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Category Archives: Italy

Trekker’s Hostel Highlights: Generator, Venice, Italy

Located on the waterfront of the island of Giudecca, the Generator Hostel in Venice is perfectly set. Most rooms overlook the main canal of Venice with San Marco’s square just a short vaporreto stop away. In addition it is much cheaper on the island vs across the canal, a coffee in San Marco can go for around 5 euros, just for a simple coffee…

The dorm rooms are large and the beds are comfortable with your own light. There are lockers under the bed and the bathrooms are clean and spacious with fantastic showers.

The staff are friendly and knowledgable on all things Venetian. There is a buffet breakfast available every morning for a small fee or you can purchase a cooked breakfast for a little more. They also offer meals at a VERY reasonable price in the evenings and then of course there is the Generator Bar (they don’t water down the liquor here!).

An important suggestion: when you purchase your first vaporreto ticket to get to the hostel ask for the multi day passes, from 1 to 5 days. It will be much better value as each vaporreto costs 7 euros with only about an hour to reuse and they do check the tickets randomly and give a hefty fine if they discover someone with out a valid ticket.

Grand Canal: also with your vaporreto ticket you can take a tour of the grand canal, I recommend it at sunset.

Be sure to keep an eye out in the early mornings and evenings when the cruise ships come in and out! They are very impressive with the great backdrop of San Marco square.

MSC Poesia

MSC Lirica

All in a great hostel when staying in Venice, cheaper than most places and with a fantastic location!!!

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2015 in Italy, Travel

 

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Journey to Jerusalem

A little late in publishing but finally got it done. From my time on MSC Lirica during the summer of 2013, Haifa, Israel was one of our stops.

I have never been particularly religious in the typical sense. From my travels I have encountered faiths from all around the world from Catholic, to Buddhism to Muslim, to almost everything in between. Don’t get me wrong, I went through a period when I was a Sunday school teacher in High School and part of the local youth group. But after numerous adventures and cultures I prefer keeping my faith as something for myself. I love discussing religion and discovering the nuances of all the different beliefs, in fact at youth group I would always end up being that one in the middle of the table questioning. I grew up hearing the tales of the old and new testament, and well we were told they were true, for the most part they always felt like just that.. tales.

Entering Jerusalem

That is why it was no surprise that I chose to float in the Dead Sea, a long time dream of mine, before visiting one of the most sacred cities in the world for many cultures. Luckily working on a cruise ship allows you these sorts of choices and eventually I got round to getting the chance to exploring this ancient place. The early morning started at 5am for us with a 2 hour drive from the ship and I woke from my nap just as the bus entered the outskirts. Even before my driver began explaining things I just had this overwhelming, bordering on emotional, sense of awe wash over me. It seemed so obvious, when before it was kind of sketchy, that the stories I had grown up with were, in fact, based in truth and most likely completely true, in some form or another.

Dome of the Rock

Our first stop was a view of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was truly breathtaking.
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The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is considered “the most contested piece of real estate on earth.” (Wikipedia)

Temple Mount with Dome of the Rock in background and cemetery in foreground.

Temple Mount with Dome of the Rock in background and cemetery in foreground.

Western Wall

Known to many as the Wailing Wall because of the thousands who come to pray and leave messages, the Western Wall is something to see and experience.

The sign before going through security at the entrance to the wall

The sign before going through security at the entrance to the wall

We arrived on the first day of Rosh Hashanah*, the Jewish New Year. This meant that there was no traffic anywhere and thousands of pilgrims at the wall. It also meant that no photos were allowed, which was a bummer as the people who came to pray that day were amazingly beautiful. Not in the typical “magazine cover” sense of the word, but in the cultural aspect, and the looks of absolute love and religious fervor that the wall seemed to instill in people. I had a very itchy finger wanting to take pics.

3 generations heading to pray

3 generations heading to pray

But I opted to obey the rules…and show respect. I wish I could paint you a picture of how amazing this was. I wish I could have sat and just watched the flow of humanity, often seeing it in it’s rawest and truest form.

The wall has a male and female side. On the male side it looked like a full party rave going on. Men were chanting and dancing and singing, the intensity increasing with every word uttered. They were lifting chairs above their heads and you could see the religious fire burning in their eyes.

On the women’s side it was the complete opposite. The women were silent except for some whispered prayers, there was a quiet dignity about them. All ages, all races and most likely many religions. Some were just sitting and reading the bible, sharing their beliefs with younger generations.

I walked down found a scrap of paper and wrote down my prayer, my hopes, my dreams…found a space between the rocks and, resting my head on the ancient stones, placed it well pouring all my positive energy into what I had written.

Via Dolorosa

Heading further into the Old City of Jerusalem, we left the Western Wall behind us and continued towards Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Sorrows”.
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This is the route Jesus was made to walk while carrying the cross to his crucifixion. The winding cobbled street passes from the Antonio Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, around 600m/2000ft. Today it passes by bakeries, fruit sellers and souvenir shops. I wonder if the people living here today pause to think about the significance of this path or if it lost to them as so many other world marvels are lost to the people ho see them everyday.
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The route has changed over the years, but this one has been established since the 18th century, along the way tehre are nine Stations of the Cross. Places where it is believed Jesus stopped, or fell or met certain figures, such as Mary.
At the fifth station, known as the Chapel of Simon of Cyrene, it is believed Simon carried the cross for a ways. Jesus is said to have lent on the wall and left a bloody hand print, this spot is now much revered and has worn down over centuries of being touched by followers and tourists alike.
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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

As we meandered along this sacred route, I was struck by the people, the scents, the sounds. Life seemed so real, so alive, you never knew what you might find around the next corner.

such a table with a wide array of multi-colored candies

such a table with a wide array of multi-colored candies

Soon, we neared what is considered the most sacred site of pilgrimage for Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It lies on what is believed to be the hallowed site of Golgotha (The Hill of Calvary), where Jesus was crucified and is also said to contain where he was buried and later resurrected. The church now plays host to the headquarters of most Christian sects, ironically enough, due to much…disagreement… between these sects, it is a Muslim family who holds the key to the ancient door. They have been responsible for it for over 1,300yrs.
(Article in the SFGate telling the tale).

