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 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.