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Bucket List #17 : St. Petersburg, Russia – part 1

When I was in high school we had the opportunity to go to Europe for 2 weeks including Russia. I am not even sure why anymore, but Russia was somewhere I really wanted to go to. I think it is a memory of this amazing church and the folklore and the dancing, it sounded so fantastic. Unfortunately the Russian section of the trip got cancelled and so I decided not to go.

Finally, quite a few years later…. ok 20yrs later….. I have completed this dream and what do you know I even found the church!

Church of Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg Russua

Church of Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg Russua

Below please find a photo essay of the amazing tour I did and the amazing places I visited…. truly spectacular and nothing at all like the communist Russia we always hear about…

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg

The Winter Palace aka the Hermitage

The Winter Palace aka the Hermitage


The Old Winter Palace of the Tsars is now the Hermitage containing over 3 millions works of art.

Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress

couples like these roam among the tourists trying to get money for a photo, I did a quick happy snappy of one of my guests

couples like these roam among the tourists trying to get money for a photo, I did a quick happy snappy of one of my guests

Inside the Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress

Inside the Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter the Great and his family

Peter the Great and his family

Remains of the Romanovs the last Royal Family of Russia

Remains of the Romanovs the last Royal Family of Russia

First view of Spilled Blood Church

First view of Spilled Blood Church


This church was dedicated to Alexander the 1st by his son, Alexander the 2nd. It is built over the spot where Alexander the 1st was assassinated, the main spire is 81m high (he died in 1881) and the 2nd highest is 69m high (he was 69 when he died). The entire inside from floor to ceiling is covered in mosaics, created with hand blown tiny glass tiles….

Church of Spilled Blood

Church of Spilled Blood

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mosaics everywhere

mosaics everywhere

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if you didn't know better you would think they were paintings

if you didn’t know better you would think they were paintings

inside the main spire

inside the main spire

all mosaics

all mosaics

canal

canal


St. Petersburg is actually built on a number of islands connected by canals and bridges. From late night to early morning all the bridges are raised for river traffic so you have to be careful to plan you evening out….

After a fabulous day out exploring the city we enjoyed an evening of Russian Folklore and dancing…. Now I remember why it always fascinated me!!!!

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Beautiful costumes

Beautiful costumes

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Aruba…ooohhh I wanna take ya

Theme Song While You Read

Every time I hear “Aruba” I break out into this song, I can’t help it, it’s automatic. It never crossed my mind that one day I might have the chance to do a tour of this stunning Island.

We docked at Oranjestad (Orange State) and I was excited to hear Dutch, giving me a chance to practice my Afrikaans (South African dialect of Dutch).

Wild Coasts

We drove round most of the island from the calmer more populated side to the wild northern coasts.

Aruba (3)

Even a land bridge, although erosion makes it unsafe to get much closer than this

And yes I am wearing antlers, it was Christmas week afterall

And yes I am wearing antlers, it was Christmas week afterall

Butterflies

To truly explore a place you must know where to look for the smaller things in life, so a stop at the Butterfly Garden was a must. Focusing mostly on native butterflies they also had a few exotics that were brightly colored. I spent a lot of my time chasing a particularly stunning blue one, but am pretty certain the only pic any of got was the postcard from the gift shop. I did however, catch a few others on film…

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We also learnt about metamorphosis, where a caterpillar
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Becomes a stunning butterfly
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All in all it was a great tour, the island was a lot flatter than I expected but wild and beautiful all the same…

So when you visit Aruba
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And remember to look for the little things that will truly make your visit there spectacular
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Swimming with Dolphins

Dreams and Bucket Lists

For as long as I can remember the ocean, and it’s creatures have fascinated me, and I have had a love of Dolphins and Whales. A year ago I got to scuba dive with whale sharks, marking a tick on my bucket list. Just a few days ago, through a crazy coincidence, I was able to go swimming with dolphins, marking yet another tick off.

