The Green Glass Grail

by Chad Underkoffler and Adapted by Fossil GM (MacMonkey)

A RPG Scenario for

(Told as it happened in a series of RPG sessions.)

Introduction from 2 Flights Up: We present here a narrative retelling of a Role Playing Game scenario as run at a series of our All Day Game Days at 2 Flights Up. If you are intrigued, as we think you will be, please join us at our next All Day Game Day on the 20th of April, where you can be a part of this continuing saga.

UNKNOWN ARMIES   RPG
DISCOVER THE OCCULT UNDERGROUND

Beneath the living mirror of heaven, beneath the world of our desires, there are streets with secret street names.  They connect the back alleys of civilization with the dark stained vacant lots of the cosmos.  They take you to the OCCULT UNDERGROUND.

There is danger there.  People vanish, die horribly, some go mad for the sake of whatever the secret is that lies at the heart of the unseen world.That world is the OCCULT UNDERGROUND.  Find IT before IT finds you.

A note from the Game Master (GM) Bruce MacDonald
The following is given to lay out my spin on the 1stEdition scenario, The Green Glass Grail, by Chad Underkoffler found in the collection WEEP(SIX SCENARIOS OF WOE AND RUIN), published by Atlas Games. Underkoffler describes his work as a “toolbox”, and it is; arranged in such a way as to insure that any GM’s variation on its themes will generate a very different result depending upon the choices each individual GM elects to incorporate within what will become his own scenario.

My own version of Underkoffler’s work was originally run at “2 Flights Up”, a gaming studio located in Dalton, MA. and will be broken down into sessions of actual play action, forming a group story-telling experience in which the story-tellers are all characters interacting within the supernatural world of Unknown Armies and with each other.

Introduction to the scenario:

On New Year’s eve of 2000, a secret, world-wide, cabal called Mak  Attax engineered an amazing global ritual across 29 time zones leading into what was called Y2K and the new millennium.  This Ritual of Light, as it was named, was intended to counter all the negative energy that had been predicted to occur on that particular New Year.   And it did.  But.  

The negativity was merely postponed.  The following New Year, the real beginning of the new millennium, was birthed in overwhelmingly negative energy.  The Stratosphere, stretched and stressed by the Mak Attax ritual of last year snapped back in unpredictable and unexpected ways.

Some of the results of this cosmic release occurred in St. Louis, MO.  A retired carpenter, victimized and suffering from psychological problems brought on by a brush with the occult underground and off his meds, became engulfed in the Stratosphere’s energy transfer and his slim grasp on reality was broken.  His personality was shattered.  He was invaded by a foreign entity and now fluctuates between his original harmless self and this new mystical identity, Mr. Glass. He is completely mad, broken and dangerous.

The Stratosphere, too, was momentarily broken and as it snapped back it left small shards of infinity in its wake.  These shards manifest on the material plane as a variety of things.  One, in particular, manifested as a 6oz. soda bottle artifact, which, if opened and drunk from, grants wonderful mojo to the imbiber.  It refills and recaps itself every 24hours.

Both Mr. Glass and the artifact are on the loose in St. Louis, both with a will of their own, and the area surrounding the College Hill Neighborhood is now haunted by weirdness and death.

The Whispers Reality TV team, which specializes in supernatural content, is sent to investigate a series of attacks and murders attributed to an urban “Werewolf”, which has ravaged the city’s homeless community.  These attacks are finally beginning to gather some media attention due to the severity of the attacks, not because of the specific population being affected, but because of, “Who Cares?”

A Werewolf story, supported by media proof would be a great story, indeed.

SESSION I

Selina Ramirez, the owner and producer of the Whispers Reality Television Show with offices and a studio in downtown St. Louis, has been hearing rumors of weirdness and general nastiness occurring in the College Hill Neighborhood.  Over the last few days one of her very reliable contacts has been reporting tales and sightings of an urban werewolf stalking and attacking elements of the St. Louis homeless community.  The story is just breaking and has not yet been reported in the regular media, but now the sightings have begun to spread into other, less impoverished sections of the city and the media, heretofore silent, is beginning to stir and take notice.

Also, for the last couple of weeks in and around the O’Fallon Park area there has been widespread reporting of localized technical malfunctions.  These have included power outages, the “ghosting” of streetlights causing the lights to dim and suddenly to grow in intensity, sometimes causing the bulbs to shatter. More mysterious are the reported geysers of salt water and other fluids suddenly shooting out of manhole covers, propelling the heavy covers thirty or so feet into the air, sometimes accompanied by a loud fizzing.  

Ramirez is always on the lookout for potential stories which may qualify as material for her stations special niche.  Whispersis a small, news group found bouncing off Com-Sats in the St. Louis/East St. Louis area.  It is a low budget, yet surprisingly sophisticated station with a willingness to travel to get its’ stories.  Usual fare includes such stories as hauntings, mysterious rumors, events and even stranger people from history and the present.

