Eh.

Oh, I know: party town, playground of the rich, and so on, but if you’re not partying, or rich, or want to dip into the mad nightlife and leave town with a headache, memories, and herpes, I don’t see the attraction. Granted, we didn’t get into the town with the twisty little streets, but a) we had just been in one with much better views, and b) Corfu had them as well, but with much more continental flavor. Here we headed for the beach. The bus swerved through scraggly terrain littered with rocks that were either strewn on barren fields, or heaped into endless innumerable walls that seemed to serve no purpose. Villas with poor views; villas with nice views; empty half-completed villas that baked in the sun, rebars sticking out like stalks of some deadly plant.

The tour bus guide said not a word. Other buses apparently got a verbal tour, with descriptions of the colorful local names for the islands. (Aphrodite’s Boobies, according to one overheard conversation.)

So the ancients were 14-year-old boys, then. The beach is noted in legend as the Source of the Mediterranean, and the old stories tell the tale of a god who came to earth with a washer, so the spout didn’t leak so much and he could fill up the basin of the world quicker. Indeed, here are the remains of the pipe and hose some say filled up the oceans.

As soon as we found a spot and settled in for the morn were immediately beset by Asian women wandering around with menus for massages.

“No thank you,” my wife smiled the first time.

“No, thank you,” my wife said the second time.

“No,” my wife said the third time.

“Please leave us alone,” she said the fourth time.

The fifth time she waved them away. The sixth time she ignored them.

When she went to the water they came back in case I might want a massage. I said no. One of them took this to mean "I do not wish to have a stranger handle my feet," and asked if I wanted a head massage. I did not. When the next one came over I feigned sleep; she just said "massage? Massage? Massage? until it was apparent I was not going to leap up and throw Euros at her to knead my calves.

Then came the sellers of Quality Merchandise - authentic Gucci bags, real Beats headphones! - trudging back and forth across the sand. All African. You wonder about the course of their lives, what it took to get them here, doing this, and how remunerative it could be, and whether or not they have to give their earnings to the Boss at the end of the day, then sup on a sponge dampened with gruel.

Still: perfect day. Almost didn't happen. I'd packed everything the night before, right down to water and battery pack and tickets and books, and laid out my clothes, all so I could get up / eat / go, and of course I was whipping the womenfolk out of the cabin one minute before the tour was supposed to leave. We made it to the departure area on deck six just as they made the last call for our excursion. I got out the tickets.

AUUUGGGGHHH wrong ticket for wife. An evil spirit had entered the stateroom and shuffled up the tickets. The right ticket was back in the room, five decks up and the length of the ship away.

Made it. But let me tell you. Running up five decks with a full pack and a full stomach and sprinting the length of this Leviathan the day after we walked up Santorini's thigh-cramping trail of pain was no easy task, and I forgot to close my backpack zipper: out bounces the Kindle! Out bounces the 1.5 liter jug of water! Jammed the key in the door, got the tickets from the safe - where I'd put them in case anyone broke into our stateroom and did something mean like, oh, mixing up the tickets - and ran back. Last ones on the bus. Red-faced with shame.

The tour guide collected everyone at 12:55 by walking up and down holding the bus number, and I said “we leave at one, right?”

“One,” she said emphatically. Of course, wife is off to the pavilion. Everyone else has packed up and gone. I sent daughter ahead: do not let them leave. Wail if you must. Cry “mama! Papi!” Daughter said they wouldn’t leave without doing a head count, and I said I did not trust the tour guide. There is a hardness to her.

Wife returns. Back to the bus. Sure enough: no head count. ONE O’CLOCK! and out we go. Some poor fellow in the restroom was probably wandering the beach without any Euros, wondering what the hell he’s supposed to do now.

Back through the hills and fields of stone. I have to say, if stone is their major crop, this year’s a bounty harvest. Here's a short video. They're usually short. I get bored easily too.

