Admittedly, I thought I’d be way worse off coming back from Europe after basically a two-week vacation. Sure, the 22-hour trek that saw two layovers in New York and Detroit before getting back to Atlanta was pretty tiring, but I didn’t have that much difficulty in not using my recovery day, and instead returning to work immediately the next day. Frankly, after two weeks unpaid, it seemed like the smart thing to do.
So Europe. So cruise. Long story short is that the vacation was pretty good, and I had a good time traversing various cities in Italy, and my first cruise ever was pretty enjoyable overall. Maybe not as much relaxation as I’d hoped to have gotten, but I was able to sleep in for a few mornings, and those were quite pleasant. Alternatively, there were a lot of mornings that were on the schedules of either shore excursions or travel deadlines, leading to some jam-packed agendas at times too.
Among the things learned about planning a destination vacation as such, is that in the future, shelling out a little bit of cash in order to have some travel insurance might not be such a bad idea. Mythical gf and I got a pretty decent flight to Europe, but it was pockmarked with several layovers both to-and-from the states, and in the months approaching our trip, there were at least more than one deal that showed up with fewer layovers at a comparable price that made us come to the conclusion that perhaps there is some merit to timing.
Or we could have just taken Turkish Airlines, whom in light of their newness in Atlanta combined with how much they needed to build trust after the incidents in Istanbul, probably would have been on their best behavior at a cheaper cost. Que sera, sera.
However, with long layovers in New York and Paris, we saw opportunities for enjoyment instead of dread at airports, and in both cities, we capitalized on leaving the respective airports and going out into the cities for some food and train-riding. Neither really changed much from adding to the accumulating hours of not actually getting to rest, but it’s safe to say we made the best of our time instead of sitting miserably in airport terminals.
British Airways succeeded in getting on my shit list going to Europe through terribly inaccurate information, leading to some unnecessary and very avoidable anxiety. Long story short, imagine not knowing if your luggage was going to be at your final destination in another country, and if it wasn’t, knowing that short of the use of a fucking helicopter, there was no way to get it delivered to you once recovered. Fortunately, the worse case scenario did not come to fruition, but my formal complaint with them has been documented and is in discussion now.
So Italy; despite the fact that we spent two total overnights in Milan, I can’t really say that we actually were in Milan. We were there for a night before the cruise and the night prior to our flight back to the States, and we arrived at times in which we didn’t actually get out into the city, save for one walk through downtown Milan on the way to a hotel. I’m sure Milan is a beautiful city, and there’s a Google Map full of markers of restaurants that I’d loved to have been able to have tried, but it was not simply in the cards, that we would actually get to see much of Milan.
Trains, throughout Italy, and pretty much the rest of Europe, are an admirable form of long-distance travel. Sure, they’re a little bit slower than airplanes, but in most cases, they’re also a substantial reduction in cost to their airborne counterparts, while being way more efficient than automobiles. However, one niggling detail about the process that grew grating with each transfer or rushed instance, was that it’s obnoxious how the platform for your trains aren’t really ever announced until like, ten minutes prior to the departure of said trains. Like, our train scheduled to leave at 9:05 a.m., the platform isn’t announced until 8:56 a.m., and when it is, it’s platform 3, while we’re waiting at the big board of arrivals/departures, which sits at platform 21.
There is no such thing as leisurely getting on a train. But it’s not so bad once your body cools down from the sub-par air conditioning and you’re on your way to your destination.
Venice, was a place that I definitely wished some more time was spent, but between checking in to our cruise, and the early train out upon our return meant that what little time we spent in the land of waterways and gondolas, was all we had.
But it was still really cool to be there, as short as it was. It’s a city that’s entirely possible to walk throughout all of it in a day if your feet and stamina are good, with genuinely unique architecture and atmosphere that is distinctly individual. Like, you can visit cities like New York, Paris and Milan and they all feel like the same kind of metropolitan city environments, but if you stand in Venice, looking at Spanish tile roofed buildings, a waterway instead of an asphalt street, with a gondolier boating by, you know exactly where you are.
However, Venice is crawling with tourists, and it was the first of many places where my general morale would get chipped away by the thousands of rude tourists with no spatial awareness who just have to bump into me, my backpack, or be waving their selfie-sticks around like a fucking fencer. This would be a common occurrence throughout the entire vacation, where at my most exasperated, I’d wish for a future vacation that’s secluded and devoid of fellow tourists.
Admittedly, the cruising experience is something that I think benefits those who have accumulated experience and have done it before. I didn’t imagine it would be as simple as just walking up a ramp, and bam, the cruise begins, but I also didn’t imagine that the check-in process was a multi-hour affair full of lines, security checkpoints, more lines and more checks. By the time we set foot on the ship, it was a surreal moment of realizing that we had our freedom again.
Considering we had gone the span of the last 72 hours with maybe like 12 hours of sleep, once all the on-board safety checks were completed, our luggage secured and dinner eaten, with said freedom we did the one thing we wanted more than anything: actually sleep.
Dubrovnik, was the first stop on the cruise. Admittedly, Croatia was a place that I never gave any thought of visiting in my entire life. Whenever I thought of Croatia, I thought of either former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc, or how the name sounds like “Croatoan” the word carved into the tree during the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke colony in the 1500s. But, Dubrovnik is the city in which much of Game of Thrones is filmed in, and with a specific GoT tour planned, it was one of the places that I was looking forward to immensely.
Aside from the GoT nerding out while in Dubrovnik, seeing shit like Kings Landing and the House of the Undying I would have to say that the city itself was an extremely pleasant surprise. It’s a beautiful coastal city full of some very foreign (to me) looking architecture, and gives me the feeling I aspire to feel on foreign travel, that I’m actually in another country. The views are great, wandering around in what little time we had was enjoyable, and their weak currency made it very favorable to capitalize on dirt-cheap but fantastic local seafood.
