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…And Then There Were Two!

Parting is such sweet sorrow…

Unfortunately our time together only lasted 2 months as Dane had to return home after a problem with his eyes developed, caused by overly long hours, lack of sleep, stress and poor diet (crew food is not the same as the guests!).

Our courtship had consisted of stolen moments between shifts, meeting for coffee before shifts, riding the elevator together when we were headed in the same direction, and the very rare hour or 2 on shore. If you added all these minutes together we might have consistently seen each other for about 7-10hrs in 2 months, and that’s being generous. Yet, it felt like we had always been together, I couldn’t imagine life without him and at the same time I couldn’t imagine life with him, they seemed one and the same.

The day he left there were tears and then I focused on cleaning and at least my sorrow resulted in a very clean cabin.

I have something for you…

We both came down with something, he ended up having a severe sinus infection and I assume I had strep throat so we did not chat for a few days after he left. However, once we were both healed he was there waiting for me online EVERY SINGLE EVENING!! He would tell his friends he had to leave drinking to come talk to me, he would decline bar trips so he could be there when I finished my shift. I had never had anyone do this. And in the 2.5mths we were apart there was only 1 night he decided to go to the bar, but he let me know and then was online at 3am just in case I was awake.

Usually we would chat on Skype video but would also exchange facebook chats throughout the day, on one particular chat the conversation went something like this:

Dane: I have something for you

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Kathy: ummmmm, if this is a proposal then YES!

Dane: Great! But it’s not gold, and it’s not a diamond, I hope that’s ok….

Kathy: It’s beautiful and I love it even more!

Dane: So when can you leave the ship….

And that started one of the most complicated process I have ever had to deal with on the ships… signing off!

In a Car???

It turned out our ship would dock in the port of Thessaloniki, Greece, twice during the month of October. This port was only an hour and a half from where Dane lived so we decided I would try and end my contract on one of those dates and if that was not possible do a sign off. A sign off is when you voluntarily end your contract, you must provide your own transport home and often risk never being given another contract. This seemed like a good enough reason…

At first I asked the head of my department if I could simply end my contract a month early (I would have worked 6mths, a usual minimum) and it turned out my replacement was already there (she was replacing the French host and would have taken on the English speaker duties once I left. For some incomprehensible reason they said NO! So I did the next best thing and went to see the Crew Purser to sign off, a bemusing conversation that went like this:

Me: I wish to sign off in the port of Thessaloniki

Crew Purser (CP): Ummmm do you have a flight home?

Me: No, my fiance will come and pick me up from Macedonia

CP: Macedonia…. is that a country or a city?

Me: It’s a country just North of Greece

CP: So does he have a flight ticket?

Me: no he is driving to pick me up

CP: In a car???

Me: ahhhh yes driving in a car….

It was very hard to keep the sarcasm in check… but eventually I was given the correct paperwork, ostracized by my superiors for deigning to leave the ship to be married and in general actually feeling pretty good (I think the truth of the matter hadn’t truly sunk in, it just felt right).

They Won’t Let the Ship Leave, and Might Call Interpol! 

All too soon the day came. The crew purser took me to see the Greek Immigration and then released me to finish sorting and packing. Later I went to pick up my passport and asked if there was anything else I had to do, he assured me everything was good and I was free to leave.

I headed down the gangway, for what would turn out to be the last time, and into my new life.

Dane arrived, wearing a suit, to pick me up… I think I was a little in shock as the truth of what was happening began slipping in… I was meeting a man I had known for 5mths and agreeing to marriage, but what the hell, I was 39 and he seemed nice enough (literally this went through my head).

A few hours later we were enjoying lunch when a collegue came up and said “OMG Kathy, they are looking for you everywhere, they won’t let the ship leave (which was only due to leave in 4hrs), you need to go back now!!!” I couldn’t believe it, I thought it was a joke. I hadn’t had my phone on and when I connected to the internet I saw messages from everyone, including my folks (they had called to see if I was home in the US…. seriously??). I ran back and the port agent look like he had aged 10yrs, he sighed with relief and said immigration was on the verge of calling interpol since I had jumped ship… WTF!

Turns out when the crew purser told me I was free to leave, there was nothing I had to do, no one I had to see, what he actually meant was “before you leave the ship you must report back to the Greek immigration upstairs for a stamp in your passport”, gee I wonder how I missed that one…

Luckily the very annoyed looking agents gave me a stamp after sufficiently making me feel like some kind of a criminal and I was free to leave the port, but would have to report to the chief at the border station for approval… I think I lost about 6 lives that day…

Why Are You Disturbing Me???

Well we got to the Greek/Macedonia border and I nervously was taken to see the big guy in charge. It turns out I never needed any stamp as I was

1 – immediately leaving the country

AND

2 – a US citizen who would very unlikely prefer to jump ship and live as an illegal in Greece….

If anything the big guy was more annoyed at having his afternoon coffee disturbed by his subordinate….

So, that is where my ship life ends and my new life starts, engaged and ultimately married to an amazing man and living part time in Macedonia (birthplace of Mother Theresa and Alexander the Great) and part time in the US. Adventure is out there… let life begin!

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Things Can Only get better….. right???

The hotel was the Crowne Plaza and pretty dang nice. I was in the executive suites and am just going to pretend that meant it was super nice vs just the ordinary suites. The room was very comfortable and clean and the bed looked like heaven, but first dinner with some of my newest friends.

so happy to see a comfy bed

so happy to see a comfy bed

calming soap and shampoo - just what I need

calming soap and shampoo – just what I need

Lufthansa had given us each a $35 food and drink voucher which allowed for a pretty decent meal of Korean Skirt Steak and a mango mojito. The company was great, even the Israeli/American guy who kept hinting we were going to have a good time and did I need a roommate for what sounded like a much nicer room, food was delicious and I was exhausted with a 6.30am wake up call waiting for me. So I headed out after paying, the restaurant had sneaked on an extra $5 charge for large party gratuity claiming Lufthansa was paying anyway…. Cheeky!

I got to sleep around 11pm and for the most part slept well waking up just before 6.30am. A continental breakfast was included on the 7th floor of the Executive Suites. Then onto the airport by shuttle.

