Greece and Italy

28 Jul

We took a Mediterranean cruise July 13-23, stopping at several Greek and Italian ports and one in Turkey.   We have not been in Europe since the late 1990s.  Flying in coach across the Atlantic is not my idea of a good time and neither is going through security at JFK.  I held my tongue and went through the scanner.

We arrived in Rome on Friday morning and left the airport immediately for the port by motor coach.  Our fisrt stop on the cruise was Messina.   We toured for the for the day and stopped in Savoca where several scenes from The Godfather were filmed.

Savoca     We stopped by the little café/bar where Michael Corleone met the owner, his future father-in-law (Mr. Vitelli), stopped by the church where he married Apollina and met the local woman who played her mother.  This was a wonderful tour, especially seeing the local picturesque town where a bit of movie history was made.

We then cruised to Athens, Rhodes, Mykonos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Santorini (Greece), Naples and back to Rome, where we stayed in a wonderful hotel, Donna Camilla Savelli (a converted 17th century convent)  for a day before flying home on July 24.

In Athens, the temperature hit 43˚ C, or about 107˚ F.  It was so hot museums closed in the afternoon as well as the Acropolis.  We toured the Acropolis early in the morning, where the flow of tourists from all over the world was endless.  Our bus driver/guide, a Greek national, lived and worked—in a Fort Lee diner (what a surprise!) for more than two decades before returning to Greece about two decades ago and seems to be doing quite well.  His son also is a bus/driver/guide.  They own their vehicles.

Our guide told us the economy is a disaster.  Traffic in Athens is a fraction of the boom’s peak of several years ago, incomes are down 30% or more, gasoline is $11-$12 dollars a gallon (that’s not misprint) and the unemployment rate for college graduates is 50%.  In short, Greece’s economy is in a free fall.  Tourism is the country’s number one industry, that’s why it would be better for Greece to leave the euro zone so it can restructure its economy and earn much needed foreign reserves with its own currency that reflects the economy’s reality.    The drachma will probably return by early 2014.

The other Greek stops were delightful, the weather was beautiful and the beaches were scenic, especially with all the skimpy bikinis and occasional topless swimmers taking in the sun.  In Turkey, store vendors were welcoming tourists with open arms.  Business must be down quite a bit, but prices are still relatively high.

In Santorini we visited a winery where we were treated to three of the local wines.  We bought the dessert wine and packed it to take on board with us.  At security, the agent told us we could not take it onboard because it exceeded the low limit for liquid items allowed.  He said we could pack it with our checked luggage, but the three pieces we had were already checked in.  He confiscated the wine and I was pissed, because this rule is absolutely senseless.  In the airport there are duty free shops where you could by liquor bottles similar to the one we could not take on the plane.  The so-called war on terror is out of control.

The last stop was Naples on Sunday the 22nd.  We were warned to be aware of pickpockets.  Nevertheless, Naples can be described in two words, old and dirty.  There is much litter in the streets and graffiti is everywhere. The City fathers should be ashamed of the conditions and the Neapolitans should be embarrassed as well.  Naples needs an “extreme makeover.”  How’s that for a reality show, City Makeovers?

In Rome, we took a bus ride around the city and walked quite a bit.  Tourists are everywhere.  Graffiti is everywhere as well, and most of the cars on the streets are really small.  We saw the Toyota version of the Smart Car, the IQ.  With gas at least $8 a gallon and parking spaces are at a premium, small cars are a necessity.  In addition, the streets are swarming with motor bikes.  Men and women of all ages use them to get around Rome.   We did not get a chance to speak to anyone about the economy but prices are sky high.  The VAT is 23%, a huge sales tax that is embedded in all goods and services.  Tourists can get rebates, but inasmuch as we did not buy any major items we did not get a rebate.

Finally, we sailed on the Celebrity Equinox, a beautiful three year old ship that has glass blowing studio on Deck 15 staffed by three talented young men hired by the Corning Museum of Glass who made magnificent pieces throughout the cruise.

                Glass blowing                                      

My wife became a glass blowing groupie and attended all the sessions.  I attended several and it paid off.  The glass blowers held several lotteries and gave away more than a dozen pieces.  Florence and I won three pieces, a blue vase, a yellow cake plate and decanter, which we gave to our friends on board who organized the trip.

The picture on the right shows four pieces that were auctioned at the end of the cruise to raise money for museum scholarships and breast cancer research.  On our cruise the auction brought in about $2,000.

From outward appearances, things do not seem bad in Italy and Greece.  But appearances can be deceiving.  Welfarism has put both countries in precarious positions. They need to get their acts together so they can stabilize their economies.  That is easier said than done given the entitlement mentality in both countries.

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