After ruminating for a short while, Selina decides to send her investigative team (W.I.T.) to check out the rumors, separate fact from fiction and decide whether or not it will be worth the time and money to document the validity, or lack thereof of the story.

Thus it is, on the evening of January 15, 2001, W.I.T. gathers several of its members, loads a standard list of investigative supplies into the Whispers van and heads out N. Broadway with a destination of an  underpass, beneath I-70 near O’Fallon Park where, it is said, a gathering of homeless people have set up a semi-permanent camp.

  But first, they stop and reserve several rooms at The College Hill Motel and Sunrise Diner, a block or so from a nearby McDonald’s restaurant.  Here they buy burgers, fries and coffee for the people they hope to interview.

The team, on this first investigation, is made up of Louis Brownstone, an African-American, paranormal investigator and UFO specialist, Roxanne Garcia, an Apache/Mexican-American, stringer and Native American specialist (as well as a secret Cliomancer – a post-modern Magick adept who powers her mojo from charges gained from tapping the energy residing in historic locations), Willa Jordan, an African-American Social worker and Journalist, and Gary Johnson, Whispers cameraman and technician.  The team also has access to additional personnel if needed.

As they draw close to their destination, Louis, who is driving, pulls over so that Gary can get out of the van and try and get some footage of a streetlamp “ghosting”.   It’s dark, but Gary hopes there is enough light to get some decent film.  The team sits in silence as they watch the light show which takes on the feel of an illuminated heartbeat.

As they approach Adelaide Ave. they hit a red light and while waiting for the green –SUDDENLY HE IS THERE, staring in the window at them, wild-eyed, bearded, a dentist’s nightmare, and looking like ten miles of bad road.  

The individual reaches into his pocket and draws . . . a snot covered rag from his pocket and with a, “Wash your window, sir?”, he spits on the van’s windshield and begins to smear his rag all over the not so dirty surface in spite of loud protests from the van’s interior.

Louis, lowering his window a bit, attempts to redirect the individual and is about to offer the man some money, when the stranger suddenly looks up and off to the right and with fearful look, shoves his rag in his pocket and moves off in the opposite direction faster than any of the passengers  deemed possible.  They see nothing to account for the man’s fearful look nor for his quick exit.  

Louis cleans the window with the washer, the light turns green and with no sight of the “Samaritan”, nor what drove him away, they continue on, passing a St. Louis Police cruiser a block after the light, and, as they pass, its lights flash on and it pulls out, siren blaring, headed in the opposite direction. 

About 15 minutes later they cross Adelaide Avenue, and arrive at O’Fallon Park.  Finding an unobtrusive place to park they emerge from the van into the chill, dark, misty night, and walk toward I-70 where, in the glow of a fire they see a small group of people gathered.

As they get closer they see the fire, built in a fifty gallon drum and five or six men ranging in age from their early twenties to their mid to late thirties, smoking and laughing.  The drone of traffic is a constant presence, here.  The fire is partially hidden from view by the cement pillars supporting the overpass and by the fact that it is located beneath the on-ramp up to the interstate.  They look up as they see the newcomers approach, and their conversation dips as the W.I.T.  team gets closer.  

“Evening friends.  My name is Louis, and my friends and I are here to see if you need some help. Pardon the intrusion.”  The men simply stare, taking Louis in.   “Er . . . we’ve been hearing talk of the trouble you folk have been having in and around the park here, and we’re hoping that y’all ‘ll take some time and tell us what’s been happening here, in your own words.”

The men are silent as they turn and look at one another.  After a moment, one of them replies, “Yeah?  And why would we do that?” he looks the team over and adds, “Who are you people?”

Willa steps up and says, “We’re from the Whispers Television Show.  Perhaps you’ve had a chance to see it?”  

One of the men, twenty-ish, in Black leather jacket and a “DA” haircut answers, ”Yeah I’ve seen it a couple of times.  It’s okay.”  

Willa then introduces the members of the team and asks the young man his name to which he replies, “They call me T-Joe.”

She then goes on point out to the men that they have nothing to lose by agreeing to talk to the team, saying, “We’ve heard rumors. With your permission, we can help bring attention to whatever it is that is harming or of concern to you people. However, we need more than rumors. We’re hoping that some of you may be able to give us more solid information.  Something that will help to draw attention to your situation and bring a response to what’s happening here.”

Louis adds, “Now, if y’all don’t mind, we’re gonna hang out here for a while and hopefully get to know a few of you and listen to any story that you may want to share.”

“Maybe this will help.” Roxanne says, proffering the bags of burgers and fries.  “Consider this a peace offering.  And there’s coffee if you like, cream and sugar.”

