My wife is keeping a journal. Day one opens with the scintillating “Started tour with the cathedral.” Day two begins similarly, “What a beautiful cathedral!” Days three, four and five have us – no surprise – visiting cathedrals again, but my wife is unsettled: “Where were we yesterday,” she asks, “what is this place today?”
Cathedrals, churches, chapels; museums, quaint streets, piazzas and fountains; trains, buses, boats, ferries and shuttles — living on board a ship for a week is disconcerting. We were in Ajaccio yesterday, or was that the day before? Did we go to Genoa by sea or by land? Were we in Spain two days ago, or was that France, or Italy? Was the paella tastier in Valencia or in Barcelona?
There are rules for formal dressing, and dining, for hiring tuxedos to have pictures taken with the captain, frequent admonitions to wash hands, instructions about bingo on deck five, art auctions (and complimentary champagne) on deck three, ice skating and timings for embarkation at every port. Moreover, there is the fear of reprisals should we misplace our sea passes without which we can’t order a drink, gain access to the ship, our staterooms, speciality meals and a zillion other things.
We go swimming in the many pools on board the ship, on the beaches in Barcelona where the ladies bathe without their, er, bikini tops, and in hot water jacuzzis in the rain. By day three we’ve tried most on-board dining — the dozens of salads, cheeses, pastas and pizzas; burgers and hotdogs; Italian and Spanish; American and Indian; Vietnamese and Chinese; and the choice of teas and the lament that the coffee doesn’t taste like the decoction back home. But there’s bar-hopping that consumes my son for hours, the casino where my daughter loses regularly and pleads for handouts, and luxury stores where my wife decides she really likes the clothes, jewellery, watches, shades — and what’s the point of springing for a holiday if I’m going to be a scrooge anyway? I sit in the library late into the night while the family gambles away a fortune; I’m happy to grab a bite at the restaurants I’ve already paid for while they insist on specialty dining that is billable as extra; I’m fine having my clothes washed while they prefer to go shopping because they can’t bear being photographed in the same clothes.
We take pictures of Christopher Columbus’ casa in Genoa, Napoleaon Bonaparte’s maison in Corsica, and Michael Douglas’s house somewhere none of us can remember any more. As we sail, I can’t recall whether we visited the ceramic museum in Valencia or in Venice, but for the children it’s worse. “Did I buy these shoes in Rome” – actually Civitavecchia – “or in Florence?” my daughter wonders: no surprise, really, she’s bought similar pairs in all the stores we’ve visited in all the ports we’ve stopped so far. “This jacket,” my son indicates a recent purchase he’s sporting, “is so good because it’s French.” “Italian,” his sister corrects him. “Spanish,” my wife insists. “I bought it for you at the start of the trip,” I remind him, “in India.”
On the last day of the cruise, there are no more port stops and my wife is bringing her diary up-to-date: “Started the day with a visit to a cathedral,” she writes, then looks up and asks, “Anyone remember where?”