Out in the courtyard you see pilgrims from all walks of life, all sects of Christian religions, all nationalities.

Greek Orthodox Ladies taking a break

Greek Orthodox Ladies taking a break


Young African man playing his drum

Young African man playing his drum


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I was in awe of this place, and you could feel the love and hope virtually emanating from the hundreds of people, most of whom had probably planned and dreamed of this day.
Just inside is the Stone of Anointing, a large slab (added in the 18th) century on the spot where Joseph of Aramathea was said to have prepared the body of Jesus for burial. Pilgrims take an item of clothing or jewelry and rub it on the stone as they pray, hoping to bring blessings to the item.
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Our group purchased candles from the Church store and lit them saying a prayer. Some get over enthusiastic and think the bigger the bundle the more likely their prayer will be heard, this is when a priest comes in and has to douse them so that a fire doesn’t break out.
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We spent some time exploring the church and I think photos are the best way for you to get a feel for it:

Light streams in the the arches creating an ethereal beauty

Light streams in the the arches creating an ethereal beauty


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The lamps that hang over the stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

The lamps that hang over the stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

The Immovable Ladder

Another interesting anecdote about the Church is what has been named the Immovable Ladder. This is a cedar ladder (the wood is believed to originally have been from Lebanon) that was placed below a window on the outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during some construction. However, during a disagreement between the Christian sects, an understanding was made that no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of all six orders. Since getting consent of ALL the orders is near impossible, the ladder was not allowed to be removed and has therefore become Immovable and a symbol. It was first mentioned in 1757 and is replaced when the present ladder disintegrates over time.
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After a truly fascinating and emotional trip for the entire group our bugle toting guide, blew a few notes (not enough to bring the walls crashing down)
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and we headed out of the Old City with many other pilgrims in search of new inspiration and understanding of the world around us.
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Personal Note – it truly saddens me that a place that has more history in one stone than most places in the world and that should bring the world together due to it’s significance and meaning seems to be constantly at war. The people I met in Israel were inspiring and welcoming and I hope everyone visits and learns to put old prejudice aside.

*Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה‎, literally “head [of] the year”), is the Jewish New Year although the real name for this Feast of the Lord is called Yom Teruah (Hebrew: יום תרועה‎, literally “day [of] shouting/raising a noise”) or the Feast of Trumpets according to the correct biblical calendar of the 1st and 2nd temple period, not Rosh Hashanah. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) which usually occur in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. Rosh Hashanah is a two-day celebration, which begins on the first day of Tishrei. The day is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of mankind’s role in God’s world. Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn) and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey to evoke a “sweet new year”.
(From Wikipedia)

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Cruise, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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The Evil that is.. dah dah dah…. Separate Tickets (insert scream here)

Background

Whenever I travel I have always bought tickets together and it all seemed to flow so nicely. If there was a screw up or a delay, no problem the airline gave you a hotel or meal voucher.

But during my attempt to fly to Venice to start my next contract on the cruise ship I experience the horror that comes when tickets are purchased separately and for airlines that are not partners.

And it Begins…

Checking in was a breeze, although some sweet talk was required as my bag was overweight but, hey, I am on a seaman’s ticket. They checked my bags all the way to Venice, even though the tickets were separate. However, they couldn’t give me my boarding passes but all I had to do was pick them up at the kiosk, no problem. She also casually informed me that, due to San Francisco’s infamous fog, flights were delayed but again, no problem, I should make my flight.

Waiting in the lounge the emails from United Air went something like this:
Your 10.30am flight is delayed to 11.30am
Now your 10.30am flight is delayed to 1.19pm
oh wait we mean 12.30pm

Ultimately we left at 1.30pm, but with the absolute assurance from all involved that making my 3.30pm flight would be a snap. When we landed I had just over an hour and all I had to do was jog over to Air France, grab my boarding passes and head to the gate. No Problem!!!

Marathons
Let’s rephrase shall we: I RAN down through the domestic terminal to the international terminal that was “right next door” and tried to find the Air France counter. I finally got directions and sprinted dragging my carry on behind me. Rounding the corner to the Air France counter I discovered nothing… no-one….nada…. the counter was closed, with still an hour till the flight. I tried the kiosk but kept getting a “Do not recognise flyer” message. By now panic was rising, the tears were forming, the sweat was poring, I HAD TO MAKE THIS FLIGHT!

I saw a young man and asked if he worked at the counter, he said yes listened to my desperation and went to find the supervisor. Both of these guys had been on their way to lunch…. not anymore. The supervisor told me gate closed, no go, have to rebook. As I was waiting for them to get me a phone number a French couple rounded the corner with the same look of desperation. Turns out they had the same problem flying in from a different airport. The Air France guys gave us the number, said sorry and disappeared as fast as their little feet could take them. Although the young guy did really want to help more.

Hello Operator???

The french couple asked me to help with the phone call so we dialed and hoped for the best. After a few transfers we were finally connected to United… I think… not sure why…
For both of us the answer was that we had booked on separate airlines so that means there was nothing they could do, they couldn’t rebook us, they couldn’t give us information… nada!!

Customer Service at its best!!

