Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) (02/19/09)
TITLE: The Carrier Plan
By Ed VanDeMark
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I’m not a well traveled man. Being close to my home brings me a measure of comfort. We vacation of course, but at some point the carrier pigeon in me sends me on a bee line for my own bed.
The United States Navy had a travel plan designed for me. My bed went with me. I saw much of southern Europe on this plan. My first traveling home was the USS Topeka, a guided missile light cruiser, and my second the USS Saratoga, an aircraft carrier. I saw far away lands and return to my own bed almost every night. Following each port of call we went to sea for thirty days before we came into port for another week. These thirty days allowed me to return to life as usual before I entered the exciting world of the unfamiliar once again.
The Navy plan wasn’t as kind to many of the men I sailed with. Sailors, at sea, work 12 to 18 hours a day. A sailor in port does almost no work. The average age of our men was about 20. In reality most were boys not men. Twenty year olds confined to a quasi slave ship, devoid of entertainment and women for thirty days have desires they satisfied as soon as possible. When the fleet comes to town 5,000 men/boys descend on a community in search of instant gratification. The following day the other half of the fleet does the same thing. Women and property aren’t safe.
Naples has long had a bad reputation. To quote Hans Solo, the first ten blocks after leaving fleet landing had “Every form of villainy known to man.” Past that point, Naples was a wonderful port of call. I went to a cameo factory, where I learned cameo history and saw artisans at work. I found one of the world’s finest restaurants where I experienced octopus, only because it looked like onion rings. I’ll never forget spending an evening in a city park, listening to a free concert and discovering the delights of communicating with people who didn’t speak my language. I learned modesty Italian style was dissimilar from our American version, when I discovered the park’s public restroom was unisex.
Valetta, Malta had its gut, a place where sin preens its feathers and struts. It also had some of the world’s finest linen products, perfect gifts for the women in my life. I discovered a touch of America in Valetta, a bowling alley.
Athens is the whitest city I’ve ever seen. Many men didn’t get beyond the first bottle of ouzo, but I gave up breakfast and lunch so I could see this wonderful city. By supper I was so hungry I ate a whole chicken at an outdoor restaurant.
Rome fascinated me with its history, art, tiny cars and honking horns.
In Venice I bought a pair of size 44 shoes on a bridge.
In Barcelona I was grossed out by a bull fight yet hours later I ate a steak to kill for.
In Rhodes the modern world lives side by side with the ancient, and I saw a white bikini I’ll never forget, but that’s another story for another time when the children are sound asleep.
Corfu was quaint and cozy and I rode a bike to the mountains where I photographed a goat and a donkey.
Marseille had its pushy street vendors and its looming stone hill with memorials at city center.
Palma was almost paradise.
I found Trieste ancient, dignified and slow paced.
Thessalonica’s men and boys played cards in public places as soon as the sun set and the copper works had hand crafted bargains.
The Isle of Capri sported treacherous switch backs and crystal clear waters.
Rhoda had mud streets and desperate poverty.
I saw all of this compliments of the US Navy. None of these places were perfect, although Palma came close. Each offered an experience I’ll cherish a life time. Most importantly however my home, such as it was, was never far away, and my bed, my security blanket, awaited me nearly every night. This was Europe on the carrier plan, my Travelocity of the late 1960’s.
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