YERP 8

Venice

27 May 2017

I’m having some personal issues with my beard. First, I’ve had a terse email from George Clooney asking why I’m trying to impersonate him in Venice. I noticed in the royal wedding coverage that he had a beard development similar to my own, (maybe George has a tad more salt) in which case I was going to ask him how he dealt with the problem of hair ends pressing back into the face at about week two. Now I can’t ask him because he’s upset with me. When I go to bed, I feel as though my face is lying against a new doormat. I even dream about doormats instead of hotel toasters.

Enough of personal issues, because today we set out to take a tour of the famous 1792 Venice Opera House or Teatro L Fenice. It has been burned down and rebuilt many times, the latest reincarnation being in 2004 but, like my grandfather’s hammer that had three new heads and four new handles, it is original. We tried to get to the one hour tour for an affordable look when we found that well seated tickets to a performance started at about two hundred euros each.

The streets, alleyways and canals of Venice must have been designed by a maze builder with a grudge, because everybody gets lost all the time – even the locals. When we tried to find the opera house we went past the same shops three or four times, in spite of having a map. We even went to Google maps on our phone, where the stupid woman told us either we had arrived (which we hadn’t) or that every direction we took was moving away from the opera house. It was like black hole physics. When we came upon it by accident we’d been walking for hours and had missed the tour. Instead, people dressed up in their opera finery were filling in for an afternoon performance of La Traviata. We went to the box office and found that ‘last minute’ 200-euro tickets were now reduced to 50 euros. Nodding, I reached for my money, but then the dreadful discovery was made that I was wearing shorts – which would offend the sensibilities of rack-rate paying opera buffs in the stalls. The best Mrs Ticket could do was hide my knees away in a shared box on level two for only 20 euros each. Up we went, to be enclosed in a small, open-fronted stable with the two seats at the front occupied by full-paying horses, the two of us behind them on crane-your-neck high-chairs. But all that aside, we were in for a treat.

Inside, the opera house was jaw-dropping, with a massive stage, floor level stall seating, and then boxes rising four levels in a semi-circle of gilded reliefs – like La Scala and just as ornate, but smaller. From the first trembling strings of the familiar overture, I was spellbound. I remembered Antonio, our guide, telling us that only the best singers get a gig at Teatro L Fenice, which explained the extraordinary voices of the three leads, Francesca Sassu, Matteo Lippi and Julian Kim. They were supported by a superb orchestra, with no musicians stuffed beneath the stage as they are in many opera houses. I came out uplifted, almost enough to forget that in my bag I had a pair of YSL sunglasses I bought in a stupor during our lost period, that are as ridiculous in design as they were in price. I think Michelle has posted my folly on Face Book. But hey, I love them and I’m at the pointy end.

At people versus pigeons breakfast today I overheard an American lady say that her sister’s phone fell out of her back pocket into the toilet. “I hope the toilet still worked,” her husband commented between sniggers. And speaking of pee as you go, Venice offers a pre-paid, multiple pass-water pass for those who might not have cash on hand for a public one-off. I worked out that if we each peed nine times at the opera house it would pay for the ticket. We only got to three, but still, a saving is a saving.

Sunday 28 May 2018

We had planned to visit the Jewish museum and synagogues by placing our trust in
Google maps. It played up again – but we were not the only ones suffering. There were people everywhere, dizzily staring at their phones and cursing. It struck me that you could book into one of the hundreds of elegant, hole-in-the-wall Venice hotels, unpack, go out for a meal, but never find the hotel again. It took us twice the estimated distance to find the Jewish quarter, small as it is with only about 450 Jewish residents in Venice. The three synagogues we did visit were really ancient and little used.

Back into random directions again, we aimed at the opera house we’d visited yesterday hoping to see another opera at a last-minute price. The stars were aligned. We found the opera where Google maps said it wasn’t and then my trousers allowed prime seats for fifty euros each. We sat down to superb performance of Donetsetti’s The Elixir of Love. Again, these were top singers and an outstanding cast in a magical opera house.