How it All Began…

Part of my duties as an English Social Hostess on board Divina, is to take visitors, usually dignitaries and officials, around the ship on a ship tour. I met all range of interesting people, but I must say, the group from Falmouth, Jamaica were by far the most animated, fun-loving group of officials I have yet met. In fact I got 2 marriage proposals (including one of them getting down to one knee). They insisted I join them for lunch in the ship restaurant after the tour, (after I got permission), and we had a great chat. One of the officials, William Tatham of the Port Authorities (if I remember correctly) gave me his card and said next time we were in port he would organize something for me.

Well, my mom always said I have no shame when it comes to taking people up on their offers, and so two weeks later when we were due to arrive I dropped him a message. Next minute, I get an email from Dolphin Cove inviting me to experience a VIP tour and dolphin swim at no charge!!!! I couldn’t believe it, wow!

Unfortunately, that port we had a crew drill and we got out too late to go, same for the next visit, I also had an excursion that time (the Jamaican Bobsled… where I feared for my life, but that’s another story).

It really looked as if we would never get a chance to take them up on their offer, until….

3rd Time Lucky

On our 3rd time back in Falmouth it was Jam Cruise. Not only did most of us have it free, there were also excursions. This was the perfect time. Dolphin Cove suggested I bring friends, the more the merrier, and so our merry group of 20 were all busting at the seams for the day to arrive.

….then, Murphy’s Law… I was scheduled to work, which meant, unless there was a miracle, I would miss the trip. But I decided not to complain, not to argue, after all it is my job. Instead, I think everyone else went to my defense, and with 30min before the bus was due to leave I was told I could go!!! Woohoo!!!

17 of us made it on the bus, and with our amazing driver, Derek, we set off on the hour long drive to Dolphin Cove. Derek, gave us historical and musical information the whole way down, and everything was, well, “Eiri Mon, just Eiri!”
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Swimming with Shakira

Our dolphin was named, Shakira, the other half of our group had Apollo. Shakira, was beautiful and I do not have words to express, how amazing it was to touch her and swim with her and even kiss her. In fact, I almost started crying the first time we got to stroke her as she swam past (oddly, she feels very much like the rubber toys they sell in stores…)
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After we got to meet and touch her it was time to swim with her. Here we had to tap the water and then she would pop up in front of us, lie on her back, we would grab her flippers and then she would swim us back to the pier. Very important was to let go when the trainer told us to, otherwise there was the threat of smashing into the pier as she swam under it….
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Finally it was the pièce de résistance, the kiss!!!
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It was a truly spectacular afternoon, and the staff at Dolphin Cove were phenomenal. All the Dolphins seemed happy and looked healthy. In fact, they have one rescue dolphin who was hit by a boat, during her recovery (to keep her entertained) they taught her the tricks and skills. Upon her return to health she was returned to the sea, less than a week later she found her way back to Dolphin Cove and “asked” to stay!

I will never forget this day, thanks so much to everyone who made it happen!

DOLPHIN SWIM VIDEO

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Cruise, Uncategorized

 

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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

mag buf

mag buff

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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.
xmas party

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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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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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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Welcome to Ship Life

All Right Folks I finally completed the first ship board entry…sorry about the wait!

The Start of It….

Almost exactly 1 year ago I stepped on a plane to visit someone… ultimately it would lead me to this moment, sitting in my little cabin onboard the MSC Lirica cruise ship. Since then I have experienced every emotion from heart ache, to anger, to finding an inner strength that surprised me. Now, I start my new adventure as the English Social Hostess on a ship that carries 2199 guests and 701 crew when at capacity… who knew life would lead me here!

Making it All Worthwhile

Presently I am sitting in my little cabin, listening to music and waiting to go check on my laundry (it is a highlight of my week when I find time to do it). Spent the morning with a friend walking around Civitevecchia, the port city of Rome, having a fabulous cappucino and an enormous panini with roasted zucchini, ham and mozzarella. I can’t believe that I am living the ship life… after all the craziness and effort to get here… I find moments like these making it all worth it!

