GERIATRIC CRUISE Part Two & Three
MANY AMERICANS; FROM BOTH ENDS...
Greek Scenes ©Tony Brown
I didnt know we were visiting Greek brothels? I snapped
at my wife as the tour guide went on. Dont be blasphemous
she retorted, shes talking about the Virgin Marys home.
When we visit Kusadasi, we can either visit it or not! She paused
and added, theres nothing to see anyway!
At least Ill save 20 Euros. I went back to my inner thoughts. Zorbas
disciple continued to ramble on. We finally arrived at our point of departure.
There she was, MTS World Renaissance. With her blue hull and
white decks and a slender single funnel displaying the liners company
colour, she was resting majestically alongside a bustling and noisy wharf
awaiting patiently for her departure time. One look and I thought, you
great big hunk of iron, you're gorgeous! I immediately fell in love
I must pause and explain something about cruises in general. You see,
I live in Vigo, Spain which is, apart from La Coruña, one of the
main Spanish ports on the Atlantic coast. Most cruise liners that depart
from the UK bound for the Mediterranean will eventually call at one of
them, either southward or homeward bound. I know when a ship is in port
because my city is swarming with pot-bellied, overly sunburned (if theyre
on their way home) fifty pluses all clad in shorts, flip-flops and Mexican
sombreros. Although it may be pouring with rain and around
10º C they still think that theyre in sunny Spain. There
is one point however that one cannot miss. Theyre all British tourists.
When we boarded the Renaissance and entered the main foyer,
the hall was bustling with humanity. Short, thin, fat, young, old (mainly),
dark, white and all yapping away in a multitude of languages. Im
sure it was like a recess at the UN only this lot didnt wear dark
suits and carry briefcases. After waiting in line for about 10 minutes,
I presented our tickets and passports at the purser desk and asked
the multimillion daft question. Excuse me, but where do all these
people come from?
The girl at the desk just smiled and answered in broken English, We
have passenger from many parts, Sir? I went on, yes, but how
many different nationalities are here? Like a typical idiot I added,
are there any English passengers? She answered, Many
Americans paused, from both ends! She then continued
to deal with my papers punching away at her PC. After retaining my passport
and giving me two boarding cards, in an sort of pre-recorded voice similar
to those thank you for your service that emerge from petrol
pumps, she said, your cabin number is D47. She handed the
keys to an awaiting steward. If you need further assistance, the
information desk is to your right. Have a nice day! Looking at the
couple behind me she continued, good evening. your papers please.
No way Jose, somehow I needed to find our more about what sort of congregation
of Homo Sapiens I was to share the next 8 days and 7 nights. Meanwhile
and diligently following a short, dark haired young Greek we trotted off
to our cabin.
Spanish or English? whispered the steward. What?
I answered. You Spanish or English? I speak any! he continued
as he opened our cabin door. I liked him right away. Im British
and my wife is Spanish. Take your pick. Our small Adonis, a typical
seaman with, I assume years of experience, just smiled, handed me our
keys (a proper one, not a programmed moth eaten plastic card) uttered,
Ok and left. At last alone, my wife and I looked at each other
and almost said simultaneously, this is it, a trip to
when suddenly from behind the pillow a voice pierced the air and broke
the romantic atmosphere. Attention please. There will be a life
boat drill in the Greco lounge. Please collect your life jackets which
are under each bed and proceed immediately to your stations as detailed
on the door of your cabin. Thank you!
Im sure most of you have been used to and for the worldly travelled
even fed up of safety drills aboard aircraft. Recognising that they are
essential, they are also a bore. The ones on board a ship are something
else. Theyre a hoot! To start with, the damn jacket is nothing like
those on an aeroplane. The modern Mae West is made up of two
thick blocks of floatable material that clamp round your neck like an
orthopaedic collar. A set of car type safety straps make sure the obnoxious
object and your upper torso keep together. I can assure you no body could
every sink if it fell overboard, dead or alive! The second point is that
the drill itself serves a double purpose.
As we assembled under each muster station, numbered according to your
allotted lifeboat, the lounge spotlights were suddenly turned on and the
stage at one end of the room was alive with uniformed females, all members
of the ships staff. Each held a pole with a number that represented
a lifeboat. Meanwhile, several photographers were running around the room
taking pictures. Groups of giggly passengers, including yours truly, huddled
together and despite us all looking like a massive Oxo cube advert, were
all eager to keep a memento of our first moment aboard.
Enter the Cruise Director. Good evening, Im Gary your Cruise
Director. Whilst he continued with the routine palaver of what we
should all do in case of an emergency, I couldnt help thinking,
hey, the guys a Brit! Hes in the wrong opera!
Id missed all the bit about playing follow the leader with
the number, jumping into a lifeboat and blowing my whistle (somewhere
hidden in my life jacket) in case I got lost at sea. He concluded the
drill and then continued with a long and useful dissertation about our
cruise. You know, the do's and donts, the whose who and the wheres
where. Gary was on the ball. He must know about my fellow passengers.
Gary explained. The international tour operators that we deal with
are mainly in North and South America as well as Spain. Youll meet
up with many Latinos as well as Anglo-Saxons. That is why we address everyone
in both English and Spanish.
But Ive seen others such as many, pardon me, different types
of Orientals from the Far East? How did they find theyre way
here? I continued. Ditto Bruce Willis, trust me, Ive
been doing this for fifteen years and Ill tell you something,
Mr. Skinner. The world may be full of international conflicts, but aboard
these cruises, everyone from different walks of life and background behave
like one community in complete harmony. Thats the real beauty of
cruise holidays! He paused for a second and went on I really
havent a clue how they make it to the travel agent, but thats
it in a nutshell!
