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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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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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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.
room
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 Cruising We Shall Go…

Today is March 19th, 2013 and I am waiting to leave for Italy to start a 7month contract on the cruise ship MSC Lirica. Don’t worry it is not the cruise line Costa or Carnival, however there is a good chance the captain will be Italian.

The route does 11 day cruises from Genoa, Italy via Rome to Athens, Greece, on to the Ukraine, Turkey and back to Genoa. It changes course in June and misses the Ukraine returning to Turkey and adding Cyprus and Israel.

I will try my best to blog when I can but internet is not very reliable on the ship and rather expensive. But I hope you will be patient and enjoy the posts when I can.

As some of you know I initially applied because of a boy, but he broke my heart and instead of giving up, I figured I would continue the adventure on my own!

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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