Although seeming more relaxed and accepting with the offer of food and coffee, the men are still reticent to open up to the investigators. Perhaps this is due to shyness or perhaps due to fear of being considered crazy.  (Some of them indeed have psychological issues).

Roxanne walks over and sits by a man who looks to be about 24 years old.  She hands him a cup of coffee and introduces herself, “but you can call me Rocky.”  He accepts the coffee and introduces himself as Jimi.  

Jimi is dressed fairly warmly (it’s 34 degrees and the mist is such that you can see that it is becoming a light and cold rain).  Roxanne also notes that he is wearing a glove on his left and a heavy wool sock on his right. 

Rocky asks, “How’s your hand?” while unobtrusively loosing some minor mojo.  When he doesn’t reply right away, she adds, “Remember me?”

Jimi stares at her for a couple of beats and then says, “Oh, yeah!  Jeez, I didn’t recognize you at first.  Yeah. How you been?  Wow!  It’s been a while.”  (Willa does a double take as she doesn’t believe that Roxanne has connections with the homeless community in this neighborhood.)

‘Rocky’ replies, “Yes it has.  I’ve been well, but what happened to your hand, Jimi?”  

Jimi tells a story about a very cold night last December. He had been drinking (“yup, still drinking, what can I say?”) and had a bit too much that night.  Well, he had passed out and would have frozen to death, had not the “Angel of Mercy” found him and fed him a draught of the ‘elixir’ (“she called it.”).  “I would have died that night, I know, if she hadn’t found me.  As it was, I lost all the fingers on my right hand.  I guess I’m lucky.  That’s what the sock is covering.”

Overhearing Jimi’s tale of the “elixir” and the “Angel of Mercy”, Wang Ho, who had been drawn into talking with Willa, mentions that the Angel had visited him one night after he hadn’t had anything to eat for a couple of days.  The drink didn’t seem to do anything for his hunger, but his life turned around a bit. Soon after his drink, he picked up a delivery gig for tips and supper, from The River Dragon, a small, near-by Chinese restaurant.

Suddenly Abdul, who had been quiet despite Louis’ mild attempts to converse with him and who had visibly become more and more agitated the more the “elixir” was mentioned, bursts into a shrieking panic, jumps up, accuses Louis of being with the C.I.A., and runs off into the night through the I-70 underpass.  

Louis, taken by surprise by Abdul’s response stares after him as he disappears.  Pat, a homeless Army Vet, goes to Louis and assures him that, though Abdul’s reaction was certainly disturbing, it had nothing to do with Louis, personally.  He tells Louis that Abdul suffers from acute paranoia and probably hasn’t kept up with his meds. 

Pat reveals to Louis that he, himself, has not tasted the “elixir”.  So he feels that he can be of no help.  He then turns to Ho and asks him if he knows the whereabouts of Ronnie?  He hasn’t seen her for a few days and is getting concerned.

Ho agrees, “Yeah.  I don’t know.  Where is she? I saw her yesterday.  She said she’d be here.”

Suddenly Jimi rises and loudly proclaims to Roxanne that ”We had trouble before this ‘Werewolf’ or ‘Mad Dog’ or whatever it is.  That other creature, that, that stalker – that Street Phantom!  We can’t forget Old Yellow, or Trixie or Jimmy ‘the Snake’. That’s what we should be talking about!”

Rising, Roxanne says, “What Jimi?  A stalker?”   She looks around at the men, confused.   “Angel of Mercy?”

The men are quiet.  Slowly the conversation picks up, again as the small community remembers its’ dead and the horrible ways they died.

Gary has been busy this entire time trying to document the encounter as best he can, with audio and visually.  He feels good about the “ghosting” he shot earlier, but the lighting from the drum fire is very difficult to work with.

His attention is drawn to Louis who has been joined by T-Joe who, after his initial offering, has been somewhat standoffish up to now.    T-Joe is a little better dressed than the others in his leather jacket and insulated gloves, his ‘DA’ hairstyle and bad complexion.

T-Joe says that he belongs to a group known as Satan’s Chosen Temple and that rather than hang around with this bunch of homeless losers, the team, with their interest in the supernatural, should really check out the SCT. He attempts to convince Louis to come by his temple in Venice, Illinois, just across the (Mississippi) river.  “You’re the kind of people who might be interested in joining my group.  We can help you meet your full potential.  Come and visit our Temple.  And bring some money.”  He gives Louis his card.  

Louis gives T-Joe, $20 saying, “Here’s a little something for your coffers.”  The card names a Rebecca deGhoule as SCT’s “Spiritual Leader”.  

When Louis declines to go off with T-Joe immediately, he bids a farewell to Louis with a, ”Cool, man. Great!  Catch you around.  Got some potions, too, you might be interested in.”

Louis, due to his previous occult investigations, has heard vague rumors concerning the SCT and that the group is largely comprised of clueless amateurs like T-Joe, who definitely comes across as a clueless, swaggering moron.  BUT.  It is also rumored that they are capable of summoning demons and consequently worth checking into.

