It’s 2015, we’re newly married and we’re on our honeymoon. More out of necessity than want, we’re on a Thomson cruise (it was the only one on the right date, at the right price). The sun is sinking as we edge our way along the Bosphorus, towards the Black Sea. I’m clutching a beer as I follow Kim and her wine glass to the outdoor observation deck. Our day in Istanbul had been exceptional. What better way to say goodbye than to stand in the evening sun as we glide along the river with drinks in hand?
The Thomson Spirit was an old ship, badly in need of renovation or retirement. To the best of my knowledge, it received the latter when Thomson became TUI. Although the destinations visited had been excellent so far including; Kavala, Chios Town, and Patmos, our time aboard the ship itself was becoming somewhat stale. The ship was small and lacked many of the amenities boasted by modern counterparts. The entertainment program, already motto our taste, became almost intolerable as we entered the second week of the cruise; seemingly forgetting that some of us were on board for 14 nights they simply repeated the exact same program again from day 7; it was like groundhog day each evening as the same jokes and routines washed over us.
Perhaps a sign of its age, constructed in an era in which health and safety was less of a concern, some of the handrails on deck would be supported by metal posts that protruded inwards slightly. In fairness, they were well signed and highlighted by yellow and black hazard tape but, as I followed Kim towards the observation deck, I still managed to walk into one at full speed. The pain in my big toe was almost instant. What followed can best be described as a very un-manly high pitched squeal. I was sure it was broken.
It wasn’t broken. Several minutes later we stood, arms folded around each other watching the ancient city pass before our eyes. It was a perfect honeymoon moment made even better as, one by one, the minarets began the call to prayer; something I have always loved. The calls receded as we sailed on towards the semi-completed Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge. As we approached, the ship's horn let off two sudden blasts, seemingly inches from where we stood, giving both an unexpected moment of fright. The beer that was intended for my mouth now splattered my shirt and the deck below. I didn’t quite require new underwear but it was a close call. Still, at least I was distracted from the throbbing in my toe.
Several days later we awoke disappointed to find our arrival into Odesa was delayed, denying us of an hour and a half of shore time. Disembarkation was slow and chaotic, eating even further into our shore time. I could feel myself becoming agitated. When finally on dry land we were greeted by the impressive sight of the famous Odesa steps, or Potemkin Stairs. About halfway up those 192 steps stood several men holding large birds of prey. Eager to snap out of my mood, and because I’m a big child, I approached without giving the situation any thought. Kim had her doubts, I should have listened, but moments later we both stood with large eagles on each arm as the men used my phone to take pictures. My mood was immensely improved by the experience.
A hundred dollars. That’s what they wanted. I instantly realised I’d been foolish. I’d ran towards these guys when just a moments thought would have told me they were con artists and, now that I looked at the birds, they clearly were not cared for. I’d almost certainly contributed to the mistreatment of these magnificent creatures and I felt disgusted in myself. Six huge Ukrainian men now surrounded us to demand the exorbitant fee immediately. Although intimidated my resolve hardened, these guys were not getting a penny out of us and, in any case, we had none with us. I began to look around for help, my gaze settled on two local police officers just yards away. Our eyes locked and I felt confident they would come to our rescue until they walked away down the steps.
Fortunately, five intense minutes later we were free. I don’t think they had bargained on just how ferocious an angered Mancunian woman can be, or how stubborn a Cumbrian man can be with his money. They had demanded that we go straight to an ATM and return; clearly I’m stupid, but I’m not that stupid. We went onto have a lovely day in Odesa. The sun shone. Food and beer were extremely cheap. The architecture and streets were beautiful. Larders were parked everywhere. Questionable fashion choices abound. I do love eastern Europe.
We took a circuitous route back to the ship, avoiding the steps and men, making the most of our limited freedom.
Part of the last group back on board, we made a beeline for the bar and then onwards to the observation deck. I walked cautiously. We stood well away from the horn. Next up: Mykonos.
Should anyone be interested, our cruise followed the following route:
Marmaris > Thessaloniki > Kavala > Chios Town > Izmir (Ephesus) > Patmos > Marmaris > Istanbul > Nessebar > Odessa > Mykonos > Marmaris.