I called Lufthansa on the way to confirm everything and ask about the bag and the very nice German man named Michael sounded horrified that United had charged me, immediately contacting his manager and giving me an email to send the receipt to and hopefully get reimbursed.

Things are looking up

At the American counter they confirmed I was allocated 2 bags even though their policy is 1, all they had to do was swipe my passport and print my boarding passes. Apparently the swipe part of my passport had been damaged and would no longer swipe, these caused a bit of confusion as they are not meant to manually enter information but that was the only way to print my passes. Eventually they went ahead, the bags were sent on to Lisbon and I headed for my gate.

Security was a breeze, although apparently the full body scanner felt my left sock was dangerous, must have something against Christmas and reindeer. Then onto the gate, charged my computer and watched another episode of “Being Human” (which I am now slightly addicted to) and sent off the email to Lufthansa about the refund. We will have to wait and see

Finally it was time to board and head to Philly then an hour and a half before Lisbon. My seat was at the very very back of the plane, and for a split second I thought I might have the whole row until Jason arrived. Really nice chap who works on pharmaceutical machinery all around the world. While he got settled I had a good chat with flight attendant Glen, about customer service and surviving flights. It was great having such a great seat mate and we chatted away for the first hour. I was just thinking about putting my feet up to get some shut eye when James walked up to our favorite flight attendant. He had the seat up front next to particularly rotund gentleman who kind of spilled into surrounding seats. He hoped there was another seat available. Feeling the camaraderie that comes from both working in customer service, Glen asked if I would mind if James had the middle seat. Of course I said yes, no problem, then remembered and double checked with Jason if that was ok. Not only did it turn out to be a great group to sit with, Glen was so thankful he offered us all a free sandwich with chips (on this flight you had to pay) and later gave a full tin of soda and extra cookies. Got to love being helpful.

…And then things just kind of plateau

We got into the airport a full 30 minutes early and then sat on the tarmac as our gate wasn’t cleared, the upswing is beginning to level out. Found a Starbucks on the way so finally got to use a gift card I had, woohoo. Made it to the gate with 25 minutes before boarding, all seemed well and Glen had promised that this leg would have great entertainment so I could finally catch up on my movies…. the plane was packed and looked like it was from the 80’s, it even had the the entertainment system that consists of single screens scattered down the center aisle… mmmmm. Of course the best choice of movie to watch on a tiny screen trying to see past the gentleman in front who keeps moving his head is “STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS”… yup definitely not in the up swing any more.

Star Wars.... I think

Star Wars…. I think

Luckily I survived my flight and even got both my bags! Score!!!!! Now just through customs and to find the wonderful agent waiting to whisk me off to the ship without any hassle…. that would be in the ulterior universe of course. No agent so stood in the very long taxi line. Finally get my taxi and the conversation goes like this:
Me: do you take credit card
Taxi: no
Me: I only have US dollars
Taxi: same thing
Me: oh, ok, I need to go to the Cruise Terminal, MSC.
Taxi: what?
Me: Cruise Terminal
Taxi: What?
Me: big ship
Taxi: ahhh ok
all bags loaded and in taxi
Taxi: do you know where? I know 3 different places
Me: hmmmm no, I only know MSC Opera….
Taxi: ok I think I see…

Thank heavens he had seen MSC and got me there for $31 after currency exchange. Finally make it to the ship and see an old friend from my first ship, a rather dashing Croatian. He hung out while his guys were washing the ship (seamen) and we were waiting for security to make up there mind. When they did they indicated the very long, fairly steep, step gangway… thanks! My friend and someone from housekeeping jumped in to help me, such nice guys.

MSC Opera  - home sweet home for the next 7mths

MSC Opera – home sweet home for the next 7mths

The Room Situation

Finally we get everything sorted and I get my room allocated which I have been told is vacant indicating bottom bunk availability. Well…. that was a lie, a lovely girl from the Bar beat me to the bottom bunk.

The room itself is one of the tiny inside cabins, my top bunk has no curtain, the air con is stuck on full arctic blast and my locker doesn’t have a door (the door is leaning against the wall). But the room is very clean! There is also a good chance I will either be moved to a porthole cabin if one becomes available or at the very least the girl from the bar will be moving in a few days so I can move down to the bottom bunk.

Meeting the Captain

Usually when one meets the Captain of the ship you want it to be a very good impression, one where he will think highly of you and appreciate all you do. But then again, there is me……my meeting went something like this:

I was working disembarkation on deck 6 sending the guests through security when security needed to change things up and prepare the metal detector for those coming back on board. They instructed me to send the guests to deck 5. Unfortunately, unbeknown to me, my French counterpart was sending guests up because of the queue on 5. The very first guests I send back got very angry and shouted a bit, turned out they went back down and shouted at my French counterpart, right as the Captain walked past, so they shouted at him to. He came upstairs:

Captain: why are you sending the guests downstairs??
Me; Security told me to
Captain: (barely controlling his anger) Do me a favor and only listen to the deputy not to security.
Me: Yes sir (wondering who the heck he is, maybe the Hotel Director???)
Captain then proceeds to yell at security and goes down to the pier and yells at the officers, all I hear is “something something Social Hostess, something Social Hostess, something something something Social Hostess”.
Me to Security: wow he is making a big deal who is he anyway?
Security: the Captain
Me: oh shit!
Later the Deputy (who I know from my first ship) looked at me and sighed stating “only you Kathy, only you”…….

Luckily I wasn’t in any trouble, but it still was a little awkward.

The next day we had a meeting with him in his rooms, he had watched some of the “Behind the Scenes” lectures and wanted to correct some information. Turns out he is a really great Captain with an excellent and unexpected sense of Humor. He also took us to the bridge to be sure we understood how things worked on our ship compared to the larger class. Unfortunately he leaves in a few days and will replaced with a new Captain, let’s hope he is as fantastic.

What a way to start the next 7 months….

