Crete’s Neat! Who Knew?

I fully intended to wrap up this Golden Circle saga in 2013 and begin 2014 with a fresh assault on your literary sensibilities.  In my own defense, however, may I point out that even failing this objective, I am still way ahead of George Lucas and his announced twelve Star Wars episodes (coincidentally, the number of posts in this series).  Come on George, pick up the pace!

Regrettably, all my good intentions to wrap this up in 2013 went decidedly south, not unlike my ambitious New Year’s resolutions . . .  and yes, I do realize it is only January 7th, thank you very much.

Lighthouse in Chania, CreteMy last port of call before returning to Civitavecchia was perhaps, in some ways, the most surprising of all.  I’ll be honest, after scintillating Sicily, awe-inspiring Athens and exhilarating Ephesus, my expectations were not very high for conventional sounding Crete.

I opted not to do a structured tour and instead decided to hop a city bus that took me to the old part of Chania.  I set off with high hopes of buying one of those Uncle Si Robertson growing beards.  You can imagine my disappointment when one of the locals on the bus pointed out (with uncalled-for disdain I might add) that we were going to Chania, not Chia.  Having already sprung for the bus fare, I decided to make the most of my day.

Public market in Chania, Crete   Olives in Chania, Crete

I noted upon stepping off the bus that we were in front of the Agora, a huge, cross-shaped, indoor public market.  Reassured that I could always find directions back to this massive building and thus the bus stop in front (under no circumstances does one want to view the sailing away of one’s cruise ship from the dock), I decided to set off with nary a compass, map or any intelligible plan of attack . . . sort of the way I have approached my entire life.  The second picture above is a concession to my fellow lovers of Greek olives!

Resisting for the moment the urge to sit down in one of these comfortable looking green chairs and let Chania pass me by, instead of visa versa, I continued to amble down narrow streets lined with quaint shops and various eateries.

Sidewalk cafe in Chania, CreteThe pictures below represent a nice study in contrasts!  The first house I took note of on my walk through this charming city had alabaster white walls and second story windows set off by black wrought-iron railings.  It had beautifully carved wood doors and was classically framed by small trees.  As you can see, it was the picture of orderliness and care.   Not so, the second house. May 20th, House in Chania, Crete1941 marks the day the Germans started aerial bombing attacks which rained down significant damage upon the Old City.  I don’t know for sure if this second house was left as it now appears as a testimony to that destruction but I suspect that to be the case.

The bloody Nazis were very adept at wreaking havoc and raining down destruction.  Their meteoric rise to prominence, which thanks to God and the US military flamed out in a few Old house in Chania, Creteshort years, is one of history’s saddest chapters.  Sorry, that is more than enough time devoted to those sadistic miscreants.

On a more uplifting note, I am rather certain that there are guardian angels in heaven whose sole responsibility is to guide the steps of clueless travelers as they wander aimlessly through strange surroundings.  In spite of the fact that I headed north from the Agora for no particular reason it was only a short time before I stumbled upon the most picturesque part of the city, the Venetian port of Chania.  From a strictly utilitarian point of view, it was never very viable as a port being small, shallow and vulnerable to north and west winds.  (Strangely, I also have been called small, shallow and susceptible to just about everything but that doesn’t need to be explored here.)  Crete is, in fact, a fascinating destination and I hope my travels permit another and much longer visit in the future.

Chania's Venetian PortTo close out this series on an amusing, some might say disgusting note, any idea what is going on here?  For the record, these are not my feet dangling in the water.   Actually, thisFeet exfoliation in Chania, Crete is touted as an excellent form of exfoliation.  To quote the poster, the Garra Rufa fish have an enzyme in their saliva called diathanol which has healing properties.

So how did I spend the last couple of hours in my last port of call on the Golden Circle odyssey?  See for yourself below.

It is the quest for moments like this which motivates all of us who restlessly wander the wide world.  We ask only for a few priceless moments to pause, to reflect, to drink a local beer while we drink in the incredible surroundings and to pretend for a brief span we haven’t a care in the world.   Such moments are not just gloriously lived but gratefully relived whenever we rummage through the corners of our minds.

