Friday 7 July 2011
After a wonderful flight from Robin Hood Airport, coming in to land at Corfu gave us exceptional views of this wonderful island. We boarded a coach to be transported to the Thomson Spirit cruise liner. Browsing the Cruise News which had been popped through our door, we decided to try the quiz called Comedy Greats. The hostess played clips from classic British TV shows like Only Fools and Horses, The Two Ronnies, etc. Some of the questions were pretty easy, like who was in the gorilla suit being interviewed by Pamela Stephenson on Not The Nine O'Clock News – even if you had never seen that particular show you couldn't miss the distinctive voice of Blackadder! Ten points were awarded for each correct answer and some needed more than one answer for a share of the points. Our total came to 97½ out of a possible 100. We had failed to identify Bernie Clifton who had shared the cell with Christopher Biggins during the French and Saunders spoof of Silence of the Lambs. So our week got off to a great start as we collected our prize of a Thomson Parker pen!
Our evening entertainment was "Elvis Mania" (very appropriate I thought); the same group of young singer/dancers provided our entertainment all week. After the show we went on deck where I tried to identify some stars; difficult as we were still in the port and all the lights were strong. We found a relatively-dark area and as I picked out the Plough asterism I was rewarded by the sight of a couple of meteors in that area. As I was telling my partner G I spotted another one scooting below the Plough, too quick for him to catch sight of. However, as I was pointing out Arcturus, Polaris and the Cepheus constellation, I saw an erratic , slow-moving meteor and pointed it out. Together we watched it snake across the sky; it was probably an earthgrazer as it didn't burn up as most meteors do. After we set sail at 11.30pm for a night and day at sea, we retired to our cabin for a few hours' sleep.
Saturday 8 July
At 5am local time I got a text message – as I'd been rudely awakened I read it, it was from my mobile provider informing me that I was on a ship! I fell back to sleep and awoke to find my leg was swollen from a couple of insect bites, so good job I remembered my anti-histamine tablets and cream. I am allergic to wasp stings so can't take chances with any foreign insects! We went for a cooked breakfast then strolled on the Lido Deck at the stern of the ship where we took some touristy-type photos. I stared at the swell of the sea and the huge wide wake behind us which the ship had created, thinking very deep thoughts! We booked our excursion for the following day and then went for lifeboat drill. I was placed in the front row facing the ship's rail, beyond which was the Mediterranean Sea. This was my first experience of lifeboat drill and I was concerned that the front row would be unceremoniously dumped in the sea as a practical demonstration for the benefit of those lucky enough to be placed in the rear ranks. We were told to squeeze up tight, touching arms with our neighbours as 'there's not much room in a lifeboat' then thankfully the drill was over without the immortal words 'Don't Panic!' being uttered!
I wasn't going to mention the food. However, I really have to sing the praises of the ship's culinary staff. Every meal was great, and some were awesome. I tried food I never dreamed of eating before, and today's dish of the day was grilled Marlin. I drizzled some pineapple sauce on it; there were other options but the combination worked. The slices of cake option for pudding were like entries into a Cake of the Year competition. Good job they were only small portions, we were able to sample a couple. We walked off some excess calories and discovered a trivia quiz about to begin, so of course we joined in. We scored 14/20, the winners got 19/20 and they won a Thompson Cruises shoulder bag. I went to ask the winner which question had stumped him and he said The Simpsons one ('Who was the voice of Sideshow Bob'). As we continued our walk around the ship we thought we saw a pod of dolphins or orcas way off in the distance, so we returned to the cabin to collect my superduper powerful new binoculars. Returning to the top deck, we had to gingerly step over sunbathers until we reached the stern. Even though we got a great view of a solitary villa on an otherwise unspoiled small island, we failed to spot any frolicking sea creatures, G reckoned we'd just seen 'white horses' earlier. I went to take the binoculars back to the cabin while G went off to secure a window table for afternoon tea. On the way I passed a crew member who spotted the binoculars around my neck, so I explained that we'd been on the top deck looking for dolphins. He asked if I'd had any luck and I said no. He replied that in seven years of cruising he'd only seen dolphins once – in Indonesia. That night was the Captain's Cocktail Party, and formal dinner to follow. A chance to dress in our gladrags and finery! Our dinner companions were Bob and Maureen from Aberdeen. It was a four-course dinner and I've no idea where I put it, I must have hollow legs. I determined to pace myself for the rest of the cruise. I had only ordered vanilla ice cream to finish although G got Bailey's cheesecake, which he wolfed down. The evening's entertainment was 'Concerto' which was great.
