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
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.
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.”
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