37 Greek Isles 2016
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2016 Greek Isles Itinerary
   September 08: Day 0   Thursday Rome, Italy 
   September 09: Day 02    Friday Amalfi Coast, Italy 
   September 10: Day 03    Saturday Catania, Sicily 
   September 11: Day 04   Sunday at sea
   September 12: Day 05   Monday Athens, Greece 
   September 13: Day 06   Tuesday Santorini, Greece 
   September 14: Day 07   Wednesday Mykonos, Greece 
   September 15: Day 08     Thursday at sea
   September 16: Day 09    Friday Kotor, Montenegro 
   September 17: Day 10     Saturday Zadar, Croatia 
   September 18: Day 11   Sunday Koper, Slovenia 
   September 19: Day 12   Monday Venice, Italy 

Greek Isles 2016 Recap


Written by Rick Archer
October 2016 

Marla and I just returned from our long 15 day jaunt through the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.  From what I gather, only Odysseus ever took a longer trip through the Mediterranean, so I will dedicate my recap to him.

When all was said and done, Marla decided that this may have been her favorite trip ever.  She said the chance to see the world with her closest friends by her side made for a wonderful trip.  As for me, I still prefer Barcelona 2009 and Oslo 2010, but I agree this was one heck of a fine trip.  

September 08: Day 01, Thursday: Houston to Rome, Italy

Rick and Marla's Odyssey began with a narrow escape.   One of my absolute favorite sayings is that 'Experience is a comb that Life throws you AFTER you have lost your hair'.  

No truer words have ever been spoken.   There are all kinds of gambles involved in overseas travel.   Usually I have to learn my lessons the hard way, but this time Marla and I got lucky. 

For some darn reason, United Airline has a lot of trouble sticking to a schedule even when the weather is perfect.   For people who have connecting flights, this is a real nightmare.   Marla and I sat in our seats for an hour because our plane couldn't get the baggage door to close properly.   How pathetic is that?

We ended up making our connecting flight to Italy by the skin of our teeth.   They were boarding as we got there.  Had we missed this flight, we would have missed getting on the cruise ship the next morning.   I guess we would have been forced to take the train to Salerno, Italy, to catch up... a very costly prospect.   We got lucky this time, so hopefully we learned our lesson:  depending on connecting flights is a huge gamble!

I think from now we will go in a day early. 


By and large, the way air travel from Houston to Europe works is predictable.  Air flights to Europe take place at night.  The trip back is easier because it takes place at day.

People fight the time zones heading to Europe.  A 9 hour flight typically takes 12-15 hours.  Travelers arrive at their destination at the crack of dawn.  No one gets any real sleep on these Red Eye trips, so you show up exhausted, stiff and grouchy.  Typically the hotel room isn't ready so there is no place to crash.  These mornings become serious Zombie Time.   

Not all Travel is this difficult.  For example, Marla's annual dance cruise to the Caribbean is a piece of cake.  Take as much luggage as you want, drive down to Galveston, park your car and away you go.  A trip to Europe is a different story.  I will be honest and say that Travel to Europe isn't for sissies.  A certain mental toughness is necessary or you will go absolutely nuts.  I always say the benefits outweigh the headaches, but any USA to Europe flight is an ordeal to say the least. 

The airlines don't make it any easier.  For one thing, the airlines like to play games with luggage.  Now every decision on how many shoes and shirts to take becomes a burden because bad decisions might put you over the 50 pound weight limit for the big bag.  The small bags are a problem too.  For example, what is kosher for carry-ons with one airline may end up costing you a bundle with the next airline.  "Sorry, sir, your carry-on is too big, you will have to check it."  There goes another $50-$75 down the drain. 

Each security checkpoint wants something different.  Some security checks leave you practically naked.  Others leave every item in your carry-on strewn over the inspection table due to a toothpaste issue or a suspicious can of hair spray.   For example, in Newark, New Jersey, Marla got in trouble for hair spray packed with her computer.   Apparently her computer needs hairspray so it will look good.  Just kidding.  Marla's laptop is very cute, Gary. 

What irritates me is that procedures vary so much.  One stop looks for this, then at the next stop they look for something else.   For example, in Venice I was told to try again because I didn't take my Kindle out (three other security checks didn't care).   This particular incident flipped me out because I had deliberately put my wallet and passport INSIDE my carry-on to prevent theft (my brother in law Larry once had his watch stolen during a security check because he left it exposed.  Someone with fast hands helped themselves).   The next time through, I found my passport and wallet had been deliberately taken out and placed in a tray by the security guy in order to take a better look at my deadly Kindle threat. 

I couldn't believe it... my two most important items were exposed for any thief despite my best efforts to protect them both.  I was angry.  What was so important about a Kindle?

