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Goodbye, Farewell MSC Fantasia

Another Chapter Closed

After 7 months working as an English Social Hostess on MSC Fantasia I am finally heading home and on to the next adventure, after some well deserved RnR, especially after another bought of bronchitis and what turned out to be a fractured ankle that I continued to work on for the last 2 months.

Misconceptions…

When people ask what I do and I reply “I work on a cruise ship”, they always assume this means that I sit around the pool with a cocktail, especially when I was working in the Caribbean. However, it is nothing like that, sure my job as a Social Hostess or Language Ambassador as I prefer to be called, is a lot less strenuous compared to the bar staff or the housekeepers or the laundry, but it is still on duty 7 days a week for 7 months or more. It always surprises guests when they ask me, “what are your off days?” and I say, “the day after I get home.”

It’s Been a Great 7 months

Once again I loved working in the Mediterranean, so many different cultures, so much history and the most amazing food! I had the option to work in the French Caribbean, which I would have loved if there was a guarantee to get some scuba diving in… since that was highly unlikely, I opted for history and food instead.
Our ports of Call included:

ITALY
Venice – I have now been there over 15 times and only ever seen the cruise port, I hear it is quite beautiful!

Bari – Not much to see in Bari itself except a cool fort and shopping.

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Fort of Bari


However, just outside there is a beautiful cave system that is definitely worth a visit.
Caves of Castellana

Caves of Castellana

Civitevecchia (Port of Rome) – my favorite part of this port was my pizza place, Baffoni’s!! Cafe Latte, wifi, followed by a pizza and cola.

My favorite Vesuvio pizza, spice salami and zucchini

My favorite Vesuvio pizza, spice salami and zucchini


My second favorite Buffalo mozzarella and small tomatoes

My second favorite Buffalo mozzarella and small tomatoes

Genoa – Turn around port always crazy busy, but just sometimes I got to slip away to a tiny local place down a narrow alley with the best ravioli bolognese ever!

CROATIA
Dubrovnik – One of my all time favorite cities, absolutely beautiful. I hope to return and explore all of the Dalmation coast someday.

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View from the city Walls

GREECE
Piraeus (Port of Athens) – the port is really far from town, but on most visits, at least before I injured my foot, we would walk 20 minutes to a little street cafe for the best gyro in town.

Katakolon – A teeny tiny community that is the gateway to the ancient ruins of Olympia. I loved this tiny 2 street town, with amazing food and fantastically friendly people from my guy at the restaurant where I ordered chicken souvlaki, to the coffee guy with the amazing desserts to the shop guy who insisted on always throwing a bag of chips or a drink into all the crew members shopping bags.

mmm Greek Food!

mmm Greek Food!


Dessert and coffee

Dessert and coffee

Heraklion (Island of Crete) – Home of the myth of the Minotaur and another favorite stop, unfortunately the town was a fair distance from the port. My favorite memory was eating an amazing strawberry spinach salad with a good friend!

Mmmm Spinach Strawberry salad!!!

Mmmm Spinach Strawberry salad!!!


Great Friends!!!

Great Friends!!!

Rhodes – In my top 3! History, friendly folks and great food, also lots and lots of cats!!!

my favorite Tomcat

my favorite Tomcat


Street of Knights

Street of Knights

Corfu – Another stop where the town was a fair distance from port, but beautiful all the same.
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Santorini – Built on the edges of a volcanic caldera in the middle of the med, this is the picture postcard stop of Greece!

Santorini is famous for it's white buildings and blue domes

Santorini is famous for it’s white buildings and blue domes

MALTA
Valletta – Top 3!! Original home of the Knights Hospitaller and Templar and a port I could wander around in endlessly, just be sure to take the 1€ elevator vs walking up crucifix hill.

THE ELEVATOR!!!

THE ELEVATOR!!!


Inside St. John's Church

Inside St. John’s Church


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TURKEY
Marmaris – Part of my top 5! Loved this port from my first contract and only got one stop this time! However, my favorite food place was still there along with my favorite jewelry store.

