Monday, November 19, 2012

Out and about in the Mediterranean (Part 1)

The second leg of our 45th anniversary reunion was a cruise trip in the Mediterranean from 22 to 29 September 2012.  Thanks to Irene Tsai for sharing with us very vividly the fun of all those who took part in the reunion and her thoughts on sustaining our 50-year old vintage friendship in this two-part article. 

It’s been a month since I got back from the Mediterranean Cruise, my heart is still in Europe.  Rather than echoes of the silence, I would like to break it with a recap highlighting our fun cruise for those who wanted to find out what their 50-year-old vintage classmates or friends did in the Mediterranean. 
 We boarded a big cruise ship (Royal Caribbean International) in the late afternoon of Sep 22, right after a delightful half-day guided city tour of Barcelona.   The ship normally carries 4,000+ people onboard, if I am not wrong.  Yes, that was our home base in the Mediterranean.   All 7 days onboard, we’ve only used our cabins to sleep at night and quick showers or freshen-ups when we had the needs.  We were just too busy sightseeing and indulging ourselves in fun adventures miles and miles away from the ship whenever it docked in the morning.  We were anomalies in that we did not go rock climbing, basket ball playing, swimming, surfing, ice skating, shuffleboard games, deck-sitting, you name it, when it was all inclusive to us onboard except a brief session of table-tennis with Martin and Sammy being our leads on the last day when we were totally ship borne as she had to sail back to Barcelona in one shot and not docking anywhere any more.   A total sleepy head indeed I was every early morning, literally rubbing my eyes to pry them open.  Our typical day began no later than 6 a.m. and I didn’t crawl into my bed until past 03:00 nightly.  The minute I jumped out of bed, it was go, go, go!  Leaving my 3rd floor cabin in 10 minutes, expediting myself to the breakfast buffet restaurant up on the 11th floor at the other end of the ship.  The clock was certainly ticking louder when time was of the absolute essence.  In 5 minutes, I had to shove a whole plate of food down my throat, then on the run with my backpack and a hot coffee in my hand to report to our tour group right away, making sure I would not miss the tour of the day.  We were out every single early morning either we were awake, semi-awake or sheer zombies.  One by one, we just hopped on the tour bus, thus we managed to visit an array of very interesting and spectacular places in southern France, Italy and Spain.  Our daily tour bus only brought us back to the pier right before our ship set sail onward again in the Mediterranean Sea throughout the night.  And that’s when we all dashed into our various cabins to quickly freshen up and hurried back out in our spiffy formal wears to enjoy our exquisite fine dining experience together relaxingly after a fun-filled day.  We joked around like crazy, laughing and talking louder and louder until the “shy” Brenda motioned us with the shh-shh reminder at every fine dining experience throughout the cruise week.  And when our happy stomachs all said amen, we went to variety shows together, ice skating performance together, duty-free shopping, casino luck and fun, music night together, etc., etc., etc.
During our day trips, we were like little kids standing in front of the colorful candy store, eyes wide open the whole time, milling around with either our iPhone, iPad or more serious camera equipment, huffing and puffing at times, as we were often hit by spectacular settings, scene after scene unfolding continuously or even simultaneously around us throughout our land tours.  I saw Martin running like a little boy with his photography gears on one shoulder going after some impressive sites.  Believe it not, for a few seconds, just like the movie, “Same Time Next Year”, caught in a time warp, I suddenly saw him and all of my other little classmates, Ho Kit May, Mui Lai Yee, Brenda Kan, etc., going back to our Form 2 days, pacing and wandering around the Cave of Cheung Po Tsai during a school field trip with a few well-to-do kids holding on to their Kodak.  Yeah, for a split moment I was somewhat hallucinated and returned to the days of innocence when suddenly brushed by the most soothing soft sea breeze from the Mediterranean.  But, very quickly my clear vision landed on the most spectacular European scenery.  It was good intense fun.  We wanted to soak up the beautiful settings and local happenings with all our senses, including the sounds, the cultures and even the subcultures that were tagging along.  Honest to God, there’s just so much to see, do, learn and feel, from the most advanced and modern to the oldest historical Roman civilization!!!   Nothing you could ever imagine even if you were 100% attentive (not over my dead body!!!) in all of Lang Goo’s European History classes and nothing comes close to what you’ve read up from the crème de la crème libraries.  What cool field trips to take especially when you do so in great harmony with your 50-year-old fun vintage bunch.

