Travelogue: Cruising the Adriatic
When a travel-agent friend called to ask if I wanted to join a group on an Adriatic cruise at a price that would make Scrooge scramble, I said, “Sure. Why not?” Sandwiched between my return from other travels and the arrival of family for the holidays, the dates weren’t optimal, but it was a cruise, after all. See the sights. Hang out with friends. Eat, drink, and get a massage. What could be more relaxing?
It all started out merrily enough. An hour or so into the first leg of our flight, I stood up to let a seatmate exit and heard, “Marj Lacey. It’s Marj Lacey.” In texts the night before, my long-time friend Marcia and I had discussed plans (she, off to South America; me, enroute to Greece) and signed off with, “Maybe we’ll cross paths at the airport in the morning.” But details? Airline? Itinerary? We hadn’t gotten to that.
But there she was. A nice omen, I thought. Running into a friend at an unexpected time or place always seems a little like a gift—life saying “Cheers! Enjoy!”
In Atlanta, the two of us said good-by (three of us actually, Marcia having her husband along) and went our separate ways. And life was fine … all the way to Amsterdam and on to Athens where I joined fellow travelers clustered expectantly, like hungry baby birds, around the luggage carousel. Soon, folks started snagging their bags. Yolanda got hers. I waited. Judith got hers. I waited. Ann got hers. I waited. You can see where I’m going with this. Harried agents eventually determined that my bag and one belonging to Gene, also in our group, had deplaned and currently reposed in Amsterdam on the other side of the continent. A profusion of paperwork and promises ensued.
Two days later, my bag and I crossed paths on the dock at Santorini: I, on a bus bound for the scenic village of Oia; my bag, being dragged aboard a small craft bound for the ship I’d just left, anchored in the deep end of the harbor. Half elated, half annoyed, I watched as my clothes—and more importantly, spare camera batteries and charger—sailed away while I set out to explore one of the more photogenic human habitats on the planet.
I was reduced to taking photos with cell phone and iPad. I’ve seen spectacular pictures taken with those devices from time to time, but those things don’t have viewfinders, and taking photos in sun-soaked Santorini without a viewfinder was like tracking a polar bear at 300 yards in a heavy fog. This gives whole new meaning to the term “point and shoot” which manufacturers use to tout the simplicity of their cameras. More accurately, the phrase should be “point and shoot and hope and pray.”
Reunited with clothing and camera gear on my return from Santorini, I relaxed as I partook of the joys of cruising—food, drink, and superb entertainment, the largest Jacuzzi I’d ever dipped a toe in, informative lectures, fellow passengers with stories to tell, and beckoning ports of call. All too soon, it was time to pack for the homeward trip.
Speaking of fog, however, with a pre-dawn departure time, I rose early and peered outside to check the weather. “Foggy out there,” I told my roommate Yolanda.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I think we’re in port and this side of the ship is just up against a wall. I think we’re just looking at a high gray wall.”
“Oh, well, maybe,” I agreed. And with that, off I went into a hushed hallway, eerily empty.
As it turned out, we were both right. I saw fog. She saw a wall. What we were looking at was a wall of fog, and it kept us out of Venice, where we were to disembark, as surely as the Great Wall of China kept out the Mongol hordes. Not only were we unable to dock; we weren’t even in the harbor, but in mid-Adriatic, two hours from port. Clearly I wouldn’t be making my early-morning flight—and as morn turned to noon … to afternoon … to evening, it became clear no-one else would be catching their flights either.
I’ve heard fog described as pea soup. But this? This was mashed potatoes.
Having vacated our rooms so the crew could prepare for the next set of passengers, many of us gathered in the spacious atrium, the heart of the ship. We slept, we talked, we read, we ate, we drank. There was a brief moment of excitement when the fog lifted enough that we could see the water below. Lest we get out of control, however, the captain quickly came on the intercom with “I know the fog seems to be lifting here, but we have been informed that in Venice, it’s only getting worse.”
I’m sure you’re waiting with bated breath to learn how this saga turns out. Well, then … eventually we set course to Trieste, where we were disgorged and told to find our luggage in a vast warehouse of sorts. We then dragged said luggage to buses which transported us to Venice on a dark and moonless night. There, we were told, a hotel awaited, prepared to take us in.
By then about all I had left was optimism. A hotel is good, I thought. Surely it will be near the airport, surely not in the old city with its laborinthine tangle of darkly-watered canals. (I had once wandered totally lost in Venice with friends and family on a stifling summer night which was not exactly full of pleasant memories, but that’s another whole story … Back to my current tale.) After all, planes require long runways, vast open space, parking lots. And of course, the hotel must be nearby. But no. Arriving in Venice, we were instructed to drag our luggage onto a long pier where we and the bags eventually were loaded onto something in the nature of a waterbus.
As for the hotel … well, it was pandemonium on steroids. I could go on and on about searching for my bag among a sea of them lined up on both sides of two long, dimly-lit corridors; gaining sustenance from an uninspired room-service sandwich; forcing myself to stay awake when I realized I had less than two hours before my airport pick-up; being ditched in the terminal by the woman charged with escorting our group through the vagaries of the air transport system, and making it onto the plane just seconds before they slammed the door shut and took off. But I’ll spare you all that.
Entertainment aboard ship abounded. Each evening in the lounge-like theater, we had lectures on ports we would visit, illustrated talks on photography, or full-fledged shows with vocals and dance. My favorites, however, were the more intimate performances in the atrium amidship. My introduction to those events was the video on the left. I was relaxing with friends when, all of a sudden, that started to happen. With rare presence of mind, I whipped out my cell phone and started shooting. The result was not ideal but it captures the spirit. For a change of pace, you'll see a more raucous performance on the right, part of it shot through glass when one of the singers joined the audience on the steps, hence the reflections.