Day 7

May 10, 2003

At sea, on the way to Greece

Last night we successfully made it through where Scylla and Charybdis hang out (that's the whirlpool between the toe of Italy and the island of Sicily, which sucks down ships and the monster that plucks sailors off the deck of the ship). We slept through it, so we don't know how many sailors got plucked off the decks, but we notice that our cabin steward (Francisco) is still with us.

Today we are spending a "day at sea," which is officially to allow enough time to get from the left side of Italy to the right side of Greece. Unofficially, it's to give us all a day to recuperate from racing around Italy trying to see 2,000 years of history in four days.

After returning from breakfast, we find a form in our in-box (everybody has an in-box right outside their cabin). This form is from the Turkish government, which is very freaked out about SARS and wants to make sure none of us has been to Toronto lately, or hung out in the infectious disease ward of a hospital.

The form notes that if we lie about having SARS, they'll put us in a Turkish prison. We think this might be counterproductive.

Pisa and the Harbor

Laura found out what the deal was with Pisa and the relocated harbor (remember how Pisa used to be the main harbor, but then they moved it to Livorno?). Seems that the river Arno kept depositing silt and dirt in the harbor. So the Italians had to decide whether they were going to invent dredging equipment (this was 500 years ago, when the printing press was still new, so you couldn't go to the local U-Rent and get some dredging equipment) or just move the harbor farther down the coast.

Inventing dredging equipment was going to be a lot of work, and they preferred to concentrate on perfecting wine and olive oil, so they just moved the harbor.

Apparently, in the last 500 years, the Arno has deposited enough silt to put Pisa pretty securely inland (that's what threw us). Mystery solved.

Because we're spending today at sea, we thought we'd go over a few things about our cruise ship.

One of the four swimming pools on board (this one also has two hot tubs)

All the food is included in the cruise fare, unless you eat in one of the "specialty" restaurants. There's an Italian one and a Mexican one, and they have a $15 and $8 cover charge respectively. If you eat in any of the three big dining rooms, or the 24-hour buffet (or the pizza stand or the hot dog stand or the ice cream stand) the food is "free."

What's weird is that drinks are never free, not even soft drinks. (Coffee is free at the 24-hour restaurant, but it's really bad coffee, so they should really be paying us to drink it.) So, you could order steak and lobster from room service and it's free. But if you order two cokes, they'll charge you $3. Go figure.

There are 200 people assigned to serving food, and another 200 people assigned to cooking (and cleaning up). There are nine head waiters.

The outside decks include these wind-breaker panels

Laura lounges on the deck above the swimming pool, trying to make sense of Robert's first hack at the Trip Log

In spite of all that, the food is a bit disappointing. Sure, you get your frog's legs and your puff pastries, but we've had much better meals at the local restaurants on shore. Also, they haven't had a single flaming dessert yet.

To simplify paying for things (like drinks), everybody on board has a "Cruise Card." This is your Do-It-All card that you had damn well better not lose. It opens your cabin door. It lets you charge drinks (they have your credit card number). You swipe it through the computer to log onto the Internet.

You put your Cruise Card in a reader to leave the ship. And you enter it again when you want to get back on the ship. When you swipe it, it brings up a picture of you on a terminal so the Security officers can check that it's really you, and not Osama Bin Laden.

There are "airplane release" movies every day in the theater--movies that have just moved out of theaters, but aren't yet on HBO (but would show up on Pay Per View). Currently, you can watch "The Hours," "Catch Me If You Can," and "About Schmidt." These movies also show up on the ship's TV.

The TV includes three or four channels of news (CNN, MSNBC, BBC World, some sports channel that's usually showing soccer or billiards). One of the channels shows the "ship cam" which you can see online by going to and looking for "Ship Cams" and bringing up the cam for "Golden Princess." Remember, though, that we're about 10 hours ahead of the west coast, so if you check it after about 9:00 am, you'll only see the deck (they turn it around to point at the lighted deck at night). This afternoon you would have seen the Acropolis.