Relaxing by the Venetian Port of Chania, Crete

As we come full circle (pun intended) and move on to new adventures, I would love for you to take a moment and share your thoughts through a comment on this post.  I know full well that everyone has not been blessed to travel as widely as I have. I write these words in the hopes of giving you a small taste of the experience and inspiring your zeal to see as much of this amazing planet as resources, time and the grace of God permit.

My Trip / The Ship / A Tip

Those of you who have been paying attention . . . just for grins let’s kid ourselves and assume that’s 100% of you . . . will have noticed that this recent series of blog posts has been called “Golden Circle 2013”.   I’m curious.  Did that unfamiliar term cause you even a moment’s pause or did you just shrug your shoulders and mutter “Whatever” like some bored tween being asked to clean his room?

Picture from my balcony on Navigator of the SeasGOLDEN CIRCLE 2013

Not that it happens all that frequently on these pages but there happens to be a perfectly logical reason for the use of this term.  Every year our franchise organization, Travel Leaders, sponsors a reward trip for some of its top performing franchisees called, not coincidentally, the Golden Circle.  To qualify you have to be willing to sport a gold belly button ring of no less than twenty-four carats.  (OK, I’m being silly.  Fourteen carats is perfectly fine.)   Actually, you just have to be the creme de la creme of the travel industry, able to dispense expert advice, draw upon decades of distilled experience and resolve prickly problems all without breaking a sweat or mussing your hair.

This year’s trip was a seven night Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas in and out of Civitavecchia, Italy, the port near Rome.  More about the cruise ship momentarily.  But why, pray tell, did I fly to Rome from Dallas-Fort Worth by way of Dubai?  For those who can still afford a globe, even a cursory glance will reveal this is not exactly the most direct route.  In fact, it is 14 hours from DFW to Dubai and another 5 1/2 hours from Dubai to Rome.  I promise I was not amassing frequent flyer miles.  I did it for the perfectly sane reason all of us travel zealots do what we do.  I succumbed to a new destination’s allure, a new airline’s ambiance and a new culture’s attraction.   The travel itch, mon ami, simply has to be scratched!

Navigator of the Seas PromenadeNAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS

The Golden Circle cruise was aboard the Royal Caribbean vessel Navigator of the Seas.  The cruise that I was on was the penultimate cruise before the Navigator left the Mediterranean for its new home, Galveston, Texas.  Would you believe that the reason for this repositioning was that I struck up such a fast friendship with the captain that he wanted a home port nearby where I could continue giving him little navigation tips to enhance his career?  No, I didn’t think so.

Would you believe that I wrote an entire post explaining this move back in May?  You should!  It was called Travel Industry Proposes, Royal Caribbean Disposes.  Read this post and you will learn that not only is the ship coming to Texas but will be undergoing an extensive dry dock revitalization.  In upcoming posts as we sail from port to port, we . . . that is the we of majesty in case you didn’t notice my toe ring . .  will share  more about this charming vessel.

Sidewalk cafe in Ladispoli, ItalyA TIP

Being slightly intoxicated by the holiday spirit(s), I have magnanimously decided to share three tips for those contemplating booking a Med cruise!   First tip, never ever book your flights to arrive the day the ship sails.  That is a sure-fire recipe for unnecessary stress.  Arrive at least a day earlier. as I did.

Secondly, if you are sailing from Civtavecchia (near Rome), you might want to consider booking an overnight stay in the charming little town of Ladispoli.  (Bonus tip:  the accent falls on the second syllable.)  I stayed at a modest but perfectly suitable little place called the Hotel Alle Tamerici which offers a very cozy restaurant.

Tip number three.  So how do you get from the madhouse known as Fiumicino Airport in Rome to the tranquil Italian seacoast?  I’m glad you asked.  You simple contact Raffaele Rispoli with My Cab In Rome.  Raffaele is a charming and knowledgable denizen of that region of Italy and will gladly spirit you wherever you need to go.  Here is his website and email address (rrispoli at gmail dot com) if you would care to avail yourself of his dependable services.

Did this blog post ignite an all-consuming urge to experience even more?   There are two possible responses to that impulse:

1)  Take two aspirin, lie down and see if the feeling subsides

2) Click on this link where you can view over 200 pictures I took on my Golden Circle trip

Check back soon to hear about our first port of call.

