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2014 in review – Thanks to all of YOU!!!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,100 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2015 in Travel

 

Christmas at Sea 2014

Christmas 2013

Christmas last year was on the MSC Divina in the Caribbean. Our stop was in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it was a stunning day, hot and humid… a reminder of Christmases back home in South Africa… and honestly I was miserable, missing my family terribly. Lots of friends, yes, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel the same.

Christmas 2014

This year, sailing in the Mediterranean on the MSC Fantasia, I was determined not to let myself get down and with the start of the Christmas cruise I donned my antlers and jingled, much to the amusement of guests and crew alike.
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The guests got so used to me wearing them that they would use them as a point of reference in a crowd or request me at reception as the “short one with antlers”. The more I made others smile the happier I felt. Of course there were the usual grinches, rolling their eyes, making silly mooing noises (idiots don’t they know it’s a reindeer), making snide comments about how that symbolizes cheating on your boyfriend in Italy. But I discovered the majority loved it so much that these comments made me wear them even more, and walk a little taller!
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I wore them in Rhodes, Greece
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In Katakolon, Greece
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And on Christmas day in Messina, Sicily

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve found us in Valletta, Malta, one of my all time favorite ports. I was able to go out for a good four hours and just wonder around to my hearts content, taking photos and exploring. The atmosphere was amazing, decorations everywhere and even the military band through the main street.
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I went down a bunch of smaller streets, exploring by myself and picking up things like Christmas stockings and crackers!!!!
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All my Christmas gifts for friends along with the crackers and stocking

Then stopped for lunch and had a wonderful hot bowl of potato and zucchini soup with lots of parmesan cheese (this addition would later come back to haunt me….)

Back on board we had fun taking photos with friends and then prepared for the Christmas Choir.
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Christmas Choir

Our fabulous Cruise Director, Franco, had a great idea for a Christmas Choir. On Divina we only had a few of us from Entertainment singing around the piano in reception and guests singing along. Franco had grander ideas and he wanted the guests to be the choir. We had 2 practice sessions which went off reasonably well. Our biggest obstacle was the last line of Jingle BellsIn a one horse op-en sleighhhhhhh“, the timing was a bit tricky. Last night, Christmas Eve, we waited in reception hoping all 200 odd guests would show up… Not only did they show up, they COMPLETELY filled reception, the stairs and all 3 floors that overlook the reception area. We have guests from all walks of life, from Italy, Germany, France, England, South Africa, USA, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and just about every country in between.
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Words can not explain the energy as we all sang and smiled and laughed. For those 15minutes it felt as if the world truly was at peace and happy. Amazing what the power of song can do!
(Hopefully I can add a video later, just have to find one)

Christmas in the Staff Mess

We were pleasantly surprised upon entering the staff mess to discover champagne and wine, TWO kinds of cakes AND icecream, and a couple of extra choices for dinner. It really added to the atmosphere and everyone was thrilled to have something special… that is until we realised that a bunch of officers decided to have their extra special dinner of large prawns and bakes fish (most likely supplied by one them) just one table away, as it was “easier” to use the large tables in the Staff mess versus sitting in the officers mess. So, even though we had some good choices, the aromas coming from their food kind of overshadowed everything, thank heavens we had icecream!!!!

Christmas Day

Christmas Day found us in Messina, Sicily. As much as I love Sicily and it’s little towns like Taormina and Erice, Messina is very dull in comparison. On good days, like a normal work day, there is hardly anything open, with most places only starting lunch or any sort of food after 12pm. Since we are only in Messina from 8am to 1pm, there is not much chance to have time for food or anything.
The one thing Messina does have is a spectacular Cathedral and on this day we were privileged enough to enjoy part of the Christmas mass.

Once back on the ship we had a chance to sing in the choir once more, this time for Santa himself, who had taken a break after delivering all the presents the night before to visit with us and hand out some gifts to the children on the ship.
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And Happy New Year

And so Christmas came to an end, and, despite missing my family terribly (ok in truth it was really the roast beef, yorkshire pudding, green beans and gravy that I missed, but they come with it), it turned out to be a rather good Christmas, with lots of friends and happy guests. Who knows where Santa will find me next year, but I hope it’s with more amazing people like this one!!
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Posted by on December 26, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Why Don’t You Get a Corporate Job???

