ARTICLE: HX my interview with liza minnelli. yes, liza minnelli. to read the story: click on this link; log into the site; then come back and click on this link again, and you'll be brought to the right page.
After the dismal failure of Tunis, it was on to happier locales. And this was the happiest of them all. Malta!
Malta is a tiny collection of islands south of Sicily and north of Tunisia. We had no idea it was even there, until our cruise itinerary said we were stopping for a visit. My knowledge of Malta up to that point was that presumably Maltese dogs were from there. Ironically, they're really not, but that's another post for another time.
HISTORY OF MALTA (feel free to skip if you care not): Malta has a wild, complicated past of invasions and enslavements and all sorts of drama. One important bit: in the 1500's, the Grand Masters—a group of knights charged with protecting Jerusalem to make a safe passage for Christian pilgrims—were attacked by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and expelled from the Holy Land. I'm not sure what else the Grand Masters were about, but they were a big deal. Anyway—so the King of Spain came to the rescue, and gave them the islands of Malta, in exchange for a yearly rent of one Maltese falcon. The Knights moved in and, because they were Catholic leaders, they built cathedrals all around the island. And they loved their new home, which was very safe due to the fact that the islands are mostly cliffs—which made it hard to invade.
Why am I saying all this? To explain the fact that Malta is very pretty.
Cruise photos? There's more! I know you're excited, I'm just dying to show them to you.
After Spain, our ship landed in Tunis, Tunisia-
-which was such a boring dump, I'm not going to bother posting photos. Tunis is an entirely Westernized city, not in a particularly nice way, and the people were generally RUDE, rude rude rude. Keep in mind I love going to Paris, and I live in Miami—two of the rudest populations of people on Earth—yet I find the locals in each place to be warm and delightful. So I have a high threshold for bad manners. And Tunis...fuck Tunis, it was the worst.
For instance, allow me to illustrate a scene: T.L. and I are standing on the sidewalk. A person dressed in some sort of military-ish uniform walks by. We are not particularly blocking the sidewalk; this person, as he walks by, PUSHES T.L. to the side and keeps going. As in, plants a hand on him and pushes, T.L. takes a step to catch himself. This is in broad daylight, on a regular street.
Sales people at the stores? One actually said "I hate Americans," in French, to us. And the other two people shopping there laughed, and sneered. It was like a bad propaganda film, created to terrorize Americans with images of evil Arabs who are secretly plotting the downfall of our country. Or something off of Fox News. Same thing.
Of course most people were fine, reasonably polite; but there was a minority who were awful, and the rest seemed to tolerate it as a daily occurrence.
We went to Tunis to see the souks, a.k.a. stores, in the historic center of the city. We had visions of the central market looking like something out Aladdin, with people selling spices and beaded clothes and whatnot. But it was just booth after booth of the same junk: leather bags made in China (all the same in every booth), ash trays that said "I Love Tunisia," and very dull gold jewelry. No one bought a thing.
After spending the day in northern Spain, we zipped around the Iberian Penninsula and docked at Malaga.
Warning: I forgot to tell you something. If you take a European cruise, be warned about that trip from France to Spain. The Bay of Biscay is the roughest water in the Atlantic. I was fine, but some of my fellow cruisemates took a trip to Barf City.
Regardless—it was a lovely day when we arrived in Malaga.
I just returned from, like, 10 days at sea?...how long was it? Nine days, yes. I had layovers in Paris (before) and Brussels (after), one of which was very nice and the other a complete disaster. You guess. I'll share stories in due time.
For now, as I do not have my camera with me, I can only share the photos I already emailed to my mother, whom I had to placate by sending regular updates on location as proof of my continued survival. Apparently the wilds of Royal Caribbean cruise ports are fraught with unknown dangers for a wispy little thing like me.
Speaking of—I present to you the first of my "Dan Sucking In His Gut" vacation photos collection:
For those of you who don't recognize the locale from "The Da Vinci Code," this is the front entrance to The Louvre. (We didn't go in, that's an all-day commitment.) I was trying to pose as a saucy Parisian. Although I am smiling in public, which immediately gave me away as a visitor. The locals were all too busy kissing each other and smoking cigarettes to curve their lips into a grin.
