Enchanted with the splendor and grace of the sailing ship, a masterful creation of those who designed and constructed this work of art, I fell for the romance of sailing the frothy seas that inspired waves of passion for life as the salt air wind blew away doubts and dreams unfurled.
I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Questions and Concerns
In an earlier post, Paranoid Traveler or Conscious Consumer?, I questioned whether I should make this trip. Weighing the prospect of ISIS lurking off the coast of Libya, I decided to go ahead with my travel plans. Therefore, I returned to the sea once again, inspired by my recent sailing adventure off the coast of Maine on a windjammer, the Mary Day. On this trip, the Star Clipper, tallest sailing ship ever built, transported passengers and crew across the Mediterranean, starting in Lisbon, Portugal, 17 days at sea, stopping at ports along the way, disembarking in Athens.
Because of the recent terrorist attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Star Clipper authorities decided that the ship would not stop at Tunis, as previously planned. The attack on the Bardo Museum, one of our planned excursions, made the tragedy of lives lost even greater for me. Cruise management also removed Pantelleria, an Italian island off the coast of Tunisia, from the ports of call. The Tunisian people transitioned to a democracy after the Arab Spring and installed a secularist-led government. Extremists target such initiatives. On March 29, 10,000 Tunisians marched through Tunis in solidarity against those who would threaten their democracy.
Before the March 18 attack on the museum, I was already feeling I might be taking on an adventure that might be more than I could handle. Some friends questioned whether it was safe for a woman to travel by herself and on a sailing vessel, which is far removed from the typical cruise ship experience. Without elevators, passengers must navigate narrow staircases and a steep gangway. The ship rocks in the waves and tilts at an angle on the downwind side. Star Clipper is a working ship which means stepping over ropes and ducking under booms. Nevertheless, photographing sea and landscapes from a sailing vessel outweighed any imagined risks. One of the best observation points will be from the crow’s nest, by climbing up the rigging for 360-degree views from the top of the mast. From there I can shout, “Land A-Hoy!” and point to the horizon . . . aways wanted to do that, like in the movies.
I searched for blogs recording a similar sailing adventure. The closest journal I found was Mark Twain’s, Innocents Aboard, a humorous account of his travels on the Mediterranean onboard a side-wheel steamer in 1897. As I do my version of what Twain subtitled his journal, The New Pilgrims Progress. I hope that you’ll join me by participating in the comment’s section.
Dark Side of Tourism
Three continents border the Mediterranean, creating the cradle of world civilization, connecting people from different cultures. I’ve read an overview of historical accounts of aggression, invasion and conquest. Any territory bordering the Mediterranean or island surrounded by that sea has been repeatedly screwed over, yes, I’ve said it, screwed over–for the word conquest sounds sanitized, and the second definition: winning of favor or affection, softens the horror that followed invaders. Many civilizations carry the blame: Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Ottoman Turks, Normans and throw in the Crusaders and the Barbary pirates, and it seems like Mediterranean people have never had a moment’s peace, even up to the present moment with ISIS controlling territory in Syria and threatening attacks on Italy, putting that country on high alert. Little more than one hundred miles separates the Sicily from the Libyan coast.
Why are conquering civilizations called “great” or “golden”? What mechanisms spawned those grand titles, achieved through madness and mayhem, causing endless personal tragedies, rarely recorded in history books or on tours? Dark Tourism, defined narrowly as travel to any sites associated with death, more broadly can apply to visiting almost any place on earth! Making pilgrimages to graveyards or catacombs fits the obvious definition, but if we scratch below the façade of any place, we experience Dark Tourism.
Long before the attacks on Tunisia, I had researched one of the planned tours to the ancient city of Carthage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One tour described Carthage as “perpetuating values of openness and exchange.” The ancient city stands in ruins today, scattered stones and standing columns representing architecture that once housed the civilization. Archaeologists who study the evidence, uncovered other layers of culture. I read in horror that Carthaginians sacrificed their own infant children, and the civilization relied on slave labor. It is extremely difficult to feel impressed with their architectural prowess given that the Carthaginians conscripted prisoners of war into the service of backbreaking stone masonry. If these people killed their own children, one can only imagine how they treated their slaves.
I am not planning a gloomy travel experience; I want to learn history of the region and appreciate art and geography of these countries. I’m in a stage of my life that I realize every moment is precious. I want to climb the ship’s mast, hike rolling hills, explore castle passages, find spring wild flowers poking out from the rocks or photograph children playing in the village alleyways. Like Mark Twain, who wrote in the Preface of Innocents Aboard, this is a journal of a “pleasure trip” and not an effort at historical documentation. The discerning traveler/blogger might still be able to share some degree of insight of a culture based on their experience. Right? Will I be wondering, I am safe?
A Traveler or Tourist?
How does one evolve from a tourist to a traveler or is that even possible? Is a tourist a passive observer where travel becomes a commodity rather than an experience? Is searching for places that are “less touristy” a desirable goal or is almost any form of travel superficial? What if the tours present a “Disneyization” of a place, the stripping away the culture and presenting either sanitized interpretations or theater that presents tourists with big doses of what the tourists think represents a culture.
For example, I found a tour in Tangier that included riding a camel, seeing a snake charmer, watching “local” entertainment and visiting a market. I could argue that tour is the reality for all of those folks who are entertaining the tourists, but do these tours reinforce our stereotypes? Tourism is big business, and the economy of Tangier relies on tourism, so tours tend to recreate expectations. Is it possible to explore and discover less theatrical cultural practices?
Perhaps being aware of these questions is the first step in understanding these complex issues.
The Question of Sustainable Travel
Air travel, unfortunately, is responsible for between 2% and 3% of carbon emissions, ballooning my carbon imprint. Planes are inefficient and use toxic fuels. At present, few technological advances fix this situation. This ecological problem creates a question whether I should travel at all by air.
Sunday, 5 April, Philadelphia to Lisbon
At 5:30pm breezed through all ticket and security non-existent lines. Only a slight delay because I was wearing a sweater with a metallic thread, which required a total pat down. Note to self: avoid metallic sweaters at the airport.
I just sat down in the departure lounge, when the authorities began investigating a duffel bag without an owner and removed the offending luggage. Airport officials repeatedly warn passengers about leaving suitcases unattended, and yet folks still leave their baggage behind.
Across the hallway from the departure gate stood a currency exchange booth so I thought I might ask about exchanging some dollars for Eros, just to have a few on hand when I land. The exchange charge: $10 for $20! I wasn’t going to be hoodwinked even before I left Philadelphia. I decided to wait until I arrived in Lisbon and pick up money at an ATM.
Monday 6 April, Lisbon, Portugal
A photograph of a little yellow tram-car against the backdrop of a twisted alleyway on a cobblestone street, enticed me to visit Lisbon. National Geographic lists the Lisbon trams in their top ten list of trolley rides. My affinity for trolleys began when I was a child. I grew up next to the Red Arrow Trolley Line that ran in the back of my childhood neighborhood, in times past when we looked forward to riding the trolley to the 69th Street shopping district.
Tram Number 28
When public transportation takes on a mystic quality, I will not miss the ride. My experience with the hair-raising Amalfi Coast bus ride comes to mind. I always prepare references of places I plan to see and “visit” locations on Google maps and still I didn’t find the right place to pick up the tram in the historic Amalfa section of Lisbon. I was proud of myself for negotiating a metro transfer, only to arrive at the Martim Moniz Plaza and wonder if I was lost. I stood at a tram station for 20-minutes. A man wearing a transport vest looked like a good candidate to set me straight, and he affirmed I was in the right place, but the next tram that stopped was the Number 12, not 28! I decided to explore around the plaza, turned the corner . . .
Ah, yes, I should have scouted out the stop with the long queue. I thought a rainy day in April would be a safe bet against the hoards of tourists. As the rain intensified, everyone, including myself, stood our ground as we waited patiently for Tram 28 to arrive until we, too, could be squeezed into the trolley car. Many of the guidebooks warned against pickpockets, but with the cacophony of foreign languages and folks holding city maps while taking cell phone photos, there was no room for pickpockets . . . just hawkers selling umbrellas at inflated prices.
The Lisbon trams, once drawn by horses, have a steampunk quality, with their 20th-century fittings and polished wood. The vintage cars, built over seventy years ago, sport bright yellow paint. The narrow cars jounce (made up word) through cobbled streets and narrow alleys, like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from Disneyland–with sudden turns, avoiding what would seem to result in an inevitable crash. The tram wheels, positioned at the center of the car rather than at the ends, made the trolley seems to float over the tracks.
