Monday, April 14, 2008

Notes from Cruising the Med (I've always wanted to say that!)

While scouring travel web sites a month or so ago, I found a cruise to 7 locales I'd never before visited. The price was right. The dates were superb. I was trigger happy, so I booked, taking one well-mannered Minnesotan named Travis with me along for the ride.

I am fond of cruises, there is no doubt. My two previous experiences have been on Royal Caribbean, and both were filled with many highs like...getting religious bible college girls drunk for the first time and trying to take their virginities, wearing neon technicolor suits not intended for caucasians, smoking whatever our Mexican first mate rolled in wax paper and lit up on a fishing trip, nearly getting walloped by a sting-ray in the aftermath of the Steve Irwin tragedy (RIP), convincing Lenny Welch to come back to our room for a private show, and gambling 'till the sun comes up.

In Italy, things run a bit differently (Read: life is chaos and you can't believe this unless you've been there for a while), hence why I swore I'd never return when I left my study abroad program two years ago. However, it may have been the smell of the Fusilli al Tonno but something drew me back to this dysfunctional nightmare of collective regions that have somehow been unified as one nation, under Berlusconi, indivisible, with mullets and oversized sunglasses for all.

I figured, how bad could a cruise ship flying under the Tricolore (Italian flag) be?

In general, I find that the farther one gets from Rome, the better everything is. The people are nicer, the food is better, things are more efficient (if only mildly)...thus, I started this journey in Genoa, the land that birthed Christopher Columbus and pesto sauce, the latter being far more important as a day without pesto is a day not worth living.

In a short time, Genoa became my favorite Italian city...one reason for this is a man named Giorgio who plays the guitar and sings nightly (except Sunday) at a restaurant called I Calabresi Trattoria and Wine Bar. I knew the place was great when I saw an imprint of Marlon Brando on the back of each of the staff's shirts. Besides the three euro plates of pasta and equally inexpensive jugs of wine, the place is authentic not only because it's hidden on a tiny alley, but because Giorgio engages patrons like no other. Within minutes I went from being a shy guy saying "Nah, I don't sing" to belting out everything from "Country Roads" to "I want to be Americano" to Italian classics I didn't even know prior to this evening.

One thing is for sure: My Italian language skills (I dare say that I am fluent) vastly improve with each alcoholic beverage I consume. In a matter of minutes, I felt like I was part of the Calabrese family.

Nonetheless, please visit:

I Calabresi (owned by Ro & Gio) and starring Giorgio
Vico Dietro il Coro delle Vigne 15E
Piazza Lavagna - 16123 Genova
Tel: 010255602

One thing I've learned from my prior cruise ship experiences is that once you're on board, alcohol becomes a premium commodity because of it's relative rarity. You don't need to be Alan Greenspan to realize that on a ship the liquor prices skyrocket. This is why I take to the black market and pre-pack such beverages.

When waiting to board the ship I noticed the men behind me were all wearing Yankees jackets and it turns out that they were Long Islanders of the Italian-American variety. Before long, it felt like I'd taken a cruise to Jones Beach or Nathan's or the East Bay Diner or something and we were all dear friends...but this isn't what you came to read. You came to read about sex, drugs, and all the other dirty happenings that can possibly take place on a cruise ship. And that is precisely what the following posts will focus on.

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