For the record, there are about 65,000 permanent residents in Venice, but it takes in an average of 60,000 visitors every day. No wonder we sit at breakfast and watch a river of people streaming past on their way to St Marks’s Square looking, for all the world, like escaping refugees. They gather in the square like a pop concert crowd and create massive queues. I wanted to go up in the huge brick tower in the square. I has 1000 steps – which are not in use thank heaven – or a modest lift which does not relate to queue wanting to use it. I persevered, but the view from the top was restricted by the thickness of the walls which prevent you from seeing what the pigeons see. After waiting in another queue to descend, I did another St Marco must-see by sitting down and drinking a beer at one of the tables. There is no cover charge, but you pay 12 euros ‘music fee’ to listen to languidly played hits from last century and before. Those not in the party mood, but wanting just to sit down, lower themselves on to the rows of marble steps, little realising that by so doing they are in breach of the laws of Venice that say thou shalt not sit on a public step. The step cops spend their day shooing them away as they do the pigeons, and then, like the pigeons, the illegal sitters flutter around and resettle once the cops have moved on.

These people risk being jailed for illegally applying heir buttocks to public steps.

YERP 7

VENICE

Thursday 25 May 2018

The FAB glided up the Grand Canal and ejected us, with practised, theatrical regret, in glorious Venice. Our Hotel Savoia & Jolanda sent a man-in-Merc to meet us. He carefully placed our cases in the trunk, drove about twenty metres and got them all out again for a transfer to a water-taxi. We entered the scramble of rocking boats on the churning greenish canal and were deposited outside our hotel, which is right on the main drag just down from the unbelievably wonderful St Marco Square.

I’d forgotten about European hotels, but it all came back in the tiny lift in which a sign optimistically claimed that it could hold ‘four person.’ It should have gone on to elaborate: ‘four pygmy person with luggage, or three American person without luggage, or two Russian person without luggage, or four luggage with no person’.

Michelle had forewarned the management that we were ‘two big person’ which is why we needed a big room. But a big room in Venice means it has to be filled with big furniture so that it affords the occupants no more walking space than a small room. The furnishings of our room included two gigantic lounge chairs with gilded surrounds, a huge bed with a gilded bed-head, a glass topped coffee table that would seat eight around it, a very tall, very skinny desk with colossal gold cabriole legs plus a too-short gilded chair to go with it, and a giant ancient style couch in gold velvet that could sleep two person. The lighting comes from a multiple collection of glass wall chandeliers with a profundity of bare globes. With such finery, who needs drawers or wardrobes? Yes, there were a few after-thoughts, but meant for people who spent most of their time naked. The bathroom, newly renovated, placed the towels in a rack in direct firing line with the open-ended shower cubicle. But hey, we’re in Venice, where art and design take precedence over practicality, so stop grizzling, Fraser.

While Michelle went on a self-propelled retail discovery tour, I went to the Basilica Della Salute to hear a vespers organ recital. The Basilica is magnificent and so is the sound of the organ, but the priest had inserted a mass into the middle of the recital. He was done up in bright green and gold vestments which provided a fine counterweight to his solemn Latin. After it was over he popped out for a change into standard clerical black and quickly retrieved his religious equipment – indicating to me that they were in danger of being pinched. Then the organ concert resumed – on a wonderful instrument built in 1782 and still able to stir the soul. I left to catch my first vaporetto, a public water bus, but I didn’t have a ticket – which was only available across the Grand Canal. I needed a ticket to get the ticket I needed. The only solution was become a fare evader by pretending to be part of a squabbling family that seemed to have plenty of tickets. Luckily, I didn’t get caught.

Apart from tourism, best employment prospects in Venice appear to be in rising damp correction, marine engine repair, marine varnishing and waiting on tables with attitude. Gondolering is on a higher level, requiring a certificate in one oar steering and paddling, a horizontally striped shirt, a flat straw hat with rear tassel and a passable tenor voice.

And now for my Venice hotel toaster review:

The Grande Clampo di Venezia sitting in the gallery of famous Venetian toast captains.