Dark Tourism at its Best
I stayed on the trolley, with a mysterious transfer to another, to the end of the line. I never did quite figure out their system but reached the last stop, the Prazeres, for my verified Dark Tourism experience. Ironically named “Cemetery of Pleasures,” the spot had an otherworldly feel, the rainy day contributing to the misty atmosphere. Lines of Cyprus trees stretched toward the sky, breaking up the line of marble buildings. This cemetery reminded me of our visit to the Cimetiere Du Pere-Lachaise in Paris, where many of the rich and famous found their last resting place. Seems that Europeans like to build stone villages to the departed, perhaps trying to create immortality in stone. Each mausoleum declared its own personality, with a variety of sculptures decorating the façade. Elaborate doors served as the entrance, either painted or with intricate ironwork in front of a window. Each building had a strange quality of enticing visitors to look into the little houses while still conveying an eerie caution. I couldn’t help but peek through the windows to see alters with pictures, as well as the coffins. I would have lingered longer, but as the rain spilled over my umbrella, the bone-chilling dampness, no pun intended, drove me back to find the trolley.
Tram Stop: Castelo de S. Jorge
The trolleys stop at over thirty locations, and I found it challenging, if not impossible, to figure out exactly where we were at any one time. I did have a list of stops, but small print on the station signs were difficult to read and the conductor did not make announcements. In any case, every stop along the way looked like a great place to get out and explore so it didn’t matter about missing the stop for Castelo de S. Jorge and having to walk back. The massively huge castle, which dates back to the 11th Century, sat atop the tallest of Lisbon’s seven hills. A shaded courtyard spread out toward expansive views of the city and surrounds, providing a great perspective of the area. The Tagus River, sparkling in the sun, surrounded the landscape.
Viewing from the ramparts, I looked down into the neighborhoods of Alfama. Cottages and castle stood together as extreme contrasts in size and style.
I walked up and down the steps of the ramparts, being careful not to lean too far over the short walls. Steep steps provided a workout; with so many interesting places around every corner, I wanted to see all of it. At the archaeological site, I viewed the ruins of the Moorish quarter. Before the Moor invasion, other civilizations occupied the site dating back to the Iron Age.
Lunch with a Peahen
Peacocks and peahens sat in the trees and paraded around the café. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen peacocks of such size. When the male spread his feathers, he needed at least ten feet. I bought a baguette for lunch and settled down at an outside table. Can you enjoy a meal while being watched? A peahen took an interest in my sandwich cocking her little head as I tried to dissuade her with a conversation littered with, “no, no.” For a Portuguese bird, my words did not translate, but being a persistent creäture, she was eventually rewarded with a handout, which worked for her and provided me with the knowledge of why these birds were so large.
I hopped back on the trolley and then the Metro to my hotel. Lisbon’s Metro was easy to negotiate and surprisingly spiffy and clean. Shiny blue tiles lined the walls along with the series of escalators that carried passengers to lower levels. Not a single piece of paper littered the floors. Crowds jammed into the cars at rush hour. A fistfight broke out right in front of me, the result of pushing and shoving that jostled passengers caught in the crush. A woman on the platform broke up the fight, leaving the two agitators apart as the doors shut on the car and separated the two.
With four fitful hours of sleep on the plane the previous evening and a full day of exploring, I fell into bed exhausted, as the “Trolley Song” came into my head,
Clang, clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Chug, chug, chug went the motor
Bump, bump, bump went the brake
Tuesday 7 April, Lisbon, Portugal
Surviving a Migraine
A throbbing migraine struck in the middle of the night; the pain was so severe, I didn’t know whether my medication would work. I thought my plans might include a trip to the hospital. A hot shower offered the only other relief, so I spent an hour with water running down my face. The pain slowly lifted but left me worn out. Finally, by noon, I recovered enough and decided to visit Sintra after all.
I found the way to the Rossio Station via the Metro. Trains departed every twenty minutes, I used my Lisbona card, which included all public transportation in the city, to get a ticket. I settled in for the hour ride through the suburbs of Lisbon. Apartment buildings, cream-colored and whitewashed topped with red tiles, clustered in the towns. Built in the 1950s style, aluminum windows lined the front of the well-worn buildings. Residents hung laundry on lines that extended from window ledges.
As the train pulled into the Sintra station, colorful houses trimmed in ironwork lined the streets. With three locations on my agenda and with the late start, I didn’t linger in town. For five Euros, the bus brought tourists up the mountain. It is possible to walk up to the castles, but visitors would have to build in hours of extra time to do the climb. The crowded bus negotiated hairpin turns as it chugged up the mountain. I was glad I had a seat.
Steps of the Moorish Castle, Pena Palace, and Quinta Da Raglaeria
I got off the bus at the first stop at the ruins of the Moorish Castle, built around the 9th century when Muslims ruled over the Iberian peninsula. A wooded path, shaded by evergreen trees and surrounded with purple flowers covering the hillsides, led to the entrance. Stone walls on top of sheer cliffs followed the contour of the mountain. I climbed up the steep steps to the ramparts where I viewed the expansive landscape, the sea to one side, and the village of Sintra below. Walking along the battlements, I had to be careful to avoid toppling over the edge as there were no handrails, and passing another visitor meant standing flat against the stone walls.
I returned to the bus stop for the next leg of the journey to Pena Palace, built by King Ferdinand in the mid-1800s. It took about an hour wait in line to buy a ticket. In high tourist season, folks must wait for hours to buy a ticket. For three extra Euros, I purchased transportation up the hill to the palace. Most tourists purchased the extra transportation ticket rather than walk the steep incline. Pena Palace, painted with bright colors, stood on the pinnacle of the mountain. I liked the color palette, such a refreshing change from dark stone that define most other stately palaces. The towers and gates looked as if they came out of a storybook.
The bus brought us back to town, where I got off for a short walk to the Quinta Da Raglaeria, a gothic palace dating back to 1697. The house stood majestically at one corner of the property, a perfect example of what one would imagine a haunted mansion with its pinnacles and gargoyles, the work of architect Luigi Manini in 1910. Mysteriously, somehow I accidentally switched a button on my camera to black and white, which worked in this case, reflecting the eerie atmosphere.
The gardens were equally mysterious with secret stairways going every which way. Moss covered benches built into the walls beckoned visitors to sit for a moment and listen to the birds. Stone pathways led past towers, waterfalls, statues and grottos. A pond spilled into four cave-like structures. I strolled to the far end of the gardens where a stage included a Juliet balcony. An underground tunnel weaved through the landscape, and I followed the damp and dark labyrinth to an opening on the other side. I thought what a magical place for children to play.
The sidewalk outside the grounds displayed a six-pointed star mosaic pattern. No detail was overlooked in creating this mysterious and magical place.
Wednesday 8 April, Lisbon, Portugal
The Riverfront at Belém
My plan for the morning was to visit the Belém neighborhood at the riverfront. The hotel staff recommended taking the bus, but I miscalculated exactly where the tourist sites were, despite my extensive research, and the bus ride lasted longer than I expected. I repeated my question to the bus driver at several stops, “Is this Belém?” The patient driver finally signaled for me to get off. Fortunately for me, English is a required subject in Portuguese schools, and I had no trouble clarifying directions, well, most of the time.
I walked along the Targus River taking photographs, including the Monument to the Discoveries, in which statues of famous explorers stand before the river. From the point of view of the conquered people, I thought the face of one of the sculptures best captured what might have been their experience with Europeans, who came to exploit their resources and their souls, the cross providing the justification to do so. For all their celebrated fame, and in some cases fortune, these entrepreneurs were as oblivious as their concrete representations to the cultural destruction that would follow in their wake.
After stopping briefly at Belém Tower, I caught Bus 729, recommended by Google Maps to get me back to my hotel. I checked with the bus driver, showing him my map, and he nodded in approval. About 25 minutes into the ride, I realized something was amiss. We traveled on highways, toured the suburbs, and passed several universities but no sign of my hotel. I thought time to check with the driver again. “Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “Get off now and take bus 746!” I made it back to my hotel just in time to meet my pre-arranged transport to Star Clipper.
Boarding the Star Clipper
I stood on the pier studying the ship that would be my home for seventeen days. A little longer than a football field, the Star Clipper, with the nautical title of a square-rigged barquentine, rested majestically, white and gleaming, against the dock, her tall masts extending into the evening sky. The vision for this ship came from Mikael Krafft, a Swedish-born industrialist and real estate developer, who invested $80 million, constructing two ships, Star Flyer and Star Clipper, completed at a Belgian shipyard in 1992.