Flights

With less than a week before departure I finally received my flight details. Leaving Eugene, Oregon around 1pm I would fly to San fran, then on to Munich and finally arriving in Genoa, Italy at 11.20pm. A total travel time of 23hrs…. After collecting luggage and finding a taxi I made it to the MSC Lirica around midnight for check in.
MSC - Lirica in Dry Dock (2)

She seemed enormous, looming in the moonlight and I was faced with a rather daunting set of metal stairs offered as a gangway. Not a problem under normal circumstances but with a bag that is exactly the Lufthansa weight limit, this proved a difficult task, especially in my lack of sleep state.
MSC - the crew gangway day 1

Making it up the ramp I was faced with security. All security onboard MSC ships are Israeli, and it’s hard to get them to smile. Luckily there was another girl waiting behind me and we soon got to talking. Biljana, Macedonia, has had a few contracts and works in the Casino. She helped me settle in. Security is very thorough when checking your bags, you are not allowed to bring liquids or such and they discovered my tiny bottle of Marmite (all English and South Africans will understand this). I made big sad eyes and begged him not to part me from it… He acted like he would remove it and then at the last moment, slid it across to me conspiratorially. Maybe I will make friends with security after all. We were both introduced to Francesco the T&D (training and development) manager. I swear he is the Italian double of Mr. Bean, especially when he smiles. It will be very hard not to call him that by mistake.

Biljana and I helped each other with our bags down to deck 4 and went in to the Chief Purser and sign a few things (apparently it was my contract, but I was so exhausted I didn’t realise until a few days later). Mr. Bean…. I mean Francesco had a special surprise for us, we were allowed onto the bridge to collect our keys and cards. It was quite impressive but in that state at 1am I don’t recall much I am afraid. Biljana and I went to her cabin first, which was clean…ish, definately needed a vacuum. Apparently when people leave they are meant to clean their rooms… meant to being the key phrase. Then it was onto my room. On first inspection it seemed there were still people living there. We found clothes and suitcases and piles of trash everywhere. Biljana called the Night Steward and he took one look and called 2 cleaners. It took them over an hour to make the cabin livable… 2 boys, entertainers, from the Dominican Republic had been the previous tenants. I flipped the mattress just in case!!!

First Mornings

I woke up about 7 hrs later in a bit of a dwaal, as we would say in Afrikaans, a little lost and confused. Apparently breakfast had ended already, I had no idea where to go, who to ask, what to do until I saw … Mr. Bean! He managed to rustle up some croissants and a form of coffee and gave me a short run down of some things. Then he took me to meet my boss, the Cruise Director. He left me in the office and after about 2 hrs I asked if I should return later as no one had had time to even ask me how my flight was. I spent the rest of the day unpacking, trying to find my way around and meeting the whole Casino staff, thanks to Biljana. I didn’t meet any of my team until much later that afternoon.

The one good thing about arriving at that time was being able to choose the bottom bunk. Unfortunately, a roommate did appear in the form of Monique, the French Hostess from Canada. She is around 60 and had given up a good job to follow her dream of travel. I take my hat off to her! But I think it may be interesting living with someone almost twice my age. I did make the tentative suggestion, ok more like a query, if she wanted the bottom bunk. She assured me she was fine and I decided, perhaps selfishly, not to insist. I did have to survive 7mths at sea and being able to flop into the bottom bunk is much easier than climbing the ladder, especially in rolling seas.

The Team

The Social Host/ess team is 5 strong. Martina from Italy, Paula from Spain, Peter from Austria, all have numerous contracts under their belt, and Monique and I. Peter only arrived the day of the first cruise, giving everyone quite a scare that he wouldn’t make it in time due to strikes by Lufthansa (apparently I missed them by a day).

First Cruise

We are already almost finished with cruise 3 and will start number four tomorrow. But a run down of the first cruise goes a little like this:
Started with embarkation and 5 hrs of standing, I was very excited to wear the new uniform and my new “clarks” 2inch heels…. I lost feeling in my big toe for 2 weeks, I am not kidding!
About 300 English speakers from all over the world including 5 South Africans…woohoo…scored biltong, bigger Woohoo!!!
This meant my first travel talk was in the theater, which is always intimidating. Arrived early to prepare and wait for the masses, 20 arrived!
Worked constantly with only a few hours each day to pass out. gave up the rare shore time for sleep. No excursions allowed due to training and translations.
Had great fun minglinig with guests and getting to know everyone. Was sad to see a number of them go.
Truly it was all a blur and then the second cruise started.