Derek Breadchamber named the Grande Clampo di Venezia as the most advanced hotel toaster of its generation. It has no in and out via a belt. Instead, each slice of bread is placed in its own hand operated clamp which is inserted into the unique open-fronted infernotron. The time dial is activated, and toasting begins immediately. Unlimited inspections capability makes exact browning possible.

Friday 25 May 2018

We shared an alfresco breakfast with the aggressive pigeons of Venice. As soon as you stand up to get some food they hoe into what’s on your plate. The locals tolerate them far more than visitors like us who are not successful in shooing them away because the pigeons only understand Italian.

A following three-hour walking tour of Venice with Antonio was well worth the ninety Euros each, since it cobbled together a secession of must-sees – even if it did finish with a glass blowing demo followed by an upsell in a spectacular glassware showroom. I’m not about to launch into a brochure-like description, but a few stops were memorable. The Basilica St Marco ranks high among the world’s most awe-inspiring buildings. As well as being huge and dripplingly ornate, the mosaics that adorn its ceilings, walls and floor carry four tonnes of gold. The floor, like the rest of Venice (it was built on a swamp) is showing patches of subsidence and will sink unless future technology saves it. Another staggering building, also on the square, is the Doge’s Palace. It has the biggest hall, without supporting columns, in Europe and the biggest painting in the world in which thousands of figures all seem to be writhing in anguish – which goes for most of the religious paintings by the old masters. Our guide pointed out that the most acceptable female form of the 14thcentury was small-breasted but otherwise plump – just the opposite to today’s aspirational female body.

One building that especially appealed to me was a spiral tower, officially known as the Bolovo Staircase, hidden in a side alley near Campo Manin. It reminded me of an Escher drawing of something rational but impossible.

One of the drawbacks of sightseeing in Venice are the long queues (now with listless security screening added) to get into the interesting places. And this is far from peak season. However, because Antonio is a registered tour guide he gets ‘skip the line’ privileges. Trouble is, ‘skip the line’ can also be purchased by ordinary tourists for a premium so the ‘skip the line’ line will soon grow into a tiresome line of its own, prompting a next generation of impatience savers called ‘skip the skip the line line’.

A French bulldog ate my baby.

 

YERP 6

Corfu

Monday 21 My 2018

Korfooo! as our American sailing friends pronounce it, was a bit of a fizzer. Michelle and I had been coughing for a few days and it reached a point today where Michelle decided to stay state-room bound while I went and ‘did’ Corfu. Trouble was, Corfu did me. Alone and without a map, I took off to the right of the wharf, walking along the coast, with the plan to circle inland and end up in the old town, far left, which is supposed to be charming.

Once I moved away from the coast, I became lost in a maze of streets. I found a highway and caught a random blue bus, paid the fare and did a nice trundle through the burbs with a lucky finish in the old town. After enjoying a leisurely walk along the gracious, tree-shaded streets I stopped to sip lemonade in a narrow alley restaurant, claimed a user pees, and asked the waiter for directions to the port. “Ten minutes. Down the street and turn right,” he said. He lied. I found myself headed towards a mountain that I took for the one behind the FAB when, in fact, it was the one on the other side of the island. Needless to say, I got lost again, this time deeply so. I followed some touristy looking people into a bus station with green buses but was told I needed another blue bus that stopped across the road and it must head in the opposite direction to my walk. I waited on the bus stop for half an hour. No blue bus. Then I spied a taxi sitting under a tree.  I pleaded my case to the driver. “You would never have got back to your ship the way you were going,” he said to establish his superiority, “but today God sent me to find you.” You’ve got to love the Greek philosophy.

If you want to eat extra upmarket on the FAB you go the Pinnacle Grill, via a surcharge of course. There, on the drinks menu, cocktail subsection, you will find the revered name of the master ‘mixologist’. He has a degree in general and specific mixing, and is qualified to mix other products such as paint, cake ingredients and Araldite. My friend Bob (a retired photography professor) tells me that American universities offer degrees in all kinds of subjects. For instance, you can become a bachelor of driving instruction. At the Pinnacle Grill (where nothing is actually grilled) I ordered Devon sole. When the waitress brought it, she instructed me not to start eating it until I got a boner. I was mystified by this exciting prospect until a nervous waiter appeared and announced he was the boner, but this was his first time. A virgin boner, no less. With a few flourishes he removed the bone from the sole – well, most of it anyway. I’m sure he will do better next time.

