Assault on Athens (at Easter too!)

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May 5th 2013
Published: June 26th 2017
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Odessa to Athens

It's 700 nautical miles from Odessa to Piraeus so another day at sea. Time to catch up on a day of lounging around on a sunbed on deck 12. In our dreams…!!!

We left Odessa in the high 70s (25C), Piraeus is said to be in the mid 80s (28C). What greeted us on the sea day wasn't the expected 'Sammy Sunshine'. It was more like Phileas Fogg-horn'!!

The morning started off very misty and the temperature had dropped considerably. I was beginning to think I was back home with not two consecutive days being the same!! The sun did make a brief appearance on deck and so did Roisin but for most of the day, it was spent indoors.

Our route took us from the Black Sea, following the coast of Romania and Bulgaria, until we again entered the Bosphorus and passed Istanbul once more around mid day. We headed back in to the Sea of Marmaris, through the narrow channel of the Dardanelles then back into the Aegean turning to head for Piraeus, the largest port in Greece and one of the busiest ports in the world. This is also the port of call for Athens, lying only 6 miles from the capital.

I spent the afternoon sitting by the entrance to the Casino. There were plenty of takers for the bandits given the kind of day it was turning out to be. I noticed one French elderly lady hovering around a certain bank of machines. I thought nothing more of it until I heard the welcome sound of coins falling into the collection tray. The coins just kept on coming. I looked up and there was the French woman sitting at the bandit demanding a cup to collect her winnings. She then got up and disappeared from view. The cheeky beggar had been watching the bandits being played and then when the patron had given up, stepped in and cleaned up!! That's nothing new. I was doing this 45 years ago. When I was 6 I my family and I were on a cross channel ferry to Calais when I asked my Nan if I could borrow sixpence. She willingly obliged. This was considered a lot of money in 1966, as most bandits were only 1 penny for 1 play. I invested it in a certain slot machine and Bingo (more on that later!!), I won 21 shillings (1 guinea) I had been watching an old man try his luck for about 40 minutes. He must have spent at least 21 shillings!! I then went back to my Nan and to the amusement of my parents; I gave her the sixpence back!! Well I did only ask to ‘borrow' it!

We failed in the history round of the World Champions Quiz. However, so did everyone else! We achieved 5/10 and the highest score was 6. We would have had more but, having put Nixon as the first president to visit Russia, David, one of our two new teammates, was adamant it was later than Nixon and swore it was Carter. Needless to say we were right first time round!!

We made up for our mistakes on the English speakers quiz immediately after, scoring an impressive 15/16. This may have had something to do with half the questions being repeated from the last quiz for English speakers and that most of the competition in the lounge were first timers!! Still a win is a win. The prize?? I thought Princess prizes were ‘pushing' it but at least you got one each. We received 1 ball cap and 1 key chain… between 4!!

By late afternoon the mist had completely dispersed and we were well underway through the Dardanelles.

Roisin and I were out on deck. A portly man in his 70s approached and asked me: ‘Do you speak English?'

Yes ‘, I replied

‘Is that Gallipoli over there?' pointing to an imposing monument near the edge of the cliff.

‘No, I don't think so', I repliedI'm sure Galipoli is further around the other side'

He didn't even acknowledge me. He just turned and walked away holding his walking stick muttering to himself, but quite audible, ‘It bloody is, you know!!'

Whatever it was it still looked impressive and I'm sure had a great significance. We were told that the coastline of the Dardanelles was scattered with war memorials and I'm sure it would have been mentioned if one were in remembrance of the 1st World War battle at Gallipoli. With that, I told Roisin I was nipping back to the cabin to get my camera. Whilst there, I googled the image for ‘Gallipoli monument' and sure enough, the old codger was right!!

In my excitement to change my camera lens whilst on the balcony, I took off the lens cap and it slipped out of my grasp. The next few moments happened in super slo-mo. The lens cap bounced on the balcony deck; two bounces towards the railing. One more bounce and it would be lost forever! It then changed direction and rolled away from the railings in an ever-decreasing circle. It suddenly took a new lease of life and rolled under the divider that separated our cabin balcony from next door!

Flat on my belly, my left ear flush against the balcony deck, I could see the lens cap that had come to rest about 15 inches inside the perimeter of next doors cabin. I stretched my right arm to try to reach it but fell a few inches short. I then adjusted my body and tried again. I got my fingertips to it and managed to flick the lens cap back closer to our cabin. I then grabbed it and withdrew my arm. I had no idea if anyone was at home but would have loved to have seen the expression on Monsieur Frenchman's face had he entered his balcony at the exact time I was fishing for my lens cap!!

That evening Roisin decided to join in the Bingo Bingo. The previous night she had bought a ticket but due to lack of interest, the session was cancelled. There has to be a minimum of 10 participants. On that occasion only 3 had bought tickets. Tonight it was ‘game on'. Roisin needed only one number. Number 37.

‘ N - Trentesei'.

Before the number was called in English Roisin went to shout Bingo Bingo but then checked herself as she realised that it was number 36.'

Next number, ‘N – Trentequatro'. Straight away she knew this was 34.

‘Die nächste nummer. The caller said switching to German and holding the ball aloft. ‘What number are you waiting for' the caller asked Roisin.

‘37', answered Roisin

‘No'. said the caller teasingly. ‘Next number', he continued in English. ‘Trente…' there was a short pause, then ‘Trentesette'.

‘That's you', I said excitedly.

‘Bingo, Bingo', shouted Roisin.