Then we headed off to United to see if there was anything the counter could do. Once again it was a dead end, they could proved us a note claiming we missed our next flight due to a delay and a coupon for a hotel discount, but nothing else. Also they weren’t sure where my bags were, but we relatively certain they were somewhere in the airport… fantastic!

Delta????

A good friend suggested we go see Delta, as they are partners with Air France…. it couldn’t hurt really, we had hit a wall at every possible attempt. The staff at the Delta Air counter in San Francisco were not only kind and friendly they were downright incredible, phenomenal and pretty damn awesome. We spent 5 hours at the counter but they would not give up. The first lady could not help me but she was able too sort out the couple’s tickets with just a small change fee. Then just as I was about to give up, after trying to call any number I had to reach someone in Italy… an amazing member of the Delta team put his foot down and was determined to discover a way to get my ticket sorted. He would not give up, and eventually against all odds, possibly with a little magic involved he handed me my tickets for the next flight and even had me do online check in and choose my seats. I wanted to kiss him, all the stress and strain dissipated.

Luggage in transit

During this miracle of reticketing, I went to United to find my luggage. They had no record of it other than when it was scanned to go onto the airplane in…wait for it…. Eugene, OR. So either my bag was still on the Eugene flight, or it had been transferred and was flying to venice or it was backstage somewhere in the airport. At that point it just didn’t seem like a big deal… am was sure I would find it the next day.

The Round Up

The 3 musketeers left the airport and headed for our hotel feeling utterly exhausted, bordering on starvation but not defeated now that Delta had saved the day. After a shower and rest we celebrated the insanity of the day over dinner and drinks and then planned to meet the next day at the airport.

In the end I made it to Venice, the Air France flight was great, I had a whole row, great movies and good food. But the stress to get there just proved the fact that buying tickets all within the same partnership can significantly diminish stress when delays occur.

As for making it to the ship…. I did, barely, but that’s a story for another time.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Beach Life in Haifa, Israel

There is so much history and culture to explore in Israel that I was a little cynical when my friends said we should go to the beach in Haifa. I mean, I have grown up in South Africa, seen beaches in Australia, NZ and Thailand… I know what a good beach is like! Don’t I????

Following Friends

Sometimes you just got to go with the flow when the friends want to chill out at the beach. And sure, after working non-stop for months at a time, the beach is a perfect place to relax. So after doing my duty of assisting with guest disembarkation at 5.30am till 7am, then catching a quick 2 hr nap, I rolled out of bed to meet the crew. It was planned to be out of the ship by 10am…. 11.30am had us finally on the bus (and it was the girls waiting for the boys may I add).

The bus ride to the Carmel Beach in Haifa, Israel, seemed to take ages and for a time I thought we had over shot the stop. Which my friends delighted in teasing me about and had me completely believing we really had. But, eventually we got to the bus depo the final stop and the stop for the beach. You have to go through security everywhere in Israel, the beach included. Rather safe than sorry and it all became second nature eventually. After a quick bag scan we wondered through the mall picking up some amazing baked goods and some cola (possibly to go with the rum we might have had stashed somewhere).

The Beach!

Upon exiting the mall we trotted across the parking lot and onto the boardwalk lined with cafes, and restaurants, public toilets, beach showers and umbrellas. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I was wrong and this beach was incredible!!

Glorious Beach as far as the eye can see

Glorious Beach as far as the eye can see

The beach just continued as far as the eye could see on both side. The sand was a fabulous fine grain (which even after 4 or 5 washes I still discover in my swimsuit), the water a stunning blue and relaxing comfortable temperature… just perfect.

Good Friends

What followed were hours of fun in the sun with amazing friends…

My first friend on the ship, Biljana.

My first friend on the ship, Biljana.

Fun and Games

Fun and Games

Building Sand Castles

Building Sand Castles

Friends "admiring" said sand castle

Friends “admiring” said sand castle

mmmm wondered what happened

mmmm wondered what happened

making sand mermaids

making sand mermaids

The Price

After close to 5 hours of living up life and enjoying one of the most amazing beaches ever… it was time for us to wander on home to the ship, I had to work that evening. I could feel that I was a little sunburnt, but I had no idea just how much until after the shower….

As our T&D Manager (training and development) remarked: “You look like boiled lobster”
this was rather amusing until he followed up with
“which means you are ready to eat!!”
Trapped in a small elevator after that statement, it turned to disturbingly funny, well he was Italian…

Lessons Learnt

– Trust your mates when they say there is a great beach

– The Israeli sun is hot, hotter than other places, always wear sunscreen and if you do, be sure to reapply generously!!

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel

 

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Bucket List #7 – Float in Dead Sea

Legendary Locations

Visiting legendary places like Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat, Lake Titicaca or seeing things like Blue Footed Boobies, whale shark while diving, or even riding an ostrich have all been on my Bucket List. All things I never thought I would have the chance to see or do. Now I not only get to cross off another item but also have the chance to do it again later in the season… Float in the Dead Sea! With the bonus of mud coverage!!!

How I got Here

Well it started with a boy, who got me wanting to work on a cruise ship. That part is history now, but the adventures have only just started. 4months into my first contract with MSC on the good ship Lirica, I find myself in Haifa, Israel every 11 days. On the 3rd cruise of the summer season my chance to escort an excursion to the Dead Sea arrived. Who would have thunk!

The Trip

The journey involved waking up at 5.30am, discovering breakfast only opened at 6am and stealing some croissants from the Officers Mess! Leading my group onto a bus (after intense security searches by Israelian Authorities) for the 3hr journey to Masada (the home of King Herod). Being brought up in a scouting family, I was prepared with my small travel pillow, water, sunscreen, snacks for the trip the whole sha-bang.

