I was in a state of enhanced euphoria by the time the T.P. and I had returned from wherever it was we'd been (I don't know - a big hill with columns on top is all I seem to recall), and I collapsed into our hotel room, which had seemed to have mysteriously shrunken in dimensions since we'd left it that morning. My next recollection is of being awoken by the sound of screaming. I shot bolt-upright in bed. It was the Titanium one herself, screaming blue murder for me to come and rescue her, and on the double. The noise was emanating from our little bathroom, and by the time I'd reached the room, expecting to see Alfred Hitchcock leaving, and a stream of bloody water gurgling down the drain-pipe, I realised (with relief mixed with a guilty tinge of expectation) that the malefactor was nothing more than a gigantic cockroach which had decided that the T.P.'s skull was as good a place as any to start chewing for the day.
"Get this fucking thing off me!" she wailed, as I tried to manhandle her soapy, naked body into a position where I could take a good whack at the offending creature.
"Ow! Why are you hitting me, you idiot?" remonstrated an increasingly edgy spouse, who, with her eyes closed tight, was by this time unsure as to which was the lesser of two evils - the bug, or her obviously insane husband. We frolicked around in the shower recess for some time, both of us getting soapier and soapier, until I managed to flick the offending species of God's beneficient creation out the window. By this stage we were both sitting on the tiled floor, and I must say it was a most romantic position to be in. My thoughts were turning to other, fonder feelings than belting members of the order Blattaria. I thought I'd attempt a tone of conspiratorial friskiness.
"Do you know, my love, that cockroaches breathe through their posteriors?" I asked tenderly.
"You really are a fucking lunatic, Laurie," the Titanium P. exhaled, as she got up and jumped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around herself. Fuck me, I thought - at least the cockroach got to chew on her for a bit. I was still sitting on the floor of the shower cubicle a couple of minutes later, humming the tune to a song called "What About Me?", when the T.P. returned and enquired sunnily "Now, what's on our agenda today?" It was back to business as usual, which is to say, traipsing the boulevardes of Athens in search of further mountains of knick-knacks and scarves. Boy, does that woman like scarves.
A couple of hours later, we clattered into the Athens Museum of Archeology. And what a place it is. Here, in a building the size of a city block, is the most stunning collection of what humans can really do well when they have a mind to it. An eight-thousand year history of life in the Mediterranean parades past the astounded visitor to this cornucopia of sculpture, craft, building, decoration and all of the other plastic arts. We spent the day in an orgy of high culture that surpassed even the post-cockroach imaginary orgy of the early morning. I do believe that marble and gold are my favourite substances, apart from Heineken, of course.
Well, once you've seen four or five things in Athens, it's time to get out, because Athens, like most other big cities in the world, is overwhelmingly crowded, dull, and commercial. I needed country. We boarded a little rattle-trap train and headed away towards Corinth and Patra, where we were due to embark on a highly anticipated cruise up the Adriatic to Venice.
But our first stop was a little town on the coast of the Corinthian Sea called Psathopyrgos. Now, here's a serious traveller's tip. When you're really hoofing hard through a big joint like Europe, every couple of weeks book yourself into a fairly swank hotel, preferably near the water, and chill out for a couple of days. The Oasis Hotel at this quaint little fishing village was just the ticket. We alighted from the train (in this case, not so much alighted, with all the connotations of grace and ease that word implies, but hastily chucked all of our bags onto the nearby track then jumped down before the driver hit full throttle and thundered away into the distance) and began trudging into town. Psathopyrgos is, I am bound to say, utterly charming. It nests on a little bay at the narrows between the Patra Sea and the Corinthian Sea, and affords a spectacular view of the steep-sided mountains on the northern side. It really is pretty, with gaily-coloured fishing boats resting at their moorings, children playing happily in the shallows, and at least two pairs of dogs enjoying sexual congress at any given moment.
The owner of the Oasis, an Englishwoman from Cornwall, greeted us effusively in an accent so broad I was tempted to ask the Greek receptionist to translate into English, but I refrained. She was a charming woman, really, and escorted us to our room, all clean and nice and with a real, spacious bathroom (pure heaven), and left us with an admonition not to "Doi arnythang Oi wardn't doi." I had no idea what she was talking about.
The Oasis was just that - a large and well-appointed swimming-pool (it had a bar in the middle) fronted the sea, and a garden restaurant just behind served delicious local fish and more salads than even I could force down. The Leader of the Opposition and I decided to plunge into the sea from a little jetty, and have a bit of a race. My wife is a particularly good swimmer, and we were neck and neck for about four hundred yards out into the briny. I finally admitted defeat, and we floated around for a while admiring the view to shore. At this point I noticed that a small crowd had congregated on the jetty, and there seemed to be much scratching of heads and pointing in our direction going on. "Wonder what that's all about?" I said, looking around for any signs of a big Noah coming our way. We decided to head back in.
As we clambered up the ladder to the jetty several voices in a number of languages seemed to be scolding us over something. We ignored them, and dived into the pool. I breezed over to the bar and ordered a couple of drinks. The barman started shaking his head and giggling. "They're all a little concerned that you swam out so far," he said. "Most Europeans don't really swim very much, and they thought you might be in trouble." I assured him that there was no problem, and that a half-mile swim in flat conditions on very salty, buoyant water was not all that taxing. It's a sad fact that surf drownings in Australia are disproportionately high amongst European and British tourists. Or a happy fact, depending on your point of view.
So we spent a relaxing and rejuvenating two days in Psathopyrgos, a beautiful part of the world I would recommend even to my mother-in-law, were she still around to enjoy it.
The second evening saw us sadly saying goodbye to mine hostess (all right - the T.P. dragged me kicking and screaming all the way to the bus stop), and we headed off for the port city of Patra. At 10.30 p.m. we walked to the rear gang-plank of the Ikarus Palace, an enormous ship that I was told was capable of housing eight hundred vehicles and a thousand passengers. There was a sign with some sort of motto emblazoned on it on an archway leading into the vessel. It was in Greek, of course, and it was only later that I discovered that it was a quote from a little book called Dante's Inferno, saying "Abandon hope, all ye who enter..."
We were about to embark on the cruise liner from Hell.