Back to the ship; daughter wants to play the “Silent Quiz” at the Library, whatever that is.

LATER It was a silent quiz. Also known as a “test.” If you played, you got a prize. There were 14 questions. I got 10 out of 14. I thought the first McDonald’s hamburgers were five cents, not 15. There was some dispute about #4: Before it was called Constantinople, what was the name of the city? Byzantium, I put down. The answer key said the answer was Istanbul.

“That’s wrong,” I said. I turned to the British couple waiting in line for their prize, and said “Constantinople. The answer is Istanbul. That’s wrong.”

“That’s completely wrong,” said the English lady. “It’s Byzantium.”

“Absolutely,” said her husband. The fellow manning the library desk, who had previous run a game of Pictionary in which my wife and the Meat Hoarders were the players, faced a rebellion: In accordance with the power vested in him by the ancient Law of the Sea, he marked our answers correct. And we all got keychains that shone a blue light when you pressed a button. We now have seven.

For dinner: the French restaurant. Really, the Ultimate Dinner Package is such a deal; that was a $200 meal. I had small portions of scallops in a sauce as rich as Crassus, and duck for the main course. I know it was incredible and authentic and oh-so-very-Fronsh, because I didn’t like it much. Oh, it was delicious, but there were about sixteen atoms of duck. Also, it took forever to arrive: we sat, and sat, and sat, and when I finally snagged the waiter’s eye to inquire after the delay, he said, haltingly, “this is something I am investigate. With the chef. In the kitchen,” he added, in case I thought he was taking it up with the chef in bathroom. When the maitre d’ swanned over to see how we were doing, I noted that half an hour had elapsed ‘twixt appetizer and main course. Perhaps there had been difficulty subduing the duck. He apologized and headed off, and shortly afterwards two glasses of the Finest Champagne materialized.

“From France,” he later explained. “Not on the menu.”

Yes, you'd want to leave your best stuff off the menu, just for moments like this. How many times have you glared at the wine menu and said "where's the stuff you give to customers to pacify them? I don't see it."

I praised it lavishly and on the way out said I would give them the highest possible marks on the survey form, which was what that was all about. He clasped my hand in friendship, a sacred bond having been formed. We wandered out, fizzy, collected Daughter, and went to the main atrium where they were handing out flutes of free bubbly as part of the ship’s “White Hot Night” celebration. A while later Wife and Daughter were doing a line dance on the pool deck.

Really the most fun we’ve had together since, oh, ever.

 

   

Olympia, actually. The original site of the Olympic games. I expected a few tumbled stones. I was misinformed.

En route The tour guide explained how the Ionian sea got its name: Zeus, randy fellow that he was, fell in love with a nymph named Io. His wife, Hera, found out, and pursued Io, who was probably thinking I did not sign on for this, no I did not. Zeus turned Io into a cow to protect her; Io jumped into the sea. And so it is known as the Ionian sea.

Does that story sound remotely plausible?

Not the part about Zeus falling in love with a nymph and turning her into a cow (!) so she could escape his wife. Not a bird; not a fleet-footed gazelle. A cow. So she could escape.

No, it’s the part about the sea being named after her because she jumped into the drink in cow form. Anyone watching that happen would have named the body of water the Cow Sea. They would not think “hmmm, that cow had a way of running and diving that called to mind a wood nymph I used to know. Probably the same girl, changed into animal form by God. So, it’s the Ionian Sea, then. Better start spreading the word.”

Sure. Or someone on board a ship said “you know, we sailors, who know every cove and inlet, and the exact position of the stars above, have never named this body of water. An odd oversight, but one we’d best remedy. Any suggestions, lads?”

“Ionian? After that cow-nymph?”

“Good as anything. Ionian it is.”

More likely. Less likely: some priests were on an expedition to find the exact location that the cow went over the cliff, and in their priestly ways, with much consulting of Signs and Augurs, determined that this was the sea. They go back to town, abuzz with their discovery, and burst into a tavern: “We have found the sea in which Io drowned! The waters to the west shall henceforth be known as the Ionian Sea!”

