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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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Journey to Jerusalem

A little late in publishing but finally got it done. From my time on MSC Lirica during the summer of 2013, Haifa, Israel was one of our stops.

I have never been particularly religious in the typical sense. From my travels I have encountered faiths from all around the world from Catholic, to Buddhism to Muslim, to almost everything in between. Don’t get me wrong, I went through a period when I was a Sunday school teacher in High School and part of the local youth group. But after numerous adventures and cultures I prefer keeping my faith as something for myself. I love discussing religion and discovering the nuances of all the different beliefs, in fact at youth group I would always end up being that one in the middle of the table questioning. I grew up hearing the tales of the old and new testament, and well we were told they were true, for the most part they always felt like just that.. tales.

Entering Jerusalem

That is why it was no surprise that I chose to float in the Dead Sea, a long time dream of mine, before visiting one of the most sacred cities in the world for many cultures. Luckily working on a cruise ship allows you these sorts of choices and eventually I got round to getting the chance to exploring this ancient place. The early morning started at 5am for us with a 2 hour drive from the ship and I woke from my nap just as the bus entered the outskirts. Even before my driver began explaining things I just had this overwhelming, bordering on emotional, sense of awe wash over me. It seemed so obvious, when before it was kind of sketchy, that the stories I had grown up with were, in fact, based in truth and most likely completely true, in some form or another.

Dome of the Rock

Our first stop was a view of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was truly breathtaking.
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The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is considered “the most contested piece of real estate on earth.” (Wikipedia)

Temple Mount with Dome of the Rock in background and cemetery in foreground.

Temple Mount with Dome of the Rock in background and cemetery in foreground.

Western Wall

Known to many as the Wailing Wall because of the thousands who come to pray and leave messages, the Western Wall is something to see and experience.

The sign before going through security at the entrance to the wall

The sign before going through security at the entrance to the wall

We arrived on the first day of Rosh Hashanah*, the Jewish New Year. This meant that there was no traffic anywhere and thousands of pilgrims at the wall. It also meant that no photos were allowed, which was a bummer as the people who came to pray that day were amazingly beautiful. Not in the typical “magazine cover” sense of the word, but in the cultural aspect, and the looks of absolute love and religious fervor that the wall seemed to instill in people. I had a very itchy finger wanting to take pics.

3 generations heading to pray

3 generations heading to pray

But I opted to obey the rules…and show respect. I wish I could paint you a picture of how amazing this was. I wish I could have sat and just watched the flow of humanity, often seeing it in it’s rawest and truest form.

The wall has a male and female side. On the male side it looked like a full party rave going on. Men were chanting and dancing and singing, the intensity increasing with every word uttered. They were lifting chairs above their heads and you could see the religious fire burning in their eyes.

On the women’s side it was the complete opposite. The women were silent except for some whispered prayers, there was a quiet dignity about them. All ages, all races and most likely many religions. Some were just sitting and reading the bible, sharing their beliefs with younger generations.

I walked down found a scrap of paper and wrote down my prayer, my hopes, my dreams…found a space between the rocks and, resting my head on the ancient stones, placed it well pouring all my positive energy into what I had written.

Via Dolorosa

Heading further into the Old City of Jerusalem, we left the Western Wall behind us and continued towards Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Sorrows”.
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This is the route Jesus was made to walk while carrying the cross to his crucifixion. The winding cobbled street passes from the Antonio Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, around 600m/2000ft. Today it passes by bakeries, fruit sellers and souvenir shops. I wonder if the people living here today pause to think about the significance of this path or if it lost to them as so many other world marvels are lost to the people ho see them everyday.
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The route has changed over the years, but this one has been established since the 18th century, along the way tehre are nine Stations of the Cross. Places where it is believed Jesus stopped, or fell or met certain figures, such as Mary.
At the fifth station, known as the Chapel of Simon of Cyrene, it is believed Simon carried the cross for a ways. Jesus is said to have lent on the wall and left a bloody hand print, this spot is now much revered and has worn down over centuries of being touched by followers and tourists alike.
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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

