We were tendered off the ship to the island of Santorini
What most people refer to as a cruise, I stubbornly call a ‘boat ride’. Why? Well, a couple of years ago I would have scoffed at the thought of taking a cruise. I mean, what would a self-respecting independent traveller like me be doing on one of those floating cities, having his every need taken care of, leaving no room for imagination, decision-making or risk-taking? The only experience I’d previously had of cruises, and the kind of people who go on cruises, was in Central America (Belize, to be precise) when, one day, I suddenly found my private space invaded by ludicrously fat and pampered Americans, who had been tendered ashore and were being expensively transported from one sight-seeing venue to another, during the few hours they had available. I looked on them with pity. Their lives were inexorably bounded by the luxurious buffers that life on an expensive cruise liner imposed on them.
So, the question remains, what was I doing on a ship that carried three times the population of my own village, served food continuously throughout the day, provided rivers of drink of every description, and attempted to fill every fun-seeking gap in the lives of over 3,500 passengers? The simple answer was: the destinations. I simply can’t get to all these places in one lifetime on a bike! Nor can we do enough city-breaks or short trips to satisfy the curiosity.
In the space of a week, sailing out of Venice, we discovered the beauty and tragic WW2 circumstances of Bari (SE Italy), the fascinating history of Olympia, the monumental splendour of Athens, the volcanic beauty of Santorini, the imposing Old Fort of Corfu Town, the stunning visuals of Dubrovnik as we circumnavigated the whole historic centre along the fortified walls. Then, to begin and end the journey with stopovers in Venice……..well, the decision to take the ‘boat ride’ became a no-brainer, and the cost was no more than the average hotel holiday on a resort.
However, the people who take cruises (and some take several each year) can be very ‘special’. From the ladies who dedicate every onboard, and onshore, moment to jewelry shopping, to the hardened sun-loungers who bemoan the disappearance of the sun; from addicted gamblers to addicted drinkers; from nicotine junkies who occupy the same chair in smoker’s corner throughout, to the ‘cruising bores’ who will not be seen in the same outfit two days running.
Bridge of sighs in Venice
But amongst the crowds, you do come across a few like-minded souls, who don’t bore you with the details of all their past cruises, comparing the pros and cons of each of the cruise companies; you will chance by people who share some common values, and who make great company at table. I even met a fellow cyclist at lunch (well, he was a triathlete). We spoke French together and I sat back in amazement as he consumed three plates of pasta, preceded by soup and followed by desert.
And when you step off the ship to spend the day onshore, you will fall into the company of other DIYers, who are prepared to walk into town or catch a local bus, and are happy to eschew the fully escorted tours that hardly give you time to set foot on land.