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, RTW, Travel

 

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Return to The Sea

After leaving my last contract I was 99% sure I would never return to the sea unless it was in a small dive boat in a stunning tropical location. I even headed to Thailand and the stunning Koh Phangan Island to complete my Dive Instructor course. It was phenomenal with lots of hard work and stress, but pretty soon I was taking divers out and teaching courses. Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be one of the worst tourist seasons the island had seen in over 8yrs and also resulted in what little savings I had left after paying for my course to whittle down at a frighteningly rapid rate. In the end I opted to say farewell, head home for the holidays and accept another contract.

It felt surprisingly normal to tell people that I worked on a cruise ship and many showed interest and envy. I was excited and nervous about returning to the ships after having almost a year off. At first I was offered the same ship as last time in the Med, but then two weeks before departing they asked me to switch to a small ship (new to my collection) and Northern Europe. It meant another 2 months at home (much to the joy of my father knowing it meant 2 more months of home cooking) and on the small ships there was only 1 crew bar, smoking. But I had always wanted to do Northern Europe so I jumped at the chance.

Two months rapidly diminished to 2 days and then it was time to leave….

Things always come in threes…

Number 1

the trip started innocently enough with a usual check in at the United counter to fly to San Fran then onto Munich and finally Lisbon. The company had booked the trip through Lufthansa and all documentation stated that 2 bags were allowed free of charge. The first leg was Eugene to San Fran and was operated by United air. At the counter I was informed that I had to pay $100 for the second bag and take out 3 pounds (or pay $260, extra bag + overweight charge). I politely informed them that I had a seaman’s ticket allowing not only 2 bags but a few extra pounds… I was met with blank stairs… A manager was called over and she informed me that even though Lufthansa allows 2 bags the 1st leg was on United and they allow ONE! That will be $100.

After paying and heading through the gate I sat down and looked over the ticket information I had been sent and sure enough there it was : 2 bags allowed. I headed to the gate counter and asked there, the lady seemed very confused and tried to help, looking into the system. Unfortunately there was nothing she could do so she suggested I contact United Customer Service handing me the number.

So there I was sitting in the waiting lounge on the phone with United and the best response I could get was the following:
“ I am sorry Ma’am but since your first flight was on United we follow United policies despite the fact that it was booked through Lufthansa.”
“But my documentation clearly states that I should be allowed 2 bags”
“Ma’am perhaps that means that 2 bags are allowed but only 1 is free….”

I think she was starting to reach a little. Oh well lets hope that the company reimburses me or I am able to get Lufthansa to do so.

Number 2

Arriving at San Fran I headed to the international terminal checking my flight on the board. Since it was still 5hrs the board simply showed my flight as:
Gate = INTL (International). I asked the attendant there and she said it was still too long till the flight to have a confirmed gate… perfectly feasible I guess.

I found a great Japanese place and enjoyed a delicious meal of pork cutlet, rice and some green tea.

mmmm yummy

mmmm yummy

Then off to find a comfy chair to relax. I watched some movies and waited another 2 hrs (total of 3 1/2 hrs). Then I figured it must surely be close enough to the flight (now 2hrs away). Checking the board I noticed that my flight appeared to no longer exist, and double checking my alphabet and making sure i was spelling Munich correctly I tried my best not to feel that panic rise.

I went to the gate I had originally had on my boarding pass to find an agent already speaking in German with 3 others (heading home for wedding). Apparently the plane had been struck by lightening and had been forced to return to Munich. He informed us we had to go up and to aisle 4 to talk to Lufthansa, when we asked him what that meant he simply said “up and out then aisle 4 past aisle 3”…. Still uncertain where to go we asked at the United Lounge who said aisle 4 was outside security just passed a gate to our left. So out we headed.

As we rounded the corner we were faced with the other 100 odd passengers who had arrived to check in all standing inline and no one giving any information. I found a rep and he handed me some info and told me to stand in line and suggesting I call the number on the page. The other family had been rebooked and quickly headed back the way we had just come to catch the flight. I on the other hand had not received any emails or text messages because my flight had been booked through the company and was not linked to any of my info.

Luckily while waiting in line I was connected to a very helpful lady at the lufthansa customer service and she informed me I had been rebooked to arrive in Lisbon, via Philadelphia on American Airlines, Saturday morning at 8:50am. I explained the situation about trying to reach Lisbon in time to catch my boat and if there was any way to get me there any earlier, she said she would try her best and put me on hold while she searched. In the mean time I had discovered that the line I was standing in, the one that hadn’t moved in the last hour, was for the hotel voucher and not for rebooking, that was the line next to us. So I begrudgingly moved to the other line wanting to double check that a flight of some sort would be booked for me. The lady on the phone got back to me right before I got to the counter saying my only option was the trip the next day. I got to the counter and they confirmed for me again that I had been rebooked on American. I queried the bag issue, explaining what United had done and my fear that American may do the same thing. They were not as surprised at United as I wish they had been and, while not promising, they did say there was a chance American would honor the 2 bags vs their usual policy of 1 bag. Guess that’s better than nothing.

Number 3

They then informed me to just pop over to the other line with about 20 people in it, the line that had not moved, literally, to get my hotel voucher as they were only rebooking, oh fabulous.

We must have stood in that line for another 2 hours waiting for hotel vouchers with no one giving us any information as to why the line was not moving. Finally I asked if we could get some drink vouchers or something, leaning more towards the idea of “we all need a tequila shot”, but the very sweet Lufthansa lady named Marabel offered water. We could use that too I guess. People relaxed al little when the water arrived and information seemed to be flowing a bit but we were still exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel. Apparently Lufthansa was calling all the hotels and booking rooms and would only then give out the vouchers.

The family who had dashed off to get to their rebooked flight appeared from the other counter, they had just missed the cut off time to get to the gate, and were not allowed to board, so they were stuck with us waiting for a hotel and most likely going to miss their god child’s wedding.

We continued the query as to what happened and were told by the staff lightening strike, but by some of the passengers it was just a strike…. interesting…..

Finally at around 9pm, after waiting for 4hrs to get info added to the already 3 hours I had spent waiting at the gate we were handed hotel and food vouchers. All we had to do was head outside and pick up the shuttle…. turns out they had not called the shuttle, so that meant a further 30min wait in the cold.

little chilly

little chilly

All together !!!

All together !!!

Luckily when it arrived we were all able to squeeze on and had developed a great sense of camaraderie planning to meet up for dinner at the hotel…

But wait there is more….