Kotor, Montenegro

Tuesday 22 May 2018

The mountains dwarf the FAB

It was worth getting up at sparrows to witness sailing into Kotor, surrounded by towering wooded mountains diving straight into the sea. The FAB was able to run close to the shore so that we could watch the city, with its typically Mediterranean buildings and houses, and its people, waking up to another day in paradise. Most of the buildings huddle near the shore because of the construction challenges as you go up the mountain sides. We saw one quite substantial house that had slithered down the slope during a heavy rainstorm, and now clung to the rocks like a surreal work of art.

Of all the ports we’ve visited aboard the FAB, Montenegro impressed me the most. With its huge hillsides that finish in picturesque villages, this is probably the place I’d come back to first. We hired a driver for a four-hour excursion which took us over (and through) the tall mountain that dominates Kotor, and then on to the capital, Cyrillic, where there is the presidential palace (the president doesn’t live there and it’s not much of a palace, in spite of a couple of fancy-dressed guards in the doorway), and the mausoleum housing the bones of the last royal family. Montenegro has had bits of it taken away and returned, but today is an independent, democratic country with a relatively tiny population of 624,000 – and dropping, except for the 15 per cent of Muslims who are quickly pushing in the opposite direction.  It gained independence in 2006 and its culture is a blend of its neighbours Croatia, Serbia, Italy and Turkey. It can’t afford armed forces but relies on its membership of NATO to be looked after by big brothers. UNESCO also has a say in how the country is run and its heritage preserved.

Our driver, Nicholas, was born in Montenegro. He drives his taxi during the tourist season and becomes a deck officer on a container ship for the rest of the year. He is passionate about his small country and wants to increase tourism – already its main industry. Sensibly, there is a big road building program under way, with some of the major projects being managed by the Chinese. The Riviera style foreshore has already become a playground for the rich and famous, who can hide away from public stare. We walked past a row of private motor yachts that probably totalled a hundred million dollars. Novak Djokovic, although now a Serbian citizen, was born in Montenegro. When he got married he booked out the famous Saint Stefan Hotel, the dearest on the strip, and invited his guests to stay there for the nuptials. The hotel sits on its own island, joined to the mainland by a single narrow road which can be patrolled to turn away the uninvited. But the hotel buildings themselves are not spectacular. They look more like a military garrison or a prison.

Nicholas told us about some dietary practices in Montenegro. Olive oil is a staple remedy for many ailments. True believers take a shot of it every day. If you are planning to do some heavy drinking, you should down a tumbler of olive oil before you start. If I did that I’d never get to the grog. His grandmother, who reached the age of 92, was not only an olive oil enthusiast but started each day with a shot of homemade grappa with a fearsome alcoholic content. She also favoured smoked pork or goat. A specialty was cheese made from donkey milk. Donkeys are not great milk producers, making rarity the chief attraction of the cheese.

Now we go to sea and should arrive in Venice tomorrow – a long as the captain hasn’t lost the map..

 

YERP 5

Crete

May 17 2018

Since it is mandatory to swim in Greek island waters, we took a low-stress day and went by official bus to a quiet little beach not far from the port. There it lay: whiteish sand, still, clear water, a civilised line of sun lounges and umbrellas and a bar. We settled in for a restful half day. Then the air traffic started. We realised that our dear little beach was on finale approach to the Crete airport which was having a busy day. As a balm to the roar of coming and going jet engines, we decided to take a swim. That prompted a grotesque dance into the water, because the first five metres were all stones under foot, and not necessarily smooth. And to top it off the water was just this side of brass monkey. Once we got under, and properly numb, we grew accustomed to it. However, we had fulfilled the unspoken contract. We might try another airport-free beach visit elsewhere in the islands later in the cruise.

For our departure from Crete a 20-piece brass band had assembled on the wharf and farted forth a medley of famous tunes, much to the joy of the FAB sailors who waved and clapped.