I never would have guessed Dubrovnik to be this great, and by the time we were herded back onto the ship, it was agreed that Dubrovnik was the kind of place where several days could easily be spent and enjoyed.
One of the destinations on the cruise that drew a little apprehension from mythical gf and I, was that of the scheduled stop in Kusadasi, Turkey. Sure, Kusadasi is a considerable distance from both Istanbul and Izmir, two cities hit in terrorist attacks, but Turkey itself was still a country ravaged by civil unrest, with most notably the failed coup which resulted in turncoats getting publicly beaten to death among other consequences.
Initially, I would have preferred if Royal Caribbean withdrew from Turkey, as competing cruise lines like Norwegian and Viking already had, and given us some money back, or cobbled together an extra day in Croatia or Greece alternatively. But neither came to fruition, we soldered on to Turkey, and the answer became very obvious once the tour began: Royal Caribbean owns a large portion of the Turkish port businesses. Pulling out of Turkey not only hurts Turkish economy, but their own bottom line.
In the end, everything was fine. At no point did we ever feel unsafe on the tour through Ephesus or when we had our own time to wander around Kusadasi bazaars. Ancient Ephesus was an interesting walk through back in time, and haggling with shopkeepers in Kusadasi was a fun experience, especially when you can laugh in peoples’ faces and then get something down from 170 Turkish lyra down to like 40 (although I probably still got ripped off).
Honestly, Turkey wasn’t so bad, at least in Kusadasi. It’s no secret that their economy is suffering, as they’re a region dependent on tourism, and with current events making people shy away from the country as a whole, they’re feeling the squeeze. But there’s always something admirable and respectable when you wander around a city, and damn near everywhere, are Turkish flags being waved all over the place, from patios, balconies, rooftops and everywhere flags could be adorned. It’s like it’s a city of determined citizens, unafraid to fly their colors in light of civil unrest.
Santorini, Greece, was the third stop on the cruise, and one that mythical gf was looking forward to the most. I didn’t really know much about the place, other than that they were the place where the most beautiful views supposedly were.
I wasn’t keen on the 6:30 a.m. wakeup necessary to make a 7:00 a.m. arrival time, but it made itself apparent why such measures are taken; because Santorini is a place where an atom bomb full of tourists is dropped on seemingly a regular basis. On the day in which we stopped there, supposedly 1-4 other cruise liners were doing similarly, and it was never long anywhere before a tangled mess of humanity would snarl the narrow alleys and walkways of Oia and Fira.
As advertised, walking around both Oia and Fira, Santorini really does deliver breathtaking views of cliff-top city views and the Adriatic Sea. One doesn’t have to try very hard to get a picturesque view that would rival that of a postcard, and even the most amateur of photographers could probably get a shot worthy of boasting about. The two wineries visited in Santorini were enjoyable, and I’m not even a wine person, but was still able to find enjoyment in the experiences.
Unlike the excursions in Croatia and Turkey, we were given a pretty generous amount of time in Santorini, from where the last scheduled tour event happened, to when we needed to be back on the ship. But as I’ve learned, no scheduling is coincidental or deliberate, and as is often time the case when it comes to cruising, finer details are left murky, or in this case, simply unspoken.
Once freed from the tour group, mythical gf and I attempted to go on a wine tasting, scheduled independently from the cruise line. But apparently, the entire island of Santorini has like, five taxis, and at any given time, all five of them are stuck on the beach areas, and nowhere near Fira, one of the more central towns on the island. Needless to say, one of our five hours were burned, simply waiting in a long line to get a cab, but at least we made it to our tasting.
So, with three hours left and back in Fira, we thought we would be able to leisurely enjoy a little bit of time before taking the fun-sounding cable carts back to port where we would leisurely ferry back to the ship and cruise romantically off into the distance. But then we ran into a massive wall of humanity, and upon verification, our fears were confirmed: it was the line for the cable cart. The estimated wait time was nearly two hours, which was pretty much about as much time we had left to get onto the ship. Our options were:
- Wait for cable car, be late for boat, get called out publicly on PA for causing delay (it happened to those who chose this option)
- Seek taxi, risk waiting longer than two hours for one of five taxis on the island
- Walk the donkey path
Needless to say, we chose the donkey path. Which is appropriately named because it is a path that actual donkeys use to traverse up and down from city to port, and we were told that “it only takes like 20 minutes.” What they forgot to mention was the “20 minutes … in hell” part, which fails to mention the hordes of donkeys that pass by you throughout your trek, the piles of donkey shit and pools of urine that litter all over the trail, and the alabaster stones that are endlessly slippery, making a steep descent just that much more worrisome, that you don’t step in the wrong spot, slip, and fall into donkey shit or piss.
I’m under the belief that no vacation shouldn’t have some interesting stories or some adversity to overcome, which undoubtedly, the trek down the donkey path in Santorini fulfills, but by the time we got down the trail, and ultimately onto the ship, my mood was shot, and my opinion of Santorini sufficiently soured. The wall of humanity waiting for the cable carts were so ornery and so overly sensitive to line-cutters, that when this crotchety old Brit couple kept accusing me of trying to jump the line, I reached my wits end and got up in their faces to leave me the fuck alone I’m trying to get to the fucking stairs.
It’s truly the land that transportation has forgotten, and if I never went back, I can’t say that I’d shed a tear.
Anyway, I’ve decided to split this vacation post in two, because I realize that it’s long as hell, and I can’t imagine keeping anyone’s attention this long, much less my own. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to break it into two posts and artificially boost my post count, as if it actually mattered.