The dollar is terribly low to the euro—you need about $1.50 in US cash to get one measly euro coin—so it is hard for an American such as myself to splurge on the niceties of the city. Meals were restricted to stops at markets and street vendors; the H&M by my hotel, alas, was for browsing only. So I packed my camera and hit the streets. And in this case, the bridges, as is evident by the photo above.
The building slightly left of center, with the two identical rectangular turrets, is Notre Dame. I walked over at night to get a close-up view at night, which is lovely but difficult to photograph so you'll just have to take my word for it. While there, I looked for the Hunchback who rings the bells but I guess he had the night off.
The first day I was by myself, awaiting TL's arrival; I literally walked for hours, more than I have in the past month of my normal life. A seam on my jeans abrased a lesion on my leg, so I sought solace and respite at a place to sit down. Luckily the gay area of Paris, Le Marais, is located on the northern banks of this river, in the shadows on Norte Dame. How ironic. So I entered a bar, the name presently escaping my memory, and struck up conversation with some English-speakers in the corner. We discussed books. I didn't tell them the only book in my suitcase is a copy of Eclipse. I think I did alright in the conversation nevertheless.
So my travel tip for the day: in this bar, beer is served in two different sized glasses. Large glasses typical of beer are served to visitors; locals drink smaller servings, about the size of a dinner glass. The bartenders picked on their own who got what (prices were based according to size you received). And no tipping at the bar.
Smoking cigarettes Waiting in line for gelato Waiting in line for anything Frowning Making Americans suffer through heat because air conditioning will make you sick (?) Chocolate croissants! Wearing scarves in all weather conditions Sitting so close at restaurants they touch shoulders with total strangers THE ENTIRE MEAL Gentle kisses in public Talking quietly while on public transportation Nice parks, like this one
The time has come, mon ami, for me to take my voyage across the seas. I am taking a cruise around the continent of Europe, stopping here and there along the way. My voyage begins in Paris, before I take the train north to the coast and set sail.
I have reserved my hotel, directly off Line 12 on the Paris Metro. I have scoped out excursions while in Malta. I have picked out a few hammams to possibly visit while in Tunisia. Methinks, all is ready to go.
Now rather than pack, I am meditating on the subject: somehow I must fit two pairs of jeans, three shorts, eight shirts, one suit, two pairs of shoes, assorted socks and undies and bathroom-related things and of course presents for my lovely T.L., all in one carry-on suitcase. And the computer must also go in the luggage, as my second carryon will be my camera bag. It's going to be a tight fit.
The flight there is easy: Miami to Paris, direct. Bon jour. Getting home, however, is a chore: I end the cruise in Athens, but the airline has no flights from Athens to Miami (wtf?). So I must fly to Brussels, spend the night, then fly Brussels-Chicago and Chicago-Miami. There may be a viking ship or a covered wagon involved somewhere in the journey, I'm not sure what to expect.
I'm not complaining. This trip is being mostly paid for by credit card miles, which I have been saving for YEARS. And I tell you, those miles really are worth it if you get enough of them. I highly recommend getting one of those credit cards for yourself, you will get free trips! Free free free. Actually it costs, like, $30 to process everything but that's fine.
Can you tell I'm nervous? I'm just typing, typing.
I'm most nervous about making my rendevous with T.L., who is currently in possession of maps and directions and instructions of where to meet me in Paris. He must disembark from his ship, come to my hotel tucked away in the Latin Quarter, and collect me to bring me back. Luckily we have an entire day for him to find me. Hopefully it won't be that arduous an experience for him, and we'll actually have time to stroll the streets of the city and nibble baguettes. Or there is the possibility he will show up in tears, having walked circles around the city screaming in a mix of Spanish and Hank-Azaria-in-The-Birdcage English for someome to help. And the Parisians are such an understanding, patient people, you know.