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, RTW, Travel

 

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When It All Begins To Feel Normal!!

In the Beginning

Back in school I was the epitome of nerd, I loved school, was president of the Wildlife club, in choir, participated in the speech and drama festival and if that wasn’t enough was Head Library Prefect/Monitor. In fact, I actually won a trophy for service to the school in my final year. As a result I was bullied and suffered low self esteem. Thinking back most of my fellow classmates, and the teachers too in fact, would most likely have expected me to be married and settled fairly soon after graduating or completing college. After being accepted into the Horticulture program at Natal Technical College it seemed like that was a likely path. However, Fate had other ideas by giving us the opportunity to immigrate to the USA.

Alter Egos

Four years at Oregon State University ended with a 2 month trip to the UK. I believe this was around the time my alter ego began to emerge. For years I had had a plan, to find a good job in the environmental field and… well… save the world… But suddenly I was starting to explore the world… and so my organized responsible side now had a sister, the world wide traveler…. 3 years teaching English in South Korea fed that alter ego with numerous trips around Asia.

My alter ego allowed me to feel free and more confident while abroad and seemed to thrive among different cultures and fascinating history.

On the contrary, my responsible side followed society expectations and parents always feel more comfortable when their kids have a good job and are settled.

However, social situations still made me uncomfortable and my inability to come to terms with my dual personalities constantly made me feel guilty about traveling and yet stressed over not taking the opportunity to explore more.

Sanity

Lucky for me I have a great friend, mentor and fellow traveler. He always seems to be online in my darkest hours, when I feel like a stranger in my “responsible” job, and… when I decide to buy a ticket to somewhere new. (I can help anyone else buy a ticket but when it’s my turn I am completely indecisive). If I owed him a beer for every time he has calmed my fears over letting down my responsible side I would most likely owe him an entire brewery. It is his advice that has kept me sane year after year, and as others have got used to the idea that I don’t necessarily fit any mold and they can live vicariously through me, they too have begun to keep me sane.

When It All Begins To Feel Normal!!

This past year has really been a turning point for me. For years people looked at me as this confident world traveler but inside I remained that bullied library prefect, and my two egos were constantly at odds. But, at the encouragement of amazing friends and my parents, I completed my PADI Dive Instructor course in Thailand last July. The moment I was told I had passed I cried, became weak at the knees, and said “does this finally make me cool??”. I don’t think I had ever realized just how much I had been affected by those long ago bullies, how I still considered myself as always that “nerd who won a trophy for service to the school”… my confidence began to grow…

Then, while at a hostel in Bangkok, fellow travelers, many abroad for the first time, seemed to be drawn to me asking my advice of where to go and what to see, and surprised when they mentioned a destination I had not yet been to… and my confidence grew…

Returning home, I decided to return to the cruise ships for another contract, and instead of feeling embarrassed about working on a cruise ship, a job many would think a joke, I found myself confidently stating the fact, “I am a social hostess on a cruise ship in Europe”. Never once was I faced with a sneer, but rather genuine interest and envy… and my confidence grew…

I am not exactly certain when I came to terms with the fact that travel is who I am, at least for now, when it all just became normal for me and everyone around me… But for now it has… I feel at peace and most importantly confident… that is until I need to pack for this upcoming contract….. 😉

Dedicated to my amazingly patient parents, my phenomenal travel guru mentor and fantastic friends who have believed in me all this time …. I think I may finally have begun believing in myself!!!

 

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Luang Prabang, Laos

Visiting Laos was almost completely by accident. I had hoped to visit when I first arrived to do my scuba instructor course in Thailand, but as time went by it just seemed impossible… Then, one night, sitting on the beach and drinking beers with friends I said “I wish I could go to Laos…”. My good friend, Monique, replied with “Well, why can’t you??”…. That is when the seed was planted… yes why can’t I go???

In truth it had been many years since I had traveled anywhere new by myself, even though that is my favorite way to travel, but another friend hoped to join so that ignited the fire of excitement even more and I soon traded some old books for a used Lonely Planet and got on with planning. Ultimately he couldn’t join but by then the train was rolling and there was no way to stop it!

My original plan was thus:
– Travel by overnight bus to Bangkok, stay at NapPark hostel where I could store luggage.
– Travel by overnight train to the border then on to Vientiane, the capital, for a night.
– Another 13hr odd journey to Luang Prabang and spend a few days before the return journey.

But you never know how plans might change so it is never worth carving things in stone. As it turned out I met a great bunch of folks at the hostel and we planned to do a day trip to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, and at the same time the travel agent who happened to have his little office in the restaurant suggested I fly to Luang Prabang instead….

With the prospect of not only getting a chance to see Ayuthaya but also spend more time in Luang Prabang I was sold!! The cost was around $189 (US) for the ticket vs about $100 and a total of 4 days of travel…. yup no brainer!

Luang Prabang was phenomenal, stunning, chilled, friendly…. one of my top 3 for sure.

The People You Meet….
Among the amazing experiences was meeting up with one of the Terrific Ten, Denise from Holland, who met up with me after visiting Chang Mai. Was like having an old friend to hang out with and to go on a kayak/trek with. The kayak trip was with White Elephant Adventures and was brilliant, post food poisoning and all. Another incredible opportunity was learning to weave with a German girl who was staying at the same guesthouse.

However, I think my all time favorite experience was meeting my “Smoothie Family”. Every night as you walk down the main street towards the night market you pass around 10 families all selling smoothies of various flavors. Well on my first night I wondered down trying to decide if I wanted one, when this young chap calls out “You want a smoothie?” with a cheeky little up swing in the tone as he said it. It caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the week. At some point I ended with a smoothie buddy, an older lone traveler, we had a smoothie date at 8pm 3 nights in a row… one of those rare memories you can only have through travel.

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

I hope to return some day!!!

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in RTW, Thailand, Travel

 

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30+ is Never Too Old For Adventure!!!