Shortly after T-Joe’s departure, while the evenings conversation returns to the subjects of the “Werewolf”, “The Street Phantom” and “The Angel of Mercy”, Suzanna, a “bag lady” arrives and sits near Jimi and Roxanne, who now, have also been joined by Willa.

Jimi introduces Suzanna and tells Rocky and Willa that Suzanna was actually attacked by the Street Phantom and survived.  Rocky notices that upon hearing this, Susanna unconsciously brings her hand to her throat, and delicately touches what looks to be a fairly recent, angry and deadly looking, stitched-up wound.

Suzanna relates that she had been suffering from a bad case of pneumonia and that the “Angel of Mercy” had visited her late one afternoon and had given her a drink of the “elixir” to cure her.  Later that same night, she was attacked by a wild-eyed, “Mr. Hyde-type monster”, calling itself, Mr. Glass who, attempting to learn more about “The Angel” then, slashed her throat in desperate impulsiveness. His howls of rage were the last thing she remembers hearing. 

Miraculously, she was found and brought to the ER where she was stitched up, and released that same night.   She attributes her survival to God and His Angel of Mercy.

The conversation begins to wind down as the wind picks up, and around 10 P.M., the group begins to break up.  Soon, all that remain are WIT, Jimi and Suzanna. 

Due to the weather, they decide to stay beneath the overpass.  They assure WIT that they’re well equipped to spend the night here, despite the weather. Then they scramble up the concrete bank to a dry niche on the flat, just under the overhead Interstate.  There Jimi has stashed a sleeping bag, several blankets and a bit of food, now expanded by several cold burgers and some fries.

The team stays together a bit longer, making plans for the morrow and then, all save for Louis, head back to the van to get what rest they can.  Louis hangs out near the still hot, drum fire and keeps watch to guard the sleeping pair.

Dozing, despite the chill, Louis suddenly wakes and reaching for his .357 Magnum he looks around.  (Something’s not right.)  He raises himself into a squat and looks around . . . THERE – a large shadow cast by the now low fire.  He swings around bringing the pistol to bear and . . . it’s gone.  It’s dark.  What was that? . . . (Probably  dreaming.) . . . (But maybe not) . . . He dozes no more, until he’s unexpectedly relieved by Rocky and Willa, calling ahead in warning, at about 3 A.M.  

And they, in turn, are unexpectedly joined by Ralph Schrodinger at 6 A.M.  Ralph, a Caucasian Whispers reporter with a keen interest in the occult, explains that there was a message from Gary left on his cell requesting his presence and leaving directions.  “So, here I am, bright and early.” He says.  The two women bring him up to speed with the previous evening’s events and learned info.

Suzanna is off early the following morning.  The rest of W.I.T arrives at about 8 A.M. Gary goes off looking for coffee and returns about the time that Jimi is waking.  Over hot coffee they all talk about their plans for today and discuss logistical plans for their transportation.

Rocky mentions a subject which she and Jimi had briefly touched upon   last night.  Jimi had told her that he had witnessed one of the unnatural events that Selina had mentioned back at the Whispers office, yesterday.  He said that he had actually seen a manhole cover shoot skyward on a pillar of “fizzy” water boiling out into the street three days ago.

“Yeah!  Wow! It musta shot 25‘  into the air.  That was somethin’.  It’s only a little over a mile from here.” he says.  “We can take N. Broadway up to the Baden neighborhood.  It’s just up there.”  He points.

When asked if he’ll show the team the exact spot, he asks, “Is it possible for you to get me a pint?  Grizzley’s General store is on the way.”

Grizzley’s is about a mile up the road and the team spends some time buying materials for a bulletin board, (a local map, string, pushpins and Post-Its) to be placed in Louis’ Winnebago.  This will help place where bodies have been found, and where unnatural events have been reported to have occurred).  More coffee for all is purchased, and some smokes and a pint of Old Turkey for Jimi, and then they’re off, again.

A half a mile further, at the edge of a small residential community, Jimi has them stop.  “There it is.” He says, pointing.  “Right there at the intersection of Newby and Gimblin.”

A general perusal turns up nothing.  The manhole cover has been replaced and they make a mental note to check with the Water Dept. to see if there were any irregularities in the drainage system reported that day.

Ralph asks, “You said it was ‘Fizzy’ water?”

“Yeah.”, replies Jimi.  It smelled like Coke.”

“Coke?”, asks Ralph.

“Yeah, Coke.  You know.  Like the drink.”

It is decided that Gary and Ralph will take Ralph’s car and make an appointment to use Ralph’s police connections to try and gain some info on previous homeless victims and reported unnatural events. Before leaving, Gary calls Henry Watts, a St. Louis Animal Control Officer with City Police connections, and a regular resource used in certain instances by the television station, to ask if he is free to give them a hand.  