The paperwork check-in process went smoothly. The ship officers confiscated passenger passports, replaced with a picture ID, to ease on and off processes. My original cabin assignment, the lowest price-Category 6, in the bowels of the craft, was upgraded to a room with a porthole! The ship had not been booked to full capacity, and I learned later that because a fellow passenger negotiated for a single-supplement, I was bumped up to Category 5. (Many thanks to Allan for my inadvertent upgrade.) The room, compact and comfortable, held three narrow closets, a small desk area, a seat and a double bed.
The ship pushed off from the dock and began a series of maneuvers. Rather than heading right out to sea and under the Vasa de Gama Bridge, Star Clipper sailed in the opposite direction, only to complete a full circle and begin the exercise again. An announcement clarified that the ship had to adjust the sextant.
Views of the nighttime cityscape passed before us, the lighting catching the details of the buildings. As the ship left the dock, the theme from “Conquest of Paradise” from the movie 1492 played to the wind–the beginning of an epic adventure as Star Clipper sailed up the shadowy river and into the sea of darkness.
After unpacking, I made by way through the maze of hallways below deck to the dining room. Dinner served cruise-fancy, which I describe as small portions on a large plate with garnish and artistic arrangement. I dinned with two other couples from the States. Veterans of the Star Ship cruises, the couples talked about the relaxing atmosphere of these cruises. That description did not resonate with me just then because I had already begun to feel woozy, despite taking several seasick meds, and such a feeling was far from relaxing. Most passengers were seasoned travelers and represented Europe, the US, and Australia; the crew also had an international flavor with the Philippines, Indonesia, and India represented. Announcements came over the intercom in English, German and French.
By the time dinner was over, the seas began to swell. The ship followed a shipping lane 35 miles off the southern coast of Portugal, and Peter, our Bavarian cruise director, announced that rough sailing awaited us. I collapsed into the high bed, which only had one cover. The sea air, chilled and damp, seeped into the room requiring that I put on extra layers of clothing and search for blankets. The ship rocked and swayed both back and forth up and down. With each swell, my brain sank into the pillow while my stomach floated in space. I tried not to think unpleasant thoughts . . . one, two, three o’clock, time passed slowly as I listened to the waves pound rhythmically against the bow: THU-UMP!, splash, splish, and repeat, like being caught inside a washing machine with the turbulence just outside the round window. I finally fell into an uncomfortable sleep.
Thursday 9 April, At Sea
The Star Clipper plowed through the waves of the Atlantic speeding along at between 9 to 14 knots (10-16 mph) by wind power, assisted by the diesel motor. I felt somewhat better but unable to do much. I couldn’t bear to think of writing either by hand on the computer. First on the agenda, find the nurse to ask how often I can take seasick meds. The package read that one or two pills every day. Crew members do many tasks, and I found the ship nurse, a young man, tidying up in the bar. He suggested that I could take one pill every eight hours, so I immediately took another. Evidently, he was qualified as he delivered a baby during one of the other cruises. I managed to eat some breakfast, but can’t say I enjoyed it.
I occupied time by attending an exercise class and walking around the ship. Fresh air, the nurse recommended. The crew unfurled the white sails against the blue sky, and I watched the billowing sails catch the wind. When the crew finished their tasks, I stood alone at the bow, with no land in sight and only the sound of the sea splashing against the hull. An occasional container ship passed by, and several whales briefly swam along the port side. The water in the swimming pool splashed over the sides. The schedule included an aerobics class in the pool, but I could not imagine unbundling my winter coat, let alone getting into the pool.
As part of our daily routine, Peter presented his mid-morning “story time” about upcoming ports, shipboard events, and an introductory lecture to the Star Clipper. One amazing fact Peter mentioned: theoretically the ship can recover even if it tips over 110 degrees. Well, that was reassuring given the heavy seas we experienced these last two days.
Every evening we received a newsletter that described the day’s schedule, menus, sea quotes, history of the next port, and nautical information. I saved every newsletter because it provided such useful information. Other activities included exercise sessions and games. Most passengers avoided the sun deck because there was no sun, only the wind. A passenger told me that on other cruises, you’ve got to stake your claim to a deck chair early in the morning.
The sea calmed from a four-meter rise to a two-meter rise, and I could finally compose on the computer, finding a central place in the bar area, where the swells had less effect.
One would think that with an entire day at sea that might leave too much free time. I was busy checking the schedule for activities, and especially not to miss any meal times. Organizing and finding items in the cabin, charging batteries, reading the daily brochures, taking photographs and videos, attending lectures and writing, these activities made the day go by quickly. I purchased an hour of Internet for 6 Euros, which took over ten minutes to connect and even longer to disconnect.
Around mid-afternoon, the crew would set up a spread of food, usually sandwiches, cakes, and other goodies for the cocktail hour. If I have as much as two sips of anything alcoholic, the agony of a migraine will radiate through my head. Other folks did not have trouble with migraines and could enjoy the cocktail of the day, prepared by our Russian bartender. Lately, I’ve watched the British murder mysteries: Foyal’s War, Grantchester, Father Brown, Death in Paradise, and Inspector Morse and the amount of wine, whiskey, vodka and beer that characters imbibe leaves me wondering how these detectives can find their magnifying glass, let alone solve a crime. What exactly am I missing? As passengers lounged around the bar, partaking of the fruit of the vine and spirits, I buried myself in my laptop, engrossed in writing the blog. I guess we all have our addictions.
Star Clippers caters very well for vegetarians. Vegetarian selections are always available at the breakfast and lunch buffets, and a vegetarian option is available for each dinner. I’m not a foodie, so I’m appreciative of almost any dish, especially if someone is cooking it for me. Even if the octopus is a Mediterranean delicacy, after staring into the large, soulful eyes of the Dumbo Octopus as his little ear flaps propel him through the water, octopus and his relatives are off the menu for me.
Tripping the Waves Fantastic
Because I had felt so tired in the evenings, I didn’t think that I would, for any reason, be up past ten o’clock, but as I was walking through the tropical bar, Balasz, the cruise musician from Hungry, played keyboard and sang “Yellow Submarine,” the assembled dancers singing along. Folks were having such a good time, I joined the dance line; Balasz played Beatles‘ music, after all! The high waves, which had earlier become so tiresome and annoying, transformed into the rhythm of the dance. Dancers pranced down the deck as the ship rocked, only to be pushed back up the other side as the waves peaked and the ship rose up again. For over an hour, without stopping, we danced with the waves.
Friday 10 April, Tangier, Morocco
We wanted something thoroughly and uncompromisingly foreign—foreign from top to bottom—foreign from center to circumference—foreign inside and outside and all around—nothing anywhere about it to dilute its foreignness—nothing to remind us of any other people or any other land under the sun. And lo! In Tangier we have found it.
― Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
I never thought I would visit Morocco, from my perspective, an exotic far-away land, that might be a scene from the Arabian Nights. When I was a girl, my parents bought tickets for the musical, Kismet, playing at the Valley Forge Music Theater. Howard Keel acted the lead, and I can still visualize his dashing image, with saber and silk embroidered cape, standing on the stage. Those are the stereotypes I find myself referencing when I think of Morocco.
When I awoke and looked out the porthole, the African coastline stretched along the water’s edge. Green hills dipped into the sea and whitewashed buildings dotted the landscape. In the distance, clouds hovered over the mountain ranges.
As I stepped on the African continent, I felt thrilled at this first experience and also very grateful to no longer to be swaying. However, the feeling of being on board ship did not leave with standing on dry land. The ship’s motion stayed with the body . . . was the ground moving?
A huge cruise ship docked next to Star Clipper unloaded passengers, who strolled past our ship in a continuous stream to the customhouse. Gleaming white modern buildings lined one side of the harbor, but most tourists came to Tangier to absorb the atmosphere of the winding lanes of the old city, Medina, perhaps to haggle over handicrafts, jewelry or clothing. Peter reminded us that street peddlers and shop keepers expected customers to bargain, adding, “If you bargain, you will be cheated less.”
I signed up for the “Secrets of Tangier” city tour. A lively and entertaining tour guide dressed in a kaftan presented a brief history of Morocco, as the bus traveled up the hills, past the exclusive areas of the city and returning to the middle-class neighborhoods, located closer to the center of town. Familiar with American culture, our guide studied at the University of Chicago and spoke of living in the Windy City. He led us through the streets, starting near the Kasbah. Boys followed us like puppy dogs, attempting to sell us gum. Developing their persistence skills, they spoke French pointing to the gum as we twisted our way through the alleys. I asked the guide if the boys were poor as they wore Western clothes and looked healthy and energetic. The guide replied that was difficult to tell their economic status. I asked why they were not in school, turns out they were on Easter break, which was hard to imagine that a Muslim country would make Easter a time off from school, any more than if Ramadan would be a holiday for US school children.