Slept through most of the drive there, waking up for the brief coffee/toilet stop. As it was shabat, the Jewish Holy day, nothing was open, so it was really just a toilet stop. Finally we made it to our first destination, the location of the palace of one of the Bible’s super villians, King Herod!

The entrance to Masada before taking the cable car to the top.

The entrance to Masada before taking the cable car to the top.

Masada

When Herod learned that a new king was to be born who would destroy him, he did 2 things. He ordered all baby boys to be killed and he built a palace out in the middle of the desert on the top of a high mesa (flat topped mountain) with enough supplies to last 10yrs.

Many years later the same fortress would be used by 1000 Jews refusing to give in to Roman rule. The defied the invading forces for 3yrs, surviving on food they grew themselves. However, the Romans used slaves to build an earth ramp to the top of the Mesa, an impressive feat if you saw just how high it is. When the Jews realised that they were soon to be over run they gathered and made a suicide pact. The Romans found no man, woman or child alive, making it the largest suicide pact in the history of man and really annoyed the Romans.

You now access the Mesa top by a very windy steep pathway or by cable car. When you reach the top the views are breathtaking, showing you views of the desert all the way to the shore of the Dead Sea.

Cable Car

Cable Car

The ruins also contain the oldest mosaic in the world.
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After an hour or so of history and exploring the ruins we headed back to the cable car and down to the buffet for lunch. Food was included and was delicious, a variety of Israelian delicacies including hummus and pita bread, also the most delicious baked potatoes ever. We also had the chance peruse the gift shop and pick up some Ahava products which are made from the minerals in the Dead Sea and are highly prized. I found the sale section and discovered a bag that contained shower gel, hand lotion and a big tub of lotion for 100 schekels, about 22 euros. Not a bad deal.

Dead Sea Bound

Finally it was time for the highlight of the day, we all boarded the bus and headed for the Dead Sea. Just 30min down the road was the Dead Sea Resort. We were all given locker keys and a towel and then let loose down the path to get changed and get to floating. I joined up with a family from Germany and we headed down to the beach. Thank heavens for the previous guests who had highly recommended bringing some flipflops for the walk to the beach as the path was desert rock and super heated from the sun. The temperature was 38C in the shade and just getting hotter.

Of course it is very important to follow the rules when swimming in the Dead Sea… otherwise it could be… well hazardous to your health.
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A Floatin’ We Shall Go

Finally it was time, we removed flip flops, took 2 steps…. then jumped around holding our burning tootsies till we got the flip flops back on. Bloody hell the ground was hot, almost as if the desert floor had been super heated by the sun… actually that would be quite accurate. We decided to use flip flops to water line, eventually just taking them in with us.

“Swimming” in the Dead Sea is one of the most unique experiences ever. The water has such a high salinity that it has an almost greasy feel to it (making flip flop wearing a dangerous affair over rocky ground). No matter how hard you try you can not force yourself down, instead you hover in suspension and just kind of…bounce! If you flip over on your belly doing the doggy paddle is the easiest thing in the world, and the safest as it minimizes splashing.

I had the mandatory picture reading the MSC tour magazine, the hardest part was not the floating but trying not to flip over by mistake. It’s kind of like sitting on a large ball and trying to balance.
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Then it was off to the mud. Large tubs of it brought in for us to smother ourselves. I have now enjoyed mud in this manner in South Africa, South Korea and Israel.
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Time to Head Back

After reveling in mud and floating around it was time to gather the troops and load the bus. I had a slight headache and knew all my precautions to prevent heat exhaustion might have been in vain. But feeling better after a cool drink we all enjoyed the bliss of bus air conditioning. Feeling tired I tried to take a nap. After about 2hrs, with less than 30min to go, the headache, combined with the gentle roll of the bus up and down, up and down, proved too much. And my glorious lunch, that was so good going down, was not as good coming back up. On the good side, if there is one, at least i had a plastic bag and am apparently a silent vomiter… But the old saying of “Better out than in” was true and I felt much better as we rolled into the parking lot 15min later.

A truly unforgettable experience and allowing me to write this sentence:

Bucket List #7 – Float in Dead Sea – CHECK!!!

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Cruise, Italy

 

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It’s all Greek to me…. And I love it!!!!

Bad Days and Excursions

There are often days on the ship where you just can’t seem to get away and I guess having your world revolve around a floating tin can, it IS very hard to get away. So when you end up getting on an excursion you didn’t really want to go on, escorting excursions is part of the job description, it makes you a little grumpier.

I had hoped, if I had to go on an excursion in Zakynthos, that I would be put on the blue caves of Skinari tour. This would mean a relaxing bus ride up the centre of the island, followed with a ride on a small boat, one of my favorite past times, to explore caves where light reflection causes a huge range of blue hues. Instead I got the tour that included a short walk of the city centre of Zakynthos, a stop in the small village of Volimos and the Anafonitria Monastery. The last thing I felt like doing, in my present grumpy mood, was walking around with a bunch of guests. But that was the tour and there was no option to switch. So, since it’s part of the job, you put your head down, smile and get on with it.

But at least it was a stunning sunrise.
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And we got to take the tender boats, aka lifeboats, which always make my day.
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Zante aka Zakynthos

For the first couple of cruises I was very confused by the tour name “Zante, Volimos and the Anafonitria Monastery”. We docked in the town of Zakynthos, so where was this mystery Zante… Well it turns out that they are one and the same. Zante is the island’s name according to the Italians. Zalynthos is the Greek name. Well that just made everything clear as mud!

