No Boat; Honeymoon of the Damned, Part Four

It is the summer of 1993.  I am in Athens on my honeymoon with my lovely bride.

Who is crying in a travel agency.

She is crying because she has been trying to get us two flights home so we can cut our honeymoon short.  But she has just found out that changing the flights costs a lot of money.  Which we don’t have.

So we are stuck in Greece.

Tip No. 14 About Honeymoons:   It is  bad when they feel like hostage situations.

So I call an audible.  I tell her we’re going to Santorini.  It’s got beaches, beer and gyros.

She agrees.  Well, she doesn’t say no.  Mostly because she can’t hear me over all that crying.

So I take advantage of the situation by buying us two boat tickets to Santorini.  And they’re cheap.

How cheap?

So cheap the boat doesn’t show.

Travel Tip No. 22:   Boat trips are harder without the boat.

So we are sitting at the port of Piraeus and we are waiting for a boat.  Hours pass.  It is hot.

Staci sees a Greek man in a sailor outfit.  He is smoking a cigarette.  Staci approaches him, and in her best uptight Americanese, says this:

“Excuse me, but we were supposed to be on the 10 a.m. boat to Santorini, and it’s 1:05  now and we’re wondering what time the boat will be here because we would like to get to Santorini as soon possible.”

The man turns his back, takes one last drag on his stubby cigarette and tosses it in the sea.  Then he turns back to face her.

“No boat,” he says.

It is poetic, really.

‘Cause what else do you need to know?

There’s no boat.  You can “blah blah blah” all afternoon, but the situation is this:

There’s no boat.

I come to realize that it’s really the answer for almost any question you have in your unhappy life.

No boat.

I’d say it’s almost existentialist, if I knew what existentialist meant.

So we sat and waited.  And over the succeeding hours many Greek people showed up at the dock, which told us that at least some boat would be showing up and it would be going somewhere.  Which was better than here.

But we had a problem.

Despite our being the first people at the dock, there were now some people trying to stand between us and the edge of the water.  And here is where I will give you a travel tip straight from the good people of Mediterranean Europe about Americans and their love of orderly lines :

We mock your orderly lines.

In fact, if you have extra time, look up “line” in a Greek dictionary.  I did.  Here is a loose translation:

Place where big group of people shove each other.

And that, my friends, was all that my crying American bride needed.  Because now she was a proverbial camel.  And someone was about to put one straw too many on her proverbial back.

And that someone was a Greek man in an undershirt.

Who made the mistake of cutting right in front of her.

Causing her to do what any reasonable American tourist would do in that situation.

She kicked him in the back.

Oh, it’s on, my Greek friend.  It’s on.

Greece is Bugging Me Already: Honeymoon of the Damned, Part Three.

The boat stopped at Igoumenitsa.  It’s a town in the far northwest of Greece, on the border of Albania.

And despite its location on the border, I am guessing it has never been the subject of a border dispute.  Because if it was, it would go like this:

Albania:  “You take it.”

Greece:  “No, you take it.”

And it’s a town that didn’t look like it got a lot of tourists.  I say that because when we got off the boat, the locals took pictures of us, apparently to memorialize the day back in 1993 when they got visitors.

“Are they lost?” said one in Greek.

“Are they stupid?” said another.

Staci did not smile for the photos.  Something had apparently put her in a bad mood. I racked my brain for answers.

Sure, she had slipped and fallen in an Italian bathroom.  And spent a day in a cramped train cabin with a man spitting at her feet.  And yeah, she hadn’t showered in two days.  And okay, fine, a dog bit her.

But this was our honeymoon.

That’s when we met the tiny little smiling Greek man who took us by the arm and led us to his hotel on the top of a hill.

European travel trip:  Don’t stay at the hotel of anyone who drags you there.

The fact is we had no choice.  Igoumenitsa was, as they say, off the travel grid.  “Let’s Go Europe” didn’t even have a mention of it in the index.  We had no idea if they even had hotels.

And the truth was they didn’t.  It was a small little town with tiny restaurants and tiny cafes and a few two-story houses which served as their “hotels.”  And as we walked up the hill to the tiny man’s “hotel,” every one of Igoumenitsa’s residents came out to stare at us from the doors and windows of their cafes and restaurants.  Think “Dead Man Walking,” but less joyous.

The only room this man had for us at his house was an upstairs kitchen into which he had dragged a bed.   And it was not a clean kitchen.  And it did not smell good.

I wanted to propose to Staci that we just leave, but that was pointless, because at that point she wasn’t talking to me.  In fact, judging from the stare she had given me as we walked up the hill, I wasn’t even allowed to look at her.