Sunday 9 July – Crete
We had a cooked breakfast then disembarked for a coach tour 'Panoramic Crete', stopping at a small town of Ierapetra. Legend says that the ancient Greeks on a quest had been told by an Oracle that mountains that spoke would be their destination. The island of Crete has two mountains whose profiles from a distance looked like human faces staring up at the heavens. This was interpreted as fulfilment of the prophecy and the marine travellers landed at Ierapetra. We moved on to a village called Calamafka for an hour walkabout. We found a café run by a couple who couldn't have made us more welcome, providing us with cold beer, iced water, ice cream, fruit on the table and two bottles of water to go, total bill €4. We left them a €10 note. Walking back to the coach we could hear the constant noise of what sounded like amplified crickets, it turned out the creatures were cicadas. Our guide even plucked one from a tree to show it to us, it was about the size of a locust! It was returned back to its tree and we continued our tour around Crete.
Back at the ship we took a swim in one of the small swimming pools then the ship set off for Turkey. I found it very exciting knowing we were visiting different countries without feeling like we were travelling. Evening meal that night was sautéed swordfish. Followed by pina colada cake. I actually thought I'd died and was being served a meal on Mount Olympus. We then returned to the room where we'd found the quiz the previous night and sat down to participate. My mind wasn't on the job though and we only scored 8/15, although the winners only got 10/15 so we didn't do too badly. Entertainment that night was comedian Peter Price, who went for observational comedy rather than joke after joke, he certainly had a good patter!
Monday 11 July – Turkey
We awoke in Turkey and touched ground in Kusadasi where we boarded a coach to visit the House of the Virgin Mary. I knew my daughter Helen was on holiday in Turkey so I texted her and she'd been where we were going the previous day, but was flying home that afternoon, so there was no chance of meeting up. Upon arrival at our destination I was perturbed to find the place guarded by armed soldiers. I am not a Roman Catholic but I found our visit to Mary's house a genuinely spiritual experience. I can't imagine the effect such a visit would have upon Catholics, it would be more like a pilgrimage. I lit 2 candles and drank some of the spring water said to have healing properties. Outside the guarded area we were bombarded by locals selling souvenirs, I bought a pack of 12 postcards for €1 from a small boy who looked highly delighted to have made a sale!
We then moved on to Ephesus. I had deliberately not researched any of the places we'd visit as I wanted to be surprised. I have to say Ephesus was beyond a surprise, it was a revelation! I wouldn't recommend July in the baking heat for such a trip and it's not for the mobility-challenged. We walked on a road of marble which had been destroyed by earthquakes in the past then relaid; it's uneven and we tripped more than once. Pomegranate trees offered some solace from the direct sunlight but not much, and we got through a couple of bottles of water quite quickly. I found a slab in the road which looked like it had had a rose pattern chipped out of it, and marvelled at a mosaic floor which appeared mostly intact within crumbled walls of what was once a magnificent building. Surviving structures include the Gate of Mazeus and Mithradates and some columns of the Temple of Domitian. Further along 'Harbour Street' was the Temple of Hadrian which was built in his honour after he visited Ephesus. I thought it was all just ruins, until we were well into the site and approaching the Library of Celcus, for me the piece de resistance of the entire holiday.
It's a colossal building which had been destroyed then rebuilt, destroyed again then a 19th-Century German offered to finance the rebuilding project to honour his father. I climbed the steps and found myself at the feet of a statue of the goddess Athena. Having nothing to offer I poured a little water into my hand and used it to wash her feet. Then I entered the building itself, which still had a remarkable aura. There was no roof but it felt surprisingly cool, I studied the features of the statues and some of the bricks in the wall that had been marked by the workers (I presume) when all too soon we got called to move along and rejoin the guide. I thought that we were on our way back to the coach and my head was full of what I was going to write about when I got back to the coach, when all of a sudden we were astonished to find ourselves at the foot of the exceedingly well-preserved Great Theatre, which we were informed by our guide would have seated 250,000 people in antiquity. The arena would have been graced by plays, sporting prowess, animal exhibitions and gladiator fights. It's known that St John went there to preach although that particular audience figure is unrecorded.