Mixed plate

Mixed plate

Izmir – The area near the port was mainly shopping, although I did find amazing coconut macaroons at a hole in the wall bakery. An hour away you will find the house of the Virgin Mary in a stunningly peaceful valley and the Ruins of Ephesus, some of the most incredible ruins I have ever seen… did I mention there are lots of cats!

Mary's House

Mary’s House


Leave a prayer for the Virgin Mary

Leave a prayer for the Virgin Mary


Kitty of Ephesus

Kitty of Ephesus


Library of Ephesus

Library of Ephesus

SPAIN
Malaga – Churro and Chocolate is all I have to say…

No Words!!!!

No Words!!!!

Barcelona – Gaudi and the inside of the Sagrada Familia!! Absolutely incredible.

Beauty!

Beauty!

Tenerife – Loro Parque, the worlds largest parrot park with numerous other animals and even an Orca show! (I am not a fan of keeping these creatures in captivity, the only, slightly, saving grace is that the park focuses on research and education and some of the orcas were not wild born).

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet


Orca Show

Orca Show

MOROCCO
Casablanca – The whole reason I opted for this route vs the French Caribbean and, even though I had no idea what to expect, it was unfortunately the biggest disappointment. The port was at least a 20 minute walk from the city through a disgusting agricultural and industrial port, with only… fairly intense taxi drivers as a transport option. Luckily, the city itself, although dirty, had friendly people, great coffee and amazing food. However, other than the mosque and the old market there wasn’t much to see and safety was a concern.

Coffee opposite the old market

Coffee opposite the old market


Carpets and Paintings in the Old Market

Carpets and Paintings in the Old Market


The Mosque from the Cornish Road

The Mosque from the Cornish Road


Tajines cooking

Tajines cooking


Delicious!

Delicious!

If you go to Morocco and the port of Casablanca I recommend the tour to Marrakesh, this is the Morocco we all imagine.

PORTUGAL
Funchal – Top 3!!! Absolutely loved this port, despite the long walk from the port, and would love to visit it again, from the vegetation to the climate to the food everything was great… except maybe that they speak Portuguese (a language that confuses me endlessly as it sounds similar to Spanish and yet I understand nothing).

Eira Do Serrado  reminded me of the Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa

Eira Do Serrado reminded me of the Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa


Always had coffee and a pastel de nata at my fav coffee shop... love the lady in the background - she is obviously on diet!

Always had coffee and a pastel de nata at my fav coffee shop… love the lady in the background – she is obviously on diet!


Great artwork on the Sea wall as you walk to town

Great artwork on the Sea wall as you walk to town

Not bad for 7 months if you ask me!

Friendships!!

Of course the true reward from these last 7 months were the friends I made from all over the globe!!

Olessia from the Ukraine - my favorite bartender and confident

Olessia from the Ukraine – my favorite bartender


Chiara from Italy, Tour escort and awesome gelato buddy

Chiara from Italy, Tour escort and awesome gelato buddy


Saneliswe and Sandile, my "paisano" bar staff from South Africa

Saneliswe and Sandile, my “paisano” bar staff from South Africa


Angela from Germany, German Hostess and international cuisine tasting buddy

Angela from Germany, German Hostess and international cuisine tasting buddy


Tamsin and Hayley from UK, Dancer and singer, my video and pizza buds!

Tamsin and Hayley from UK, Dancer and singer, my video and pizza buds!


Ivana from Macedonia, Photographer and my crazy happy friend

Ivana from Macedonia, Photographer and my crazy happy friend


Dayan from Spain and Jessica from Italy, GRM and Concierge, we made a great  team

Dayan from Spain and Jessica from Italy, GRM and Concierge, we made a great team


Gleison from Brazil and Martina from Italy, Portuguese Host and Events coordinator, we were the Funchal Ship Visit trio

Gleison from Brazil and Martina from Italy, Portuguese Host and Events coordinator, we were the Funchal Ship Visit trio


Carmen from South Africa, Tour Escort and another amazing Paisano

Carmen from South Africa, Tour Escort and another amazing Paisano


Celine and Loes from the Netherlands, tour escorts and my favorite Dutchies

Celine and Loes from the Netherlands, tour escorts and my favorite Dutchies


And so many more I would be here forever uploading pics. Thanks to all my amazing friends and I hope to see you again soon on new adventures!!!