Second Cruise

Started with another round of embarkation lasting 5 hrs with no break and all standing. But this time I chose my “clarks” flat shoes that my mom insisted on buying me, thank God Mom’s are always right!!!!!
Only about 250 English speakers from around the world, didn’t make as many contacts as the first one. But met a great family from Scotland, when Agnes (a middle aged lady with a slight mental handicap) was in my group for the safety drill, as we walked back she said “that was fun can we do it again”. I met her whole family and enjoyed their company. Paul and his wife, Marion, were with Paul’s brother James (also with a mental handicap) and Agnes was James’ friend. Paul blew us all away with a spectacular rendition of a classical number originating in Naples at the MSC talent show. It was so good that a man from Naples came up to him, with tears in his eyes, and thanked him profusely. He got a standing ovation. Marion will return in July with her sons, I can’t wait to see her again.

Also a couple from England guests who had their 70th birthday on the same day. Super sweet couple and I was able to do a number of small things to make their day special. Excursions and I made a sign giving them priority seating on the tour bus, then I had invited them to a quiz and actually had the Animation team call them up and all of sing happy birthday and give them a bag of goodies. They invited me to have birthday cake with them at dinner, which was delicious but which I had to wolf down at great speed in order to get to the Captain’s cocktail party. I suffered a little trying to look demure and professional with a stomach ache…

The at sea day before Piraeus (Port of Athens) we had a crew party in the guest disco. Much fun was had and much stress released… I believe it was the exhaustion and nothing to do with the alcohol that made me tired the next day 🙂

We had a guest needing helicopter transfer to land due to illness which was quite a thing apparently. It all went very smoothly, but is never something a cruise ship wants to deal with.

Cruise 3

Couldn’t believe it when cruise 3 started… another 5 hrs, this time I spoke to the boss after and he was horrified to realise we weren’t being given a break. So here’s hoping for cruise 4 embarkation to be easier. Our first day is Genoa, Italy and the next we are in the port of Rome, Civitevecchia. On this cruise we were barely and hour and a half out of the port when we had to return for a medical emergency. Apparently a guest had attempted to go out on the top deck but the wind had pushed the door and knocked her over, breaking a hip. This time we were close enough to return to port and no need to call a helicopter. Luckily the Captain employed both the horse and the hamster and we soon caught up time before Istanbul.

Istanbul was the first port I got to go on an excursion and it was fabulous, truly amazing. I went to the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and finally the Haggia Sophia which is simply mind blowing. You look at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican city and my first thought is “wow”, simultaneously I think “all this wealth could really help some folks”. In the Haggia Sophia, everything is ancient and it is all mosaics and paintings and so ancient it boggles the mind. There is truly a presence felt there. I hope to go back and just sit and take it all in. But next Istanbul it’s going to be all free time exploring the depths of the Grand Bazaar!!!!

Odessa, Ukraine, I got another excursion opportunity and enjoyed a relaxing day exploring the city. It was clear and sunny and met some fantastic guests. There were also amazing dogs all over and well taken care of. Photos will follow.

We had a crew show last night, with the poor dances (after having 2 shows for guests) doing another show for crew late in the evening. But it is great to be able to all come together and enjoy what the ship has to offer.

And now I am in Sorrento in the South of Italy and hometown of MSC. I just had a meeting with our big boss who said she had only heard great reports and that she could tell I was smart and a quick learner. I asked her to send a message in that regard to my dad… just in case he had doubts!!

So here I am sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tender boats bring guests in and out. The Lirica moors in the bay and then uses it’s lifeboats to bring guests back and forth. I have had my espresso machiatto, and a piece of focaccia and enjoyed a relaxing hour. But soon it is back to the grindstone and preparing for another round of guests and activities and exploration.

I promise to try write more often, but life on board is certainly a new way of living.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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