The guide brought us to a restaurant for a light snack. The place had an Arabian atmosphere with red oriental rugs on the floors, tiled walls, and metal lanterns. The colorful tea room was mesmerizing, as I caught reflections on the ceiling of green and red light from a lantern, the host pouring tea from a silver pot, and a stained glass window reflecting color on the back wall. The mint tea tasted refreshingly sweet, and the cookies had an unusual flavoring, very tasty. Three musicians played popular music and sang as our tour group sat at round tables eating round cookies.
We returned to the back alleyways to a predestined spot where a snake charmer and drummer presented a cobra for our enjoyment and a tamer snake for posing for photographs. I asked the guide about the custom of snake charming. He said that snakes were common in Morocco, and storytelling usually accompanied snake charming.
The guide led us through a labyrinth of alleyways to the Grand Socco and then to the market, not that different from Philadelphia’s Reading Market, with stand after stand of vegetables, fruits, spices and meats.
We then had just twenty minutes to wander through the shops. Vendors stepped out from their stores, enticing us with merchandise and “reasonable” prices. Professional street sellers approached us with leather handbags, bracelets, scarves, and bongo drums. The guide warned us that everything we would see is “junk,” but the sellers had a right to earn a living. One vendor asked that I not take a photograph of his shoe shop, but I had snapped the picture just before he objected. I wanted to stop and spend time looking at the merchandise, but the pressure to buy was too strong to take any time to look over what was available. Blogger, ambigram0, offers comedic advice on The 5 Discount Offered by Moroccan Street Hawkers if you are visiting Morocco and looking for tips on street negotiations.
As we passed by the various quarters, the American, Spanish, Jewish, the guide mentioned with pride, as on several other occasions, how Moroccans of different religions live together peacefully. He also said that there is nothing in the Koran about dress requirements. On the street, men and women wore modern clothes, as well as traditional garments and a combination of both styles. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon in this fascinating old city, from the marketplaces’ shadowy streets to the open plazas but was mostly taken by the people, with the range of traditional colorful clothes and embellishments.
Cats! . . . everywhere, sitting in alleys or wandering through the markets, but they looked healthy for street cats. Throughout the town, I noticed dishes of water left on doorsteps, and on several occasions, I saw men emptying bags of kibbles on the street, as cat gathered for a handout. A communal care system appeared to be in place to take care of the cats.
The Emperor of Morocco is a soulless despot, and the great officers under him are despots on a smaller scale.
― Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
At the risk of being carted away by the Moroccan police, I’d decided to post this critique after we sailed away from Tangier. Not much has changed with regard to the emperor controlling the politics of the nation. During the Arab Spring 2011, the King made superfluous changes to the constitution as concessions to reform. The King still retains almost absolute political power; Amnesty International offers a grim report on restricted freedoms. Why military men patrolling the streets carried machine guns, I’m not sure. I thought about the ISIS threat and their attempts to disrupt peaceful coexistence, or were the soldiers keeping a watchful eye on their own countrymen?
After being escorted back to the ship. I collapsed into sleep. The noise of the ship disembarking suddenly woke me up, and I headed up on deck as “Conquest of Paradise” played over the loud-speaker while the ship pulled out of port. One of our passengers missed the ship and a pilot-boat brought him out to the ship; Star Clipper drifted in the bay for several hours waiting for the passenger, who paid for his misstep, as waves tossed the pilot-boat like a cork in the water, nose-diving down into the foam and bobbing back up.
Star Clipper traveled on the busy shipping corridor, and we could view both the Spanish coast and Africa. A cold wind blew across the deck; I took several photographs, then settling in a quiet spot in the library.
Saturday 11 April, Motril, Spain
In his morning storytime, Peter presented a historical overview of the Straights of Gibraltar, which we couldn’t view in daylight because we had to wait for that lost passenger to get on board.
Motril, a small port town, in the Spanish region of Andalucia on the Costa Tropical, is the gateway to Granada, the old capital of Moorish Spain. Passengers could choose to visit the world heritage site, the palace of Alhambra. Before I left on this trip, I spent several hours touring the palace online on their comprehensive website. I opted for the alternative tour to Las Alpujarras, Spain’s southern mountains of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range to visit the ancient Andalusian villages.
Cathy, our guide, and Ricardo our driver provided guidance on this journey. The bus climbed into the mountains, and we watched the scenery pass by as we snaked along a river gorge. Heavy rain clouds hovered over the mountains obscuring some of the views, but we still could see the terraced farmlands along the roadway.
Whitewashed buildings with red tile roof nestled in the valleys. The Spanish Muslims, who refused to convert to Christianity after 1492, fled into these little towns. However, the Spanish, who then repurposed the mosques into churches, eventually drove out the Moors in the 1600s. All the buildings and walls dated back four hundred years.
Climbing to 5,000 feet, the bus stopped in the town of Pampaneira, population around 400. White, box-shaped buildings with clay tile roofs clustered together in successive terraces. Carved wood pieces decorated some of the outside areas or used for signs. After a short tour of the village, we had an hour to explore on our own. I wandered through the back alleys, where a culvert diverted water down the middle of the stone sidewalk. The shops displayed a variety of rugs, leather goods, clothes and basket crafts. Some of the stores had working looms. I had only half an hour left to explore inside the shops. I purchased fig and rum chocolate, a compass and a few woolens, then rushed back to the parking lot to catch the bus.
Ricardo then drove us to Capileita, another whitewashed village further up the mountain. After a short tour, we had 15 minutes to explore on our own. The ship was on a tight schedule, and after our hurried overview of these villages, I had wished we had more time for taking pictures, shopping, or admiring their crafts.
We lunched in the village of Mecina, at small hotel in the valley. Cathy described our lunch as having lots of sausages, so I told the headwaiter to bring me a plate without meat and not to fuss. The waiter was kind enough to make me a special plate, which included a tomato rose, as a vegetarian replacement for the sausage soup. One of the other diners asked the waiter if she could have that, too, but he replied the dish was only for vegetarians. I guess they were afraid the special request would become the meal of choice, which might have been the case, as I noticed most did not eat the black sausages.
When we returned to the ship after excursion, the wait staff prepared a buffet of fancy sandwiches, fruit, cookies, cakes, and pineapple flambé over mocha ice cream. I repeatedly said to myself, “You will not go back for seconds.”
Sunday 12 April, At Sea, The Alboran Sea between Spain and Africa.
I slept soundly despite the return of the pounding of the waves against the bow, THU-UMP!, whish-wash. The sound of the waves was not consistent, so sudden hard hits startled me. Roller coaster dips followed the poundings. I put on my warmest clothes; today the schedule included a chance for passengers to climb up to the crow’s nest. I was the only one standing in line waiting as 40-mile an hour wind whipped around the ship, which rose and fell two meters with each swell. They canceled the climb, which seemed logical. We would try again tomorrow.
Peter presented another lecture on Mediterranean seafaring with the question, what was the most significant event of 1492. Peter’s argument for the Moors surrendering to the Spanish king because, without that event, Columbus could never have made the voyage.
After Peter’s talk, I spoke with Bill Strubbe, who was writing a travel review of Star Clippers for Passport Magazine. Bill will be returning to Israeli, living on a kibbutz, while spending the summers in California. Bill converted to Judaism, but still keeps an independent analysis of political issues, especially as they relate to Palestine. Bill asked me if I was traveling with a group, and I replied, “No I am just by myself.” Which he replied, “Well, that’s enough then,” referring to my qualification of “just.” Bill said sometimes folks say they are “just” friends with someone, qualifying friendship against partnerships, for example. Partners may come and go, Bill suggested, yet some friends stay with us our entire lives. When Bill publishes his article, I will highlight the link.
After lunch, I returned to my room to crawl under the covers to warm up, as my hands were cold. Rooms were unheated because the ship’s voyages usually take place in warmer waters. I swallowed a second seasick pill and was able to tolerate the rise and fall of the waves as I sat in bed with my computer. My stomach continued to rise and fall, regardless of the medication.
My plan had been that the days at sea would be set aside for writing time, but so far, I hadn’t accomplished much. I have to confess that the relentless sea tossing the boat up and down, hour after hour, became in some strange way, annoying. Watching the horizon from the window, first to disappear below the sill and then rise to over the top of the window, I could only pay homage to my seasick medication. According to the crew, their recent Atlantic crossing wasn’t as rough as this voyage. If the seas were calmer, I could enjoy the ship. Being on deck for any length of time, however, meant enduring wind and cold. The only time I felt warm on deck was during the mile walk, eight brisk circles around the ship. Unfortunately, the strong headwind and swells slowed the ship to such an extent that we did not reach land by the next day, missing our excursion. We expected another day of the same: wind, spray, and undulating waves.