New Adventures

Now I am off to do something completely different and, logically thinking, completely off the wall. I am moving to Koh Phangan, Thailand to pursue my passion of scuba diving!!! Yup at 37.75 years of age, I am doing something most people would think is completely insane… but I am sure going to have fun doing it!!!

 

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Return to Cruise Ship Life

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

The Return

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

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

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

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

MSC FANTASIA

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

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

Time Update

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

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

 

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Taking a Semi-Submarine in Curacao

Under ‘da Sea

Visiting Aruba was fantastic but the very next day we went to another of the Dutch Antille Islands, Curacao. This time I got the opportunity to do the Semi-Submarine excursion, my first time experiencing one of these.

Driving through the island we finally stopped at this beautiful resort and walked over to the boat.
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Stairs led down to a fairly cramped “submarine” area with windows along the side. Being the escort also meant I was an extra person and there was no space for me on the seats, so I squeezed into the stairwell and leaned forward to get a view.
Curacao

Even being a scuba diver I was amazed at the great views and the fish. There was so much to see, of course it also made me wish I could toss on some gear and jump in.

Coral formations

Coral formations

We were saddened by a net that was draped over some of hte coral, turns out some of the locals sneak in and fish at night, but often lose their nets. Turtles have been seen tangled in them in the past. The guests suggested a petition be started and have visitors sign it and write to the government to prevent or at least limit this beahviour. I felt rather proud of them for wanting to take a stand.
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Feeding Time

Heading upstairs to get some air I saw one of our deckhands gearing up to feed the fish, unfortunately they didn’t have an extra tank but did invite me to come diving if we were ever back in the area.
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Then it was time to feed all the pretty fishies…

preparing the food

preparing the food


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Curacao (10)

After a great morning of staring at fishes we headed off to explore more of the island, in particular it’s contribution to Alcohol, free tasting included….
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Mmmmm Curaçao Liqueur

My favorite was the chocolate and coffee flavor

My favorite was the chocolate and coffee flavor

Curaçao is a liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit, grown on the island of Curaçao. A non-native plant similar to an orange, the laraha developed from the sweet Valencia orange transplanted by Spanish explorers. The nutrient-poor soil and arid climate of Curaçao proved unsuitable to Valencia cultivation, resulting in small, bitter fruit of the trees. Although the bitter flesh of the Laraha is all but inedible, the peels are aromatic and flavorful, maintaining much of the essence of the Valencia orange.

Curaçao liqueur was first developed and marketed by the Senior family in the 19th century. To create the liqueur the laraha peel is dried, bringing out the sweetly fragranced oils. After soaking in a still with alcohol and water for several days, the peel is removed and other spices are added.

The liqueur has an orange-like flavor with varying degrees of bitterness. It is naturally colorless, but is often given artificial coloring, most commonly blue or orange, which confers an exotic appearance to cocktails and other mixed drinks.

Some other liqueurs are also sold as Curaçaos with different flavors added, such as coffee, chocolate, and rum and raisin.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Time to Stroll through Willemstad

Luckily I even had time for a stroll through the port of Willemstad. I really liked this port, more so than Aruba. The multi-colored buildings and small streets felt like I was wondering the lanes of a Delft or Amsterdam.

On the bridge to Willemstad

On the bridge to Willemstad

I think I would enjoy visiting Curacao again, perhaps even a little more than Aruba…..

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 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.

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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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Perusing Panama

Panama City

During our crossing last year in November from Europe we stopped off in Panama. It was a gloriously cloudy muggy day with humidity bordering on 99% and the temperature hovering around 40C/104F, give or take a degree or two.
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The sunrise over the port was quite stunning…
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I had drawn the Panama City Tour exursion, around 6hrs of exploring and a chance to see some of the locks of the canal for which Panama is so famous for.

Panama City is a place of divergence, from the Old City to the New City to the Ruined City of Panama Viejo….vast differences from a central point.

