Sunday, February 12, 2012

It seemed like SUCH a good idea at the time?

‘I’m Horny! Horny, Horny, Horny!’ blared from loudspeakers, the singer screaming the words over and over again. Our cruise ship was anchored off Santorini. Too far away to see the famous dazzling white buildings clustered along the top; they looked like a heavy fall of snow on a long, dark rock.
With the glorious, sparkling Aegean Sea, a cloudless sky and the heavy drowsy heat of a September afternoon, one might imagine pure peace, a glimpse of Paradise, perhaps? Not quite.
The words sounded comical, were singularly inappropriate, as groups of elderly, international passengers queued up to be taken across to the island. Where they would spend about ninety minutes in fierce heat, trying to see something of the place, before being ferried back to the ship. Most had done another whistle stop ‘island excursion’ at the crack of dawn. Now, it was Santorini’s turn. Our restful cruise had turned out to be choc-full of early mornings.
And it was all my fault...  A lot of travel info drops into my inbox and last year, about this time, in the depths of winter, I did something quite mad. On a freezing morning, I booked us on a Greek Cruise without having all the details. And did this ‘made in haste’ booking give us a memorable week? It certainly did.

When the flight times were finally announced, I was thrilled to see 'departing Toulouse at 7.30pm'. Terrific! With a two hour flight to Athens, we would be dining, dancing and smashing plates on our first evening. The words ‘via Marseille’ suggested maybe dinner would be a bit later.
We left our hamlet in the hills at twelve mid-day and enjoyed a sumptuous lunch in the fabulous ‘8ᵉ Ciel’ restaurant in Toulouse Blagnac Airport, where even the café merits a photo.

It proved to be exactly the right thing to do, since the in flight food consisted of a small, freezing cold white bread roll spread with something unknown, but hideous. Between the Marseille stop, (endless, claustrophobic time spent sitting on the runway) then on to Athens, baggage collection, meeting the reps, being divided into groups, directed to various coaches, we reached our particular hotel at two-fifteen am. We were then, to our delight, told by a jolly man at reception that we would be called promptly at six to be taken to our ship. Crestfallen wouldn’t describe me. Robbed of my first evening, no dinner, no dancing, no wine; I was hungry and cramped from sitting. Larry, absolutely bootfaced, punched his pillows into shape muttering ‘blasted cruises.’

And that was just the beginning. Next morning, many red eyed, tired people boarded the splendid Louis Majesty, where our wonderful rep told us all about the shore excursions, mostly with dawn starts. While some eager soul asked a question of the rep, Larry quietly told me that he wasn’t getting off  'This Bloody Ship' until we docked back in Piraeus.
He was way out of his comfort zone, between the horrendously late, no dinner first night and little more than three hours sleep. Then we found lunch was a mid-day to two affair. Loathing the timing, the queuing up, the filling a plate while being jostled on all sides, (he claimed) he insisted that we eat in the quieter, formal (and more expensive) restaurant.
It was lovely; a sense of Poirot as we dressed up and sallied forth. This was the best part of the trip for Larry - gourmet food in civilised surroundings.

The fantastic crew of the Louis Majesty; they couldn’t have been kinder and I found lots to like about the trip; the islands, seeming to float in the glorious blue Aegean Sea, the heat, the amazing sunsets, a bit of shopping on board.  With five restaurants, many bars, shops, sundecks, cabaret, competitions, you could join in or not, as you please. Down a deck or two, one could sunbathe in perfect quiet, out of range of the speakers and the crazy music, more suited to wild ‘clubbing’ than a cruise.

On our last night, we settled in to enjoy more excellent food and wine in Le Bistro, followed by an essential early night as it had been announced (fresh horrors!) that we must leave the ship at seven in the morning for our hotel in Athens – this meant another six o’clock ‘wakey wakey’ call.
Halfway down a soothing bottle of wine and almost finished starters, in came a couple we had spoken to only briefly. The man, from another continent, on first seeing a woman dining alone, and then spotting us, began shouting to the astonished waiters 'Let’s set up a table for five over here’.  Speechless, both of us inwardly seething with rage, we watched as our table was joined to another. I’ve seldom had a more appalling evening.

Next morning, we were brought to the ritzy beach resort of Glyfada, where we spent three days in a splendid, stylish area, eating stunning seafood - sometimes served with Greek cheese - and drinking jugs of delicious local white wine. 
A direct flight back to Toulouse was a bonus end to the trip. But none of this was enough; Larry told me never, ever to book a cruise again, unless it contains one important word, Cunard.
So this year, while we are snowed in, I am limiting myself to shopping for make-up, books, & the odd foray into the famous sales - not to be missed. But I am browsing the Cunard site; I have always wanted to arrive in New York by liner...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mongolian Challenge - only 17 weeks!

. Land of blue skies, legends, folklore and emptiness; for most people with an interest in the horse, it has always been a mythological place.
From Genghis Khan and his mighty armies to the people of Mongolia today, those who ride the Steppes have always had, for me at any rate, a Mythical status.
Most nomadic families today still keep a herd of horses; a really good horse is considered one of a man’s most prized possessions. The horse remains the most common and reliable form or transport, able to go where roads do not exist, which is a large part of Mongolia. And there’s so much more. Imagine hunting with an Eagle, learning how to hunt, as a child, with your very own eagle; the child and the bird growing together.

Who, with imagination, would not jump at the chance to go there?  And if, in the process, we can help others, why hesitate?  Here’s my plan for June.