The other night, chatting with some of my favorite guests, who just happened to be South Africans, and after a couple of drinks, the Aunt of one decided to give me some advice…

It started off simply with some questions:
Aunt – So are you going to make this your career?
Me – No, I don’t want to work on ships forever
Aunt – But why not move up in the company get a corporate job in the main office, like Miami?
Me (trying not to laugh) – hahahah I really don’t want a corporate job
Aunt – Well what is your plan then?
Me – I want to think about doing my Scuba Instructor License in Thailand maybe next year
Aunt – But don’t you want to get married and have a family?
Me – Yes of course, hopefully someday
Aunt – Well you may as well get a corporate job and security, because when that happens all this… travel stuff, won’t matter!
Me – I don’t want a corporate job, and who knows maybe I will meet the man of my dreams in Thailand or somewhere else.
Aunt – No you won’t you are 37, you need to think about who will look after you when you are old and you should get a corporate job…

This went on for about 30 minutes and it really started to bother me, might have been the influence of the Turkish Raiki drink I had tried, but it seriously made me upset and frustrated.

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in South Africa I was brought up on good old traditional ways of thinking. In other words: School, job, marriage, house, kids…. along those lines. Luckily my parents also instilled in me the sense of adventure, whether it was doing a 5 day hike in the Umfolozi Game Reserve through the bush, or encouraging me to take a teaching position in South Korea after finding work proved difficult. They have always supported me, although I am pretty certain secretly (for the most part) wished I would settle and get a job. My mom always stresses that as long as I am happy, and can fend for myself then she is happy. I don’t think they ever realised their encouragement would lead me into the life of a gypsy!

But with this upbringing it is always in the back of my mind, what society expects, how life should be etc… I call it the logical side of my Schmidt brain, and it has taken me many years to understand and accept that this side of my brain just prevents me from going beach bum and that I do not necessarily have to follow it to the letter. So when the Aunt brought all these things up it was difficult to fight this side of my brain and I found myself trying to rationalize and convince her that my life choices are just that MINE and that all the curves in the road have led me into fantastic adventures and have shaped me into who I am today.

Luckily for me, a good friend who is very similar to me as far as the gypsy lifestyle goes, was online and gave me his usual sage advice (he is always there when the Schmidt brain tries to rationalise all my crazy adventures). He asked whether or not I agreed with the advice the Aunt had given me, I said NO! Then he reminded me that normal life advice does not necessarily work on people like us, as we are kind of outside of the bubble, we live life instead of survive it. Once thing is for sure, trying to convince her how much Thailand may turn into a great opportunity and what living a simple life there was like a couple of years ago, made me realise just how much I hoped for this next adventure!!!

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Cruise, Thailand, Travel

 

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Return to Cruise Ship Life

After working 2 contracts with barely 3 weeks break in between I decided to take 4 months off. After all, 13.5 months (6 months + 7.5 months) at 4 weekends a month, comes out to 108 days divided by 30 days = 3.6 months worth of weekends, give or take (and remembering I am not the best mathematician). So when a family member almost took a step back and looked aghast that I would have such a long vacation, after all most people only get a week or 2… my reply was, “I figured I would take my weekends first, then have a week or two of vacation”.

The Return

My first offer, for my next contract, was on Musica, going to the French Caribbean. My other option was Fantasia, going from the Greek Islands to Western Med and Morocco. My European friends all voted for the Musica, while my US and Canadian friends voted for Fantasia.

The deciding factor was Morocco and Casablanca. I have always wanted to go there, might have something to do with the movie, but it is a country I have always wanted to see. So I accepted Fantasia. I received my ticket 5 days before departure, a relative miracle considering we usually get our tickets the day before. However, I had issues opening them for details and after some days of exasperation called Alaska Airlines… who had no record of a passenger with my name… knew it was going too smoothly.

After calling the office in Italy, I discovered that the travel department had changed my ticket to leave a day early and give me an overnight in Venice. This was fantastic but also meant I had only 1 day to prepare everything instead of 2. Got to love planning!

Making it to Venice, along with my luggage, I was expecting another sketchy hotel like the one I had when I left my first ship. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a clean, new hotel with a very comfortable bed and great showers. Of course all these things absolutely deflated my big plans of spending a few hours exploring Venice, as my shower followed by a short nap, became a long one as I discovered just how much international flights take out of me these days…

MSC FANTASIA

Finally the morning arrived and we got to the ship! It was great, I immediately spotted people I knew from other ships and it was hugs and handshakes all around. This is the thing I honestly love about working on the ships, the sense of friendship and family you get working with people from all over the world in small enclosed place for an extended period of time. That and the travel of course.

The Fantasia is the same size as my last ship, Divina, same same but different, which actually makes things harder to remember. But I got settled into my cabin, then after some issues with the toilet and let’s just say etc…. I moved into a different cabin (there my roommate had a boyfriend so didn’t actually live there), and got down to the business of settling into ship life… Just 8mths to go… but whose counting!

