Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…actually cruising

The last post was a bit of a curve ball (I don’t know what that actually is, hopefully it means ‘misdirection’) because, you see, the next thing I did was go on a cruise. Initially it was meant to be just a paragraph or two but it grew arms and legs and by the end it was too long to serve just as an introduction.

The cruise I did go on wasn’t as big and exciting as the other one, or even the description of how I didn’t go on it, but it was safe and we could actually get on board, which is always a bonus.

The ship left Limassol, so after my stay in Paphos I just needed to get a minibus to the dock. It picked me up on time, took me to the right place and I checked in with no hassle.

The Thomson vessel wasn’t as nice as the Holland America one I’d been on, mainly because it was a bit older (like the passengers…). This, for example, was the key to my cabin.

thomson-keycard

On the other hand, there were some incredible cheese sculptures on board.

thomson-cheese-carving

Katakolon, Greece

The first stop of the trip was in Greece, a country I’d never been to before (although, searching my e-mail to find of-the-moment thoughts of this cruise I found out that I’d half-planned a trip to Greece around 2008 to watch some washed up footballers).

Katakolon is a sleepy seaside village which, nowadays, is mainly visited by cruise ships so people can take a specially built, and quite expensive, train up to the ruins of ancient Olympia.

katakolon-train-icecream

The area was a thriving town back in the day — from around the 10th century BC to the 4th century AD — but it’s mostly famous for being the site of the olden day Olympic Games. As well as loads of classical Greek ruins, the running track and starting line was still in pretty good nick.

ancient-olympia-ruins

ancient-olympia-running-track

Being in Greece, I also took the opportunity to try some local food and enjoyed the best Greek yoghurt (just ‘yoghurt’ here) of my life plus a pretty good, and very oily Greek salad (just ‘salad’).

actual-greek-yoghurt
actual-greek-salad

Messina, Italy

I’d only been to Italy as a kid and my memories are particularly childish — playing travel chess at the Vatican and getting excited because a stranger gave me an inflatable football at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This time there was nothing so exciting. Messina had a nice looking church, a weird looking fountain and a clock that put on a performance, although not it wasn’t as good as the one in Munich, I’m told. The pizza was good but the coffee was nothing special.

weird-messina-fountain

messina-church-tower

Tunis, Tunisia

I went to Tunisia in early 2010 and it was there that I really decided that it was time to leave Scotland. Or, as my friend aptly put it as we were walking to the sunny pool with beers in our hands, ‘why the fuck do we live in Scotland?’ That trip was spent in Port El Kantaoui and generally not far from that hotel pool. This time I spent a day in the capital and nearby Sidi Bou Said.

Because we were so far out of town, and our cruise line — unlike the other one in port — didn’t run a shuttle service, I hired a taxi driver/tour guide for the day.

Sibi Bou Said was a beautiful little village, with winding cobbled streets and traditional Mediterranean white and blue buildings. Unfortunately the cobbled streets and a poor walking technique led to me breaking my thongs. After a poor quality lunch, the taxi driver noticed my single bare foot and took me to his mate’s place to buy a new pair. He also talked to us about how he used to be a professional footballer — not quite the same lifestyle nowadays presumably.

sidi-bou-said

Returning to Tunis itself, I walked through the markets (and was surprised at how little hassle I was given, especially given the attitudes of their countrymen in the south) and then sat down for a drink, which I soon found out to be totally overpriced. Stupid tourist.

This photo shows a nice barbed wire fence. Apparently this is where the protests/demonstrations/riots started, and people obviously don’t want them happening again. Just off frame are a few army personnel.

tunis-main-square

Almeria, Spain

Two days later I was in Spain, on the southeast coast. I spent most of my time at the fort — the second largest Moor building still in Spain (the largest is the palace just outside the town) — and there I broke my new pair of thongs. From walking round the narrow streets and through the shopping centre that day, I found out that the streets in Spain are dirtier than in Tunisia. I would not have expected that.

almeria-fort

broken-thong

Tangier, Morocco

Like Tunisia, I’d previously spent a bit of time in Morocco and, like with Tunis, the cruise destination was somewhere I hadn’t been before. My other trip to Morocco was my first adult holiday, taken with a school friend and a uni friend, that turned into a mini-tour of the country: Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, somewhere in the Middle Atlas mountains, Marrakesh, Sidi Kaouki and then back to Casablanca. The country is very similar to Tunisia but one thing I remembered was that the market stall vendors, although still persistent, weren’t a patch on their counterparts in Tunisia.

This all changed on this trip, with the almost non-existent annoyance in Tunis well and truly made up for by the tangier Moroccan reception to the cruise ship. Before even making it out of the car park I’d been offered five taxis, each driver seemingly handing over a baton as I moved between unmarked areas on the path. One even offered me a trip for free, but I refused on the grounds that he’d probably kidnap me until I gave him everything I owned.

Walking towards the medina and the kasbah (that I no way intended to rock) I continued to ignore the constant requests to be my tour guide, to sell me rubbish, to deal me hash. Eventually an old guy offered me advice on where to go and asked if he could practise his English with me — no guide, no money he promised. Of course, at the end he was pissed off when I refused to give him money for his guide service, which essentially was made up of the easy to find main attractions, a few lies, pointing out Antonio Banderas’ house and a visit to his mate’s shop.

tangier-buildings-morocco

The ship then deposited me in Tenerife, but that’s a story for another day. Not a great story, mind, but a story nonetheless.

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