Panama Viejo

Our first stop was the old capital of the country and part of the Old City, located in the suburbs of the Modern New City, it is a World Heritage Site.
panama ruins

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A settlement was founded here on the 19th August 1519, making it the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Ocean.
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Now you can see the New City on the skyline….
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The New City

After exploring some of it’s history we headed through Panama City’s modern quarter, with it’s stunning architecture.
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Some that defies imagination…
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Old City

Making our way to the Old City we walked the streets and enjoyed a market, listened to a bugler under and umbrella and marvelled at the old colonial architecture.
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panama city tour (5)

Gatun Locks

The driver almost forgot to take us to the canal and the locks, truly the highlight that everyone had been waiting for. Most of us were feeling hte heat and humidity and more than a few of the guests were getting grumpy and agitated, so I was much relieved when we changed direction and headed for the locks.

It was a sight to behold, truly a marvel of modern engineering, even being 100yrs old. I only wished my dad (an electrical engineer) could be there with me. We were also lucky enough to have a Korean Cargo ship proceeding through the locks right as we arrived.
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After filling with water to even out the level the first lock opens to accept the cargo ship, which just barely squeezes through.
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The “mules” that pull the ships through
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I wonder how many times they scratch the paint work….

Farewell Panama

All in all a fantastic opportunity to explore part of a country that always seemed slightly mysterious to me, I always imagined the canal with small cities along the edge… but discovered a complex place with stunning buildings and a rich history… just wish I had bought a hat!

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reflections in Panamanian Christmas Balls

reflections in Panamanian Christmas Balls

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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The Dreaded: Accounting Duty

There is always at least one duty that all Social Hosts consider the bane of their existence. For me it is the 6-9amish (if you are lucky) shift at the accounting desk on disembarkation day.

Any duty that starts before 8am is never one we particularly enjoy, especially since we only finish around 11.30pm every night. But Accounting is a very particular kind of torture.

The gist of the duty is to helpfully collect all the signed CREDIT CARD INVOICES from guests who are disembarking. The truth of the matter is that you do this and become a target for numerous frustrations.

First you have to wake up around 5.40am… yup I sleep as long as possible.
Then the staff mess and crew bar only open at 6.30am so you have to face numerous guests without even one sip of coffee….
Now, of course, I completely understand the guests are tired as well, I mean they have relaxed all week and having to be out of bed and out the room by 7am (our cabin stewards have an entire 4hrs to clean almost 2000 cabins) would make me a little edgy too.
But seriously, yelling at someone who is trying to help because there is a mistake on your bill does not help you get anywhere.

A few examples of the sheer joy that is this special type of hell:

Crossing Fury
Now we have all heard of Road rage and phone rage etc… but on the day the Divina was due to set out on the trans-atlantic, I had the joy of discovering Crossing Fury. Guests were just on a whole other level of, dare I say, crazy.
One German guest who had an issue with his bill and not williing to take the time to try and understand the ENGLISH hostess trying to help him, began yelling in German. My reply was a calm “sorry don’t speak German”. To which he countered with scrumpling his bill and throwing it my face. As it bounced off my cheek I calmly said “I still don’t speak German”, then turned to the next person and said “now how may I help you?”.

No Italiano!!!!
Today I had the joy of attempting to send someone who stated he was paying in cash to the correct line. He promptly started yelling in Italian, with a couple of “then we not pay our bill”. I tried to explain I did not speak Italian well. To which he yelled that it was my job to know Italian. I pointed out that I was the English Hostess and spoke English, Afrikaans and Korean (ok a smidge of this) but not Italian. He continued to yell at me as I turned to help the next person. Then he walked up to the counter, yelled at my collegue then signed his credit card invoice, then walked off still yelling at me.

Changing Attitudes
There are so many examples like this that I could go one forever. Needless to say after close to 4hrs of this (as we are usually finished closer to 10am than 9am), you are utterly exhausted both physically and emotionally.
The one good thing is, that when some guests get completely unreasonable and yell, the guests who witness this become exceptionally kind and generous.
So at least there are some guests who make my job worthwhile!

TIP
For all future guests of a cruise ship, please may I give you a tip. If you READ your paperwork, or WATCH the informational video / talk… disembarkation would be so much easier. But it appears that the skill of reading and listening become very difficult once someone walks across the gangway….after all you are on vacaiton

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2014 in Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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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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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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