There's a big (real) theater at one end of the boat that can seat a couple of hundred people. They have Broadway reviews and such there. There are two other "show lounges" where they have comedians, jugglers, singers, and such. Think nightclub or cabaret.

There're also various organized activities, such as bingo and trivia quizzes. There's a library where you can borrow books to read. Or you can swim in one of the four pools (we've only been able to find three of them--the fourth one is rumored to be on Deck 15 forward).

1:00 pm

A lazy day where we've been waiting to get at the laundromat (seems we're not the only ones with the idea to wash our clothes while we have a day off). We've mostly been lounging about near the pool reading and writing yesterday's trip log.

Robert notices trays of sushi wandering past and tracks down their source (the buffet). It's actually quite good (considering that we haven't seen any Japanese crew members). One piece is about 2 inches in diameter, and shows a rose, sculpted from rice and seaweed.

Laura thought this sushi with a rose was pretty cool, but not so cool that she didn't scarf it down

The Internet cafe--no coffee, just Internet

Some people got married on board

Laura in one of the bars

3:20 pm

Just in case we were getting bored, they have a wine tasting in one of the restaurants. Some 200 wine connoisseurs show up (and then there's Robert...). According to Mr. Wine Expert (who is Italian and therefore must be an expert), the important thing is to drink wine that you like (D'oh!). He says not to worry about whether white or red goes with the food you are eating. Just drink wine that you like.

(He also says that he's heard you should uncork red wine and let it sit for 20 minutes to "breathe" before serving, but he can never let an open bottle of wine sit for that long without drinking it.)

We get samples of various types of wine. Robert, of course, gets one sample with a bug in it, and he asks the wine steward if that is "sediment" or if it's there to add flavor. The wine steward gets very embarrassed and brings another glass.

Apparently, the place to go if you want to stomp on grapes (like in the movies and cartoons) is Sardinia. That's where Mr. Wine Guy is from, and he says it's great fun, and we should all go there and try it.

He also explains how to remove sediment (and bugs) from champagne:

1) Keep the bottles upside down, so all the sediment falls to the bottle neck.

b) Once a day, turn the bottles (that means there's a job called "Champagne Wine Bottle Turner")

iii) When the champagne is ready, freeze the neck (using a brine solution).

4) Remove the frozen plug of sediment (and bugs).

E) Fill with champagne you got from somewhere else, cork that baby and ship it to Costco.

The other thing we found out about was the shape of the champagne glass. Back in the day (18th century) when King Louis and Marie Antoinette were hanging around, Louie wanted to make a champagne glass to honor Marie. So, he made one that was the shape of her breast (what a flatterer!). This is the wide champagne class.

Marie, however, found that this made it way too easy to spill wine on the carpet (remember, this was before you could rent a carpet cleaner from the grocery store). She devised the more practical champagne flute, so you could be pretty loaded and still not spill any. (She might also have been not too thrilled with the whole "glass shaped like your breast, my dear" thing.)

In the evening, we decide to try to drink our way through every bar on board. After five bars, we give up (there's still four or five more, but we're way too blurry to be able to find them...).

Along the way, we find the bar with the good music (most of the music on board is extremely schmaltzy and played half by musicians and half by drum machines). The "Explorer's Lounge" (leather chairs) has a jazz quarter featuring an Israeli pianist and a Canadian singer.

Every day a string quarter played in the lobby atrium

The sports bar features this upside down pool table

Laura manages to choke down a chocolate dessert

Laura is not impressed with the selection of eyeglasses at the shipboard sidewalk sale

After a few drinks, Robert starts taking pictures of himself using the mirrored ceilings in the bars

Panorama of the show lounge, where we went to watch "Dicey Horseracing" (dice tosses determined how far each horse "ran")

Or at least it looked like there were four of them....

South of the boot of Italy, but not yet in Greece
Robert and Laura

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