Our guide was Penny, originally from the UK and living in Zakynthos for over 20yrs. We hit it off immediately and while the guests explored the city centre for the allotted 20min we sat down to experience a true Greek coffee. It comes in the form of an espresso shot. But there is a very specific way to drink it. Unlike the Italians, who knock it back like a shot of vodka, and then walk around permanently buzzed. Greek style is way more laid back.

1- Let coffee settle, relax and enjoy the company
2- Do not add milk or sugar, the coffee has an amazing flavor all on it’s own
3- Once settled, sip slowly and talk about life and the weather
4- Near the end when only grounds are left, swirl and turn cup upside down
5- Find an old Greek Lady to read your fortune

I followed 1 through 3, unfortunately there were no old Greek Ladies in the vicinity to have my fortune read. Maybe next time, when there aren’t guests to attend to.
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Volimos

Next stop was the teeny tiny, miss it if you blink town of Volimos. It quite literally runs the length of a short hill. Very quaint with lots of great arts and crafts shops. Now, one of my main aims when ashore is to find something to eat, mainly because after 3.5mths of ship food, variety makes my life very happy. It was still quite early, around 10.30am and we only had 20min in the village, but knowing the next stop was a monastery and then back to the ship, so if I was to hunt down fresh amazing Greek food, this was the stop.

The lady in the restaurant though, was sorry to tell me that there was no way we had enough time for her to prepare me anything as she makes it all fresh and went into great detail of how. So feeling a bit down and watering at the mouth after the delicious description she gave I started looking at the goodies they had for sale. Luckily, Penny had a fantastic idea, why not just get some tzatziki dip and pita bread… sure why not. Well… if heaven was a place in Greece it was on my plate. I have never seen such fresh chunky garlic-ee tzatziki in my life, and the pita bread was so fresh and hot that I could barely pick it up. I was also given a cup of FRESH freshly squeezed OJ and soon became oblivious to my surroundings as I dived right in. Thinking that life couldn’t get much better, I was proved wrong, it can get better, when the owners refused to take payment from me. I was starting to get a real affection for Greek people. I decided to pick up some Greek peanut brittle cookies and then was surprised to receive my bag with a free bar of Olive Oil and Cinnamon soap, “for you a little gift”. I think I want to move here!!! Of course I know, besides the fact that Greeks are known for their hospitality, that all these little things were because I work on the cruise ship and can send people their way… but it was still awfully sweet of them and really made my day.

Anafonitria Monastery

Our second to last stop was the Anafonitria Monastery in the town of Anafonitria. It is hundreds of years old and has some art in the tiny church that is even older. No photography is allowed inside to protect these beautiful religious paintings, you can however, for a couple of coins, get a candle to light and say a pray or wish. No harm in trying I figured. Walking around the grounds with only my bus load of tourists, the birds and the wind, you could almost feel the stress and anxiety of ship life drain from you. I could have stayed there for hours sipping on Greek coffee and contemplating the meaning of life. Now I understand why so many philosophers were Greek.
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On the way out we stopped at a tiny cluster of shops, all interconnected, offering a variety of products from Greece and from the island itself. I decided to pick up a sample of beautiful Greek linen with Olives hand embroidered on it. As is the custom I bargained for the price and got her down to €4, as we chatted I mentioned I would be back in 11 days. She realized I worked on the ship and took my hand, put the money back into it and handed me the linen. She refused to take payment. I was once again taken aback but thanked her profusely. In the next section I was debating between some halva for a friend or some nougat for me, this time a different lady picked up the halva put it in my hands and told me to stay. I wasn’t quite sure why but waited for her. She went into the back and returned a minute later saying it was a gift for me, then she glanced over at the guests heading back to the bus and pulled me over to the table. She got a bag and said “red or white”, placing a bottle of homemade white wine into my bag, then some Greek delights (like Turkish Delights) and then glanced over and grabbed some cherry nougat and threw that in the bag too. I think if she had had more time she would have given me one of every at the stand. I was completely gobbsmacked and sort of wandered off in a daze and into the bus, mumbling to myself how I loved Greek people. Then I had to devise a way to get my wine onboard, otherwise it would confiscated till the end of my contract, as no outside alcohol is permitted on the ship.

Greek Donkey

Greek Donkey

Viewpoint and Icecream

Still overwhelmed that the legendary hospitality of the Greeks was indeed true, we arrived at our last stop. A stunning over view of the bay and Zakynthos town, with the MSC Lirica anchored in the bay. Beautiful!!
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It had become very hot and so I headed to a restaurant in search of something cold or an icecream or the like. I entered and saw the lady on the phone, she told me to wait, that she was just ordering a taxi. I was too tired and hot to argue and looked into the icecream display trying to decide what to get. After a couple of minutes she came over and asked what she could get me, I pointed at a tub of little icecreams on a stick . Within 5seconds I was standing holding 3 of them and having a bottle of cold water pushed into my hands and shown to a chair. She also tried to make me a toasted sandwich, but I had to say no to that, I just felt too guilty. Somewhere in the back of my mind I kept expecting them to hand me over a bill for everything… it just seemed to amazing to be true. When I refused the toasted sandwich she insisted I freshen up in the bathroom. I must have looked really tired.

Returning a Much Happier Person

It has been 2weeks since this tour and I am still in awe at the generosity and kindness I was shown. Again, I realize it is good for their business and indeed I did pass out some cards to folks going on that tour and told others which stores were good to shop at. But they went above and beyond and truly made my week.

After being faced by many complaints and stresses of living and working on a cruise ship, discovering the kindness of folks has a way of making you a much happier person. And who knows, after chatting more with tour guide Penny, maybe I will return next year to volunteer with the turtle protection program, even if it is just to have some more Tzatziki sauce and pita bread!!