Time Update

As of today Dec 1st, 2014, I have 6 months left, times goes quickly on the ships!!!

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Norway in a Nutshell and Farewells cont…

The Highlight

The absolute highlight of this road trip was when Yves took me to the Borgund Stave-church. This was the Norway I had always imagined, ancient churches and viking influences.

Truly stunning

Truly stunning

It was truly spectacular, I was so excited and just ran around looking everywhere, much to my friend’s bemusement.

A little bit of history: Stave-churches are Norway’s unique contribution to world heritage. Most were built between 1130 and 1350, when the Black Death brought an end to new building. Similar churches existed elsewhere in Europe, but only Norwegian ones have survived. Of the approximately 1000 original stave-churches only 28 are still standing and Borgund is the one with the least alterations.
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The timber for the church her in Borgund was felled during the winter of 1180 and the building erected soon after. The complicated structure was built by travelling craftsmen with skills and experience.

Dragon Heads

Dragon Heads

The entire church is covered in tar to protect it and rests on stone foundations, therefore the wood does not rot and survives the ravages of time.
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A Stave-church can consist of 2000 pieces, the sturdy was put together on the ground then raised upright, probably with the help of long poles. Not unlike the Amish communities barn raising.

Here are some pictures to help you understand the true grander of this stunning place.

Beautiful carvings

Beautiful carvings


Part of the main doorway with acanthus vine-scrolls on the pilasters. The side panels and door lintel are decorated with serpents and dragon like creatures and foliage.

The medieval stone alter.

The medieval stone altar.


The altarpiece was painted in 1654 and depicts Christ’s crucifixion. The frame dates from 1620.

The diagonal cross-braces are named after St. Andrew who was crucified on a diagonal cross.

The diagonal cross-braces are named after St. Andrew who was crucified on a diagonal cross.

Animal masks

Animal masks

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Truly amazing, so much history I could have stayed and explored all day, but we were off to find lemmings!!

Suicide Alley

We planned to go up and over an amazing viewpoint before heading home and then onto Bergen and the airport. Unfortunately we got up and discovered that the road was closed for construction. However, there were stunning views on the way up.
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Autumn colors

Autumn colors

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Driving up this beautiful road we started to notice an unusual number of squashed rodents…. yup it was suicide alley Lemming style. They were everywhere, we counted over 70 in just 5minutes of driving.
Then, as luck would have it we found a live one, I hopped out and started chasing it trying to get a picture. They are a lot smaller than I expected but apparently can be quite aggressive, for some reason I felt like it would leap at me with vicious teeth baring towards my throat. But I managed to gather my courage and get an ok photo before running away from this cute fluffy suicidal creature!
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Flight Time

Randomly in Voss there is a center where you can experience the exhilaration of skydiving with only being a few feet off the ground. Also professional teams can come and practice here safely. It was a bit expensive so I just watched.
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Off to Bergen and a Final Hoorah!

All to soon it was time to toss my bag in the back of the rent a wreck and head to Bergen. One of our friends, another tour guide, joined us for the drive. Bergen was amazing and I really wished I had made time to go and explore it.
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Airport Napping

Yves and Anna Maria dropped me off at the airport just after midnight. We only had 5minute parking so I told them not to worry about coming in. I have always hated farewells, and prefer a “see you later”. Holding back tears and giving good hugs we said cheers and I headed into the airport to find a comfy chair to nap till 4am when I hoped I could check in for my 6am flight.
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Finding a place was not too difficult, however getting comfy and sleeping was a whole other issue. I got a few winks here and there in between pee breaks (for some reason flying makes me need to pee).
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Eventually, around 4am, we could check in and go through security to wait for the plane. Farewell Norway it has been wonderful, expensive, but wonderful!
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Thanks again to Yves for inviting me to go camping in such a stunning area!!!

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Travel

 

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Norway in a Nutshell and Farewells

Rent A Wreck

My last day before leaving this stunning country my mate got to play tour guide in true fashion. We rented a car and toured around the region, visiting stunning gorges, driving crazy hairpin bends and exploring ancient churches.

First of all it was the hassle of trying to find and rent a car. Turned out many places were out of cars except for the delightfully named, Rent A Wreck. Yves had called the day before to ensure they would be open for us to sort everything out. We wondered around the far side of Voss until we found it, sort of down the road under a bridge over the way sort of thing…and it was closed, a full 2 hours before they had told us they would be. Go figure. Yves called and they said they would send someone. About 20 minutes later they called us, apparently the guy had left ’cause he was bored and now could not return, got to love Norway, so we were just going to do it over the phone. No problem they would leave the key for us in a box for the morning. What could go wrong!

Surprisingly nothing, and we got the car in the morning and went off to explore Norway in a Nutshell.

