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You Don't Have To Be In Hell
To Be Warm in January

or:  You Don’t Have To Be In Hell - To Be Warm in January

Richard Asaro

An ocean voyage is often the setting for the mystical journey of man into his psyche:  the physical progress matching the spiritual odyssey, awareness and growth of the protagonist.  Such works as MOBY DICK, HEART OF DARKNESS, and AFRICAN QUEEN come to mind.  Well, this article is only about some middle-aged people eating and drinking too much.

Leaving New York’s JFK airport on the 6th of January, we flew to Lisbon, arriving on the 7th, a Sunday.

How prosaic.  No, out of respect for your age (and, therefore, limited attention span) this will not be a chronology of our daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, drinking, sightseeing, eating, drinking, sleeping, the evening show and going to bed. Instead, I’d rather give you a sense of the mystery and wonder of what we did, the grand ethos of new lands, new peoples, new cultures, customs and values.  There were two guiding principles for the cruise:


 Minutes on the Lips - Years on the Hips.

In the first instance, it meant that a sizeable portion of each day was spent shopping.... not purchasing, thank goodness, just shopping.  In the second, we became experts during the 26-night cruise on the 26 different ways to prepare tough chicken and what wines go with it.  In fact, on the whole the food was excellent.  If we had high standards...well a little disappointment now and then is good for the soul.  Not all the beef was tough, nor was it likely to come from a Mad Cow in England.  Not all the fish had bones, especially the squid.  The lamb was uniformly excellent, as was the spaghetti with pesto sauce.  And the cheese, well the cheese was to die for...which is highly likely as my cholesterol reading soared over 350 (healthy is 200, a near death experience is anything over 275).  But I had no real choice.  After a five-course dinner consisting of wonderful appetizers, soups, salads, main course and desert, one needed cheese to cleanse the palate.  I trust no one of you will be so gauche as to suggest cleansing with Pepsodent and a toothbrush.

Of the 19 cities visited, 17 were in Catholic Countries; that means about 51 churches and cathedrals visited, three per city.  I mean, can’t these people get along with each other...they all need their own church?  I can understand why the Baptists and Catholics want separate buildings.  But why do the Catholics on 3rd street need a separate church from those on 6th street, three blocks away?  Were the old pastor’s sermons that bad?

In any case they never got tiring, and yes, we did average about 3 churches per city.  Tangiers and Casablanca weren’t too big on Catholic churches,  so we went to a bar instead.  They had nice artwork, also.

The cities of Portugal, Spain, France and Morocco were surprisingly clean.  You saw virtually no litter anywhere. And the reason you were looking for litter was because none of these places have pooper-scooper laws for their dogs:   you were always looking down at the street to make sure you didn’t step on any...litter.

Pretty frequently, though, you saw evidence that someone in heavily cleated sneakers wasn’t so lucky.

You haven’t experienced the real meaning of life until you spend a small fortune to go on a European cruise and once there, spend your time shopping for stuff you can buy in the states. But the Spanish product is different:  certainly, the products are both made in China, but in Spain the descriptions are in a Spanish and sound so much better. This logic doesn’t apply to those of you living in Los Angeles or Miami.

Their supermarkets (Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands and Madeira) were modern, clean and took charge cards:  about half the ship’s passengers could be found in the wine section. As you would imagine, a $10 bottle of wine in your local liquor store was about $25 per bottle on the ship...the cruise lines operators have to send their kids to college, too.  But the passengers were able to buy a great $5 bottle in the grocery story and the ship would open the cork for them at dinner for $10, a savings of $10 a night.  That meant we saved $30 per dinner, eventually paying for the cruise.  As you can tell, the people that manage the national debt are also taking cruises.

Looking for new worlds to conquer, new challenges to meet, new gustatory heights to climb, I bought a box of white table wine which came to $0.50 a liter...yes,  my oeniphile connoisseurs,  $2.00 a gallon.  We served it VERY COLD, just as the directions for Boone’s Farm or Night Train Express suggest.  It was surprisingly least the third glass was.

Cruises are for relaxing, especially important while negotiating prices in the Arab Cashah.  Appear disinterested. We were successful.  I appeared laid-back, casual, couldn’t-care-less-about-the-leather-hassock I was salivating over.  He wanted 150 Dinar (Moroccan currency).  I was told initial prices are usually three or four times what it’s actually worth, therefore about 40 Dinar.  After a great deal of haggling, I very cleverly maneuvered the merchant into accepting twice what it was worth, paying 90 Dinar.  Don’t mess with people from Virginia!