He and I were the only Brits on board! I wonder why?
PART III: THE PECULIAR SPANISH LEAGUE OF NATIONS
One final administrative chore remained before we commenced our cruise
and were let loose to explore the bowels of our floating Iron Maiden;
Dinner seating arrangements.
In order to wine and dine around 500 hungry international cruisers for
over a week, the Renaissance catering sector had arranged
two separate sittings which translated into: oldies first, yuppies second.
Being democratic, you had a choice, but you had to decide before departure.
My mind went to work. We get up early in the morning for breakfast to
be ready for our island tours. Then return to the ship, if appropriate,
for lunch, on to siesta, tea, muck about, drinks, dinner,
cabaret, more drinks and final drop dead. I think well
put our names down for the early seven oclock dinner, I innocently
suggested to my wife. And miss the disco dancing? Well take
the latter turn! she decided. As it turned out, it was the best
choice. Whilst I waited in line in the dinning saloon to give the Maitre
D our preference, the ships engines came to life!
One of the most exhilarating moments on board a ship is always sailing
time. The whole procedure of co-ordinating the separation of a large vessel
from its moorings and manoeuvring it through the mayhem of a harbour to
commence its main purpose in life is an experience on its own. Captain
on bridge, walkie-talkie in hand, delivering his step by step instructions
to all and sundry. Passengers running about on all decks and in all directions
trying to capture the best views with their multiple choice cameras. Deckhands
discretely avoiding them as they carry out Blighs orders. Once the
ropes are released, the shore staff take a sigh of relief and light up
their fags. The ship is pulled away from the jetty by a pair of tugs.
She is placed in position, is let loose, starts to move and begins to
pick up speed. The bow is pointed in the right direction and the sound
of the waves as they batter the sides mutter a soft and repetitive message
that seems to say Istanbul here I come. My own sights and
thoughts were focused on Piraeus as it disappeared in the distance. I
could still see Melina Mercouri as she bobbed up and down in the water,
waving and singing Ta paidia tou Pirea (Theme of Never on
Sunday). Nostalgia and grey hair grow stronger with age!
Back to reality and first meal of the voyage. It's dead on nine oclock
and like typical Brits, were the first in the dinning saloon. Why
we impose this typical habit of punctuality is beyond me? Dozens of eyes
from awaiting waiters welcome us as one of them moves forward and smilingly
shows us to our table. It is number 6. As we go through the ritual of
placing napkins on lap and reviewing the menu as well as the wine list,
our first cohabiting eating partners arrive. Theyre a couple, about
our own age, from El Salvador (thats the country in Central America
that went to war with Honduras because of an idiotic football match.)
Hes a director of a large automobile distributorship in San Salvador,
the capital and his wife is a civil servant. No sooner do we complete
the initial introductions that I find we had something in common. Hes
about to retire and apart from going on a cruise doesnt know what
to do in the future.
Ah! Says I. Do what I did and go back to university.
Study something totally different. I was taught how to write. The
ice was broken immediately as we found common ground and mutual interest
in our exchange of conversations. Enter the Catalans.
A young honeymooning couple are directed to our table. As they approach,
both are mumbling into and eating each others ears, oblivious of everyone
standing at or seated around the table. They stop, release each other,
smile and utter some sort of sound that is taken to mean good evening.
They then break into Spanish and say, Were from Tarragona,
Cataluña. This is our first trip abroad. They sit down, go
back into their shells and continue to address each other in Catalan.
The next couple that were destined to our table were also honeymooners
but from Valencia. As they reached our table they were yapping away in
their own regional language reverting back to Spanish as introductions
took place. My God! My wife is Galician, from the Northwest of Spain and
they too have a regional language. I could not believe it. Here I was,
seated at The Spanish League of Nations all of us in need
of our own interpreters!
Ive exaggerated, of course, but digressing slightly, Spain is suffering
at the moment from a sort of regional nationalistic psychosis. The diseases
main symptom is the proud knowledge and use of the regional languages
by the younger generations. The short but poignant episode of our first
dinner encounter highlighted the situation without a doubt. The Latin
Americans, on the other hand are bemused by it all. Hence my Salvadorian
friends sarcastic remark that suggested we all speak in English
to make things easier all round. I must confess that once we were all
seated and ready to order, Spanish was the universal language that prevailed.
As Gary, our cruise director had rightly pointed out a few hours earlier,
all political discrepancies are left by the quayside. Pardon
the pun, but as the waters calmed down it was as if an invisible green
light had been turned on. Our waiter arrived.
Hello. Im Niko. Ill be at your service for the rest
of the trip. Are you ready to order? Believe me when I say that
this is not the typical all-included-self-service-soggy-meal
system suffered by most average package tour holidaymakers that travel
around the world. The catering offer aboard most cruise liners from dawn
to dusk is second to none. The evening dinner is an excellently presented
cuisine as per the printed menu on display during the day. It is supplemented
with a varied selection of wines capable of appeasing the most exigent
connoisseur. Apart from the usual sequence of courses ranging from appetisers
through to coffee and dessert, the international flavour based on the
theme of the day added to the excitement of sitting down to
a five course meal as the caveat of a full days activity provided
by the operators. Although our venture had just begun and we hadnt
yet seen the ocean (it was already dark) giving Niko our evening shopping
list seemed to kick-start our holiday, and place us, as Glen Miller would
blow In the mood for the rest of our days at sea.
© James Skinner. 2002.
To be Continued
Missed Part One:
PART I: WITH OR WITHOUT THE VIRGIN ?
ship was a sixties rust bucket all spruced up for the umpteenth time,
just like Bette Davies in Whatever happened to Baby Jane?
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