Expectations of the Civilized World

There is a certain stigma to being over 30 in the Western “Civilized” world. You are expected to:
– Have a steady job
– Be Settled
– Be Married, preferably with children
– Have a dog and a cat
– Have a car or 2
– Have a nice house
– Be financially settled without debt

In truth most people who follow the stigma are:
– Hate their job
– Don’t feel settled, grass is always greener
– Have a rocky marriage
– Can’t stand the dog or cat
– Have a house mortgage threatening to bankrupt them
– Have student loans and car loans and fake financial security by having multiple credit cards

When People Ask Me How??

People often ask me “how I do it, how do I travel and live all over the world??”, I reply that I just “do”! 15 years ago I was still paying off $25 000 US in university fees, had a car payment, rent. I paid most of it off by working as an English Teacher in Seoul, Korea and getting to travel at the same time. Then in 2009 (6 years ago) I was working 3 part time jobs and on unemployment. But I found a way of saving, I gave up my car and used the bus, I shopped at the charity shops, I learnt to reuse things for other purposes, finally I moved back in with the folks and managed to find a great job as a vet nurse and then I saved! I didn’t buy name brands or expensive cars or felt embarrassed that I lived with the folks at 32. Heck, I paid a small rent and helped around the house. I paid off my school loans and without a car or a home loan I had no debt… which meant I could explore the world.

At Machu Pichu, Peru

At Machu Pichu, Peru

True I am not married or have kids, yes that does make things a little easier. But I have met people from all over who sell everything that society “requires” you to have and takes their kids on an amazing worldwide adventure. Experience is often the best education.

Bathing in Thermal Mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

Bathing in Thermal Mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

Creativity Makes the Difference

Another important note is that I travel creatively, I find ways to save money from couchsurfing, to work trade in hostels/ backpackers, volunteer work where accommodation is provided, eating locally, not drinking in excess and spending money that way. I spent less than $20 000 total on a year long adventure to 8 different countries from South America to Australia to Nepal.This adventure led me to to work on cruise ships for 2 years all over the world, and, ultimately, to my present job as a dive instructor with Scuba Futures in Thailand. It might look easy every time I try something new or move halfway across the world on another crazy adventure, but I promise you, if you had to watch me trying to decide to buy my air ticket you would see someone who is crazy nervous and on the verge of hyperventilating, and having an internal battle between my “responsible” side vs. my adventurous side. It is never easy to decide to change, but 9 times out of 10 it is worth it.

Working on a cruise ship - Zakynthos, Greece

Working on a cruise ship – Zakynthos, Greece

Doors are always open if you look and even if the path seems difficult and weaves away from the “required” path of 30+ year olds, it’s one hell of a fun path to follow, so give it a try and do something different.

Working as a dive instructor, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Working as a dive instructor, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Go ahead, follow Alice down the Rabbit Hole and see what LIFE has in store for you!

Kissed by a Dolphin in Jamaica

Kissed by a Dolphin in Jamaica

 

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Landing in Laos

Why Don’t You?

Laos has long been one of those mysterious countries I never thought I would get a chance to visit. Even though I hoped to during my stay on the island in Thailand for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to leave the island early and visit this stunning country until a friend said “Well why don’t you??” (Thanks Monique). It had been quite a few years since I had gone off exploring alone to a completely foreign country and, although I was nervous, as soon as I found a guide book I was hooked and so the Laos plan developed.

Farewells

The bittersweet truth of leaving to explore is the farewells that need to be said. I have made amazing friends on our little island of Koh Phangan, but since it’s magic seems to draw us back I am sure I will be seeing you all soon…ish! For now it’s off to another adventure, LAOS!!

Getting There

Researching the best way to get there from Bangkok was a little intense, there were flights (quite expensive), busses (over 12hrs or more), trains (with a sleeper bed at least) and so on… I had planned to take the train to Nong Khai, just below the Laos border in Thailand, then take a shuttle to the border, go through immigration, take a shuttle to the capital Vientiane, spend the night and then take a 13hr bus journey to Luang Prabang, my planned destination. Total cost would run around $120 US, total time 2.5 to 3 days.

This would leave me a total of 3 days in Luang Prabang with 6 days ish of travel. The travel agent suggested flying and spending a full week in the town. I agreed and we found a ticket for $279 US, double the price but also double the time.

I am so happy I opted for flying!!!

Immigration

Arriving and getting through immigration was a lot easier than expected, for US citizens it is $35 or 1450baht. I had been told that I had to take new crisp US$ notes or they wouldn’t be accepted, but it turns out they take pretty much anything with a conversion rate. Just be sure you have a passport photo. If not they will charge an extra $1 to take a photo of the passport.

It’s Sunday of Course the Money Exchanges are CLOSED!!!

At Bangkok airport I stopped at 2 or 3 money exchanges to see if I could get Laos Kip, apparently none of them carry it, but no problem right? I can exchange at the International Airport of Luang Prabang, Laos…. right? WRONG!!!!

Once through I went out to exchange money and find a taxi. What do you know??? Arriving on Sunday meant all the exchange offices were closed, what are the odds! Luckily the taxi guy in charge of taxi payments exchanged some money for me, he seemed to be trying to do it quietly and gave me a rate of 8,000kip to $1, so I was pretty certain he was getting a good deal. As it turned out he gave me the same exchange rate as everywhere else, most country’s the guy would have been sure to give a terrible rate as we had no other choice. It cost 50,000kip ($6) to get into town per taxi, so find people and go in a group, I had met a French couple from the Comoros Islands on the plane and so we were able to split it 3 ways.

Finding a Guesthouse

For the first time ever I had not booked a hostel or a guesthouse or anything, I figured I would try practice what I preach, in the sense of “don’t worry, all will work itself out”, plus since I only had my day pack with me it meant I wasn’t lugging all my stuff through town with me….

The French couple had the name of a guesthouse and the taxi driver dropped us off and pointed in that general direction. We were a bit confused as we didn’t see it until I looked up at a building that was definitely not in use! Yup the guesthouse had been closed for 2 yrs… how funny is that.

We went to the one next door but the rooms were too expensive, they had one room for 120,000kip ($15) and the French couple were thinking of taking it. I sighed and said I would keep looking and the clerk said maybe he could give me a discount on the $25 rooms upstairs and make it the same price. It looked great so I agreed (more than I wanted to spend but it was the first night)… then the couple wanted to get the same kind of room at the cheaper price (they claimed the cheaper room smelled funny)… wow! there are 2 of them and 1 of me…. in the end the clerk called the boss and he said no to discounted rooms, so we moved on.