Now do you remember I mentioned Dorothy our psychic who predicted that we would meet someone we knew on this trip? Well, she had just struck a home run again. She predicted that Roisin would come in to some money. We had dismissed this as playing the odds game. It could be construed that winning a tenner on the national lottery is ‘coming in to some money'. Now Roisin was holding 2 crisp 50 Euro notes in her hand. OK not a life-changing amount but Dorothy gets another ‘tick' from me!!

This evening's show was an invitation to the Opera. We both recognised and enjoyed arias from Carmen, the drinking song from La Traviata and Nessan Dorma from Turendot and who can forget Funiculi, funicular? This last song is not from an opera but a nice upbeat song to end on. Carolo Ruggiera the tenor was fantastic. He put so much emotion and richness into his voice. Earlier in the cruise he did a rendition of ‘Time to Say Goodbye' made famous by Andrea Bocelli. Close your eyes and you could have been hearing a performance from any top opera house in the world. The Soprano on the other hand, Violant Sarrá, sounded as if she'd been at the sherry!! We have heard her sing so much better but tonight it could have been anyone's Nan standing on stage!!

Arrival in Piraeus. After disturbances and disruption in Istanbul; Labour Day in Yalta and Odessa; it was now Eater Sunday in the Greek orthodox calendar. For that reason the Acropolis and most other museums were closed to the public.

We had booked a trip titled Historic Athens. Normally we would have done our own thing but being our first time here and not knowing if the hop on, hop off bus would be running, coupled with the heat of walking around trying to find subways and not knowing the distance between different attractions we both ‘bottled it' and decided to take an official excursion.

For whatever reason, our coach was 45 minutes late in departing. Whilst waiting on board, we noticed another coach just starting to board. We couldn't believe our eyes as to what happened next. As a passenger walked past one of the excursion crew , he turned to her and, after gesticulating wildly for a few seconds, head butted her! He then continued and got on to the coach. At least half a dozen people were standing around, some checking to see if the girl was OK. Nobody seemed to be bothered about ejecting this disgraceful passenger from the excursion. If that had happened, in my opinion he would have got off lightly. I it was me I would have had him arrested for assault and offloaded there and then.

As a postscript, I was having a coffee in the café inside the port terminal building when 3 of the excursion reps entered. I asked if the girl was OK and what had happened. She told me that it might have been through frustration of the bus being late, she doesn't know. Nevertheless, that's no excuse to commit a violent act. I then asked if any action is being taken on the assailant. She said that is happening now but doesn't know the detail. I will keep you posted.

We drove through the port of Piraeus via the marina and up into the heart of Athens. Due to it being Easter Sunday, the roads were deserted by Athenian standards. Most people had left the city to visit their family homes in neighbouring towns and villages or spend the holiday on the Greek Islands.

Our first stop was the Acropolis. This word is derived from the Greek (no s**t Sherlock!) from Akro- meaning highest point and -polis meaning town. This makes sense as acrophobia is the fear of heights and Necropolis is the city of the dead!!! Looking at the age of some passengers on board, I wonder??!! I would love there to be a ship named the MSC Necropolis or the Necropolis Princess!

The first religious structures were first built on this 90m high plateau around the 6th century BC in honour of Athena, the goddess of Wisdom and daughter of Zeus, from where Athens gets its name.

Unfortunately due to it being Easter Sunday, the Acropolis was closed. We expected it to be very barren around the base of the plateau and very open to the elements but were surprised at the amount of greenery, olive trees and shade to shelter from the mid day sun.

Our tour guide Lucy gave us a potted history of the area then we had about an hour to explore. Before she let us loose, she confirmed where our meeting place would be - next to a souvenir store that came highly recommended by MSC as this store wouldn't rip you off. We were told that all major credit cards were accepted but you could probably get a better deal if you paid in cash. When people talk about ‘deals', that sends alarm bells immediately ringing. You know the price given is not the final price accepted.

We strolled around the bottom of the Acropolis and stumbled upon another souvenir store. We didn't buy anything as we decided to take MSCs advice. I was tempted to by a Trojan helmet but wasn't too sure what I would use it for. I suppose I could always start a re-enactment society with myself!!!

Back in the recommended store, everything was about 3 times the price of the souvenir store we had just left. I even pointed out that these statues have no heads or arms and they're still asking between €60-80 (see photo). Roisin was quick to point out that they are supposed to be like that! They are replicas of statues of deities found at the top of the Acropolis!!

The highlights of the rest of the tour saw us stop at the original Olympic stadium. This was the stadium of the 1st modern Olympic games in 1896.

We stopped at the Parliament building where the National guards were in the process of changing shift. They change the guard every hour, on the hour. They are dressed like something from a children's TV show. A TV show that features clowns!! They also have one of the most bizarre walks. I'm sure this is from where John Cleese and the Monty Python team drew inspiration for their Ministry sketch!!

The tour lasted 4 hours and while the sights and stories kept our interest, it was nice to get back to the ship and air-conditioning.

This evening Roisin chanced her arm at bingo once more. It is €10 for 1 card or €20 for 3 cards. Before last nights win, Roisin paid €10 for a card (I didn't want to play) and Mo/Peter paid €20 for 3 cards (as Mo AND Peter wanted to play). We agreed that it would be cheaper if one of us paid €20 for 3 cards on one night and then the other couple paid for the cards on the next night. Peter paid the €20 for the 3 cards tonight and handed one to Mo and one to Roisin.

Incredibly, Peter won the €100!! As we have now had one win each, I will suggest tomorrow that we split any more winnings 50/50!!

Another day at sea tomorrow where we will cross the Aegean Sea and head for the West Coast of Italy before dropping anchor off the coast of Sorrento for our final stop before disembarkation

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