Tuesday 12 July – Mykonos
I was up early enough to see the sun rise over the Ionian Sea, and I took pictures with my mobile phone to prove it! We couldn't dock in Mykonos harbour so small launches which carried about 20 people ferried us to shore. We were informed by our guide that this island was famous for the Shirley Valentine story, but the island had changed much from those days when the film was shot. He wasn't kidding! There are properties there which were selling for millions of Euros, and some cost thousands of Euros a week to rent. It is paradise if all you want is sand, sea and beautiful people. Our coach tour took us round the entire island, which took about 3 hours. We stopped off at a 16th-Century monastery, simple-enough looking from the outside but inside it was quite spectacular. One whole wall was a wooden carving with separate friezes depicting a biblical story, eg Lazarus rising from his tomb, Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey on the very first Palm Sunday and three men on crosses with a cloud above emitting lightning. Back on the coach our escort pointed out the small deserted island of Delos and told us the legend attached to it. According to the story the goddess Artemis and her twin brother Apollo were born there. They were important deities of the time, Apollo being the sun god among other things and Artemis (Roman equivalent Diana) ruled the moon. She was also responsible for the Trojan War because it was her longing for the Golden Apple which caused her to promise Paris the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth – Helen, Queen of Sparta. Back at the dock, we were given half-an-hour to have an ice cream and a paddle, we plumped to sit on the deck in the shade, and I managed to collect a few interesting pebbles from the beach. On the way back to the ship we sat on the uncovered part of the launch and I got soaked by seaspray from the Aegean. That's one to tell the grandkids!
Wednesday 13 July – Corinth Canal
Now almost used to waking up in a different country, I forgot my sunburned feet and couldn't wait to set foot in Greece. We were now in Pireaus, and we chose the Corinth Canal tour. On board our boat there were lots of photo opportunities and I tossed a coin overboard as an offering to the god of the passage. When the trip was over we meandered along the dock admiring the yachts and boats. I spotted a rather sleek launch named 'Let It be M' which I decided must belong to Sir Paul McCartney, and lots of people agreed so we took a few photos posing in front of it and singing snatches of Beatles' songs. If he was on board we hope he enjoyed our performances! Back on our ship we had a lovely evening being entertained by the usual troupe who put on a show called 'Africa'.
Thursday 14 July – Ancient Olympia
We docked at Katakolon where a short coach journey took us to Olympia where we went round the museum. It contained treasures such as the head of the goddess Hera, sister/wife of Zeus. There were Roman and Greek artefacts, including the bronze helmet of Miltiades, the king who won the battle of Marathon. The same ticket costing €9 gains you entry to the site of the original Olympic Games, and this is where the sacred flame is lit each Olympic year before its journey by foot to the place where the next Olympics is being held. Here is the place where the giant statue of seated Zeus was created, although the building which housed it no longer exists, its foundations still do. Now there stands a Christian church which utilised the foundations. We walked through the Temple of Hera, of which only small walls and 3 columns remain upright; this dates back to 7BC. We saw the original winners' podium where they received their laurel crown of olive branch and leaves, and a ribbon for their arm. You could almost hear the cheers! A few of our group decided to run round the ancient track, earning applause from the others wilting under the welcome shade of friendly trees. Even the cicadas seemed to raise their noise level in admiration!
Also being excavated was a prehistoric house dating back some 10,000 years. It's thought that people lived in that area so long ago because two rivers converge nearby, so there would always be a supply of that most precious commodity – fresh water. Back at the ship we enjoyed a meal then spent the evening first at the quiz then the last night's entertainment by the dance troupe. They put on a fabulous show then there was a special announcement – a lady guest was celebrating her 100th birthday aboard! She stood up so we could applaud her then the compare got us all to sing happy birthday to her.
Friday 15 July – Homeward Bound and a surprise Crop Circle
Time to disembark and head for the airport and home. On the airport shuttle G dropped his wallet and it was returned to him by an elderly gent who disappeared before we had time to thank him. Thank you, Sir! We will pay that forward. During the flight home I was impressed when the pilot announced that we'd be passing over Cleethorpes (my home) so I craned my neck while we were passing over the North Sea to catch a glimpse of anything I might recognise. It had been crystal clear up till then, of course, but it seemed as we were approaching England we hit a cloud bank and all I could see was the top of white fluffy clouds. When land appeared it was all fields and I knew we were over Yorkshire. The pilot said we'd be landing in about 20 mins and I carried on looking at the scenery. I did a double-take when I saw a crop circle! I'd highly recommend a cruise for a holiday, we were well looked after and I thought it was good value for money. I've got memories which will last me the rest of my life and I hope it wasn't my first and last cruise! (P.S. It wasn't!)