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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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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A Shipboard Christmas

Christmas at Sea

And so this is Christmas…..

It is always hard for me to be away from family on Christmas. It is my favorite holiday and I have very fond memories of growing up in South Africa and visiting my grandparents for the Christmas dinner, which was always a large roast with potatoes and yorkshire pudding and gravy and all the trimmings. Now, noting South Africa has a summer Christmas, this was a fairly intense meal, but something that is a tradition in my house (of course now living in Oregon it means it’s cold outside and you feel like eating a lot more).

This would not be my first Christmas away from home, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In fact having Christmas while working on a cruise ship can make for a lack of Christmas cheer. So, you have to really focus on the good things, your friends, your friendly guests (hopefully we all had some) and if all else fails wear a pair of antlers and put smiles on everyone else’s faces.

Antlers
I chose the antlers,

With good friend, Marianna.

With good friend, Marianna.

In fact on evenings when I didn’t wear my antlers I had guests asking me where they were. I would wear them in my uniform when I was helping guests at reception, it’s amazing how hard it is for a guest to complain bitterly when the person you are talking to has antlers that jingle everytime she nods her head. Of course, if it became apparent that the antlers would not deter the guest from making a complaint, they were surreptitiously removed. But, for the most part, guests got a kick out of it. I would also wear them on excursion and got quite a few laughs when I went swimming with them in St. Maartin….

Snorkeling in St. Maarten

Snorkeling in St. Maarten

After the excursion, I joined some of the guests for a walk around town and a couple of beers…
drunk antlers

Decorations
In the US Christmas decorations usually start popping up the middle of October, with the occasional random xmas song, just to get us warmed up. Then come middle of November the radio stations are solidly booked with jolly songs about santa and reindeer and white Christmas. However, on our ship, we only put decorations up the 2nd week of Christmas, so it felt really strange as I am used to having them up for months. One minute they were up the next they were down. We went for a nice sublte, not to over stated, green wreath with a few Christmas trees and red, silver and gold balls. Over all rather elegant, although many US guests were expecting more of an … how shall we say… intense decoration experience. Oh well, this is an Italian ship and elegance is their thing.

Next to one of the xmas trees

Next to one of the xmas trees

Magnificent Buffet

On very special occasions the Chef and his crew create what is called, the Magnificent Buffet, and it is truly magnificent.
Here are a few pics to truly appreciate their creativity:
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mag bu

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Absolutely everything is either carved, or molded, or assembled out of food or food by products… truly Magnificent.

Department Xmas Party

Our department decided to have our own little xmas party. We were in San Juan, Puerto Rico on the day and our International Cruise Director organised it at Signor Frogs. Now, anyone who has been to a signor frogs knows it is all about the booze. We had a buffet as well (am pretty certain refried beans should NOT be a soup like consistancy), but, let’s just say it’s the company that counts.
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xmas partyy

Even Santa showed up!
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Great fun was had by all… but still, it’s always better with family!!

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Cruise, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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To Berlin We Go….

3rd December 2011

Soppy Moment Warning: Once we had finally figured out how to get my SIM card active, I sent Buddha a message to let him know my number in Germany. He replied around 1am Germany time, I saw it but was too tired to reply. About 5min later he sent another checking if I got the first. By now the jet lag and effectively kicked my butt and I was in no condition to reply. In all he sent 3 texts and tried to call me twice. It was kind of sweet that he wanted to reach me so badly.

Berlin Bound

To get to Berlin we were taking the subway to a meeting spot where we were meeting up with a rideshare. It makes traveling in Germany so much easier and cheaper using the rideshare website. As we waited for the train I sent Buddha a quick text saying I got his. He called me almost immediately and it was so good to talk to him, and he sounded thrilled to have reached me, but unfortunately the train pulled up at that moment…

Taking the train to the city center we found our rideshare. Cathleen had warned the lady that I was at the end of a world tour and had 2 big bags, she had assured Cathleen that there was space and she might not offer the 3rd seat just in case. Well turns out she had a tiny car that was already pretty chocka-block full and she had offered the 3rd seat. After much shifting and squeezing we managed to fit ourselves and the bags in and set off. The guy sitting in the back with me kept spreading out and eventually I was almost sitting on the door handle, all the time with my backpack in my lap. At the same time, our rather… eccentric (that seems like a safe word), used this down time of driving 2 hours to catch up on all her phone calls, without a headset.

I don’t think Cathleen and I have been happier to fold out of a car as we were when we reached our destination. It was just crazy, but makes for a funny story in hindsight and it only cost us 14 euro each, about a third of the price if we had taken the train all the way.