Henry replies that, yes, he is free and gives Gary a window for his availability.  Gary and Ralph have some time on their hands, so they decide to go and waste some ammo at the nearest pistol range and hone their skills.

Rocky and Louis take the van to go and check in at the Water Dept., which turns up no reported anomalies beyond the replacing of the manhole cover. At which point, Rocky drives Louis to his Sister-in-Law’s house in the Central West End, where he has parked the Winnebago which he won in the Lottery about three years ago.  His wife, Minerva, another occult investigator, is presently out of town on a series of speaking engagements.  As a plus, she keeps her portable occult library aboard the camper.  He’ll drive the Winnebago back to their motel, where Willa awaits, and Rocky will drive the van back and meet up with them both.

Meanwhile, after target shooting, Ralph and Gary connect with Henry, who drives them to Police HQ in College Hill.  There, both Henry and Ralph use their various skills, influence and contacts to dig up some pertinent info on various Jane and John Does, found in NE St. Louis, as well as some forensic info and the location of a couple of “body drops”.  Interestingly, one of the victims had had her heart cut out, plus there was evidence of cannibalism found on the bones of the heartless victim.

Feeling upbeat about their discoveries, but sobered by the thought of what type of monster it is they’re pursuing, the three men return to the College Hill Motel and from there, Gary drives the van back to the Whispers studio to share his audio recording with Selina and then run his filmed footage from last night through his office monitor and see if he got anything worthwhile.  The audio, he knows is good, but the tape sucks, tho’ some of the footage of the “ghosting” is usable.

Willa remains at the motel while the others pile into the Winnebago and head out to pay a visit to a near-by “body drop” used by “The Phantom”, located in the Bellefontaine Cemetery.   Henry follows in his van with one of his dogs, “Old Blue”, aboard.  They head to the site where the “heartless” victim’s body was found.  It is ominously less than a mile from the homeless hangout abutting O’Fallon Park. 

 A short search brings them to the reported area of the drop, a grave site in the “old” section of the cemetery.  Henry begins to quarter the area with “Blue”, while Louis, Ralph and Rocky search the area immediately around the site where the body was dumped. 

There, amongst empty booze bottles, some patches of frost, various wrappers (candy, McDonald’s, cigarettes), other paper trash and used condoms, Louis finds a small plastic snow globe, wet and muddy,  celebrating the 75thanniversary of the raising of The Bissellstreet Water Tower.  Louis passes it to Ralph who looks at it, and then rapidly shakes it.  Nothing happens.  He looks skyward, and chuckles, wiping fake sweat from his brow, he passes the globe to Rocky to inspect.  

She focuses on it, concentrating with great intensity.  Suddenly she looks stunned.  It appears as though she may pass out.  (She sees a large figure appear, ghostly, from out of the night.  It stops at the site seemingly right in front of her, bearing a loosely wrapped body which the figure tosses, like a rag doll, to the ground. As the body drops she sees the snow globe drop with it.  However, she is unable to determine whether the globe fell from the victim or from what she believes is the Street Phantom.)  

Louis catches her before she falls.

Thus Ends the First Session of The Grail Mystery.  It is approx. 2 P.M. on Tuesday, 01.16.2001    –    The Bellefontaine Cemetery

It’s a Big week this week!

We’ve got a big All Day Game Day planned for this weekend, with lots of games, big and small.   We’re featuring the newly pimped out Print ‘n’ Play version of 18EU, a train game in the 18XX series of train games.   

We’re also going to be Playing Merchant of Venus, a Pickup and Deliver game of galactic proportions!

We’re having another go at Thomas’ X-Wing-Variant-space-combat-game-without-a-cool-name-yet. 

If there’s still time after that, we’ll try Brass, which puts players in the shoes of entrepreneurs in England during the industrial revolution.

Check out the page for the event for more info!  

Mediterranean Vacation Day 14

Tuesday, June 19: Athens to Boston 

The road home.  We had a nice relaxing breakfast in the rooftop garden restaurant again (can you believe the view?), and then got picked up and transported to the airport.  

Oddly, on the flight from Athens to London, they didn’t even give out water without you paying for it, yet on the London-Boston leg, they gave up to 2 alcoholic drinks and 2 1/2 meals for free.  Of course, trying to eat in coach class is always a challenge.

That about wraps up our 2018 vacation.  We had a fantastic time.

After reflecting on the whole trip, here are some of our final impressions. 