The morning we were in the beautiful Tivoli Gardens (about a 40-min drive from Rome), our native hostess (Brenda’s pretty Italian speaking sister, Vickie), kept chasing us from behind, saying repeatedly, “ Dee, Dee! 重有好多睇呀!” You see, we were all busy pausing every other step to admire/ponder/photoshoot as it was such a stunning old Roman resort with the most majestic tall fountains and also short subtle ones everywhere, water music dancing and saluting to the most unique Roman statues, unusual twisted old trees, special shrubs and rare bushes.  And, indeed Vickie was so right!!!  She even invited us to drop by her amazing loft right next to the Spanish Steps and introduced us to the most delicious Italian luncheon at a nice ristorante (her kitchen), conveniently located in her neighbourhood.
We visited Provence and the Riviera, Naples, Eze, Pisa, Rome, Monaco, Sorrento, Pompeii and Capri.  Naturally we sampled all kinds of local dishes every hot spot we visited.  I have always loved gelato and I discovered (through my repeated taste tests) the best tasting hand-made gelato is in Florence and the Capri Island.  Oh, they also serve the best lattes in Florence, not Rome and not Barcelona.  We took lots of pictures everywhere we went.  I randomly snapped 2,000 pictures with my iPhone.  Just like the other world tourists, we all posed ourselves with our open arms as if we were holding up the leaning tower in Pisa the moment we arrived the vicinity.  Our visit to Sorrento got shortened to just under 2 hours in total due to some local protest groups leading to road closure.  But even such a short visit to Sorrento, the heartwarming song “Come back to Sorrento” popped out of my head repeatedly because it’s such a romantic, pretty, nostalgic, peaceful little old town.
I found Pompeii a truly 百聞不如一見 most interesting historical ghost town.  One can easily find living proofs of Roman civilization and the old town life.  Black ash can still be seen at the outskirt of the city wall if you are observant.   The dusty main streets paved with lumpy hard stones (see picture attached), big stepping stones rising up in-a-row linking both sides of the street at certain points.  I guess in their living good old days the people of Pompeii cleverly walked on those big stepping stones to cross the street whenever there was a flood.  The much ruined red brick walls, the gradual ascending narrow lane ways, the sports arena, the marketplace, the big open forum, the graphic Roman brothels, the Hospitality House, the Roman water system, etc., etc. really captivated me.  Everything in Pompeii is extremely interesting to me, just beyond my imaginations.  As I walked through the old ruins, I could see Mt. Vesuvius from a distance.  I kept thinking how very horrific and tragic it had been for the whole town of unprepared people to suddenly realize they had absolutely nowhere to escape from that super fast moving hot dark clouds coming directly toward them except waiting to die amidst the massive chaos and confusions with people running like mad, dogs barking, children crying and screaming when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and mercilessly took all the lives away.  The whole Roman town was buried under hot ash in just a few short hours.  I tell you, I would not want to visit Pompeii alone at night in the dark as for sure it is haunted.  There’s no real gamblers among us, therefore, the trip to Monte Carlo (Monaco) was kind of so so.  To me, Monte Carlo’s way over-rated after checking it out myself.  Taking the hydrofoil to Capri Island (after walking a long cobblestoned street, climbing a hundred taxing steps uphill and then the much relaxing downhill steps to the pier) was quite a thrilling experience when the waves suddenly decided to become mighty and obnoxious within close intervals.  The island’s absolutely beautiful, tranquil, scenic and soulful for the young and the old from far and near.
 At the end of our day trip, as our coach bus continued to zoom tirelessly showing no fatigue, hugging the coastline above quiet high cliffs, overlooking deep lush valleys, distant majestic green mountains and the blue, blue open sea, skillfully twisting and turning before it slowly crawled on the easy driving roads.  Almost entering the pier zone, suddenly our charismatic European tourist guide stopped his talking and there came the smoothest soprano voice in the air, all sung in Italian, “Time to say goodbye”.  The Italians are just forever habitually so romantic.  How very soothing and nostalgic to say adios in such a beautiful way upon imminent sunset, ending another perfect day of land tours versus the North American way of saying “See you later, guys” or the Canadian way of saying “See you later, eh!”
Our Mediterranean Cruise came to an end when it docked Barcelona on  Day 7 in a sudden downpour.  Again, we had no time to idle except hopping on our last tour bus as soon as our ship docked while Dr. Sammy Leung and his lovely wife disappeared quickly for the airport to return to the windy city.  He must have heard his Chicago patients knocking and banging his office door crying out for his help.  Immediately, we zoomed away for Montserrat - a famous sacred site, an old monastery which was established about 1,000 years ago, super well protected and skillfully tucked inside the most breathtaking, dramatic range of fearless charcoal black rocky mountains.  In the spitting, misty rain, we arrived the parking lot near the sacred site.  There was the supreme silence and the freshest sea air that morning, meeting the distinct mountain chills forming that dense thick fog which instantly triggered goose bumps all over my body, filled me with the humbling kowtow feeling up to the brim, a feeling I will never forget when I suddenly found myself surrounded by such majestic landscapes above and below me.  Walking uphill toward the old monastery in the misty mountain rain with the Autumn chill without an umbrella, I kept singing to myself, “Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain on me!”  That truly magnificent panoramic view’s deadly poetic, it just blew me away.  I am sure if Oiman Chan or Yau Lop Poon were there, they would have instantly cranked out many nostalgic poems or written up a storm.  Going down the slope in the Autumn rain after visiting the most impressive monastery, the song lyrics from “My Fair Lady” suddenly came to me.  Remember we were all brought to a theatre to watch it in our Form 2 days?  ”The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.  Now once again, where does it rain? In the plain, in the plain. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”.  What an unforgettable scene of the mighty nature in the early Autumn rain either looking up at the most dramatic rocky mountains or looking down to adore the sleepy deep valleys.  I heard several caves discovered are archaelogical treasures which actually show human presence since Neolithic times going back some 4,000 B.C. !!!!  Hey, can you just believe 50 years later, a simple class field trip to the Cave of Chueng Po Tsai has evolved into an exotic field trip to the Caves of Neolithic times in Spain??!!!!  Hahaha!!
After Montserrat, we had to say goodbye to Ah Doc and Jackie who were heading back to London to revisit their son.  But, girls just wanted to have fun.  Therefore, 7 of us, including 3 帥妹 (Esther Yu, Stella Tam and Teresa Shum) just taxied ourselves to our Barcelona downtown hotels.  There, we spent a couple of agenda-free days exploring the city at 小姐 pace for a change. (Click here to continue with Part 2 of the article)
Irene Tsai (original “C” Class), reporting from Toronto - late Autumn of 2012


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