3 Little Pigs Hostel

We had been dropped off at the train station and it was just a short ride to our exit for the hostel. The train exit was at the beautiful old ruin, originally the station during WW2 I believe.

As we emerged two wizened old men asked us if we were going to “The Church”. We said no and looked a little confused. When we reached the hostel we realised it had been converted from an old convent and it still had the church up and running. Hahahahah it was rather amusing after we had stood and disagreed with the old fellas just moments before. 3 Little Pigs Hostel was rather impressive, but it was barely 11am and check in was only at 3pm. So after stowing our gear we headed out for the first half of the walking tour that Cathleen had chosen. Of course as we stepped outside it started raining.

Berlin had Bear statues everywhere. Reminded of the pigs we had all over Seattle, Washington in the states. I couldn’t resist getting a photo with at least one of them.

Heading for the Platz

Just down the way from the hostel was the new up and coming trendy area called Potsdamer Platz. With tons of restaurants and stores to choose from, it was also the site of the next Christmas Market. We decided to save that for later though.

Walking the Wall

I remember hearing about the Berlin Wall growing up, studying it in history class and watching on TV when it was finally torn down. I never thought I would be standing in the shadow of its remnants. It just made you wonder why, why and how politics so often destroys lives.

Started in 1961, the wall was built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and completely cut off West Berlin from East Germany and East Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German Reunification. The wall was torn down for the most part in 1990. During those almost 30yrs the wall tore apart families, friends and an entire country.

Part of the Wall Left as a Reminder

At this section of wall there was also a museum that gave full accounts of life during Nazi Germany, the camps and Hitler. It was a rather poignant reminder of that time and I was impressed that even though it was a time of shame in so many ways, there was no attempt to hide it.

Holocaust Memorial

As we followed the Walking Tour we came across one of the largest memorials I have ever seen, The Holocaust Memorial. Covering 4.6 acres it is covered with large stone stelae (slabs) numbering 2711. The stelae are of varying heights and arranged on a sloping field. According to Eisenman’s (the architect) project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. And it certainly does just that. Within the midsts of the stelae, especially on the grey cloudy day, the feeling is hauntingly eerie.

Gates

Continuing the walking tour we followed the East / West line towards the Brandenburge Gates, the ultimate symbol of German reunification.

We spent the next 2 hours gawking at spectacular architecture and looking for either a Christmas Market or coffee shop as it was raining and freezing!! The only market we found you had to pay to enter but just down the street was a coffee shop. So we huddled in there to get warm. Cathleen had hoped we would get more of the walking tour done but, after 11months of travel, sitting in a coffee shop and watching people go by seemed like a much better plan to me.

Hostel Room

Finally the time rolled round when we could check into the hostel and we hurried in that direction. Walking into our room was like walking into what a backpacker might consider 5 star. The room was huge with only 6 beds. The beds were large and comfy and clean and had HUGE pillows. After 4 hours of walking in the rain and being soaked almost to our skivvies, there was only one thing to do…NAP.

Potsdamer Platz Revisited

Around 6pm, with much difficulty, we rolled out of bed, rebundled against rain and cold and decided to head back to the Platz for the Christmas Market. I had my first bratwurst here and think I could have had 10. It was divine, especially with my mug of gluwein. My second gluwein mug is also one of my favorites, tall and slim with frosted glass.

Mug 2

Back at the hostel and in bed around 10pm, I fear I literally passed out and have no recollection of anything, only waking at 7am, as 2 male roommates returned after a rather successful night out… by the smell of them anyway.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Exploring Hamburg!

2nd December 2011

Why Germany in Winter

Many people asked me with a shocked look on their faces why in the hell I was going to Germany in the winter. My response consisted of FOUR things:

1 – Christmas Cookies
2 – Christmas Markets
3 – Gluwein
4 – Bratwurst

No one really does Christmas like the Germans and I couldn’t wait to get into the holiday spirit. Although on numerous occasions this proved a little difficult as the mammoth realizations that I would soon be ending this odyssey and that I had developed feelings for a guy from Nepal, began to weigh heavily on me. I am not ashamed to admit that I cracked on more than one…. ok five occasions, but my amazing friends Cathleen and Nadine were always there to support me.

Hamburg a Little Jet Lagged

After nearly giving Cathleen a heart attack that first morning by popping my head up from the floor and saying good morning, we started to plan our day.