So we went to bed.

Honeymoon tip:  When your wife hasn’t showered in two days and she’s been bitten by a dog and the two of you are trapped in a place called Igoumenitsa and she hates you, you will not have sex.

We got up in the morning and packed our bags without saying a word.  And walked to the dock for a boat that was to take us to Piraeus, the port for Athens.

On our walk down the hill, I took some comfort in knowing that this was the absolute low point of the trip.  And that from this point forward, the most-romantic-trip-of-our-life would improve.

That’s when we started itching.

I pulled up my shirt to look at my chest.  It was covered with red dots.  As was Staci’s back.  And our arms.  And legs.

And that’s when we realized we had not been the only ones sleeping in our Igoumenitsa bed.  We had been joined by hundreds of non-paying bedbugs.

All of which taught me something interesting about absolute low points on your honeymoon.

They can go lower.

We Pause for This Commercial from “Head and Shoulders” Shampoo

More honeymoon stories to come.

But in the meantime, I recently spoke at an event in Walnut Creek, California with fellow cartoonist Darrin Bell (“Candorville”).  As it turns out, the event was videotaped.

I’ve had it suggested to me that the videotape would make a great drinking game, where people watching could drink beer every time I scratched the back of my head.  But that’s a bad idea, because you’d pass out before the end of the video and miss even more of my head scratching.

Click HERE for the headscratchapalooza.

Get Me Out of Brindisi, Pleasie: Honeymoon of the Damned, Part Two

It was 7 am and Staci and I were stuck in a bleak train terminal in a place called Brindisi, which I’m now certain is Italian for “you don’t want to be here.”

We didn’t plan to get off the train in Brindisi.  That was determined by the other four passengers in our six-passenger train cabin out of Venice.  Three of them smoked the entire train ride.  That was too bad because none of them were seated by the window, so all the smoke had to first be filtered through my lungs.

I was bummed about the seven packs of Lucky I didn’t plan on smoking, but I was even less thrilled by the fourth stranger in the cabin:  Signore Spitter.

Signore Spitter was an older Italian man who spit every ten minutes.

The good news about Signore Spitter was that unlike the smokers, he did have a window seat he could utilize for his unpleasant habit.  The bad news was that he didn’t utilize it.

A travel tip:  A long train ride is made longer when the man next to you is spitting on your shoes.

So when the train suddenly stopped at a town called Brindisi, we fled.  That might seem rash, but it was an improvement over Staci’s plan, which was to jump off the train while it was moving.

In fact, I’m not even sure Brindisi was a scheduled stop.  I’m fairly certain Staci pulled the emergency cord that hung above the train window.

Alone with our suitcases in an empty train station, we opened our guide book.

It said Brindisi had a ship terminal and was “the jumping off point” for many tourists traveling from Italy to Greece.  The phrase was appropriate because at that point in our Italian adventure Staci was willing to jump off the dock and swim for it.

We walked to the ship terminal, lugging our heavy suitcases the whole way. Staci was sweating like I’d never seen her sweat before, in the clothes she had been in since the day before in Venice.

Romantic honeymoons did not get any better than this.

When we got to the port, it was empty.  Not a soul in sight.  Like a bomb had dropped on Brindisi.  That would have been okay if it had landed on Signore Spitter and the three smokers, but not even they were dumb enough to get off the train in Brindisi.

The schedule of boat departures indicated that the first ship out of Brindisi was not until 7:00 pm at night, which meant we had twelve hours to kill.

That was more than enough time for Staci, who estimated she’d need just three to kill me and dump the body in the Adriatic.

Now let me just say here that twelve hours is a lot of time to waste even when you’re at home with a television and a refrigerator.  It’s even longer when you’re sitting on two uncomfortable suitcases in a post-apocalyptic ship terminal and your wife is homicidal.

The guidebook also said that Brindisi held the remains of St. Nicholas, or as we call him here, “Santa Claus.”  It seemed fitting that a place like this would bury Santa Claus.

Five hours into our twelve-hour wait, a boat arrived.  It was leaving for Greece. It was not on the terminal’s schedule.

That’s when Staci and I learned about Italian schedules.  They’re not actually schedules.  They’re more accurately termed, “Whimsical Suggestions We May or May Not Follow Through On.”

But the boat was here.  And it was leaving Italy.

So we got on it.  And learned it was going to some place in Greece called Igoumenitsa.

Igoumenitsa was a destination so popular that this large ship held at least three other passengers and a dog.

But the boat had beer.  So we bought six.  And sat down to drink them.

Then the dog bit Staci.