Side Note

And before anyone asks… I claim the 5th when it comes to any information about how to smuggle wine onboard…. 😉

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel

 

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French Charter Cruise!!!

It’s All French From Here

Over the next four days we have the sublime priviledge of hosting 1400 Frenchies on a charter for the car company Citroen. The good news is, most of them got it for free and seem to be in a great mood about it, even to the point of forgiving my lack of French and inability at pronouncing it.

Embarkation

It all started on a day in Genoa, I was at my trusty table with my pile of safety flyers. Most embarkation days I am stationed here, usually I have 5 different languages for the safety flyer and a 6th flyer with all the languages explaining the safety drill. Each time a guest enters I greet them in English and hope they respond in their language so I know which flyer to give them. Every now and then someone pulls a dirty trick and greets me in Italian, only to end up being French or German….

On French charter embarkation we only had the multi-language flyer and the French one. So in an attempt at being efficient I just combined them together so that I could hand them to guests at the same time. Of course the first 1000 arrived at the same time and it was mad chaos trying to hand them the papers fast enough. Luckily they were patient and not rude and pushy like a group of Italians we had the cruise before who nearly ran me over in their attempt to get to check-in first. Once the snaking line filled up it was pretty slow going, just handing them out every minute or so and smiling and nodding. However, you will not believe how many people put the multi-language paper down or handed it back to me thinking it was in another language, only to have me point out the French paragraph at the very top….

Just for exercise, just for exercise, just for exercise….

2pm we had our usual safety drill, luckily it lasted about 10min instead of 30min as we only had 1 language instead of the usual 5.

The group was great and very amused with my demonstration, you got to make it fun otherwise people get bored and forget. My muster station is S, inside the casino, Lifeboat 8, in the far corner. A bit nerve racking I fear if a problem did actually arise as every other group is either outside or has an exit door near at hand.

Circles, lots and lots of circles

Our evening involved remaining in uniform and circling round and round deck 5 and 6 in case any one needed help. Luckily I understand words like “recepcion” and “toilette”. At one stage I was listening to one of the singers playing some phenomenal Elvis music and a guest grabbed me and started waltzing… again, I think this is going to be a fun crowd. I finished circling at 11pm and went to peel off my uniform that I had had the supreme joy of wearing for 15hrs straight 2 days in a row.

Surprise! Excursion!

At our meeting this afternoon to explain where and when we were needed, our boss told us we were on excursion. At first we thought he meant that we were the runners to take the excursions to the bus… but then it was clear that we were actually ON the excursion. Since we only have a few hours this is great news, but at the same time, coffee with friends and a nap had sounded awfully good this afternoon.

The excursion of the day was to the tiny medieval town of Erice up on the top of the mountain in Trapani. The weather appeared decent, perhaps a little wind but I figured my sweatshirt and sunglasses would be enough, as usual. The movement of the bus lulled me to sleep for part of the drive, also the droning of our guide in French helped. When I opened my eyes all I saw was rain and grey and mist. When we arrived, after an exceptionally windy, twisty drive up roads barely wide enough to accept a mini coup, let alone a giant bus contorting itself around hair pin bends while trying to avoid oncoming traffic, it looked like it was winter in the highlands of Scotland. The mist was so thick you couldn’t see for than 10 feet ahead. But it certainly added a kind of ambience to the place and really lended to the feeling of an medieval town.
MSC - Erice Sicily

MSC - Erice Sicily (4)

After a mad caper of trying to convince guests off the bus and then find them as they all made a mad dash for cover, the tour guide and I eventually corralled enough of them to be convinced of a full group. One of the tour guides looked at me forlorn and said “53 refused to get off the bus, I only have 8” Really people it’s just a little mist and rain and cold and fog other than that it’s a glorious day in Sicily.
MSC - Erice Sicily (7)

Holy Cannoli???

As we meandered through the streets, heading uphill on particularly slippery cobblestones our guide gave us a brief run down of the history. To be honest I wasn’t really listening, instead I was in awe of the place and all the little shops. As we reached the top we came across a large number of French eating cannoli’s and drinking some sort of warm liquer. I wasn’t sure if someone had started a strange pastry craze, but the heavens smiled as it turned out the cannoli’s, these glorious crispy pastries that wrap themselves round a stuffing of ricotta cheese, were part of the tour!!!! We all got lined up to enter and as I put my foot in the entry the tour organizer gave me the lollipop (the sign we hold up to get our group to follow us) and told me to stand outside. I must have given her a very pathetic look as her next statement promised to bring me a cannoli when she went to get hers.
MSC - Erice Sicily (8)

Standing on a foggy street corner in a medieval town eating a cannoli with one hand while holding the tour lollipop with the other and powdered sugar raining down all over you with every bite…. Heaven!
MSC - Erice Sicily (9)

I really can’t tell you what the rest of the tour involved as I was in a cannoli induced fog, there was a church though and a promise to take me to a famous marzipan bakery for some speciality cookies. That is until the tour organizer decided I had to go with her to make sure all the guests went the right way, which they were (she had the tendency of treating them like 5yr olds). The problem was 2-fold, I spoke no French so couldn’t tell them where to go and I had never been here and so couldn’t tell them where to go. Luckily she figured it out and we headed back the way we had come and I found my marzipan guide.

In the end I got a giant box of marzipan cookies which were rapidly inhaled by the photo team upon my return, don’t worry I made sure I got a couple of them. The bakery gave me a free espresso so I could bounce my way back to the bus, where I found myself trying to sing Alouette in an attempt to keep the guests occupied as we waited for the last few to find their way out of Erice and back to the bus.