Side Note: I have a history of changing sleeping positions. Growing up my mum would go to wake me up and find my feet on the pillow instead of my head. And when I find a bed too soft or after traveling for a long time, I often find the floor more comfortable. Strange but true.

Hendrik and Cathleen had ensured that I had the best options for breakfast, with rolls and meats and cheese and German granola WITH chocolate chunks… I thought I was in a 5 star hotel. You guys were great!! Although it did take 2 Germans and a South African/American to figure out the fancy coffee machine… was probably made in Switzerland (that’s our excuse).

Despite the lack of sleep and ever increasing jet lag Cathleen and I went to explore Hamburg, as we would be leaving to Berlin in the morning.

NOTE, culture shock is inevitable when leaving the embodiment of chaos that is Kathmandu and Nepal and arriving in German perfection and planning. Everyone was wearing conservative winter clothes and here I was in multi colored sweat shirt and scarf from Nepal (mainly because I had chucked all my others to fit in the new). I was easy to mark as a tourist. Oh well I guess I have to play the tourist at least once.

We walked past a statue of Otto Von Bismarck, if I remember correctly. Cathleen was surprised I had studied him in high school.

Why yes… after a quick google search this is in fact the most well known of the statues of Otto Von Bismarck, the statesman who unified the German States into a German Empire in the late 1800’s

Heading to a famous church with beautiful architecture we not only discovered it had been rented out for a function, we also discovered a bit of a nutter in a santa suit with a gorgeous German Shepherd (would it be just a Shepherd if it was in Germany??) and a rather large “elf”. He was, apparently, protesting the function, although we couldn’t really understand him, but his 7ft tall “Elf” in the trench coat was certainly a bit intimidating.

Protesting “Santa” and his “Elf”


The statue outside the church

Tea please
Since it was downright frigid, ok maybe not quite, but close enough to it, we decided to have tea and Cathleen knew just the spot. It could have come out of Diagon Alley and some other story book, as the place was tiny and situated between 2 large buildings.

Entrance to the Alley

It turned out what I thought was the entrance to the tea shop, was in fact the entrance to a hidden alley that dated back to 1718. The little shops brought back visions of an era long past.

Alley

The tea shop was at the end of the alley filled with sweet and tea and curio shops. It literally oozed Christmas from the decorations to the smell. There was even a chimney with a twist… literally!

Twisted!

Hamburg used to be a hub of trade for spices, cloth and other goods. These were transported on boats in the canals and the old storehouses still line the river. Makes for quite a stunning view.

Old Storehouses Become Trendy Lofts

Noting the previous photo and how narrow the canal is will give you a new appreciation of the barge drivers who manipulate them between each section.

Barge Ballet

Knowing how much I loved cooking, Cathleen surprised me with a visit to the Spice Museum, apparently the only one of its kind. It had spices of every kind from all over the world and the aromas were quite intoxicating, if I may say so. The entry ticket was a packet of fresh whole pepper corns, (just emptied them into my grinder this evening).

Christmas Market #1

Wandering around Hamburg was quite delightful but finally it was time for my first Christmas Market. We were off to meet Hendrik and some friends for Gluwein. Even though it was around 3pm on a Friday, it looked as if every other person had the same idea.

Christmas Market – Hamburg

This also meant my first encounter with Christmas Cookies!

Cookiessssssssssss!

And of course GLUWEIN!!! Gluwein is a spiced red wine that is served hot and is very yummy.

Cathleen and I enjoying Gluwein

Unlike many countries where you buy a drink in a disposable cup, here in Germany you buy your drink and pay an extra 2euros for the ceramic cup unique to that market or city. If you decide not to keep the mug then you get your 2euros back, however, if you are like me, you decide to keep it and make a collection for every Christmas market you go to… of course the reality of getting them home will be something I deal with at a later date.

Gluwein Mug 1

German SIM Cards

Heading “home” we picked up supplies for me to cook dinner as a thank you to Hendrik for putting us up or putting up with us, either way, BIG THANKS!! I made the Schmidt Family Spaghetti Bolognaise, always a hit.

After dinner we started the complicated process of trying to figure out how to set up my SIM card. In Germany there is no such thing as slipping it in and switching it on, nope you have to register on a website and then wait a few hours before its even active. But finally we had success and right before bed I sent Buddha a quick text saying that I missed him and here was my German number. He had replies to my email saying I had arrived safely with a very sweet message about how he had gone to Monkey Temple and even though the monkeys were happy to see him, they apparently missed me, so he said hello for me. So sweet, its already starting to feel so unreal…

Tomorrow it is off to Berlin!

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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