We found a place offering a room for 60,000kip ($6), but they only had 1, so the couple said they were going back to take the cheaper room at the first place (even if it smelled funny)… these people were starting to crack me up. The room I looked at was not all that good so I kept walking. Suddenly I cam across the French couple again talking to a guy on a scooter about a place down the road for 100,000kip ($12). The conversation went something like this:

Guy: We only have 1 room but we can add a bed
Me: I don’t want to impose I can keep looking
French: oh no that is ok, that sounds good
Guy: it is just 20,000 kip more so 120,000 total
French: no no give it to us at 100,000
Me: I don’t mind you are the couple you decide
French: 40,000 ($5) each is too much we take if 100,000kip total
Guy: not possible
French: talking in French look at me
Me: you decide!
French: no we do not want to pay more we think we just take the room for 100,000kip
Me: no problem I go look somewhere else cheers….

They were arguing about paying 40,000kip ($5) instead of 33,000kip ($4.50) and ended up paying 50,000kip…. I am sorry but sometimes the French are weird.

In the end I found this great little place just down the road, 80,000kip ($10), free tea and coffee, wifi (when it is working) and it is in a room with 2 beds so when my new friend from Bangkok arrives it will be perfect! What an adventure!

Pak Huay Guesthouse

Pak Huay Guesthouse

Night Market

I went to the night market to find something to eat and am pretty certain I squealed with delight at the sight. Everything was so well organized and beautiful and when I got to the food section there was so much to choose from I didn’t know what to take, I ended up eating a sausage on a stick and buying a fruit shake… just too much to take in!!

Night Market

Night Market

I was loving Laos already!!!!

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2015 in Thailand, Travel

 

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Castles, Caverns and Coastlines….. Oh My!

Castle in a Cavern

Of course go figure, I final trip was heading to the seaside and after spectacularly hot clear weather, it rained as we left the house… Murphy’s Law!

Slovenia is famous for castles and caves, you can even combine the two and visit Predjama Castle, which was built inside a cave, creating an awesome vision!
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It was built in the 13th century and moved into legend when it became the Seat of Knight Erazem Lueger in the 15th century. Erazem was a renowned robber baron, rumored to be a lot like Robin Hood. After killing the leader of the Imperial Army for offending the honor of his deceased friend, he was besieged in the castle for a year and a day. He could have held out longer except for the betrayal of servant. The only place that was impregnable was the outhouse, perched atop the castle and off to the side. At the appropriate time the servant signaled that he was… occupied…. and a single connon blast killed Erazem.

stunning castle!

stunning castle!

The caves near the castle are much more expensive and very touristy, but Predjama was perfect, so cool in fact that you didn’t even need to pay to go inside.

This is What Bilbo Felt Like

On the way to our next set of caves, Škocjan caves, the rain really started pounding down, and while turning a corner the windscreen wiper on the right side broke… we pulled over and I managed to dislodge it. Luckily Kaja’s side was clear, since she was driving.
wiper down, wiper down!!

Finally we made it to the caves and lined up for tickets. We must have waited close to 20minutes and were right at the window at 12pm, the time the next tour was starting. The guy asked us which tour we wanted and explained some things and right as we were about to pay it was like the clock in his head just tolled noon and he stopped looking at us or talking to us. All of the rest in the line were so confused. A few minutes later he looked at us as if we had just walked up to the window… we purchased tickets for the 1pm tour. At least that gave us time to eat a little snack!

The caves were phenomenal unfortunately no photos were allowed. It is a Unesco world heritage site and contains one of the worlds largest underground river systems. There was one area with an immense cavern and a lighted path that just seemed to disappear into nothingness, then a bridge to cross over a 45m / 147feet drop where I had the distinct urge to grab a stick and yell out:
YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!
(Lord of the Rings reference)

skocjan-cave
courtesty of http://www.tourismontheedge.com/

At the end we decided to grab the funicular to the top, of course it meant an immense climb first but thank the heavens for funiculars when we finally got to it. Loved every minute of this cavern adventure.

I Can See The Sea

Finally it was off to the ocean with the grey clouds following our progress. The plan had been for me to go diving the next morning, but it was looking decidedly dubious. We visited the dive center in Portoroz and then off to the tip and the town of Piran. Just beautiful, we were both knackered by this time, had been a long and eventful trip, so we just relaxed in the square and drank something. Finally we made it to the hostel in Izola and dumped our bags, the very top room with 4 flights of stairs and no elevator.

drink break.

drink break.

Panoramic of Piran

Dinner Fit for A Queen

For dinner we visited the home/restaurant of one of Kaja’s friends. He creates the most amazing dishes, all organic, all natural, and all very very unique. His home provides a unique setting up in the hills surrounding the coast and a chance to visit the garden filled with fresh herbs, fruit and honey bees.

It was 7 courses, all exquisite. Words can not begin to describe all the varieties he made. Here are a few of them…
Course 1 we shall have a cold dish of marinated zucchini over herb goat cheese with asparagus puree and herb pesto

Course 2 we shall have a cold taco style with celery root puree with marjoram and dried egg yolk shavings

This next one was amazing!!!!
Next we have a fermented ricotta with slow roasted tomatoes basil leaves and shavings of black summer truffle.

And finally baked apple with walnuts glazed in homemade honey

So if you find yourself wandering around the coastline of Slovenia, near Koper, thinking of good food, check out Domačija Butul

It’s A Small World After all

When he learnt I was moving to Thailand to do my scuba instructor course he said his friend who stayed there was also a scuba diver and worked in Thailand in winter, in summer he worked at his shop, Nemo Divers in Slovenia. We joked how funny it would be if he worked on the same island, Koh Phangan, that I was heading to.