Monday 13 April, Palma, Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
Capped in white, the heaving sea plummeted the bow with heavy pounding through the night. Gusting winds canceled the mast climb, yet again. Because of high seas and headwinds, Star Clipper could not reach its average speed, sometimes even slowing to four knots. Peter announced that he would have to cancel our tour of Mallorca as we would be arriving just after 8 o’clock, but we would have the evening to explore the city.
What I enjoy most about travel is writing and then uploading stories and photos to my blog. Using the onboard Internet had been aggravating because it was so slow, although other passengers reported that they had fewer problems with connections. When I attempted to send pictures, my computer froze. With minutes ticking by, I tried to log out, but the site just hung. At that moment, I realized I must let go of using the Internet entirely. I tried to think positively, wondering about life without any electronic connection?
Evening at Palma, Mallorca
Mallorca, the largest of the Baleares Islands off Spain’s Mediterranean coast, is a popular European resort; many pleasure crafts crowded the docks. Palma’s enormous Gothic cathedral towered over the harbor as our ship finally floated into port.
Because Peter had to cancel the city tours, I felt somewhat abandoned having to negotiate my way through an unfamiliar city. Peter suggested taking a taxi to the center of town, but I was uncertain about getting a taxi back again. We had less than three hours to return to the ship, and my best guess would be to allow at least thirty minutes for the trip into town, allowing for wait time. I wasn’t going to miss this chance to walk on shore, so I decided to throw caution to the wind, and make my way into town by bus. While waiting at the stop, three other passengers came along, Bert, who had visited the city before, assisted Tacy, Jeff and me on how to make our way to the cathedral. The bus continued on a one-way street through town, which meant that I lost the bus stop site to return to the ship. Bert gave us final directions to find the cathedral, as he sought out a tavern , and I tagged along with Tacy and her husband, Jeff, an avid photographer. Asking directions as we went along, we made our way through the maze of twisting lanes, keeping focused on the cathedral, views of the towers visible above the narrow alleys.
We were not disappointed with the photographic opportunities at the Palma Cathedral, Spain’s second-largest, built over 500 years ago. The night lighting made the building especially dramatic, with gargoyles decorating the exteriors. Tacy was especially skilled in pointing out photographic sites. Keeping an eye on the clock, we found a taxi driver, who said he would be willing to pick us up in 15 minutes after he dropped off his current passengers. Half hour went by, and with no sign of the cab driver, we decided to make our way to a taxi stand. For about ten Euros, we were back to the ship with half-hour to spare.
Tuesday 14 April, Mahon, Menorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
Into the Crow’s Nest
A dramatic change in the weather that brought a glassy-clear sea and bright sunshine opened opportunities to explore the ship. With only a light breeze, the crew permitted us to climb the mast. After being harnessed, I climbed the rope ladder to the crow’s nest. The climb required all my energy and concentration, not that it deserved that level of effort, but thinking about what I was doing, required that degree of focus. Standing on the crow’s nest, grand views of the ship and sea rewarded my effort. I made the climb and now was happy to descend the ladder.
A Tender View
A beautiful day set the stage for the ship’s routine of taking passengers out in the tenders to view the ship in full sail. Seeing the tenders swaying back and forth, I rushed back to my room for seasick meds and ginger gum, which by the way, seemed to work well to quell a queasy stomach. Santana, our tender driver, circled around the ship several times. With the white sails furled against the sky, the ship made an impressive sight against the deep blue sea, as folks clicked away with their cameras. A clipper ship at full sail was a breathtaking sight.
Into the Nets
With the winds quieted down, I walked out on the nets that extended from the bowsprit in front of the ship. The sea rushed underneath as I balanced on the netting just above the water. (Video clips in the Sailing Movie.)
Entrance to Minorca
Star Clipper rounded the Isla del Aire, marked with a black and white striped lighthouse and sailed through the deep harbor to the present capital of Mahon, three miles inland. Peter pointed out the sites as we passed the colorful buildings along the way. Star Clipped docked in the town center, which has an 18th-century British character, including many Georgian buildings.
For the start of our tour, “Magic of Minorca,” the bus drove through green hills divided by stone walls. These limestone walls are traditional structures on the island, where people 2,000 years ago constructed walls. Not giving up on their wall building, stonemasons were constructing new walls along the highway. The masons do not use cement but rather know the technique of piling the stones for stability.
Summit of Monte Toro
Monte Toro, the highest point on the island, was our first stop. From the vantage point, I could view the entire island. At the macro level, tiny flowers bloomed at my feet while the larger yellow round blooms were the most common. I admired a gate, built from olive tree branches, very strong trees that can endure the weather for many years. Our guide led us into the small church, where a carved wood image of the Virgin del Toro, patron said of Minorca, stood at the center of the altar. The guide told the story of Monte Toro, which takes its name from the bull (tora, in Spanish) that led monks to a rock in where the Virgin Mary had been carved into the rock.
Prehistoric Settlement of Taula de Torralba
Our next stop on the excursion was Taula de Torralba, a prehistoric talaiotic settlement dating from 2000-1000BC. These remarkable ruins, called the Taula, were T-shaped, with one huge rock resting on another. Because of evidence of fire and animal sacrifices, most archeologists believe that these structures may have been used as a sanctuary. These monuments are found only on Minorca. Stone towers and houses were scattered over the island, but generally favoring the southern region, as the winds are much less severe.
Our last stop was a walk through the 18th-century capital. By this time, I was totally wiped out physically and could not move from my seat on the bus as much as I wanted to see the town. My legs and arms ached from the mast climb that morning. I realized that climbing the rope ladder was difficult because my feet would sink into the rope requiring more energy to push up. What surprised me most about this sea journey was how I grew so tired for what seemed like not that much activity. I blamed my physical condition, but when I spoke with other passengers, they reported that they were taking naps and tiring easily, too. I attribute this to the physical energy it took to keep balanced while onboard the ship.
Doctor’s Conference on Board
A physician’s groups from Australia was on board for a conference, which was good to know that a dozen doctors would be available if one should need medical attention. One of the doctors, Richard, invited me to attend his lecture on opium, and since I had taken a photograph of what looked like a poppy-growing on a hillside, I decided to take advantage of his offer and attend the lecture. Richard wasn’t sure if the poppies on the hillsides of Spain were opium-producing.
Wednesday 15 April, At Sea
The weather cleared, so Star Clipper made good progress toward Trapani. Later in the evening, the crew, as well as some passengers, performed in a talent show. Large cruise ships present professional entertainment but could never produce a show with such a heartfelt and endearing showmanship. After the show, dancing continued well after midnight. Embarrassingly, several people mentioned my enthusiastic dancing to me the next day. I thought at that time, well, I’ll probably never see these folks again so no harm is done to my reputation–except by the end of the cruise, I came to the conclusion that I very well might see these folks again as our adventures may cross if we return to the Star Clipper. Besides, Mark Twain was right, “Dance like nobody is watching.”
Thursday 16 April, Trapani, Sicily
Sailing into Sicily’s western coast, Star Clipper entered the Trapani harbor early in the afternoon against a cloudless sky. A wall surrounded Trapani, and the ruins of a castle sat at the top of the hill. Trapani, because of its strategic position, endured conquering armies and occupations from the time the original people settled there. In World War II, the Americans bombed the town more heavily than any other place in Italy to drive out the Germans and in the process, destroyed most of the old town. What was rebuilt was not as esthetically pleasing as what the Allies had flattened.
Our guide, with bus and driver, met us at the pier for a quick tour of the center of Trapani before heading inland and up toward Erice, a medieval town on top of the cliff, 751m above sea level. Trees and flowers blooming in yellow covered the hillsides. We hardly noticed the many hairpin turns, being distracted by the expansive views of the city, bay, and surrounding islands. Luckily, Erice’s “own personal cloud” (as described in guidebooks) did not make its appearance. Shades of blue-colored the sea and the richly green plains extended to white-sand beaches.
As if we were on Star Trek’s holodeck, we returned to the 5th century, Erice’s founding date, after stepping through an arched gateway that led into the city. Squared stone sections paved the narrow streets, the stones made shiny and slippery from the people walking on them. We followed our guide through an alley to Erice’s principal church, the Chiesa Madre, or Real Duomo, dating back to the 14th century, when the Christians used the stones from the ancient Temple of Venus to build their church. Our guide said she would look forward to our reaction to the inside of the church. The ceiling of the interior, 19th century, neo-gothic, displayed incredible intricacy in design. At first, I thought my eyes were having problems adjusting from the bright sun to dark interior because the ceiling gradually transformed from yellow, then chartreuse, then blue and finishing with fuchsia.