As we meandered along this sacred route, I was struck by the people, the scents, the sounds. Life seemed so real, so alive, you never knew what you might find around the next corner.

such a table with a wide array of multi-colored candies

such a table with a wide array of multi-colored candies

Soon, we neared what is considered the most sacred site of pilgrimage for Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It lies on what is believed to be the hallowed site of Golgotha (The Hill of Calvary), where Jesus was crucified and is also said to contain where he was buried and later resurrected. The church now plays host to the headquarters of most Christian sects, ironically enough, due to much…disagreement… between these sects, it is a Muslim family who holds the key to the ancient door. They have been responsible for it for over 1,300yrs.
(Article in the SFGate telling the tale).

Out in the courtyard you see pilgrims from all walks of life, all sects of Christian religions, all nationalities.

Greek Orthodox Ladies taking a break

Greek Orthodox Ladies taking a break


Young African man playing his drum

Young African man playing his drum


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I was in awe of this place, and you could feel the love and hope virtually emanating from the hundreds of people, most of whom had probably planned and dreamed of this day.
Just inside is the Stone of Anointing, a large slab (added in the 18th) century on the spot where Joseph of Aramathea was said to have prepared the body of Jesus for burial. Pilgrims take an item of clothing or jewelry and rub it on the stone as they pray, hoping to bring blessings to the item.
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Our group purchased candles from the Church store and lit them saying a prayer. Some get over enthusiastic and think the bigger the bundle the more likely their prayer will be heard, this is when a priest comes in and has to douse them so that a fire doesn’t break out.
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We spent some time exploring the church and I think photos are the best way for you to get a feel for it:

Light streams in the the arches creating an ethereal beauty

Light streams in the the arches creating an ethereal beauty


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The lamps that hang over the stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

The lamps that hang over the stone are contributed by Armenians, Copts, Greeks and Latins.

The Immovable Ladder

Another interesting anecdote about the Church is what has been named the Immovable Ladder. This is a cedar ladder (the wood is believed to originally have been from Lebanon) that was placed below a window on the outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during some construction. However, during a disagreement between the Christian sects, an understanding was made that no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of all six orders. Since getting consent of ALL the orders is near impossible, the ladder was not allowed to be removed and has therefore become Immovable and a symbol. It was first mentioned in 1757 and is replaced when the present ladder disintegrates over time.
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After a truly fascinating and emotional trip for the entire group our bugle toting guide, blew a few notes (not enough to bring the walls crashing down)
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and we headed out of the Old City with many other pilgrims in search of new inspiration and understanding of the world around us.
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Personal Note – it truly saddens me that a place that has more history in one stone than most places in the world and that should bring the world together due to it’s significance and meaning seems to be constantly at war. The people I met in Israel were inspiring and welcoming and I hope everyone visits and learns to put old prejudice aside.

*Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: ראש השנה‎, literally “head [of] the year”), is the Jewish New Year although the real name for this Feast of the Lord is called Yom Teruah (Hebrew: יום תרועה‎, literally “day [of] shouting/raising a noise”) or the Feast of Trumpets according to the correct biblical calendar of the 1st and 2nd temple period, not Rosh Hashanah. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) which usually occur in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. Rosh Hashanah is a two-day celebration, which begins on the first day of Tishrei. The day is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of mankind’s role in God’s world. Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn) and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey to evoke a “sweet new year”.
(From Wikipedia)

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Cruise, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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A Shipboard Christmas

Christmas at Sea

And so this is Christmas…..

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

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

Antlers
I chose the antlers,

With good friend, Marianna.

With good friend, Marianna.

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

Snorkeling in St. Maarten

Snorkeling in St. Maarten

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

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

Next to one of the xmas trees

Next to one of the xmas trees

Magnificent Buffet

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

mag buf

mag buff

mag buffe

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

Department Xmas Party

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

xmas partyy

Even Santa showed up!
santa

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

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

 

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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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