By the way, there is no “Rick’s Americain Bar” in Casablanca.  There is a Hyatt with great bathrooms, an ATM machine and a bar, which will sell you T-Shirts with Bogey and Bergman on the front.  And you thought close only counted in Horseshoes and Hand grenades?  It was almost like being on the movie set.

The three Canary Islands we visited were both warm and beautiful.  Even visited Columbus's house.  He lived well in a multi room, courtyard, spacious building.  And it was FREE.  After visiting lots of U.S. cities and some European cities at this point, FREE and Museum were not usually uttered in the same breath.  The Smithsonian (Washington, DC) is the only exception I can think of in this country of a prominent museum supported by tax dollars for the common good.  Prices at the places we visited were reasonable though:  $1-5 was the going rate.

In general, food on the ship was quite good, especially bread and pastries, which were made aboard daily.  That meant we didn’t eat much ashore.  That also meant I don’t have any lurid stories to pass on about getting food poisoning from eating an animal part neither recognizable nor pronounceable.  I apologize.  However,  I am going to the Caribbean in April and I promise to meet your expectations.  Anyone seen the movie, HANNIBAL?

Now, I’m not a big drinker.  We planned on bringing back only four bottles in our carry-on luggage.  The problem arose when I saw additional wines and spirits at less than half the U.S. price after I’d bought the four.  All right,  we’ll limit the buys to six bottles.  That’s not too heavy and it should just barely squeeze into the two carry-ons my wife and I were allowed.  So we get to the airport for the return flight and find they are weighing carry-on baggage.  There’s a limit of 22 lbs. per bag.  Some fast math tells me that between the content of the bottles and the weight of the glass, our 12 bottles were not going to make it.  My bag was on wheels and really wasn’t too heavy for two people to lift.  I’m not sure what tipped off the guy at the ticket counter, either the broken handle when I tried to lift it or the fact he got a hernia when he tried to lift it.  In any case, the entire profit of the cruise (not counting the money we saved by using our own wine at dinner) was sitting in my carry -on:  a nine-bottle mix of gin, liqueur, wine and schnapps.  My wife’s stash of three bottles made it aboard; mine was torn from my grasp to disappear into the bowels of the plane.  Of course, I took great comfort in knowing that airline baggage handlers are highly skilled professionals;  hired by baggage repair companies to generate business.  I figured I was going to have the best smelling under wear on the plane by the time we got to New York.  That assumed the airline wouldn’t confiscate the bag as a flammable fire hazard and remove it from the plane still reeking of gin, sherry and cherry whatever.

Remember those 51 churches I visited?  All the bottles made it.  But wait...there‘s more.  I‘m not greedy.  One miracle a cruise is adequate.  The guy at customs waived us through.  Allowed four bottles duty free, we bring in 12...and we get waived through.  Of course, miracles being somewhat “iffy“, all our wine turned to water.

“By the way,  besides the food, there was entertainment each night; there was art and architecture in the cities visited;  beautiful country side, intricate tile-laid sidewalks,  maritime museums (got to two, my busman’s holiday); fascinating cemeteries, and all this old stuff.  Some of the churches were 1500 years old; some of the forts 900 years old.  You know, being age 54 isn’t so bad.

We only had one sort-of rough night.  Wind was 70 mph and the seas about 20 ft (some say more).  The ship lost liquor, glassware and crockery.  Passengers were even less prepared.  Despite the violent motion of the ship, lots of folks left glasses, water pitchers and personal effects on their desk and nightstand.  Not to worry.  It got to the floor pretty quickly.  Two folks at least had the TV fly from its cabinet five feet off the deck.  We’d prepared pretty well...only had to get up when we heard the tinkling of the twelve bottles mentioned above.  We just stuck a second pillow and more socks around them and re-tied the closet door closed.  We had a couple of pretty heavy rolls.  At that point we discovered that our bed was not bolted to the floor.  The nightstand stopped our sliding, so I went back to sleep.  I knew we were safe because this was a new ship, practically on it’s maiden voyage;  no ship would sink on its maiden voyage, especially one as unsinkable as this.  My movie-literate spouse didn’t buy that logic and kept talking about some dumb flick she saw a couple of years ago.

Happy Travels

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Email: (Richard Asaro) 

About Richard Asaro: During the 34 years Rich served in the Coast Guard he circled the globe many times over. Between professional travels and week-long cycling tours he has been to an incredible array of interesting places from historic and marks and major attractions to quaint and out of the way places here in the USA and abroad. He's has a gift for descriptive and somewhat humorous writing - or claims to anyways. (More about this writer.)  (More about this writer.)


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