May 18 2018

Athens, Greece

We forsook the marshalling yard and bus method of exploration and hired a private driver in a black Merc to whisk us around Athens for eight hours. He was a hand waving, exuberant, continuously talking local man who had come unstuck as a building developer when the market dived 60 per cent while he was in the middle of building a block of apartments. With local unemployment running at 26 per cent, he is happy to have a job driving people like us.

Something about the Greek male personality struck me. Every man is a manager. They all loudly tell each other what to do, using exaggerated gestures. The women, on the other hand, simply shrug their shoulders and get on with it.

As we drove out of the port I noticed a high-rise building (the tallest around) that looked bedraggled and empty. The story was that when it reached its 23 floors it slumped sideways. The engineer hadn’t calculated its weight correctly in relation to the subsoil and it had to be abandoned because it might topple over, especially if tickled by an earthquake. It has been sitting awaiting demolition for some time because the money to put it up had not included enough to pull it down again. Compare that to the Parthenon, build some thousands of years previously, which is not only a building masterpiece, but a brilliant optical illusion based on the Fibonacci sequence. We got up close and personal early in the day before the regurgitation of an armada of busses. Michelle had been to the acropolis before, but I hadn’t, and I was spellbound by it. Incidentally, I found out that there are many acropolises. It simply means the highest point in a city. Early civilisations put temples and castles there because it was easier to defend as the opposition came puffing up the hill.

With a big crane inside the building and piles of marble blocks all around, it looked as though the Greek government was restoring the Parthenon, but no. That is not allowed under the international agreement on antiquities. It is permitted to put pieces back where they were and occasionally introduce a bit of infill, but making new parts is forbidden. Ruins must be left ruined. There’s nothing worse than a new ruin, our guide commented.

The recent Olympic games didn’t do Athens much good financially. Many locals blame them for sending the city broke. However, the city is still pivotal to the whole concept of the games. We visited a stadium that sends off the Olympic flame around the world. It has been restored to its original 1894 condition, and now holds 75,000 people seated on marble steps to hasten the development of their haemorrhoids. The Olympic flame and all the fuss of running it around the world started in 1936 at the Berlin games and the man who thought up the flame idea was none other than Adolph Hitler. Odd, but there is not marble bust of him at the stadium.

We wandered around the old city of Agora where, in the market place, Aristotle, Socrates and other men brimming with challenging ideas stood on a particular pedestal and held forth to anybody who would listen. Since they were communicating in an era where there was only word of mouth for news, they pulled good audiences and had no need for commercial breaks.

While the old city is charming, we were told to beware of gypsies who are very good at relieving the gullible of worldly goods, especially cash. Our driver recounted a popular saying: ‘if you buy an egg from a gypsy, when you open it, there will probably be no yolk inside’. Michelle took this warning very seriously and gave me lessons in positioning my man-bag as though it were a sporran. My Scottish ancestry made this feel comfortable enough, but I’d draw the line at having to wear a kilt.

Nafplion

Saturday May 19, 2018

Man the lifeboats! Not because the ship was sinking but because the FAB decided to use its orange lifeboats to tender people ashore onto this neat, busy, but unspectacular island. It also established the fact that the lifeboats were in good working condition. They seat 120 people each and are totally covered in, so in a big sea you could bob about upside down if you needed to. Some of the lifeboats had windows but those that didn’t would create the impression of travelling inside a motorised water tank.

While many cruises are praised for entertainment, some with big-name artists, the FAB isn’t one of them. The main theatre has run a few song and dance compilations that had the senior sailors tapping their walking sticks and twitching their legs (although that may have been one of many medical conditions), but none of the singers would have turned a chair in ‘The Voice’. Then there was a troupe of traditional Greek dancers, led by a female singer who was a semitone flat for much of the time as the dancers hopped here and there for no particular reason, done up in old world garb. The pianists are okay and classical quartet often goes shmaltzy with early American plantation hoe-downs between an occasional nice piece of Schumann. The juggler did some good balls, batons and knives, but his stand-up lines only got polite laughs. The best act was an illusionist who used mime to introduce some old and some original magic. “Ow, ow, ow does he do that?” continually echoed around the theatre, with the occasional “godammit! Now honey, that’s darned clever.”