A few guys look up from their drinks and roll their eyes; the priests leave to find another bar to spread the word.

“Ionian, eh,” one sailor says eventually.

“Better than what we call it now,” says the other. “‘The West Water.’ I can see Ionian.”

In the next voyage a terrible storm takes two ships in their convoy; the sailors on the remaining ship pray to Zeus to save them on this, the Ionian sea. One guy pipes up: “How do we know Zeus won’t be angry? He turned her into a cow to make peace with his wife, and here we’re just bringing it all up again.”

“Fine, you pray to Poseidon. Cover all bases. Hell, you there by the tiller! Pray to Hera! Tell her we’ll sacrifice a cow if we survive.”

And they do survive. As they tell the tale, it was praying for the safety of Io in the underworld, even if she’s just walking around in Hell thinking “And I’m still a freakin’ cow. In Hell. Great. Zeus is off with some other nymph and me, I’m chewing a cud for all eternity.” The word spreads of their desperate entreaties in the teeth of the storm, and Ionian it becomes.

Seems more plausible to me that it was Ionian for some other reason, and they made up the myth to give it a backstory.

   

All the human-like actions of the old gods seem ridiculous. The relics of the civilization that conjured up these antic tales, though, are real, and still speak. I had expected the Olympic site to be little but fallen rocks with the faint shapes of the flutes on the side of the columns, and . . . well, that’s what it was, but there were columns raised to remind you what it looked like, and broad streets, and archeological and historical evidence to piece together what was what, and what it meant. It was remarkable - the oldest place I’ve ever been.

From certain views it could be 700 BC.

One relatively modern structure caught my eye:

The Philippeion was an Ionic circular memorial in limestone and marble, which contained chryselephantine (ivory and gold) statues of Philip's family; himself, Alexander the Great, Olympias, Amyntas III and Eurydice I. It was made by the Athenian sculptor Leochares in celebration of Philip's victory at the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC).

It was the only structure inside the Altis dedicated to a human.

What's left:

At the end of the ramble through the ruins, you went through the entrance to the great field where the games were held, and even though you were plodding behind two pale pink huffing-puffing English tourists whining about the heat, you could imagine what it was like to run down the lane and enter the field where the crowds were packed, and hear the cheers, and exult in your part in the great Games.

After this, three hours at a nice beach. Some small seaside town. Before we went to the vast expanse of sand we had gyros, because, well, duh. It’s Greece. Walked into the shop; a big bald guy shaving meat off a hunk of meat. Picked up the menu; all in Greek. Usually I try to figure out some words and learn some simple phrases before I go to a country, but the unofficial motto of the Greek tongue is “Δεν χρειάζεται καν στον κόπο,” or “Don’t even bother.” You feel like a dyslexic who suspects the sentence might actually be a math problem.

The owner came over and helped us, and asked if I wanted potatoes on my gyro. I did not, but the process of eliminating or adding things got knotty, and we ended up having Everything on our sandwiches. To my surprise the “potatoes” were french fries, which seemed utterly unnecessary, and one of those things they’d castigate Yanks for doing.

The tour provided tickets for drinks at a nearby bar, so we cashed them in. There was also a bathroom in a dark corridor with a black floor and black walls and a step down that was not, shall we say, illuminated in compliance with Federal Safety Regulations, so every tourist who felt like an idiot for nearly falling face-first onto a bathroom floor in a bar was immediately reassured when someone else right behind him did the same thing. CLOMP oh. Somehow you managed to trip on it going back, too.

Off to the beach, and NO, we do not want a massage. After three hours, on the bus and back to the ship. A note in the shelf by the door:

Discounts, today only.

Massage!

TOMORROW: Panic! at the Chocolate Buffet; the Venice excursion, or, kiln me now.