When he arrived not only did he work on Koh Phangan during winter but he worked at Haad Yao Divers, the dive school I was going to be working with. Just crazy how small the world really is.
Boyan and me

Wind and Waves

Unfortunately in the morning the wind was too strong creating waves, so the dive had to be cancelled, oh well. We decided to wander around and just enjoy the seaside anyway. We opted to visit the local salt pans and do some birding. They were incredible and I got really excited when I spotted some herons and an oystercatcher. Bought a little bag of salt to take with me to the island, a little treat.

Salt Pans

Salt Pans

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Great Trip with a great friend

Great Trip with a great friend

A great trip even if the dive never happened.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2015 in Slovenia, Travel

 

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The Next Adventure Begins…With a Few Vexing Moments!!!

The Ultimate Adventure

A few months ago a great friend invited me to return to Koh Phangan island in Thailand and work for him at Haad Yao Divers, where he just became manager. It seemed insane to tell people “yes I am 37 and moving across the world to Thailand to pursue my love of scuba diving”, but here I am sitting in the airport about to follow a childhood dream. At the same time another friend invited me to visit her in Slovenia, so combining the travel has me heading most of the way around the world and to some great adventures.

Seeking Flights

For some reason if I am helping another with choosing and organizing flights and travel plans I have no problem, I know what I am doing and can rationalize the choices. However, the minute it comes to myself I turn into a bundle of nerves and second guessing. Luckily, thanks to a good friend, fellow traveler and writer (Price of Travel), who is always there to listen to my crazy ravings and uncertain choices, I was able to finally make a choice.

I usually shop for flights through Kayak.com and after much looking and comparing I came across a great looking route at the decent price of $697 all booked through a budget airline called Condor, the cheapest by over $100 that I had found. Living in Eugene, Oregon I always hope to fly out of that airport, but all these flights were ridiculously expensive and so I opted for a route out of Portland, Oregon (2 hr drive from home). The flight was in late afternoon which allowed a bit of a sleep in (as much as the cats allowed) and time to visit with a friend on the way up. From Portland I fly to Seattle (on Alaska Air), on to the Dreaded Frankfurt airport, FRA* (on Condor) and finally to Slovenia (on Adria Air).

An important side note, I always book through one airline to ensure my bags get checked all the way through even if some of the flights include smaller affiliated airlines it has never been a problem…

*For those of you who have never been to Frankfurt airport, it is enormous, takes forever to get anywhere between flights, in fact they actually have guys in golf carts picking travelers up and taking them to their gate.

The Day Arrives!

Arriving with 3 hrs to spare at Portland airport, PDX, I went to get a cart for my luggage turning around mid stride when I saw it now cost $5 to take one… when did that price hit the roof?? Dad helped me drag my bags over to the curbside checkin where we all said farewell. As my turn to check my bags arrived I asked about connecting internationally, turns out I had to go inside, so turned around and dragged my bags towards the counter. The reason for dragging was because my backpack straps were zipped up, but with my dive gear and my daypack and my camera…. oi vey!

First Vexing Moment

At the check in counter I hand over my passport and my panama book, (this is the seaman’s or mariners book for people who work on ships, often allowing folks to take extra luggage or weight). The start of my vexing moments began right then and there as the conversation went something like this:
Lady: Well which passport do you want to use?
Me: Oh the US, the other one is my Panama book
Lady: Well I DON’T know what that is, you have to pay $85 for the second bag.
Me: The Panama book is for people who work at sea and usually we are allowed an extra bag.
Lady: Well I DON’T know what that is
(Obviously the end of that discussion!)
Me: ok, here is my credit card.
Lady: And I can only check your bag to Frankfurt, there you will have to collect it and go through customs
(Never have I ever had to take my luggage through customs on a connecting European flight)
Me: I have never had to go through customs and I only have 2 hrs in Frankfurt
Lady: Well you have to, I can’t do anything, do you want to see the computer???
Me: It’s ok, it’s just new, have never had to do that.
Other Lady: Maybe it’s a code share thing with Adria, maybe we should check the bags to Seattle and then Condor can check them through
(First Lady gives Other Lady dirty look)
Other Lady: or not
Lady: so $85 and you have to collect your bags and I can’t give you a boarding pass or seat assignment for anything other than our Alaska flight!
Me: ummm, ok

So unbelievably rude and unhelpful and ultimately the person who f*&$ed it up for the rest of the route. Headed to security feeling the start of that stressful sensation in the back of my neck and trying very hard not to let it creep too far.

Second Vexing Moment

Arrive in Seattle without any problems and get lost trying to find my way to the international terminal, finally make it though and find my gate, an hour before flight. Go to the counter to get my boarding pass and ask about luggage conversation went like this:

Me: hi good day, please I need a seat as far forward as possible, an aisle seat, I have to get my bags in Frankfurt and transfer them to the next plane because of customs.
(The very sweet lady was possibly Chinese, so please read her part with that accent).
Lady: oh you no go through customs, you no probelm
Me: Yes I have to, Alaska refused to check my bags through to Slovenia I need to collect them and I am not sure why, because I booked my entire flight through Condor.
Lady: no no you no go through customs, no problem you go straight to your airplane
Me: (Handing over the papers trying hard not to respond in the same accent) See Alaska did not check my bags through
Lady: ahhh yes you go through customs, no problem you have 2 hour
Me: I only have an hour and 40min and Frankfurt is huge
Lady: ahh you no problem here I give you aisle seat, no problem
Me: ok, but if I miss…
Lady: you no problem!
Me: yes ok , but IF I miss my fli…
Lady: no no problem, you have more than 2 hour
(Apparently in her mind my time is increasing)
Me: (Just breathe) But. IF. I. MISS. MY. FLIGHT. WILL. CONDOR. SORT. IT. OUT??
Lady: you no problem all good, have good flight, next….

Vexing was an understatement. Feeling irrationally irritated, or rather rationally irritated, I called a friend to vent and after a discussion decided to talk to another agent. Her response was confusion over why Alaska refused to check my bag and her thought was that most likely there was a code share issue between Alaska and my final flight on Adria. She assured my I should be fine and if there was any problem Condor would take care of it. I felt a lot calmer after that, although annoyed that these issues were just because Alaska and Adria air can’t play well with each other. Why did I book a budget airline????? Why????