Exploring Gorges

The day before leaving we took a hike behind Voss to explore the local gorge. Absolutely beautiful!
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Beautiful flowers at the gorge

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Waterfalls

Our first stop was the Twin Falls, Tvindefossen, it was the dry season but still amazing, right off the side of the road. Huge signs everywhere asking that no one steal the slate rocks….
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Stalheimskleiva

Our next stop was on top of the Stalheimskleva, a stunning view of the gorge below. Unfortunately the hotel, that boasts a wonderful collection of artifacts, was closed due to a convention. But we still enjoyed the view.

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The gradient is so steep and the 13 spectacular hairpin bends means only downwards traffice is allowed, and it makes one hell of a ride!

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Viewing a Fjord

Then it was on to see a fjord, truly stunning!

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Norwegian Brown Cheese in Vingerstad

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In Norway they have this… how do I explain… interesting… different… unique… yeah let’s go with unique, cheese (or cheeselike). They take the leftovers from cheese and curd, and boil it more, till it becomes a thick paste like substance, then they fill molds and compact it till it kind of looks like a wax model, then they eat it! There are truly no words that I can find to express how it tastes…

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But it is beautiful here

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On To Flam

I had heard about Flam before and was quite excited to visit this Norwegian town…. until Yves explained that the “town” was in fact more of a cruise terminal than anything else. A few tourist shops and a spectacular brewery.

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stunning interior

stunning interior

Stunning exterior too

Stunning exterior too

Tunnels Everywhere

When you drive through Norway you will discover tunnel after tunnel after tunnel. Some go through mountains, some go on the side of cliffs, some go under lakes… but they are everywhere. We went through the longest one, 24.5km, which actually has special lighting in certain sections to wake you up, that replicates daylight. It is so big they even hold activities like concerts inside.

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Heading into the tunnel

Heading into the tunnel

The blue light in the distance

The blue light in the distance

Inside the blue light

Inside the blue light

TO BE CONTINUED…

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2014 in Travel

 

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In Search of the Northern Lights

Searching the Lofotens

During our 7 days in the Lofoten Islands we hoped to see the Northern lights. The season was good, the numbers were often in our favor, however the clouds were against us. We spent many nights popping our head out of the tent looking to see if the Aurora Borealis had made their appearance.

Every fellow camper we met told us fantastical tales of how they had seen the lights the day before we got there or sent us messages about how they appeared in sheer brilliance the day after we left. Murphy’s Law was at it’s best.

During our one true clear night we were camping just north of Å, in the tiny town of Moskenes, the weather was promising clear skies and beautiful moon. On occasion the moon could be so bright that it disrupted the color of the lights, but we hoped this would not be the case. We set up camp and I started dinner. Yves had decided we would make a campfire at any cost and had found a tiny little firepit to build it in. Returning to big up some utensils I noticed 2 Germans had been drawn to the flame. As I headed back to the kitchen I noticed 2 more heading that way. By the time I returned with 2 steaming plates of pasta cabonara (containing the rare treat of real bacon) I was met by a group of now 6 Germans all string at us while we ate. A little disconcerting to begin with. But pretty soon everyone had their own meal and we were sharing cookies and chips and tales. The moon was spectacular and we entertained ourselves with a few snapshots…

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By 1am most of us were tuckered out, a few promised to raise the alarm if the lights made an appearance. However, in the morning we got the news that by 3am there was still nothing and everyone had headed to bed. Perhaps when we returned to Voss we would have better luck.

The Germans claimed the fire pit as they were staying longer and we joked about how likely it was that lights would appear in ernest that night since we were leaving.

Return to Voss

Two more nights in the Lofoten’s proved fruitless in our hope for the elusive Aurora Borealis. So we headed to Voss with news that the numbers were at their highest and the lights should be visible as far South as Belgium and beyond. We all piled into cars, drove up very dark windy streets to a hill overlooking the town and waited. We had a professional photographer with us who knew just what to look for. He also helped me with my settings. And then we saw them, at least we thought we did, there was a peculiar green haze over the city, almost as if they were there, just out of reach, trying to break through, teasing us with every minute that ticked by.

Using the settings I was shown I was able to capture the lights dancing above the city, but just barely.

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We then had fun posing in front of these imaginary lights that only our camera could pick up

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And even ended up in the news
http://www.bt.no/nyheter/lokalt/Solstormer-ga-himmelmagi-3196991.html

I guess after 2 weeks of searching we kind of saw the lights, or at least we have photos to prove it!

A few days after returning home I received this photo from one of the German couples, it was taken the night we left, go figure!

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Posted by on October 29, 2014 in Travel

 

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