Who knows, maybe there was some sort of Tablet incident that I don't know about.  Fear is rampant... or should I say 'caution'?   For example, United Airlines was terrified of the current exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7.  I must have listened to 20 announcements in the terminal to keep these devices turned off. 

My point is that the rules change everywhere, so a certain patience is necessary.  Overseas Travel can be very complicated.  Fortunately, Marla knows the ropes, so she warns people well in advance of what to watch out for.  The problem is that some people are too busy to take the time to read her 'word to the wise' emails, so they end up getting blind-sided.  Then when it is too late they go complain to Marla.  But that's another story.

Terrorism played a major role in this year's planning.   To Go or Not to Go?  Airports are a favorite terrorist target.  Istanbul’s Ataturk airport was bombed in June, making this tragedy the latest in a series of grisly attacks which included an airport and metro station in Brussels, a concert hall in Paris, a shrine in Bangkok, a hotel in Mumbai, a train station in Madrid, and the London Tube.  In the months leading up to this trip there was also the terrible incident in Nice, France, an incident in Munich, Germany, as well as the coup attempt in Turkey. 

Several people were reluctant to take their chances on our trip.  After talking to Marla, most decided to go anyway.  Nonetheless, Marla had six or seven people cancel due to fears of terrorism.   Among them were Marla's brother Larry and his wife Roz. 

Needless to say, Marla was fit to be tied when Larry canceled.  Marla loves Larry dearly, so her disappointment at his decision to stay home was off the charts.  Larry threw over $2,000 down the drain in the process. 

So who is to say that Europe is more dangerous?  Personally, I think the fear is more perception than reality.  Nothing happened in Europe during our two-week visit.  According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350.  If you’re thinking home is safer, compare that number with the 3,030 killed in the U.S. by terrorism during the same period.  

Is America really safer?  That's debatable.  America is a very violent place these days.  In Larry's case, 5 women were shot to death in a shopping mall near his home while we were away in Europe.  And then there was the frightening bomb incident in New York and New Jersey. 

In terms of street crime and gun violence, most U.S. cities are statistically far more dangerous than the places we visit abroad.  Your risk of being killed in a car crash (one in 19,000), drowning in a bathtub (one in 800,000), or being struck by lightning (one in 5.5 million) far exceed your risk of dying from terrorism (one in 20 million).  Indeed, the leading cause of tourism deaths are motor vehicle accidents (based on an experience we had in Montenegro, I can readily agree with that).

On the other hand, I won't deny that the risk level of encountering European terrorism has increased.  That is exactly why the terrorists attack airports... to deprive Europe of much-needed tourism dollars.   And it works!!   When Marla booked her Istanbul 2015 Cruise, Istanbul was listed as the new NUMBER ONE TOURIST DESTINATION IN THE WORLD.  I am telling the truth... I saw the report.  Today in 2016, no cruise ship will go anywhere near the place.  

Terrorism has totally disrupted Turkey's economy and way of life.   Same thing for Egypt.  Who has the guts to get on a plane to Egypt?   Not me.  I'll pass.

Bombs, bombs, bombs.  Indeed, the debate over European travel with Marla's brother Larry led to an unsettling experience on my first day of the trip.  Marla had arranged for the Celebrity Constellation to transfer us on a bus from the Rome airport to the cruise terminal in the port of Civitavecchia 35 miles away.   The only problem was we had a 90-minute wait at the airport.   To kill time we walked over to an airport cafe about 30 feet from where the cruise guides were collecting passengers.  Who wants to wait standing up?   Besides, maybe some coffee would help chase the Zombie feeling.

Ten minutes after we sat down, an attractive young Italian girl appeared out of nowhere pushing a luggage cart with a large bag on top.   She stopped five feet from our table and said she had to use the restroom... "Would you watch my luggage, please?"  

I nodded only to see the young woman turn and literally sprint away.  Her rapid pace set off an alarm. 

Now I began to stare at the luggage.   Was this a ploy?  Was there a bomb inside that luggage?   That would give this woman an excellent reason to run as fast as she could.   On the other hand, perhaps she had an urgent need to use the restroom.   Marla and I were both worried.   Finally I told Marla to leave.   I said there was no reason for both of us to be taking this chance.  Marla argued with me... what's new?... but finally agreed to vacate the premises just in case.

Now I sat there alone staring at the luggage.   One year ago the thought that I might be in danger would have never crossed my mind.  But that was one year ago.  Now my mind raced back to the Brussels airport incident in March 2016.  Two suicide bombers had carried in large suitcases filled with explosives and nails.  Was I facing a similar threat?  Was there a way this girl could detonate a bomb remotely?   Or was there a timer inside that bag? 