While trying to absorb the guide’s historical narrative, the little shops continued to distract my attention. Famous for almond biscuits and pastries, shops spread out their candies and cookies in large cupboards. The shopkeepers were smart to offer samples, as I bought whatever I thought I could fit into my suitcase. Souvenirs spilled out into the medieval lanes. Many people frown on these cheap reproductions and schlocky artifacts, but I find them as interesting additions to the atmosphere while telling myself, “No, you will not buy another scarf from China,” or “Your niece does not need a wooden whistle.” Other stores displayed colorful china; in one store, artisans painted all the china in bright red.
We wound our way through the lanes to viewpoints overseeing the Tyrrhenian coast at the Western end of Sicily. An accordionist played for handouts while his little horse, dressed in traditional attire and supporting a colorful cart, waited patiently.
This little town was photogenic at every turn. As I looked down the alleys, I would catch views of the countryside. With distressed doorways, colorful window boxes, bell towers and elaborate ironwork fences, every moment seemed like a wonder of architectural interest. Cafés offered selections of cookies, cakes and coffee, and the chance to sit and enjoy the city before the trip down the mountain.
Friday 17 April, Porto Empedocle, Sicily, and Agrigente, Valley of the Temples
Star Clipper docked by nine o’clock so by late morning we were off on a four-mile bus ride to the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to visit the ruins of a city built in the 5th century BC when the area was a Greek colony. To say that “the Greeks built the Temples” is inaccurate. The Greeks directed temple building and skilled stone masonry, while Carthaginian slave labor worked in the rock quarries and lifted the stones into place.
Known as Agrigentoor Akragas in ancient times, the site of the ruins lies on a plateau overlooking the sea. Wildflowers bloomed around the ruins, and I wondered whether the same flowers were around at the time of their great prosperity, around 450 BC. Olive and almond trees grew in lines in the surrounding fields. The Temple of Concorde was the only structure still standing; the Christians added arches and repurposed the structure into a church from the 6th century AD into the 18th century.
Saturday 18 April, Valletta, Malta
I didn’t know much about Malta except to wonder about the country when their handful of athletes would march into the stadium during the Olympic games. Malta is an independent island just about in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. The Maltese language derived from an Arabic dialect developed in Sicily and Malta. In 1530, Charles V of Spain granted the island of Malta to the Knights of the Order of St. John. Many 16th-century limestone buildings and fortifications from the Knights have endured in the capital city of Valletta.
I will not go into the history of the Great Siege of Malta by the Ottoman Turks in 1565 except to say that the battle was one of the bloodiest episodes in human history. The link provides the history of the siege, but brace yourself for unimaginable brutality. According to Peter’s references, the battle changed history by containing Muslim influence in Europe.
Medieval Mdina Festival
Our guide and bus took us to Mdina, Malta’s old capital. We had the remarkable luck to arrive in the medieval city at the exact time the community festival began. As we strolled through the streets, costumed characters paraded in full regalia and very agreeably stopped to be photographed. In the courtyards, a stonemason demonstrated carving, a woman painted on a canvas, and a boy played the drum, as the actors readied for the grand parade. Falconers carried birds of prey perched on their arms.
From the narrow lanes, the parade ended in the main square to the drumbeat of a Venetian-red and Prussian-blue uniformed band. Women and men dressed as royalty, in contrast to a cart that carried battered prisoners in white tunics. An executioner with his fierce blade marched through the crowded streets. Helmeted men on horseback pranced by, and children carried chickens and rabbits in wooden cages. In the center square, flag-bearers presented a dramatic show of their skills, tossing their flags high in the air and retrieving them, synchronized to drum accompaniment. An all-girl drummer corp dressed in velvet tunics and caps stood in front of me, coördinated a thunderous beat as actors marched through the square. How extremely fortunate that we just happened to arrive in the city on the afternoon of this entertaining theatrical performance. With authentic costumes, beautifully crafted, and the backdrop of the old city, I felt transported, once again, to a medieval century.
We returned to Valletta, one of the earliest sites inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage list, for a tour of the town. We visited St John’s Cathedral, decorated with inlaid marble tombstones and monumental artwork. Valletta was heavily bombed during World War II, and the port buildings were destroyed, but by some miracle, the Cathedral was spared. The detailing could never be replaced, as stonemasons carved the intricate designs from local stone, after which artisans applied gold leaf.
From Barracca Gardens, the highest point of the 16th-century bastion wall, we could view the city surrounded by the bay.
Sunday 19 April, Syracuse, Sicily, Italy
Syracuse lies on the eastern coast of Sicily and is the capital of the province, but the city’s claim to fame is many well-know Greeks, including Archimedes, who called the city home. Cicero wrote that Syracuse was “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.”
As Star Clipper maneuvered into the harbor, passengers crowded on the deck to view ancient buildings along the shoreline.
Peter canceled all the scheduled tours because so few people signed up. For the second part of this cruise from Malta to Athens, about 50 passengers were on board, over 100 short of capacity. Many do not take the tours because they have previously visited these towns or they would rather tour the city on their own. Sunday was a cloudy day, and although we hoped that the sun would burn off the haze, we were not able to view Mount Etna.
Mount Etna’s Firey Display
In the weeks before I left on the trip, I checked the Internet for tours of the mountain. I discovered to my amazement, the volcano was erupting . . . at that moment!
Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, rises 11,000 feet from the sea. Sicily would not exist without the volcano, but Sicilians must deal with the effects of the eruptions, which sprinkles the neighboring towns with volcanic ash and rock. My question: With 900,000 people living on Sicily, aren’t officials concerned that the Mountain might blow up? The answer: because Mt. Etna spews lava, it is not a threat to the islanders.
On the Seawall at Ortygia Island
Our ship docked at the old town center on Ortygia Island. Crossing over a small bridge led to a plaza where vendors sold sunglasses, belts, cell phone cases, and watches. For some reason, balloons seemed to be popular in Syracuse as I hadn’t seen balloon vendors anywhere else. Along one side of the plaza, a gardener cut the grass between the ruins of an archaeological site. I wandered the maze of streets looking into the shops and taking photographs of architectural details on the buildings. Climbing up a small hill, I reached the seaside, where cafés faced the harbor. I followed the stone walkway that circumvented the island. Waves crashed against the ramparts, and I breathed deeply, taking in the aromatic seaside smell.
By the time I returned to town, most of the stores closed for lunch and the crowds thinned from earlier in the morning. I walked back to the ship in time for afternoon snacks.
Monday 20 April At Sea, Ionia Sea between Italy and Greece
Last night the relentless sea pounded the bow of the ship, and as the ship flew up toward the clouds and dipped into the depths of the sea, I laid awake listening to music, Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” and others. Eventually, I fell into a restless sleep, waking up groggy and disappointed that we might be facing another day of high seas, only to have that information confirmed by the First Mate.
Dining with the Jet Set?
Passenger shared interesting stories of their travels at dinner time, and tonight was no exception. Bill and I were talking in the lounge, so we stepped down to the dining room, joined by Allan, world traveler three times around, and Sandy and Fred, a couple from Chicago who had been to 90 and 125 countries, respectively. My fellow passengers tossed around global references of their travels like some of us refer to forays into our local cities . . .
” . . . we met us with cousins in Rwanda . . . the trail at Machu Piccho is a bitch . . . when we traveled by camel across the desert . . . we camped at the base of Mount Everest . . . and on and on. . . .
They discussed future travels, such as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or tenting in Sudan. Fred and Sandy shared stories of their acquaintances with famous opera singers, movie directors, and the royalty of Monaco. Still, they were regular folks who mentioned their humble beginnings and very much rooted in family life. I enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories of their fantastic adventures and found encouragement for myself to venture out into fantastic journeys.
Tuesday 21 April, Katakolon, Greece
We boarded our coach at the harbor at Katakolon, the gateway to Olympia, site of the first Olympic games, which began in 776 B.C. The first ten miles the Elias countryside, green hills, and white buildings, passed before me in a blur. I did notice piles of trash bags in clusters along the road. The guide responded to a question about the trash saying that citizens had the benefit of trash pickup, but because of the economic crisis in Greece, officials advocated for privatizing trash service. Somewhat distressed over the situation, she mentioned that officials also pressed for privatizing water. I sympathized with her concerns as privatization, in almost every case, turns out to be a bad idea for citizens. She expressed hope that the issue would be resolved soon. The landscape changed, faded blue mountains in the distance, and yellow and purple trees coloring the landscape, dark green pointed Cyprus trees lined the fields.