Let The Journey Begin: Dubai Or Dust!

I have been in the travel business for well over 25 years.  I will refrain from interjecting the tiresome old saw about being in kindergarten when I began.  One glance at my weathered countenance would quickly dispel such illusions anyway.  Unfortunately, the creases in my face are beginning to bear a striking resemblance to a West Texas river bed after a ten-year drought.

One of the things that got me into the travel business originally, besides a fiscal naiveté befitting a first year business major, is my seemingly unquenchable thirst for adventure.  Another less flattering way of saying the same thing is that I have the attention span of a fruit fly.

Unlike my more mature counterparts, I spend very little time reflecting on the past.  My brother, for example, is the family historian.  I am the family futurist.  Most of my psychic energy is expended contemplating my next foray into the sometimes testing but never tedious world around me.

The Club at DFW

The Club at DFW: The only civilized way to start your journey!

This morning*, I set off of on another of my episodic jaunts.  If you happen to have read one of my previous posts, I gave you a few hints as to my upcoming itinerary.  You need simply to read this post, and the next several to follow, for the denouement.

Every successful journey is immeasurably aided by a good beginning.  This one, I must say, is going quite swimmingly so far. It started with being collected at my domicile by a black car arranged for by my dear friends at RideCentric.  After buzzing by my favorite Starbucks for my obligatory tall, skinny, French vanilla latte, we were off to the airport.

Upon checking in at Emirates (the glistening flying chariot that, even as I pen these words, is spiriting me to Dubai), I headed to The Club at DFW (complimentary for those of us blessed to find ourselves in business class).  The breakfast tacos were quite tasty, I must say.

I have been for quite some time very eager to sample the highly vaunted Emirates flying experience.  Oh, I have been on an Emirates plane before, it just never actually got airborne.  Faithful readers will recall I have even been to a couple of Emirates events.  Today, however, is my first occasion to actually fly on Emirates.

As I write these words I am somewhere over Chibougamau (and no, I did not make that up), so I still have numerous hours to go.  For those of you who hang on my every syllable . . . let‘s not delve into embarrassing percentages . . . here are my preliminary observations.  The service on Emirates is every bit as good as advertised.

Flight attendent on EmiratesIf you own an airline (and don’t we all), you better know how to hire the right people.  There is a magical line between effortless grace and obsequious fawning.  My attendant, Jason, must have a Masters degree in that subtle yet critical distinction.  He manages to be helpful without being harassing.  Restaurant servers take note!

The food, so far at least, has been quite delectable.  I say “so far” since I have a lite-bite and a hearty breakfast still to go.  (Hey, it’s a fourteen hour flight and I have to keep Meal service on Emirates my strength up if you expect me to keep cranking out these literary masterpieces.  You don’t think John Steinbeck actually lived off grapes, do you?)  I particularly enjoyed the salad trio of prawn, salmon and lobster.

The flight to this point has been as smooth as a leisurely punt down the Thames.  I write these words with no small measure of reluctance out of fear I may be tempting fate to send along some white-knuckle turbulence just to keep me humble.  Let’s pray not!

The entertainment center called ICE (for information, communication and entertainment), Emirates in-flight entertainment centeris quite elaborate.  So elaborate in fact, I have yet to muster the energy to decipher it.  I haven’t gotten past the screen that shows one’s excruciatingly slow progress toward one’s destination.

Fortunately, munching on Godiva chocolates, sipping port and rambling endlessly on to you, my adoring readers, seems to provide an adequate diversion so far.

Speaking of rambling, I am bumping up against my self-imposed word limit for any given post.  I would tell you my limit but invariably you would start counting words!  Not to worry!  I will be back with more mind-numbing, sleep-inducing, gray cell-suffocating blog posts before you can say “Just take me out and shoot me!”   Dubai or Dust!

* Owing to undependable access to wi-fi during my travels, these posts are being published several days after the events described.  If you remember literature class, it is written in the historical present!  One last note, all the posts related to this trip can be found under the category Golden Circle 2013 on the homepage right rail.