Argostolion

Sunday May 2018

This cruise used to make Turkey a stop but because it more recently threatened to annihilate passengers, who then couldn’t be surcharged, the peaceful island of Argostolion took its place. Apart from a grotto and a lake, not much here is remarkable. The main street has all the expected shops and café. And there is the Little Red Train, the kind you see at a country fair to keep the kids happy. In our case, it kept the adults semi-happy. For five euros each they piled aboard the open carriages and were carted up the main street, bell clanging, around two corners, past the fire station where a line of clapped out fire trucks looked like it hadn’t been disturbed in years, around another corner and back up the main street to the start again. Here, another crowd of tourists tried to get in before the arriving lot got out. The tour took all of about ten minutes. We maybe should have taken its competitor, The Little Yellow Train that charged seven euros but added a few more corners and back street buildings.. In the afternoon, we took a taxi to the back of the island and sat on a highly organised beach with various levels of reclining equipment, a bar, bracing water and a user pees system.

Argostolion is a calm, well greened place, but I would have preferred to take a chance on some exciting gunfire in Turkey

The Little Red Train

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Yerp 4

15 May 2018

One of the highlights of this cruise is to sail into Santorini, really a huge, busted up volcano that filled with water when one of its sides blew out a few thousand years ago. The area is still actively volcanic, the most dangerous one being underwater. It currently provides hot currents in the Adriatic Sea but might blow at any time and again rearrange the islands in this magical part of Greece.

Because there is no big-ship wharf, the FAB had to tender its eager visitors ashore where they took buses up the rocky steeps of the island. The scarily perched roads were never built for busses. In fact, the first car didn’t arrive on the island until 1967. The width of the roads was meant to allow pack animals, such as donkeys, to pass when going in opposite directions. Now those roads have to accommodate big tourist busses – that must creep past one another, with one on the death-fall side. If the roads are narrow, the streets and alleyways are even more so. Santorini was designed for its 15,000 permanent inhabitants who built their stone and concrete houses along rocky outcrops. But an archaeological find of great significance plus the sheer beauty of stark rock island sitting in an indigo and emerald sea turned it into a tourist destination, especially for tourist ships. The amount of work tourists create swells the population of Santorini to 78,000 during the summer, dwarfing the permanents. Then there are the one-day visits from cruise ships like ours. Yesterday we probably put 1500 people on to the rocky, burnt and bare island. We became a muttering, queue-burdened herd, going where we were told to look at significant vistas, taking pictures, wise-cracking, oddly shaped and variously dressed. Okay, that’s a typical tourist crowd and the island handled it. But we were lucky, because there can be many ships in on the same day, and some a lot bigger than ours.

The island might wake to the arrival of 20,000 people, all baying for the same services. When that happens, it causes a major clogathon. For example, you can wait for four hours to take the cable car down the wharf. Falling would be much quicker and going down by donkey much scarier, but neither are popular.

Yes, the tourists bring money, but they bring also bring chaos – surely not welcome by all of the permanent residents. There will come a day when you will have to get into a lottery to go to Santorini. And that applies to many tourist meccas. I’m not being a misery guts, but the weight of growing numbers will break the back of tourism as we know it.

There is no such thing as a free pee in Santorini – or many parts of Europe, for that matter. Either you use a pay public facility known as a ‘pee as you go’ if you can find one or, failing that, you can do a deal with a restaurant on the tax arrangement known as ‘user pees’. The oldies on our trip had plenty of trouble with their prostates and leakage problems and quickly became familiar with these options.

Each day there is an exertion symbol on the upcoming tour blurb. A moderate exertion, with a two-leg symbol, pushes all but the young and fit into coronary territory. A three-leg symbol is for Olympic athletes and those who have decided on assisted suicide. The Santorini rating was only two legs, but the actual exertion approached three.