View on the drive back

View on the drive back

White Night

The final night was a white theme, and all guests were given white fedora hats, which created a fantastic atmosphere. Everyone had a good time with a concert on the pool deck and despite the cold, were in high spirits. A few days later I managed to find a contact in the housekeeping staff who acquired one of the left over hats for me and my roommate.

All French Things Come to An End

All to soon, this rather fabulous group of Frenchies, had to leave and our new route for the next 5mths began…. What the future holds we will have to see, but for now I am enjoying the ride… or the cruise.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Uncategorized

 

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How To Survive Being Sick While Working On A Cruise Ship…

I have spent the last 2 weeks sick with a bad cough that often sounded quite dangerous to everyone’s health. It was apparently caused by allergies and is not contagious, although I am fairly certain my roommate has been following me with disinfecting wipes just in case. So here are a few general rules to surviving being sick when working on a cruise ship, from real time experience!!

1
DON’T GET SICK!!!!!

If this fails…

2
Drink lots of tea with honey and lemon.

3
Get plenty of rest…

‘Cause there is lots of time to rest while working on a cruise ship…NOT!
4

Try whiskey and hot water.

5
Try brandy and hot water.

If these fail…

6
Go see the ship Doctor and get to know him and his nurse on a first name basis.

Diagnosis: Minor lung infection due to allergies and ship’s air conditioning

7
Be put on copious amounts of drugs.
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8
Ask the fabulous server in the staff mess to save you yoghurt for dinner, discover he starts saving 2 for you for every meal!

9
Explain till you are hoarse that you are NOT contagious, you just sound like you are.

10
Have a daily nebulizer appointment and checkup.
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11
Discover there are 2 main reactions to you coughing up a lung: looking at you like you have the plague or suggesting you drink more whiskey.

12
Have an amazing roommate who can sleep through your hacking cough.
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13
Become the butt of staff jokes due to your coughing…

Warning this will involve laughter, that makes you cough more!

14
Start greeting other crew members, who are also suffering from a cough, with fake and not so fake coughing sounds, since we are all part of the same team…

15
Soon you will meet guests of all medical professions, including a South African Pharmacist and an Egyptian Surgeon.

16
Just as you start to wonder if you will need new lungs, you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t be fooled and don’t go towards it!

17
You have an ominous discussion with the doctor that goes something like this:

Me – Do you have something to stop the coughing??
Doc – Yes
Me – May I add it to my medication list
Doc – No
Me – ummm why (sounding fairly pathetic I might add)
Doc – maybe tomorrow, I have a plan for you!!!

18
Finally be given the legendary stop coughing syrup that contains the good stuff and make you pass out in the drool on the pillow type of sleep…

19
Start feeling better, but I still don’t recommend laughing as it still causes coughing!

20
Refer to tip #1 and DON’T GET SICK!!!!

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel

 

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The Cities We Dock In..: Odessa

Today I have the morning off and am currently sitting in Odessa, Ukraine, at a coffee shop near the top of the famous Potemkin Steps. There are around 150 but I am afraid I lost count around 91, so I will just have to take them at their word or maybe count again on the way down.
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It is a glorious sunny day and the temperature is very mild. Birds are singing and tours are touring! I love days like these, especially the ones I have mornings off.

Some history, Odessa was built by Catherine the Great, who was a German noblewoman who married a Russian emperor. They say he didn’t have his wits about him and it was really she who ran the kingdom. She built Odessa to encourage more Germans to the area along with more trade and work. The city is beautifully set up and the architecture is beyond words.
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From where I sit, I can see my little ship, MSC Lirica, looming in the distance. It is quite intimidating… that is until you park her next to one that is 3 times her size and then she looks like a rowboat. But on her own, she is fabulous!
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5 Total Stops

This is the 4th time we have docked in Odessa and we have one last cruise to go in this area. The first cruise I was so exhausted I slept and only managed to drag myself out of bed for a short time. I made it as far as the base of the stairs, my eyes slowly taking in the bottom and then all 150… at that I said “Fudge this, back to bed”, perhaps in more descriptive words but my mummy reads this 😉 .

The 2nd saw me forgetting my passport. Ukraine is the only country that requires guests to carry their passports with them, this includes crew. We are given specific hours over 2 days to go to the purser’s office and pick it up… if you forget you enjoy the pleasure of boat life during stops in Yalta and Odessa. So the result was laundry done and room nice and shiny.
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The 3rd time I enjoyed the pleasure of the “City Tour and Shopping”. I got to meet some fabulous English speaking guests and with it being another glorious day, enjoyed a leisurely stroll through downtown Odessa. It is fascinating to go on these tours as you learn so much.

Finally we get to today, where I have the pleasure of my own company, a large ice coffee and the best apple strudel in town. It is days like this that tempt me to make cruise shipping my life’s purpose… tempting….
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Very soon it will be time to meet Kaja and Beata from the Photo department and maybe Alex (if he rolls out of bed) for some traditional Ukrainian food!!!!

Oh and not to forget the punk squirrels in the parks here:
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Posted by on May 3, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel

 

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A Day in the Life of a Social Hostess on Embarkation Day…

Genoa, Italy…Embarkation

Genoa is a day we love and dread at the same time, actually mostly dread. We say farewell to most of the old passengers and welcome a whole new group on board. The best thing about embarkation Genoa, is that it only starts at 9.15am.

Genoa is located in the North of Italy and is the main starting point for the 11 day cruises that MSC Lirica offers. We also have guests embark in Civitevecchia (pronounced Chivi tevekkia), Istanbul (usually all Turkish) and Odessa (usually all Ukranian and Russian). But Genoa is the biggest day with around 1300 to 1500 checking in.

