, Europe is OK, a
bit old and fuddy duddy, but OK. He looked straight ahead, yes,
I guess youre right. After a few minutes he turned around
and faced me. With a solemn look he uttered a single phrase, books
and bookends! He went back to his double something with ice.
Books? Bookends? Whats he talking about. What have books and
bookends to do with all this? I was puzzled. He saw my facial reaction,
smiled again and went into his discourse. All these journeys, tours,
cruises even life itself are all like books and bookends. You have the
hard bits at the beginning and end with all the juicy stuff in the middle.
He said no more. Got up and left. It took me a while for it to sink in.
When you start your vacation, you spend the first day buggering about
with documents, luggage, boarding aircraft, fighting with flight attendants,
fellow passengers and even your own companion. And yet youre eager
to get on with what depleted your bank balance and put you at the mercy
of Visa and MasterCard. Once all this claptrap is over and youre
on your way, all is forgotten and you greet your unknown future destiny
with a smile on your face and a pulse rate of over 100.
At the end, the reverse takes place, a hard drop back to routine business,
whatever it was. Solemn speeches from your cruise director on disembarking
procedures hope you had a nice time but dont forget your passports!
packing, arguing again with your companion, fasten seatbelts and
Hey, what happened to the holiday?
I closed my eyes and revelled in our last days outing.
Crete and Santorini.
Sorry, but my first impression of Herakleion, the capital of Crete was
that of a horrible, stinking, filthy place. We arrived very early in the
morning and had about two hours to check the joint out. Florencia had
already given us our A level history lecture ranging from
Vathypetro, a famous old farmhouse dating back to the 16th century BC
to the islands famous olive groves and vineyards and of course,
the Palace of Knossos. Not having much time to spare and agreed to avoid
the noise, dirt and other signs of human decay we hopped into the nearest
waiting taxi. Take us to the Palace, says Facundo. Ah,
yes. The usual, replies the splitting image of Burt Reynolds as
the smoke infested diesel kicks into life. Were no sooner three
blocks down the road, his mobile rings. Were entering a treeless
park when Burt stops at a newsstand, hops out, disappears
and another geyser jumps into the drivers seat. He turns around, smiles
and says, my cousin, hes a new father. Ill take you
now. You guessed. Silence reigned as we sped into the countryside.
Apart from Florencia and Facundo laughing their heads off, the Palace
of Knosses belonging to a king called Mimos, was a jigsaw of bits and
pieces of ancient architecture and decorations put together over time
thanks to the excavations of one Sir Arthur Evans in 1900. Half-baked
fakes of course! If you can picture all sorts of had been
decorations by the likes of Dali and Picassos tutors, reconstructed,
and somehow put together again, so that mutts like us could visualize
what the place was like thousands of years ago, well, there you have it.
Take the Kings chamber and the Queens apartment all adorned
with beautiful paintings of griffins and lilies, you could still smell
the fresh paint as if youd just walked out of a car repair shop.
On the other hand the palace itself was a complete and utter labyrinth
of passages and rooms. Similar to the servants that obviously kept losing
their way in days of old, the various groups of tourists led by their
guides kept bumping into each not knowing north from south or in from
out in this monumental cock-up of a ruin. Check out the Keraklion Museum
for the looted originals! Thanking the dear Lord, we were away by 11:30.
Next and last stop, the island of donkeys.
Santorini is paradisiacal. It is a gorgeous town built on the cliff top
of yet another Greek island. The peculiarity of this ship-stop is that
there are only two ways of reaching the heart of the hustle and bustle.
You could take the funicular railway, pretty standard construction in
other parts of the world, or, wait for it, hire a donkey! You could, of
course, walk up the incredibly steep steps and, almost certain to cause
some internal injury. Take it or leave, there was no other way. I couldnt
believe it, for the way up, Florencia, Fulgencia and my wife opted to
walk the steps. However, once up top the view was breathtaking. We sat
at the table of a cliff-hanging cafeteria and as we sipped our beers we
literally inhaled the scenery. Even Florencia was speechless for a change.
There were three cruise ships in the harbour and the sight of their miniaturisation
took me back to my baby days when I played with little boats in my bathtub.
The surroundings were different. The green and rugged cliffs replaced
the mid-forties brass plumbing. Oh well! Time to pay the barman and return
to the Renaissance. Panic sets in. My wife decides she wants
to walk down
the donkey route!
Once again, I am about to use my favourite phrase that I have throughout
my geriatric cruise essays. Im not kidding when I describe our descent
down a route of shit! Donkey shit!
Are you crazy, I said to my wife. Do you really want
to slush slosh down this stinking dung alley? I implored. Sidetracking
slightly, many of you may think that I married a madwomen. No way, she
is Galician, northwestern Spain, and the people of this land are all adventurers
and daredevils but above all, inquisitive. I want to see what its
like going down this way she answered calmly. She won out. Florencia
and Fulgencio went by funicular.
The trouble was not only sidestepping the tonnes and tonnes of cannon
ball droppings along the way. We had to run in front of at least 40 donkeys,
all transporting part of the remainder of our fellow passengers. They
were charging down on us like the Light Brigade. Somehow we made it back
to the ship. Dont ask me how. I cant remember.
Im wiping my eyes as I complete this paper. Although Im at
Athens airport Im also at the PC and still thinking of Bali. Millions
and millions of tourists are either coming or going. Im handing
in my airline ticket. Is it today or yesterday? Would I be here if it
was today? Who knows and yet who cares. Mine is over and Im safely
home again. In todays new world, would I take the trip again? Willys
answer is the right one. Life is made up of books and bookends, including
terrorist infested holidays. Take it or leave it.
© James Skinner 2002.
Journeys in hacktreks
The Case of the Hit and
< Reply to this Article