Overall impressions – The Cities

  • Rome was a fascinating city that I’d be willing to visit again, though given a choice, I’d find a hotel closer to downtown, and I’d study the Metro system more.  I felt there was plenty more to see there. 
  • On the other hand,  I think I’ve seen everything I need to see in Athens. Beyond the historical sites, which you can cover in a couple of days, it’s just a big city.
  • Athens had the cleanest Metro stations of any city I’ve ever been in.
  • In both cities, in fact in every place we visited on this trip, I was delighted with the abundance of al fresco restaurants.  In the 2 cities,  they were literally stacked together to the point where sometimes it was hard to tell where one restaurant ended and another began (usually the giveaway was the tablecloths). 
  • I would like to have had a couple more days in Rome especially, so that I could have spent some more time relaxing in those restaurants. We definitely felt a bit rushed to see as much as we could. 
  • Boy, you can’t get away from the smokers over there. It seems like EVERYBODY smokes, and unlike in the U.S., they can pretty much smoke wherever they want. 

Overall impressions – The Cruise: 

  • The daily schedule of hosted events on the ship didn’t SEEM to be as dense with activities as on previous voyages. 
  • The shows in the theater were of a much lower quality than on previous cruises we’ve taken. 
  • Jeannie was a little concerned about the state of the ship; there was water leaking from the ceiling in the cafeteria, and one bank of elevator buttons wasn’t working (the elevators themselves were working, but the call buttons were not).

Lessons Learned – Cities:

  • We had great experiences in both cities with the Hop on Hop off busses.  However,  they are not the most efficient way to get around.  Use the Metro to move fast. 

Lessons Learned – Cruise :

  • Excursions
    • Avoid the “walking tour of the town” excursions.  Very often, the guide alternates between boring you silly with a long monologue about something you barely care about, and rushing from place to place to make sure that they check the box for seeing everything the tour description promised. You can really do just as well on your own with a good guidebook or audio tour. I highly recommend Rick Steves’ walking audio tours.   
    • Full day excursions are exhausting.  Avoid them if you can.  Be sure to allow time to enjoy the ship’s amenities. 
    • Don’t book an excursion on the last cruise day. Especially not a full day excursion. It makes the whole offboarding process a bit too hectic. 
  • Wardrobe
    • Take half as many pants as you think you need, but be sure to have a ‘day’ shirt and an ‘evening’ shirt for at least  2/3 of the days you’re onboard. That’s assuming that you will do laundry at least once if not twice while onboard.  The ‘evening’ shirt (for men) should have a collar  if you’re eating in the main dining rooms. Your ‘day’ shirt will be pretty stinky by the end of the day if you’ve done any excursions.  
    • Speaking of which, plan to do laundry on the ship either really early or really late, since those ship laundromats stay pretty busy.  Also, when choosing your wardrobe for the trip, try to pick colors that can all be washed together, because the laundry costs about $9 / load.
  • Don’t bother with the specialty restaurants.  The food and the service in the specialty restaurants are slightly better than in the main dining rooms, but IMHO, they’re not $30 better. 

I will point out that the little annoyances that I’ve documented here in this blog series were just that: little annoyances. They did not detract from the overall greatness of the trip.  Because this was a GREAT trip.  We had a blast. 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 13

Monday, June 18: Athens
Today, Jeannie and I started out together, just taking a leisurely stroll around the base of the Acropolis, comparing notes about the tours we had taken the day before. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap.
Once we were done there, I wanted to visit one more Archaeological site, so we agreed to meet for lunch.
I visited the Ancient Agora, which was the city’s main marketplace in ancient times.
After lunch, we were strolling around the touristy district when it began to rain. Downpour, really. Cats and dogs. That lasted about 2 hours, and after a bit more wandering, we ended up in the square where we were to meet our guide for the evening.
This last excursion of the vacation was one that Jeannie planned for me: a Greek cooking class where we would prepare, under the tutaledge of a professional chef, an authentic 5 course Greek meal, and then enjoy the meal we had prepared with chef on the rooftop dining room.
We really lucked out, because there was only one other couple in the class, so it was like getting a private lesson. The class itself was great fun and informative, we learned quite a bit. Then, we enjoyed the meal on the roof with a great view of the Acropolis, and great conversation with our chef and the other couple. What a great last adventure for our vacation!

 

 

 

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 12

 