Positions Please

Rolling out of bed, donning the uniform of blue pants, white long sleeve button up shirt, blue jacket and blue and white neck scarf while putting on my comfortable shoes (and thanking my mum profusely every time I avoid wearing my heels at her insistance I take the comfy ones as well), we head to the office on deck 5.

From there we proceed to deck 4, through security and into the terminal. We have had really bad luck in the past 3 cruises finding an unlocked door, but it appears as if we have finally located the correct one for all future cruises! Small victories make our days easier.

One of us is stationed at the check in desk. This is usually the Spanish Hostess who knows the system and also speaks 5 languages. The German host is stationed at the exit of the line where he can direct folks to open checking inners. The French hostess is stationed at the front of the line where she can check the little tickets indicating normal check in vs express (actually both the same but different lines) vs priority (for handicapped and families).

Finally there is me, English Hostess, along with someone from the animation team (as in entertaining team not drawing cartoons team). We are stationed at a desk near the entrance where we have important safety information in 5 different languages and the little tickets differentiating a guests status of check in.

Let the Fun Begin

The doors always seem to open at a different time. In the past we have stood there from 9.30am till 11.30am before we even start. But this last embarkation we started at 10am. Guests file in and we greet them while trying to guess what language they speak. It usually goes a little like this:

Me: Good Morning
Guest: huh?
Me: Bonjour/Bonjourno/Gooten Morgent (sp??)/Buen Dia
Guest: huh?
Me: Francais/Italiani/Deutsch??
Guest: ahhh Italiani
Me: MSC Cruise Card member?
Guest: huh?

And so on for all 5 languages. If an English speaker comes along I introduce myself and invite them to the travel talk in the afternoon.

For the first 3 cruises we stood like this for 5hrs, no break. But thank the heavens, the message got through and we were all relieved for 30minutes yesterday. Unfortunately I had not realised this and had not brought any money to buy a coffee or drink, it was pissing with rain outside and after 20min I got bored of sitting so went back.

2pm!!!

Finally, just as it feels as if our legs may never recover, our replacements arrive and I have to suppress the urge to kiss him and offer to give him children!

With barely an hour before our next task, we bound into the ship and head up to the buffet where we inhale food. Then down to the room to put feet up for about 15min.

Travel Talk

3.15pm Monique, French, and me gather in the office to make the announcement for the upcoming travel talk. This round mine was in the Lirica Lounge on deck 7. I had a rather good turnout of around 25 folks, considering I only have about 100 English Speakers onboard. Now English speakers do not necessarily mean NATIVE, but rather everyone who can’t speak one of the other 4 languages, often that means they don’t speak English either. But all good! This round I have a group from Norway, some dutch, a couple from Singapore, Japan, England, USA, even a couple from Namibia. The most surprising thing was to meet a lady from Eugene, Oregon who lives just a few minutes from the folks. Mmmmm potential courier for stuff dare I wonder.

The travel talk is around 20minutes and covers everything from life on board to excursions. Finally being able to go on excursions means I don’t have to BS as much as I have been. At the end we do a drawing for 50% off an excursion of their choice.

Safety Drill

After answering numerous questions and meeting folks I manage a quick 1 hr feet up before grabbing my life jacket to man my station for the safety drill. I am crew number 0626, muster station S, lifeboat 8. This is inside the casino, which has been pointed out as potentially not being the best spot of the ship is going down, but hey at least we can gamble on it!!

Standing at the entrance I collect the red cards. These are small ID cards given to guests at check in. After the Costa Concordia incident, this method was implemented to ensure all guests attend the drill, if their card is not collected a message is sent to their cabin to join the one the next day in Civitevecchia.

Moving to my spot for all those in lifeboat 8, I stand holding a lollipop sign until the general emergency signal (7 short, one long blast) is sounded. I then don my lifejacket and wait until we start the instructions for lifejacket presentation.

Grinning like a cheshire cat, I take the lifejacket off and go step by step showing how to put it back on while announcements are made in all 5 languages. I am finally reaching the point where I understand what each one is saying.

Disembarkation Talk

Drill complete I potter off to the Theatre where I have a disembarkation talk explaining procedures for guests leaving us in Civitevecchia. This takes about 20minutes again with questions after.

Sleep or Dinner

My biggest decision is then to whether or not to eat or nap first. Yesterday eating seemed like the best choice to ensure a longish nap. And oh how blissful that nap was, unfortunately it felt like my legs were going to cramp when I finally moved them.

Hospitality Desk

Since it is the first day we remain in our uniform all day and I must note that 14hrs in polyester long pants is not overly comfortable.

Our hospitality desk runs for an hour and we get to meet and greet and answer any questions new and old guests may have.

The Remainder of the Night

Now the evening begins to wind down. 7.30-8.30pm is Hospitality Desk. From 8.30pm to 9pm we wander around deck 6 socializing, or lapping as I prefer to call it. From 9pm to 9.15pm we stand and welcome folks into the theatre. 9.15pm is our evening meeting with details of the following day.

At this point we have a short time to pop upstairs to the buffet and see if we need something to sustain us for the rest of the night.

Our last duty before sleep is to man the Lirica Lounge and welcome guests to the evening activity from 10.15pm to 11pm.

BED!!!

Finally the day is over and we can collapse into glorious slumber, only to roll out of bed the next morning at 5.45am….

However….

I must note that presently I am sitting at a cafe in Rome, overlooking the Colosseum. I was placed on the Rome on Your Own tour, which involved me counting folks on the onset and then recounting at the end. Inbetween is free time!! It’s a glorious day and after my cappucino I am beginning to feel human. I think I may hunt down pizza for lunch….

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel

 

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