Olympia in Bloom
Many of the buildings had been destroyed when Theodosius, emperor of the eastern Roman Empire, outlawed the games as a pagan festival in 393 A.D. The entire area had been covered by water and mud, flooded by a nearby river. What remains today were the excavations begun in the 1970s, and we viewed the current excavation site, the depth of which showed how 8 yards of soil covered the area.
Wednesday 22 April, Monemvasia, Greece
Monemvasia lies on a small peninsula off the Peloponnesian east coast of Greece. Star Clipper sailed into the port as rain sprinkled down on the desks. The grey sky outlined the impressive rock, referred to as the Gibraltar of the East, extending out into the sea, connected to the mainland with a causeway. In days gone by, the rock was a fortress; the town of brown houses and red tile roofs nestled on the side of the rock.
The massive cliffs, streaked in colors of gray and orange, beckoned exploration of the island. The ship anchored offshore while the tenders ferried us to the causeway. For a Euro, a bus transported tourists to the city gate, but I opted to walk the mile to the opening. What a lucky choice because I would have missed the wildflower gardens blooming along the shoreline–poppies in red, thistles in blue and daisies in white and yellow. From that vantage, our ship floated in front of the mountains. The sun came out from behind the clouds, reflecting diamonds in the water.
On a small hill just off the road, a graveyard held the remains of past residents and famous Greek poet, Giannis Ritsos. Residents take pride in the graveyard, as caretakers pulled weeds and watered plants as I passed by the markers.
The only entrance, an arched gate led into the town. The well-preserved Byzantine port once was home to 60,000 people, while now a few hundred live in the community year-round. The narrow main street supported eclectic shops and inviting cafés. The proprietors warmly welcomed customers, taking time to answer questions but not pressuring to buy. I followed a zig-zagging pathway up the hill, accompanied by fellow passengers making the climb.
Thursday 23 April, Mykonos, Greece
Wind and Cold Prevail
As our ship approached the island of Mykonos, off the eastern coast of Greece, the winds picked up, flapping the sails and producing white caps. The wind created a heavy blowing sound that I had not heard before, and even though we had experienced stronger winds, these seemed more powerful. One huge wave lashed against the boat soaking all who stood on the port side. At that moment, I was standing on the starboard side attempting to soak up the warm rays of the sun. My room had been very cold that morning, my computer felt like a piece of ice, and the lounge offered only a cold breeze from the open doors. The piano lounge, just above the dining room, was where passengers connected to the Internet or to complain about it . . . difficulties logging on and off were common grievances.
As we went down the steps to the tender, we squeezed together to fit everyone in, and because it was cold! It was as close to cuddling that I was going to get, but I was taking it in both for warmth and comfort. We motored into the crescent-shaped harbor crowded with yachts and colorful fishing boats. Whitewashed buildings followed the curve of the wharf and tables spilling out from the cafés.
The land is warmer than the sea, so as we walked, we began to feel the warmth on our bones. Fred, Sandy, Allan, and I strolled along the whitewashed lanes. Fred, the ardent shopper, was not disappointed with this tourist town with its many souvenir shops, one claiming, “Genuine Greek Souvenirs.” Eager shopkeepers approached potential customers with offers of help. I wish I could have supported the local economy with a souvenir or two, but I filled my suitcase with edibles, and my house cannot take any more stuff. We debated whether to rent a land rover to tour the island but decided to stop for refreshments at one of the cafés along the harbor. We sat and chatted, enjoying the sunshine, protected from the wind. Along the waterfront, we watched the fishing boats and yachts coming in and out in the harbor. We all agreed it doesn’t get better than this to share with friends such a beautiful place.
As I was still full from breakfast, I passed on lunch and wandered through the maze of tiny streets toward the windmills, the iconic representation of the island. I purchased several bars of olive oil soap, a very popular commodity sold in Greece. All buildings represent the traditional Cycladic architectural style. The island passed building regulations that ensure that the character of the island stays firmly in place.
Windmills of my Mind
Circling through the city passageways, I eventually found a lane to the Venice Quarter and 18th-century district, where the buildings, trimmed in blue, green, and red perched on a sea wall. People sat in cafés admiring the view of the windmills that stood on the nearby hillside, looking like a picture postcard. The windmills are one of the most recognized landmarks of Mykonos. As far back as the 16th century, the island residents used the windmills to grind wheat, as they were famous for their bread. Now the windmills stood still but their whitewashed conic shape and their wind catchers’ delicate blades were striking against the blue sky. I understood why the Greek islanders selected blue and white as their iconic colors.
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find in
The windmills of your mind!
― Songwriters: Legrand, Michel / Bergman, Alan / Bergman, Marilyn
The Windmills Of Your Mind lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Our gang gathered for the Captain’s Dinner, a special celebration marking the end of the cruise. Typically, folks dress up and the food is upscale with lobster tail and other treats. At dessert time, the crew lowered the lights, and the waiters danced into the dining room carrying flaming Baked Alaska. We joined in, clapping, as the waiters escorted the desserts around the room. One waiter even balanced the plate on his head! Unable to curb the enthusiasm of the moment, our table broke into song, serenading our fellow diners. I was impressed by the attention to detail of the crew: when the waiters distributed glasses of champagne for the toast, they remembered that I don’t drink, and they gave me ginger ale in my flute.
Talent Show and Dance Party
Both passengers and crew performed at the talent show. The crowd appreciated every number, responding enthusiastically. AnnMarie sang, “Wouldn’t it be Loverly,” and Bill sang his personal rendition of “Sixteen going on Seventeen,” creating hysterics in the audience and from the crew on the sidelines. The crew put together their own dance interpretations. I’ve been on cruise ships where professionals entertain in large, showy venues, but none of that could compare to the charm and hilarious abandon of sharing talents with people we know!
Afterward, Balasz led the dance party with “YMCA” with crew and passengers going through the steps . . . what fun! Hard to believe that I never danced to that number before. Another song that was new to me was “Sex Bomb.” I found myself singing the words as I followed the crew in the steps . . .
Sex bomb, sex bomb, you’re my sex bomb
And baby, you can turn me on, baby, you can turn me on
You know what you’re doing to me, don’t you?
“Really?,” I thought to myself, sex bomb? What would my Quaker friends say? At that point, I didn’t care what I was saying, the dancing was energetic and fun. Two songs I learned to love was “Look at Me Now,” (or a title along those lines . . . anybody know?) and “It’s Going to be a Good Night” . . . because it was a great night! Thanks to the crew and passenger friends, who made this evening a fabulous dance party.
Ended the evening gazing at the quarter moon reflecting on the glassy sea as clouds mystically slid across the sky.
“In space there are no seasons, and this is as true of the ships that cross the distances between humanity’s far-flung homes. But we measure our seasons anyway: by a smile, a silence, a song.”
― Yoon Ha Lee, Conservation of Shadows
Friday 24 April, Hydra, Greece
Star Clipper in Full Sail
The Star Clipper anchored off the coast of Hydra, an island of green rugged hills, barren and wild. The top of the cliffs looked like wonderful places to walk, and I knew then my day would include hike on one of the seaside paths. The crew prepared the tenders for our last view of the ship in full sail. A sailing ship is a work of art–the design, the grace, the elegance as the clipper floats majestically on the sea. The sails fluttered, and the sun lite up the white sails against the blue sky. The crew stood on the bowsprit, while camera buffs in the tender snapped away to preserve the memory of the dramatic scene.
From Art at Sea to Art on Land
Sandy, Fred, AnnMarie, Allan, and I stepped down the clattering steps of the gangplank for the ride in the tender to the island. A small bay of the Argosaronic Gulf surrounds Hydra, shaped like an amphitheater. Given the peaceful nature of the island, it is interesting the Hydriots once had a powerful fleet of ships that fought in sea battles in the 1821 War of Independence.
Donkeys and their escorts lined the wharf area, and from that moment, I was possessed with a donkey obsession. I took photographs and videos of any donkey that clip-clopped by. I couldn’t help myself . . . where else in the world are donkeys the only means of transport? Laws forbid motorized vehicles on Hydra, making the island a quiet and peaceful place. Continuous steps took us down the alleys and more steps led us back up again. We wandered the narrow cobblestone streets looking in the shop windows. Well, actually, Fred liked to wander into the shops to see what treasures he might find. His wife, Sandy, not so enthusiastic about shopping, just repeated, “No, No . . . I don’t want anything, please!,” as she rolled her eyes, which did not dissuade Fred in the least from investigating what opportunities to buy might lie within the charming art galleries and boutiques.