Sunday, June 17: Athens, Greece
This morning, Jeannie and I took separate paths again. I was planning to get a “Combo Pass” to several of the city’s monuments. The Rick Steves guide I got from Kathy H. indicated that I should go to one of the lesser monuments to get the pass, since then I could skip the long ticket line at the Acropolis. So after breakfast I went across the street from our hotel to the Temple of Zeus, which was supposed to open at 8am. However, there was a sign saying that it wouldn’t open until 9:30. So I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to wait in line at the Acropolis, and headed that way. However, when I got there, not only was there a long line there, but it was also not open yet. There was a caravan of black vans and limousines, though. Apparently there was some VIP in town (rumor had it that it was the President of India, and the garb worn by his entourage supported that) who was given the run of the place first thing in the morning. Anyway, we waited about a half hour, and finally the entourage left, and we were able to buy our tickets. I suspect that their next stop was the Temple of Zeus that I had tried to get into earlier.
Funny side note: there was a lot of security around, including a pair of snipers who hustled down to their vehicle just before the main body left. Only they weren’t in a sleek black van, but in a beat-up old Pathfinder, which they had a real hard time starting! I wondered if we would have to keep them push it to a decline, but they eventually got it going, and followed the rest of them down the hill.
Anyway, there I was, finally, at the Acropolis, where I could compare the original Parthenon with the full scale replica that we had seen in Nashville TN last November.
I was being guided by a Rick Steves audio tour that I had downloaded, and boy was I impressed! He gave just enough info to be interesting without being boring. The timing was excellent too. He and his co host talked just enough for you to comfortably stroll through the particular area of interest, taking the pictures you wanted, without too much hurry.
So, what can I say about the Acropolis itself? It was awe inspiring. It was breathtaking. It was just cool.
When I was done there, I continued on with a walking tour of the ancient city. Sadly, my iPod battery gave out halfway through the tour, but I was able to complete it with the aid of the printed guide.
Meanwhile, Jeannie was off adventuring on her own. She did some shopping in the morning, and took a (human) guided tour of the ancient city in the afternoon. That tour was included with the purchase of our Hop on Hop off tickets.
In the evening, the whole group of us (9 in all) had dinner on top of the tallest hill in Athens. The view was spectacular, the food was delicious, and the company was great.
When we got back at about 11pm, Jeannie and I were still ready to go, so we thought we’d have a nightcap at the restaurant on the roof garden of our hotel. We met a young couple (Mason & Sasha) of the same inclination, and so we joined them for a drink and pleasant conversation; a very pleasant end to the day.

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 11

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 16 June;  Athens. 

We were kicked off the ship at 9AM this morning.   Since we didn’t have any arranged transport to the hotel, we got into a taxi,  which we were told would cost about 23 Euro.  We made the mistake of not confirming that before getting into the cab.  Sure enough, the cabbie started chatting us up about him taking us on a private tour of the city for “only” an extra 120 euro. Once we had firmly declined, he went suddenly quiet.  He ended up charging us 40 Euro for the trip, while our friends  in the cab ahead of us paid only 27.

After getting to the hotel, and showing our luggage, Jeannie and I bought our 2-day Hop On Hop Off tickets for 30 Euro total.  Having nothing better to do for a few hours,  we just “rode the rails” so to speak, taking the farthest bus route.  That happened to be right back at the cruise port. We were much chagrined to realize that we could have just hopped on the bus right there and saved ourselves 40 Euro! 

Our hotel has a rooftop restaurant with spectacular views of the city (see above).

And here we are, beginning the last leg of our trip.  Tomorrow, the Acropolis! 

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 10

Friday, June 15: Mykonos, Greece

Today was the tour of Delos, an island which is, in its entirety, one big archaeological site.  It was originally inhabited by the ancient Greeks, and like Pompeii, you can meander through the streets and imagine what it was like to live there 3000 years ago.  Our tour guide ‘Iffy’ was very good, if a bit long winded.  

Then we took the ferry back to Mykonos town for a whirlwind tour of the tourist district.  I felt bad for all the shop owners, because we had no time at all to browse,  shop or stop for refreshment. 

Then we were back on the bus to visit another monestary.  We’ve seen several of these along the way, and while I was looking forward to roaming around the grounds, seeing how the monks/nuns lived and worked, in every case, we were shown into the Orthodox church,  and that was it.  Still, it was interesting to compare the decorations here vs. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches that we’ve seen so many of elsewhere in Europe. 

Following the monastery, the group was directed to a tavern for lunch, which may or may not have been included in the price of the tour,  we’re still not sure. Ever the non-conformist, Jeannie decided that we would have lunch in a different tavern in the same plaza. We ate at “the Fisherman”, which was excellent. And not crowded. 

Our next stop was an exclusive beach, where we were given 20 minutes to…  I’m really not sure WHAT we were expected to do at a beach for 20 minutes.  There wasn’t even enough time to get a beer.   Anyway, that was it for the tour.  We got back on board and took a quick nap in our stateroom before going to our last onboard dinner. 

After dinner we went to a show from a guy that was trying hard to be a one-man Il Divo. I won’t say whether he succeeded, but I will say that Jeannie bailed after 2 songs to watch the ship’s version of “What’s My Line”. 

After that we watched another improv comedy show by Doug Funk.  He was pretty hilarious. 

