Saturday, July 29, 2006

Commuting round the Med - Part 1

Apologies for lack of posts over the past couple of weeks, but I've been cruising the Med aboard the legendary QE2 and internet access was pricey. Well, not exactly extortionate, but we were on a budget, and needed the extra funds for wine. As compensation for a fortnight of silence, it is my great pleasure to provide a comprehensive account of my trip, taking in some of Europe's most famous sights (and sites), some cracking coktails, and of course the obligatory holiday karaoke sessions. With so much to ta\lk about, I'm actually going to mae it a 2-parter. Join me, if you will, on a bright, warm July day, as our magnificent Skoda pulls into the terminal at the appointed time . . .

Embarkation at Southampton was a pleasingly uncomplicated affair, spoiled only slightly by an overly-officious Cunard woman who seemed to think that everyone was queue-jumping. This was only my second cruise, the first one being on board the Stars-and-Stripes-draped Carnival Triumph last year in the Carribean. Now let the record state that it was never my intention to go on another cruise this year (I don't want to turn into one of those perma-tanned shaken-but-not-stirred perennial cruisers who never stay more than 3 hours in any one port of call and then go around boasting about how they've experienced all the culture the world has to offer), but it was a good deal, and it was the QE2. It was also calling at lots of places I'd always wanted to see, and intend to return to for a proper visit: Rome, Naples, Barcelona, Cannes.

Two days at sea were sufficient to acquaint us with pretty much everything the ship had to offer - great food, nice pool and jacuzzi, some very impressive singers and dancers - but it was the ports of call I was there for, so the excitement really started when we hit Naples on day 3. Having signed up for one of the official tours, The Wife and I trooped off the ship with our fellow passengers and boarded our "air-conidtioned motor-coach" (why do people have to overcomplicate these things?), heading off for a brief tour of the city's points of interest (3 castles, one of which was used for a G7 summit back in '92, and a shopping centre with a nice ceiling) before heading on to that marevellous trove of ancient treasure, Pompeii. Oh, before I continue, by the way, on behalf of our endearingly camp tour guide, Massimo, I should point out that in no way are the stories about pickpockets in Naples true. It's just like in any other city, you just have to be careful in certain areas, etc, etc.

So anyway, Pompeii, eh? Isn't it breathtaking? Really. I had actually been there once before, on a school-tip when I was 17, but I have to confess I was rather more concerned with my lonely heart at the time, and so possibly did not give the place my full attention. No such distractions this time around, after 4 years of blissful marriage, so instead I threw myself into studying the magnificent mounment, hanging on Massimo's every word, as we explored the temple of Jupiter, the fish market, the brothels, the temple of Apollo, and rounded it off with a look at the current excavations at the Temple of Venus - it was a bit like being at Disneyland and glimpsing a forthcoming attraction. Further excitement awaited on the coach as we mislaid 2 passengers and had to drive around the car park a few times looking for them, and then back to the boat for lunch and an afternoon nap.

The following morning we rose early and breakfasted in a state of heightened anticipation, before boarding a coach bound for the Eternal City, Rome. Luana, the tour guide, incongruously less effeminate than Massimo despite being a girl, gave us a few hints and tips on surviving the trip (including more advice on pickpockets - is Italy such a den of iniquity?). When our coach finally ground to a halt across the road from the Collisseum, we were met by our "local" tour guide, the wonderfully eccentric Francesca. Armed with a frankly preposterous orange umbrella to enable us to pick her out in a crowd, she led us into through the security checks and into the bowels of the ancient ampitheatre, with Luana bringing up the rear to ensure that none of our convoy got lost along the way. Francesca, miked up to communicate with us via headphones, took us through the history of the place in vivid detail. The highlight of this section of the tour, however, was when she inadvertently referenced The Naked Gun, leaving her mike on in the toilet, and we were all treated to the soothing sound of trickling water on porcelain as we awaited her return in the sweltering heat. Next stop was the Pantheon, followed by lunch in the Piazza Navona, a trip to the Trevi Fountain to toss in the obligatory coins, a quick march to the Spanish Steps and then on the People's Square, through some impressive city gates and on to the coach and back to the boat in time for dinner. You can't ask for much better than that.

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