About the only respite was lunch and a visit to the black beach – a strange place where the sand and rocks are black, but the water is crystal clear. We also tasted the local wine much praised by the tour guide because the vines have to struggle along without water. Apparently, they suck it out of the pumice stone which, in turn, sucks it out of the clouds. Normally, abused vines produce good wine, but that’s not the case here. I went into vineyard the shop to enquire if there was anything better than the tasting had offered, whereupon the sales girl became so enthused and long winded about their lousy wines that I bought a small bottle I didn’t want just to shut her up before the bus was due to leave.

Santorini has 500 churches, many built by families and only used once or twice a year. Apart from religion, drinking and looking after tourists, the chief activity on the island is painting every building, and plenty of tree trunks, white every year. Whoever is the paint importer, is probably the richest man in Santorini.

May 16 2018

Rhodes

Rhodes volcanos in waiting

When we tied up at Rhodes I looked forward to seeing where the Colossus of Rhodes (made in the likeness of Helios, the Greek god of the sun) had stood – according to what I had been taught in grade five history by Mrs Elliston at Murrumbeena State School. This huge copper statue had straddled the entrance to the harbour and the ancient mariners sailed in and out between its legs. Our tour guide immediately pulled the rug from beneath my expectations by pointing to two columns at the entrance to the harbour and telling us that they stood where Colossus had stood, but it was a load of bullshit anyway because the statue had never been there at all, but up in the old walled city. Not only that, but nothing of it remained because marauding Arabs had hacksawed off bits and sold them for scrap metal until there was nothing left. Back to the two columns at the port, they have statues of deer on top of them to celebrate the introduction of the animals to the island – going on advice from the local temple’s oracle – to get rid of an infestation of venomous snakes by the deer kicking the daylights out of them. The snakes have now been relatively kicked out, but the deer are still roaming about in the countryside and are much revered. However, going on other countries where the deer reach plague proportions, they might have to consider a few prides of lion to get rid of the deer. Then the lions will start to eat the people, who will wish they had the snakes back.

At the highest point of Rhodes is The Acropolis, and a must-see for tourists. But oi, what a trek! The bus dropped us in a steeply downward sloping street (not encouraging because every down has and equal and opposite up) that took us to the base of the walk up to the top, of the mountain involving hundreds of steps and paths, many worn smooth and slippery, with no safety rails and about twice the number of people using the track as could safely fit. It was a nightmare walk, but the view from the Acropolis (renamed the Acrippleus) is mind-blowing, since it looks out on the whole of Rhodes. The ruins of the Acropolis are not so spectacular. They have a few restored columns to show where the old ones had been, and there were some ancient buildings on the way up, but most people were preoccupied with prevention of death by falling or heart failure. Back at sea level, the old city was a delight, especially the Palace of the Grand Masters, even though the streets are loaded up with tourist vacuuming shops.

A couple of traditional Greek customs are worthy of note. One is that sons are the preferred offspring because they will carry on the family name when they marry. But daughters, even though the will care for ageing parents, are a burden because when they marry, the parents have to provide them with a fully furnished house. The groom contributes nothing. Why wasn’t Michelle Greek?

Another is a housing tax dodge. When a house is completed it attracts a property higher tax than during construction. So the trick is never to complete it. The accepted way to illustrate this is to leave some steel reinforcement bars sticking out of the top of the concrete frame like rusty whiskers – which tells a guileless government that there is more to come.

The FAB welcomed us home with a frozen Dakari. We so loved the ship that we enquired about doing an internal tour of its vast kitchens. Our internal tour representative responded that the tour was no longer available because not enough people had wanted to take it. However, if we got a group of six or more starters she might reinstate it. And it wouldn’t only be an internal tour the FAB kitchens. We would be shown the bridge, cuddle the captain, inspect the engines, look through the sardine department (crew quarters), and generally go where no other man has gone before. Yes, we chorused, we can get at least six starters. The representative got out her clipboard in anticipation and then added “and the cost is US$150 per person.” That killed the deal on the spot. Here we were preparing to be ambassadors for the shipping line by spending a couple of recountable hours looking behind the scenes – and then having to stump up for the privilege.