I was not happy at all.   It bothered me no end that I could be deceived by this woman's seemingly innocent request.  In addition, it bothered me that maybe Larry was right.  Maybe European travel is too dangerous to take the risk.  Five minutes passed as I debated the issue.  As I said, one year ago, these horrible thoughts would have never crossed my mind.  But those were the good old days.  Today it would be foolish not to take note of the evil changes.  

I looked around for the woman.  To my relief, I spotted her in line trying to get coffee.  Our eyes met... she was just as worried about her luggage getting stolen as I was worried about whether I could trust her.   When she saw me looking at her, she was clearly relieved.  The young lady waved at me and smiled.

I won this round, but I won't deny it left me rattled. 

The whole point of terrorism is to use fear to disrupt our lives.   It clearly works.  Some stay home, others go.  Marla and I share the attitude that while the risks have escalated, the odds are still very remote.  But let's face it... there is no right answer.   Each individual has to make up their own mind. 


September 09: Day 02,  Friday:  Amalfi Coast, Italy

Salerno is a city just south of Naples on the western Italian coast.   There are many excellent excursion options at this port.   One choice to view the stunning mountainous coastline known as the 'Amalfi Coast'.   Another choice is to visit Pompeii, the city tragically destroyed by the 79 AD volcanic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius.   A third choice is to visit the beautiful Isle of Capri.  Marla and I have done all three and loved each excursion. 

Seeing how this year marked our fourth cruise visit to this particular area, there were no new options.  Hence Marla and I decided to revisit Capri.   

Greek Mythology suggests that this isle was inhabited by the Sirens.  The Sirens were beautiful sea maidens who lured sailors to their death by singing irresistible songs.  The sailors would come closer only to have their ships demolished by hidden rocks.   The tale of the deadly Sirens are featured prominently in Homer's 'Odyssey'. 

Capri was made famous by the introduction of Capri pants by fashion designer Sonja de Lennart in 1948.  They rose to popularity in the late '50s and early '60s.  American actress Grace Kelly was among the first movie stars to wear capris, but the strongest influence came from Mary Tyler Moore.   On the 1960s television series 'The Dick Van Dyke Show', Mary as Laura Petrie caused a fashion sensation – and some mild controversy – by wearing snug-fitting capri pants during the show's run.  It didn't hurt that Mary Tyler Moore had the perfect figure for these tight pants.  Those pants looked good on her, so capris shot to fame. 

I am interested in Capri for several reasons.  To begin with, the place is stunningly beautiful.   Capri is a tall, imposing volcanic island just 4 short miles from the Italian coast.  When one takes the ski lift to the top, the reward is something akin to being in heaven.  The beauty of the surrounding area is too wonderful to describe.   The phrase 'feeling on top of the world' was coined just for this occasion.  Many people agree with me.  Due to its beauty, Capri is a popular home to many wealthy Europeans.

And now I will share my other reason for visiting Capri.    Last year I watched a fascinating British mini-series from the Seventies known as 'I Claudius'.  One of the main characters in this amazing story was the Roman Emperor Tiberius.  Capri was the retirement home of Tiberius.  My main reason to visit Capri again was to gather pictures and information relevant to a tale of ancient Rome I am about to share with you. 

I assumed our Capri bus tour would include a visit to the villa of Tiberius.   The tour was advertised as heading to all the important sites in Capri, but to my dismay the villa of Tiberius was scratched from the list.  As it turned out, we could have reached it on foot.  Located a mile and a half away with two hours of free time, assuming we didn't get lost, we had barely enough time to take a quick look, then turn back around.  Unfortunately we had a mediocre guide who was far more interested in his own convenience than actually helping us learn something.  He warned us the boat back to the ship would leave without us if we were late, so we got intimidated.  Oh well.   There went my best chance to see the 'Leap of Tiberius' in this lifetime.

However, I think I may have seen it in a past life.  Anyone who has read my previous newsletters will recall I am perpetually fascinated by the concept of Reincarnation.  If such a thing exists, I am convinced I surely spent one lifetime in Rome during the reign of Julius Caesar. 

Many of you have seen HBO's amazing show 'Game of Thrones'.  The premise is that power players use assassination, war, torture, brutality, poison and devious cunning... plus magic and three flying dragons... in their ambitious attempts to become ruler of the kingdom. 

As it turns out, Capri played a role in one of the strangest stories in Roman history.  The events are so bizarre and so twisted that one almost wonders if the HBO series took its inspiration from ancient Rome.  Sorry to say, there are no flying dragons or magic in my story, but the bloodshed, depravity, and evil ambition are every bit the equal to 'Game of Thrones'. 

I hope you will take the time to read my tale.  I promise you will not be disappointed.  The Roman Game of Thrones

Rick Archer

PS - In the coming weeks, I will add more stories about our trip.


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