Fred and Allan shared a penchant for liquid refreshment, so we turned the corner around to the other side of town and walked to a lovely little café with expansive views of the bay and our Star Clipper outlined against the blue hazy mountains. As I sat down at the table, I felt like I had become part of a painting. Was this real? Was this a dream? It seems so now. We sipped our drinks as we shared stories and wondered at the visual splendor before us.
Sandy noticed my gazing at the hills, and said, “Kae, it looks like you are ready to walk.” As much as I wanted to stay with my friends, I knew this would be my only chance to explore the trail that went into the hamlets along the coast. Well-laid gray stones provided the path, and yellow daisies in their finest display gathered on either side of the walkway. I could not believe the beauty of this island, as I came across whitewashed villages, with traditional architectural elements, such as doors in stone walls with vines toppling over wooden arches. Donkeys grazed on grassy knolls and roosters crowed. I came to a pointed arched bridge and then turned around to walk back. I had come further than I had planned, just that every scene along the trail was stunningly beautiful.
My friends had left the café, so I continued into town, taking one last photograph of a passing donkey and of calico cats huddled in a doorway.
Captain’s Dinner 2
Catching up on my writing, I’m reminiscing about our last dinner as I fly over the Mediterranean Sea, my watery home on a vessel with a top speed of ten knots. Now at 38,000 feet, -74.2C degrees, 538 mph airspeed, and over ten hours of flight ahead, I have time to reflect on the last evening on the Star Clipper.
When I started this journey, no way would I have believed that I’d be at the Captain’s table for dinner with a lively group of friends? Somewhat studious and reserved, I thought I would be alone much of the time, focused on writing and photography.
Thanks to the effervescent personality and persuasiveness of AnnMarie, our Captain Sergey Tunikov joined us for dinner. I try not to be impressed with status, but I totally succumbed to it and delighted to be a part of the excitement of having our Captain Sergey at our table. Maybe the captain thought he could contain our enthusiasm, as the night before our table broke out in spirited song, unabashedly singing whatever musical number came to mind, led by our fearless songstress, Annmarie.
After dinner, we gathered at the Tropical Bar for the dance party. Oh, what a night! I vowed then and there that I somehow had to make dancing part of my life again. I discovered how much I missed tripping the light fantastic. Friends and crew, encouraged by Natalia and Balasz, made the party so much fun, but I’m not sure it will be possible to replace the conviviality in some other venue.
Saturday 25 April, Piraeus (Port of Athens), Greece
Last Omelet on Star Clipper
I had acquired a fondness for omelets while onboard. Fellow passenger Jean told me she always started her day with one; I made the omelet my frequent request, fresh and so delicious with cheese, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms. Yum. The omelet was filling, I didn’t need to stop for lunch.
Our gang met up at breakfast for our last goodbye. Such nice folks, I didn’t want to leave the table, but I had to, as my scheduled transfer ride would be in port soon. I glanced back at the table one last time. I would be delighted if I sailed with my friends once again.
I felt groggy all morning. The night before the waves kicked up, and my stomach felt “light” all of a sudden. I took two seasickness pills; I consumed a total of 30 seasick pills on this journey! Are there side effects from taking too many? Concerned that somehow the seasickness might very likely transform into a migraine, I didn’t want to take any chances. Despite turbulent seas, ironically I had no problems with migraines, but I’m not sure why. I had to pack my suitcase, trying to stuff too many souvenirs into a small space. The seams on my suitcase stretched as I zippered it up while sitting on top. The suitcase was barely maneuverable, and I was sure it would be overweight.
When I arrived at the hotel, my room was ready and much relieved because my suitcase was in such disarray, and I needed to rearrange everything before heading out into Athens.
Athens Hop On-Off Tourist Bus
I found my way to the tourist bus stop, no help from the hotel staff, who didn’t seem to know where the stop was located, even though it turned out to be right around the corner, or how often the buses ran. I walked down the street for several blocks, turned around, and tried the other way, finally seeing the sign behind a tree. I planned to visit the Parthenon, so I made that my first stop. On this trip, I had several occasions where I had to contend with crowds. This was one of those times. I mistakenly went to the entrance where there were no lines whatsoever, except a park guide then directed me to the place to buy a ticket . . . and then I saw the line, four or five deep extending down over the walkways. I went to the back of the line and waited an hour. I was grateful for the temperate weather. I can’t imagine the waiting in line in the blistering heat of summertime. I finally reached the booth where the ticket agent informed me that they didn’t take credit cards or American money. The impatient woman in the ticket booth said I could exchange the money at the post office. Looking distressed, I replied, “Do I have to return to the back of the line?” She responded, “No, just get your money and come back to the window!”
I purchased my ticket and walked up through the ruins of the Parthenon with a stream of like-minded tourists. Someone has made a nice profit selling selfie sticks, as many of the young’uns had them and were using them extensively, I noticed.
The area resembled a construction site with blocks of materials scattered in fields and cranes and scaffolding surrounding many of the columns. I could see why the ancients selected the spot for 360-degree views over the landscape. Waved to Nancy and Mike from the Star Clipper, who were standing on the other side. . . .ah, familiar faces in a sea of strangers. : )
I returned to the bus to finish the loop on the red line, deciding not to get off and just listen to the commentary. The Athen’s bus ride was not as well run as other city bus tours that I’ve taken. The traffic, even though it was Saturday, was heavy and stop and go. The bus waited at some of the stops for ten minutes. I scolded myself for not making the most of my day in Athens, but I did see the Parthenon.
Sunday 26 April, Piraeus (Port of Athens), Greece
Farewell to the Mediterranean
I just had enough time to grab breakfast before my transfer ride to the airport arrived. Both the taxi drivers, coming and going to the hotel, were friendly and happy to practice their English, as we conversed. In Greece, schools teach English, but my driver said the instruction was not so good. He spent part of his career playing soccer and didn’t have much use for English, but with his new job, his employer required fluency in the language. He said his mother used to tell him, “Antonio, learn your English!” and now she says, “See, Antonio, I told you–practice your English!”
The taxi arrived at the airport two and a half hours ahead of departure, but a long line snaked up to the ticket window. By the time I finished negotiating the first line, sent to a second line with a security check, headed up to the gate with another security check, it was time to get on the plane! A couple from the cruise trailed behind me in the ticket line and boarded the plane just in time. This was one of the few instances that a plane did not wait for takeoff. Almost immediately, we were up in the clouds and over the islands of Greece.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain
Early on in the voyage, one of my fellow passengers asked me whether I would make another trip similar to this one. I like different ways of seeing the world, so I wasn’t sure I would return to the Star Clipper. This trip was an adventure, both in spirit and in experiences, which brought me to places I had only read about, and now I was there.
Weather played a greater influence on the trip than I expected, causing us to lose a tour, and that alternative meant another day at sea. My original plan for days at sea was reserved for writing and researching, but on days with turbulent seas, I did not feel well enough to journal. The constant repetitive motion of the ship of rising and falling proved fatiguing, and I would nap just to get warm. The strong winds and misting made taking videos and photographs on deck difficult. Posting photographs and content became almost impossible because of slow Internet connections.
As a repositioning cruise, the objective was to bring the ship from eastern Europe to the western Mediterranean. Peter said that this was primarily a sailing adventure vacation, and I appreciated the beautiful ship and sails as we plowed the water. Peter’s presented interesting storytimes, sharing maritime history. Every day we received a pamphlet of the day’s activities that included Peter’s extensive narrative on the history of the port of the day.
Mealtime was always a pleasure. The chocolate desserts at lunch were especially rich and creamy. I always checked out the dessert table first to determine what I should pass up so I’d have room to eat one or two desserts. The chocolate cakes were sliced into small pieces but were so rich those proportions were all one could eat at a time. Every day offered a different lunch selection, Asian, Spanish, and Italian. The omelets were the best I’ve ever had. My only objection to the menu was on one afternoon the carcass of a little pig with an apple in its mouth was displayed on the main table. I selected a seat far from that view.
Because the number of passengers and crew was small, it was easy to get to know folks and enjoy their company. This would be one reason I might repeat a similar journey. In my short time on board ship, I felt connected to the passengers and crew as they shared their life stories.
Traveling solo gave me several advantages. Because I had complete independence to do anything I wanted, I could stay up late listening to music and writing, I could skip meals and make do with a snack. I could take long walks or take a nap. I could reflect, cry, laugh to myself about life and all the adventures and people I met. This was a journey of self-discovery, and that goal was accomplished. I’ve learned that I should have a connection, but a connection to something enjoyable, just for fun. It’s not a permanent place where I could plant my soul, it’s a place where I could release my soul.