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 9

 

Thursday, June 14: Crete, Greece

We didn’t actually dock in Crete until noon, so we had time to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before participating in a “speed painting” event, where everyone got 2 minutes to start a water color painting, and then everyone shifted one canvas to the right and got one minute to work on another person’s painting. This continued until we got all the way around the circle of canvases. It was a great idea, I thought. I started painting the Starship Enterprise, but somewhere along the way, one of the other artists decided it looked more like a banjo. Anyway, it was great fun.
The ship landed at the far western end of Crete, in a town called Chania. The ship offered excursions to the central area of Crete, where the really interesting parts of Crete are, like the Knossos Palace of King Minos, and other artifacts of the Minoan civilization. However, they were a 2 hour bus trip away, so we opted for a little shopping in downtown Chania instead. It was great, because I got to sit in a nice al fresco restaurant and sip on some beers, while Jeannie got some shopping therapy.

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 8

Wednesday, June 13: Corfu, Greece
Our tours had a late start this morning, as 500 tourists sat in the lounge for an hour waiting until the busses arrived. We had been reminded last night to turn our clocks forward an hour for the new time zone. Perhaps the bus drivers didn’t get the word.
I was visiting the St Paraksevi monastery to and the Paleokastritsa Caves by boat this morning, while Jeannie was taking a “Wine and Dine” tour of Corfu town.

When we arrived at the boat dock, it was entertaining to watch the somewhat controlled chaos of all the little privately owned tour boats clamoring to get to the single gangway where one guy was shouting at the boat drivers, coordinating the onboarding and offboarding of the tour boats, which varied in size from 6 passenger to 16 passenger. I lucked out and got into a 10 passenger boat where everyone had a seat by the rail, for good photo ops.
The caves themselves weren’t exactly what I expected. I was expecting (from the description of the tour) that the boats would be entering large caves lined with glittery rock formations. Sort of a Howe Caverns experience. In reality, the caves were about the size of a 1 car garage, which the small boats pulled into for a few minutes and backed out of.
The real cool thing about the tour was the water itself, which was crystal clear, so that you could see to a 20-30 ft. depth. In total, it was a beautiful aquamarine color.
After an exciting drive up a narrow switchback road in our (huge) motorcoach, our next stop was the monastery, which for some reason, was the only “rest stop” made available on the tour. That would have been OK, were it not for the fact that there was exactly one toilet for the 3 busloads of people that arrived at the same time. The monastery itself was not terribly interesting, but our guide did her best to give us enough details of local customs and beliefs to make it so. Then it was back to the ship.

Jeannie had nothing but praise about her tour. In her words: “After a 30 minute drive into the countryside, we stopped at the restaurant Spiros & Vasilis. The setting was beautiful, with the tables under the trees dressed with white linen. Our feast began with the traditional shot of (homemade) ouzo, after which they served a selection of homemade wines from their own vineyards. This was followed by my favourite Greek appetizers; taramosalata, feta cheese with olive oil, and tzatziki. Then they gave a cooking demonstration, showing how they prepared every dish; they even gave us the recipes for every dish they prepared for us. Finally we enjoyed the main meal of mousaka, Greek salad and fruit.
After the meal, we went down to the old town of Corfu for some shopping.”
Back on the ship, I really enjoyed the Beef Wellington for dinner, which was the tenderest piece of beef I’ve had in a long while. There was a show that was part musical, part magic show, which we really didn’t ‘get’. Before we retired for the night we got a little dancing in.

As a side note: looking back at my posts so far, it may seem as though I’m only complaining about the trip. Actually, we are having a FABULOUS time on the trip. I’ll try in the future to include more of the good stuff. : -)

 

 

Mediterranean Vacation Day 7

 


Tuesday, June 12: Kotor, Montenegro
The crew didn’t lie when they said it would be worth getting up early to watch the “sail-in” to Kotor. It was a very impressive view. What was even more impressive was seeing this gigantic ship snaking it’s way through the narrow channel.
Jeannie and I took separate excursions this morning; she took a walking tour of Kotor, ending with a lunch in the private home of a famous(?) chef. She said it was a great experience and lots of fun.

My excursion took me to a little medieval town called Budva. To someone that had never been to a medieval walled town (like Rothenburg ob der Tauber), it would have been really cool, but for me it was ‘meh?’ Not particularly worth the half-hour drive. The tour guide was unexceptional, as well. She did not anticipate additional customers for her tour and so did not have sufficient radio receivers for the entire group. Guess who didn’t get one? It was OK, though, because she was a boring speaker with a minimal command of English.
The walking tour of Kotor was likewise uninspiring — I’d have done better wandering on my own, because the town itself (also with a medieval wall) was pretty neat. There was a switchback road climbing up to a fortress atop the hill which would have been interesting had I not spent the whole morning on the bus.
Gotta say though, the scenery was very nice, both sailing in and out.
Cruise meals are generally pretty good, which is why I’ve barely mentioned them, but tonight’s leg of lamb was particularly good.
After dinner, we saw the comedian Doug Funk, who was very funny and clean to boot. Following that was the movie Jumanji, which we watched on the deck “Under the Stars” on a jumbo tron screen. Really enjoyed the movie.