When Things Go Right

As I waited to get onboard I chatted with some of the other passengers and discovered why we had a short delay, turns out there was a plane change and this was a different design so some people had to change seats. I told them my vex and joked that maybe the “seat upfront” I asked would be right at the back… Apparently that is not something you joke about because I had the last row (the one that doesn’t recline) on my side of the plane. There was one more row for the passengers in the middle to be fair, so it wasn’t right at the back. Also my seat mate apparently had the same problem, she was continuing on Austria air and Alaska refused to check her bags, but she had 5hrs so wasn’t worried, however, she did mention they might make us pay for the second bag. Oi Vey!!!!

I immediately found a flight attendant who was very sweet and very helpful, she was also confused about the bag situation, but promised to see if any seats further up were open and assured me that 2 hours should be enough time. I hoped she was right. Just before take off she brought me a list of seats up in row 11, 15 and 16 that had an open aisle seat, also the row (2 seats) in front of me were open. I opted for the row to hopefully get some sleep.

From here things kept getting better. The guy across from me was super cool and we chatted a bit. He was from a small hickville (his words) town in Washington state and this was the first time he had ever travelled internationally. He recently became a history teacher and he figured he may as well explore a bit well he had nothing holding him down. I warned him that it is easy to become addicted to travel… Then he asked the most precious question that made him stand out like a sore thumb as a newby traveler:
Guy: so Kathy, do I just stay on this airplane for my connection to Venice or do I get off?
Me: (first looking at him blankly, then reminding myself that occasionally you do stay on a flight well others disembark, rarely but occasionally) Usually you get off and have to go to another gate, but if you show me your flight info I can double check.
He was just so sweet, so bright eyed and bushy tailed at the thought of adventure…. oh dear I fear too much travel might be making me jaded…

Just after take off I popped into the loo and heard an announcement that was music to my ears. Since Condor is a budget airline you have to pay for any extras such as a 2nd bag, movies, food etc… Well the announcement stated that movies would be free due to the inconvenience of a plane change. Woohoo!!!! The guy across me didn’t have ear phones so I loaned him my other pair. I must admit that the entertainment system was great, the screen was unscratched and a decent size, the touch screen responded well and didn’t require the

The happiness didn’t stop there, since I had been so stressed and annoyed in Seattle I had failed in my plan to buy some food to eat on the plane, so I asked the cost and choice. The flight attendant informed me that the food, too, was free!!! Woohoo!!! Although after attempting to eat the food I was very glad I didn’t end up paying for it!

I was able to manipulate myself into some form of comfortable position for a bit of sleep, but not much. Near the end of the flight the guy across from me said “Kathy, I feel like a zombie”, shame he had managed no sleep, my reply was “welcome to the wonderful world of international travel!”.
With around 30mins to go, my amazing flight attendant said I could move to 16C, aisle seat to be closer to the front if it made me feel better. Heck yeah it did! That’s also when I discovered 16 was the last row of business class, which meant I could have been sitting there all along… Oh well I had fun chatting with the guy.

And The Good Times Are Over!!!

Things seemed to be going pretty smoothly, which is never a good sign, I got off the flight quickly, I made it to immigration and the info desk man suggested I go through the Crew side to save time if they would let me , they did! I got to the luggage carousel and the info desk man there said no problem as Adria air was right above me and gate B03 was close by after security. My bags were one of the first out and I walked up into the check in area feeling almost relieved, like this might actually be all ok…

Info desk man up in check in sent me to Lufthansa since Adria was part of Lufthansa.
Lufthansa sent me to the bag check since I already had my boarding pass.
Got my bags on the belt when the guys there realised I didn’t have the bag tag and sent me to a counter.
The guy there said no problem, then paused… again never a good sign.
The F*&^$ng Alaska lady had only marked my paid bag through as far as Frankfurt in the system, which meant I had to pay another 50 euros to check it.
He suggested I take it to Condor, since all the flights were booked through them, and they should check it through no problem… (That phrase again)
I walked all the way to Condor, only 5minutes but felt like hours.
The Condor people just looked at me and said NO, since Adria isn’t Condor, almost as if I was stupid for even considering it.
I walked back to Lufthansa, now getting very very frustrated and verge of tears.
The guy who helped me had left already and the other guys were confused why I was back. They sent me to the other check in desks.
There the guys tried to make me wait in line, but no I had 50min till my flight left and they finally figured out that I needed a check in desk NOW!!
Finally they took me to a desk, with 45min to go.

The lady at the counter looked at me in tears trying to blubber my way through all the tragedy that was happening on this flight and just said calmly. “OK let me do the bags then we look ok, now you have both arms, both legs, you are beautiful so stop this crying!”
Turns out she is married to a South African and lives in Germany but she is from Spain. A wonderful person who really helped calm me down. But, this didn’t mean things were getting better as I had to go upstairs to pay the 50 euros since it was Adria air not Lufthansa… oh joy joy, but she assured me calmly that is was ok as the gate was just after security and security was just there. I joked that it must be something about Frankfurt airport as I ALWAYS have issues when I fly through, she agreed and said the staff feel the same way.

At the counter upstairs, with 40min to go, the machine had a problem, of course it did. But finally it went through and I headed downstairs towards what I hoped would be my flight. I got through security which was right there as the wonderful lady had said, and got to the gate as they started calling for boarding, even had time for a quick pee.

And It Is All Good Again

I boarded the bus that would take us to the airplane and realised I had not let Kaja, my friend I was visiting, know that I had made it. A lovely young woman let me use her phone to text and then I breathed a very long sigh of relief and contemplated the size of the glass of wine I was going to need after this. The bus ride turned out to be a runway tour of Frankfurt, a good 10min drive, all of joking that we were actually driving to Slovenia. There is something strange about driving to your plane and having to stop for the other planes to cross your path. But we got there, and I had another great seat mate. She and I chatted most of the way and when we parted she kissed me on the cheek and promised to stay in contact.

And then it was over and there was Kaja, she had got my message. I admit I did let out a rather loud squeak of joy and relief. Never before have I experienced a trip where everything that could go wrong did and yet so much went right!!! Not sure if I will ever book with Condor again though as the whole point was to book with one airline and avoid just this rather vexing experience.

For now…. Slovenia awaits!!!

 

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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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