This, my friends, was a honeymoon.

Honeymoon of the Damned

In the summer of 1989, I backpacked through Europe with nothing but a Eurorail pass and a Let’s Go travel guide.

Each day, I took out a big rail map of Europe and went to the places I felt like visiting.  The red light district of Amsterdam.  The cafes of Paris.  The beaches of Sicily.  I slept in railroad stations, strangers’ houses and the occasional hostel.

Four years later, in 1993, I thought I’d do it again.  Same spontaneity.  Same free-spiritedness.  Same sense of adventure.

The only difference:   I was now with Staci.  And we were married.

And it was our honeymoon.

Cue disaster music.

——————————

The Honeymoon Debacle of ’93 started out auspiciously enough.  With a nice day in London.

It was raining.  And the hotel was far away from everything.  But it was great.

Great because it was the only day of the trip where we were (a) not injured; and (b) not crying.

That would change in Venice.

Venice the Menace

We were booked to stay in a $200 per night hotel.  Which, when neither of you have jobs, is about $200 more than you can spend a night.  We rationalized that it would be our one fancy hotel of the trip.

That illusion was erased when we found the fat guy’s house with the homemade “hotel” sign.

Picture a place where prostitutes are killed, but not as classy.

Our room was painted four different colors, one per wall.  I think the fat man painted one wall, ran out of paint, and bought whatever color was next on sale at the Italian Home Depot.

But that was nothing compared to the bathroom.

The bathroom stood three feet below the bedroom, which meant you had to remember to walk down two stairs every time you needed to use the bathroom.  The steps were tiled and there was always water on them.

Here’s a rule the rest of the world needs to learn about bathroom entrances:

They should not cause concussions.

The good news is my falls got better over time.  By the fourth time, I was downright skilled at catching myself on the bidet.

I say bidet like I know what one was.  I do now.  I didn’t then.  Which is why I will give you this tip:

They are not drinking fountains.

The best part of the bathroom were the dimensions.  Thirty feet long and six feet wide.  Rarely do I stay in hotel rooms where the bathroom is a converted bowling alley.

And all of the surfaces — floors, walls and ceiling — were covered in tile.   That was due to the “shower.”

I put “shower” in quotes because I fear it may conjure up images of an actual shower.  You know, four walls, maybe a soap dish.

But not in Italy.  Here’s what a shower should be called in Italy:

A hose in the corner.

Allow me this brief historic digression:

Somewhere during the three centuries that have passed since America’s split with Europe, the two continents took wildly divergent courses.   One discovered that showers involve water and should have walls.  The other decided that the entire bathroom should be hosed down like a car wash every time wants to be clean.

Your toiletries, the toilet paper, the bath towel — all should be thoroughly soaked by anyone taking a shower.

The other advantage of the European method is that the entire tile floor becomes wet.  So when you fall off the stairs and onto the slick floor, you can ping off in any direction, like you’re the little metal ball in a pachinko machine.  That’s good, because it can be boring to crack your head on the same bathroom fixture every time.  You need variety.

After one day, we wanted out.  But we had already booked the room for two nights.  That meant talking to the fat man.  Who didn’t speak English.  Or at least didn’t speak English when it would be convenient for him to not speak English.

It was an odd fight.  In one corner was a fat Italian man making a lot of hand gestures and saying a lot of things that didn’t sound like compliments.  In the other corner was me, trying my best to communicate that we were not going to pay for a second night because the fat man’s “hotel” was not what we expected.  Of course, my Italian was not perfect, so what came out was this:

“Me-o not pay-o you-o.”

All I knew for sure as Staci and I were fleeing, er, walking briskly, out the door was this:

The fat man was now peppering his conversation with a lot of “polizia” this and “polizia” that.

Which is a good time to be on the first train out of Venice.

Wherever it’s going.

Ahh, spontaneity.

A Man, A Plan, A Bump on the Head

I don’t like using public restrooms.

Because I don’t like touching the door handle on the way out.

So after I wash my hands, I save the towel, and use it to open the door.

But the restroom I was in last week didn’t have towels.  It had one of those blow dry things.

So in that case, I always have a Plan B.

Plan B is to extend my sweatshirt sleeve so that it covers my hand, and open the door.  The skin of my hand touches nothing.

But I wasn’t wearing a sweatshirt.  I had on a t-shirt.

That’s when I had a quick impulse.

I should push the door open with the top of my head.

So I leaned forward to push the door open with my head.

And felt a door smash into it.

It was a solid hit, so solid it triggered my brain to remember that bathroom doors almost never open out.

A thought it would have been nice to have in advance.

At least my hands are clean.