Posted November 21, 2022 in Adventure Journals, Oxx Tales by Jim Markel
Like so many of you, leaving the passport in the safe for two years and putting travel on hold was certainly something I hadn’t expected. Trips and adventures all take first form as ideas in the future. And when the future is uncertain, it can really mess with your dreams…
As a Marine you’re expected to be comfortable on air, land and sea. That means aboard Navy ships serving the Captain wine and cheese or something like that. Frankly, I never cared for catering to the squids unless it was our corpsman.
We tended to take air approach and just jump into our destination – maybe drop the IBS from the helicopter. So it was with a tiny bit of trepidation that I was convinced booking on the Viking Sky was really a good thing.
“Think of it as a floating hotel that moves while you sleep…”
Have I mentioned I hate movies about ships sinking?
All pretty much not my favorite genre of entertainment…
Most of my journeys involve a plane and maybe a worn-out Land Cruiser, bouncing along a dusty track far away from civilization. So taking a cruise into the old world was something I had to think about for a minute. Shoes and all the correct attire notwithstanding, I intended to travel light.
Traveling light on the outbound leg of the journey affords the opportunity to pick up a few things along the way. Bearing that in mind, I decided to run with the Tres Hombres. Packed, but not packed, is the way to fly – if you know what I mean.
Next up on the pack list was the venerable Tri Fold Shave Kit with enough stuff to keep me alive and comfortable. Inside my Tres, I had clothing stowed into a full set of packing cubes, with a couple of extras here and there.
I also opted to fold up a Small Aviator Kit Bag just in case things got real with the shopping. As a family trip, this was a distinct possibility, and I would be glad for the extra capacity.
One of my favorite tips for keeping the clothing situation under control is to plan to do laundry. So of course, a Laundro Bag was a must-take item that could also double as a beach bag.
The pickpockets of Europe are certainly world-class as any experienced traveler can tell you. So how does the Euroman keep his wallet and not lose it to the sticky fingers of some aspiring Artful Dodger?
Release the Hound!
Yes, the man purse is all the rage over there and I think I know why. It’s a math problem. Where there are lots of people, there tend to be problems. No worries about pickpockets when you’re miles from civilization and your biggest threat is a flat tire.
So I decided to go with a Hound and join the crowd. And see what the trusty cross-body bag could do about holding onto my valuables…
Passports safely stowed in the Hound and reservations made, it was with great excitement that we finally took to the (somewhat) friendly skies.
This trip was certainly a departure from my normal “no plans, no reservations, no care” modus operandi. Flying to Germany with Lufthansa brought out my favorite travel accessory the “mask” – and not the one Jim Carrey has. 🤪
Cue an arrival in Istanbul, and I fed that sucker to the nearest trash can, hoping that experience was going to be an exception. The Viking crew was there to collect us and our baggage for the bus ride to the port.
The itinerary would have us start here in Istanbul to see a few sights and wait for stragglers to arrive before castoff. The new port is a true work of modern art, and I felt like we were in a spaceport from some science fiction flick.
Security was very tight, yet efficient. Boarding the Viking Sky for the first time I cast a quick glance at the lifeboats. Taking a quick count had me thinking we needed more if things got hairy. We all know how it went down on the Titanic…
Scoping out the sights and sounds of Istanbul is not complete without a visit to the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque.
Originally built as Christian Church, it has changed hands a few times, and had little remodeling to bring it to its current state.
Crowded and a bit on the sweaty side, it was a push to get back to the buses for a nice air-conditioned ride back to the ship. This “load up and go” would be much of what this type of traveling was about. Lots of action and information coming at you in a steady stream. All of which is carefully choreographed and curated by the Viking team.
Having studied and visited many of the great battlefields of history, I was looking forward to visiting the Gallipoli Peninsula while we were in Turkey. It was the site of the amphibious landing of the allies in WWI.
The landing would ultimately stall with a tremendous amount of casualties, in what would be dubbed Winston Churchill’s greatest failure.
From the beaches to the high ground, with the long open approaches and no cover… It is quite apparent that modern warfare would forever be affected by the lessons learned on this hallowed ground.
Sailing the Ionian sea by moonlight, our mighty Viking Sky transported us to the next port faster than Hermes’ winged sandals. The Ephesus ruins are on the UNESCO world heritage site list and they do not disappoint.
The spectacular amphitheater was first on my list of things to check out.
I drew inspiration for the 406 Events Lawn amphitheater from the true masters of public space. So getting a chance to scamper about the real thing was simply amazing.
Three times as many people live in Athens, compared to all of Montana’s population. The centuries have rolled by and layer upon layer of cultures have amalgamated into a city like no other.
Cognitive overload applies when trying to grasp the sum total of the civilizations created and maintained here. Opting for a little Ebike adventure we semi-pedaled our way around the Plaka. This option allowed for covering lots of territory and saving the feet from a real cobblestone beat down.
The Acropolis and its new museum were jam-packed with humanity from around the world. The ending of the Covid era had us and them on the move.
Both did not disappoint and my only wish was for more time to really explore and absorb more of the art and culture. Hopping the last bus back to the ship I made a silent promise to return.
With mythical tales of sea monsters and pirates firmly lost in the past, we cast off again to a little place called Montenegro. Fair weather and flowing seas made for good time as we pushed on through the night. The inky blackness of the horizon occasionally lit by pinpricks of lights of fellow mariners.
This boat life is pretty sweet and I wonder why those Jarheads who went on float were always bitching about it. Oh well. Some people are unable to appreciate the moment.
Sunrise in the bay of Kotor revealed another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tranquil waters only just slightly disturbed by our wake as we made our way deep inside what appeared to be a giant fjord.
Looking up from the port side the fortress of Kotor looms over the ancient walled city like a tsunami of rock. Eyeing the switchbacks and calculating the climb in my head was all the temptation needed to set my sights on higher ground.
Making our way through the winding streets of the old town, I was searching for the entrance to St. John’s fortress. After a couple of false starts you finally hit the foot of the mountain and find the way to ascend.
Traversing the mountain via a cobblestone trail that’s in relatively decent shape, you still want to have on a rugged pair of hiking shoes. I noticed quite a few people struggling in some very questionable footwear.
Gaining altitude rather quickly, you’re treated to some spectacular architecture and sweeping views of the city and harbor and a few of the cats of Kotor along the way.
Our last port of call was Venice, and I was looking forward to catching up with some friends. I also had some shopping planned in Murano for some new glass-working tools.
As the ship pulled up near the lagoon it was apparent that we would not be docking anywhere near St. Mark’s. Chioggia wasn’t exactly on my list of places to experience but when have I ever turned down a new place to see? Pretty much never, that’s the answer.
The shuttle boat ride across the lagoon gave me a whole new perspective into the daily lives of the people who call this magical place home. Taking the slow boat shows you how the average Venetian lives, and glimpses into a completely unique lifestyle.
Timing of the visit just happened to coincide with the 59th Venice Art Biennial major art fair. The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore had a simply stunning work of glass by artist Ai Wei Wei. It’s called La Commedia Umana.
Our last stop found us docked in Murano, and I searched the memory banks for Davide Penso’s gallery/studio. Sure enough, the master was in residence and we scooped up some nice baubles for the nieces.
Of course, I really wanted to get my hands on some Carlo Dona tools direct from the source. But alas, the maestro was closed for the day.
With the clock and sunlight running out, it was time to catch our boat for the long ride home…