Friday, August 11, 2017

The Joy of Cruising

As I get  older and long distance  travel ends, I enjoy browsing through  photo albums and remembering some great holidays.  The original idea for one interesting trip originated in Arizona when we spotted an ad for a repositioning cruise.  This cruise  was described as reasonably priced and involved a month at sea.  I read further and  was surprised when I  saw the  extensive itinerary, I could hardly wait to dash off  and sign on the dotted line.  My husband looked at the ad and agreed with me.  We learned that the ship was part of the Royal Olympic Cruiseline and was  in South America for the winter, but would be heading back to its summer home in Athens, Greece in March.
At the travel agent's we reviewed the itinerary, across the Atlantic Ocean, Rio de Janiereo to Athens, Greece, 28 days on the Royal Olympic Odysseus (must be good if it was named for a Greek God). We  marveled at the reasonable price we were getting so soon were heading  home  to prepare for the “big trip.”  This included visas for  Brazil and yellow fever shots for Africa, then  we were on our way.    Enroute, we had an overnight stop in Atlanta and arrived just in time for a torrential rain storm.  It didn’t slow us down though, we visited  CNN and watched some of shows  being taped.  
The next morning we continued our flight south and eventually landed in Rio de Janiero which I found had changed a lot since my previous trip  fifteen years before.   Our shuttle bus was waiting and we quickly headed to the dock for our ship, but when we got there we couldn’t see a cruise ship, only an old rundown boat (in car terms, think clunker) which was quite small and had obviously seen better days.  We went closer and looked at the side – Odysseus was the name painted in bold letters.  After the initial shock, we realized this was it so we headed through customs and up the gangplank where we were welcomed aboard. We eventually learned that this ship was quite old and had been owned by a number of cruiselines  before being acquired by the Greek company.  It had a passenger capacity of 400 but because we were on a long repositioning cruise, the ship was far from full, in fact there were only 128 passengers.   The cabins were spacious but one would have to be generous to consider them as good as utility grade.  The kitchen was down the hall from us and all the crew were smokers so there was always the smell of smoke seeping into the room.  Some of the entertainers were in the next room and they tended to party late at night.  Nevertheless, it looked like an exciting adventure was about to begin and the  passengers were quickly getting to know  each other.  One of our table companions introduced herself as the owner of  a motel in Florida and proceeded to tell us how much she needed this holiday because she worked so hard cleaning up the messes left by foreigners in her establishment.   When we mentioned that we were Canadians  she quickly added a footnote to her story and explained that her Canadian customers were always very clean.  I found that reassuring.
There were many adventures including a day tour of Rio de Janiero which included visiting the very famous Corcovada, Christ the Redeemer statue.  Finally,  we set sail and our first stop was Salvadore, Brazil for another day of touring, then out to sea where we began our trip across the Atlantic Ocean.  When we reached  the equator there was an initiation ceremony held by Neptune and his helpers for first time crossers.  My husband  had crossed before so he just sat and laughed as I had spaghetti and tomato sauce dumped on me (we were told to wear our bathing suits) and then hosed down and given a certificate as proof of participation.  There was a small swimming pool on board so after a good hosing down, everyone jumped into the pool.
We had good weather for the crossing, days  around 90 F., and a little cooler  in the evenings.  After dinner we had a number of  guest lecturers who gave us  presentations on various topics including the history of cruise ships.  There were dancers who performed on several occasions and had doubled as Neptune's helpers during our initiation ceremony.   Safety was important, especially when it came to fire prevention.  A crew member who was responsible for the alarm system on board would check out the fire alarm system at various stations on the ship at set times throughout the day.  One of the alarm systems was at the edge of the stage in the entertainment area.  Each evening, as we were watching a cabaret show or a comedian the safety inspector would walk up to the stage to check the fire alarm.  Early on in the cruise it became obvious that this would become a daily practice and the audience soon started clapping when he would enter the room.   It took us six days to cross the Atlantic and putting one’s clock ahead by an hour each day is a challenge to getting a good sleep at night but we were usually so tired at the end of the day that we slept no matter what the time was.  The  ship’s crew did a good job  keeping us entertained and we met many interesting people including a former ambassador.
Finally it was "Land Ho" as we  reached the Canary Islands, then to Africa and Dakar, Senegal, a place of extreme poverty.  We  bought a number of souvenirs but since we had not booked a tour we were hesitant to go very far from the dock.  I remember being approached and asked  for  soap.  The next day was the Greek Easter celebration and  the Captain, first officers and crew performed Greek dances for us.  We continued to Lisbon, Portugal,  Barcelona and Cadiz, Spain and  toured a fascinating place called Alhambra.  Our tour guide for Alhambra was a Spanish man who surprised us when he started talking Japanese to some other tourists.  He noticed our bewilderment and exclaimed that his mother was Japanese and that was why he was fluent in Japanese as well as Spanish and English.  Alhambra had amazing architecture and a strong colourful history.
The journey continued with something new every day including Messina, Sicily (where we could see Mount Etna in the distance) the Isle of Capri (where I got lost for about an hour when our tour guide took off her red coat and I couldn't find her)  Rome, Monte Carlo and eventually, because we were on a small ship, we were able to go through the Corinth Canal to Greece. This was a canal that had been started by Napoleon but not completed until much later. We had a full day in a small Greek town and the next day we docked in Athens and were ready to head home.  The ship was sold not long after that but for us, it had been an  unforgettable adventure.  There was one final twist however.  Our shuttle bus to the airport was delayed because a woman had lost her luggage.  Eventually it was found and we were finally on our way with little time to spare.  We ran into the airport, checked our luggage, went through customs and onto our plane.  As we were about to take off we were informed that the baggage handlers had just gone on a wildcat strike and would not continue loading our luggage.  When we got home only one bag arrived with us.  The other had to be retrieved from the airport a week later.