So I’ve been home for about a week and Mom’s been pestering me to finish my blog. I know I should, and I didn’t just get lazy (or even busy), I just have been putting it off because I don’t want to think about this amazing summer being over. But now that I’m at the point where I’ve been in America too many days to convince myself that it’s just another stop on the itinerary and that I’ve actually unpacked and have stopped getting landsick, I should probably admit that my adventures are over for now.
But that’s the beauty of Semester at Sea. We became alumni, we had our ball, we took our finals. We sailed home. We said our goodbyes. We disembarked our beloved ship for the last time. But it never really ends. Because this summer (and yes, you can prepare for me getting a little cheesy and reflective here), we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to take chances, travel the world and learn a thing or two not only about other cultures and places that we’d never known but also to learn something about ourselves. They called it a ‘voyage of discovery’ and it was. We returned home last week with more than just suitcases full of souvenirs, listening to European techno and our laptop hard-drives full of 2300+ pictures (yes, I counted). We came home different people. We came home with new perspectives, new friends, new life experiences to shape us and make us who we are and the people we will become.
I love talking about Semester at Sea. I’m happy to tell stories to anyone who asks, especially potential future voyagers and even more especially other alum. I would love to show my pictures. I’ll even grin and bear it when someone asks me for the 10 billionth time “what was your favorite country?” and I’ll even pretend to have an answer to that question (because honestly, they were all my favorite at some point). But I could spend the rest of this year and most of next trying to put this experience into words and it still wouldn’t suffice. Because until you’ve lived on the ship, had a class let out early because land (or dolphins) were visible out the window, sailed across the Atlantic (twice), walked up Las Ramblas in Barcelona, sang with Spanish locals on a beach, made a wish in the Trevi Fountain, watched a political strike in Florence, kayaked the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia, been given a tour of the city walls by a Croatian law student and his postman best friend, taken a midnight bus into Bosnia, been taught inappropriate phrases in Turkish (not while in Turkey), hiked up to the Acropolis, watched the sunset from the top of a Greek island, bargained in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul and had a philosophical conversation over world religions with a shop owner over apple tea, smoked hookah and been taken out with Turkish locals, enjoyed a REAL Turkish bath, rode a camel across the Saharan desert, played balloon keep away with an Egyptian 3-year-old cancer patient against her mom, checked out your favorite book in the Alexandria Library, eaten grilled shrimp in the souk of Marrakech that still had its legs and eyes, suffered through a miserably hot Moroccan train ride in August during Ramadan, seen all three of the three largest mosques in the world, been taught about French culture by tourists at 3am, dressed in head to toe pink for a solid day and only talk to other people wearing pink so you can get off the ship first (even though you never really want to get off), had to stop a game of ping pong because the ball bounced into the ocean, OR until your goodbyes to new friends you’ve only known a couple months are some of the hardest partings you’ve ever had to face… you really can’t understand what we lived this summer. Each voyage is a completely unique experience and it’s almost better that it can only be understood by the other 842 people on the ship with you during those months. We share what we can and the rest… just know that it makes us who we are and we’re proud of that.
I can’t say I’m a completely different person now. I’m still me. But after being home for a week, I’ve definitely realized things changing in me — priorities, mannerisms, perspectives, attitudes, patience, excitement, motivation.
So time for thank you’s —
to Mom, for being supportive even though I know you worried and missed me every single day. i could say more, but i think i’ve made you cry enough and i said everything in your photo slideshow. :)
to Catie, for actually making me want to come home by BBMing me how excited you were to see me at least once a day for the last week at sea when I was really dreading getting off the ship. and for the ridiculous and obnoxious welcome reception i received at the airport (I know you missed me but seriously - 7 people, two signs, a massive balloon AND a bouquet of flowers?!). I love you sis.
to Joey…. for giving me someone to always send postcards to cuz I know you were as STOKED about every single place as much as I was. and for being okay with living vicariously through me for NOW until Mom lets me kidnap you for a summer and take you back to all the places I saw. so mainly for giving me an excuse to go back. i missed you kid.
to Margaret Johnston for being hands down my favorite SASer… for our mutual nerdiness, for being the only person who I can say I’ve been to Montenegro or Bosnia with, for always supporting my coke addiction and fueling it with your own, for our regular references to marketing (Maslow’s Level ONE on that train), for getting off the tourist track with me and pushing even our own comfort zones so we could really experience new cultures, for always encouraging me (in SO many ways), for our only regrets being not going to Mallorca and not spending the night in Kotor or meeting up in Cairo, for helping me figure out currency exchange rates, for hours of staring at world maps together planning places we want to go before realizing there’s nowhere we DON’T want to go, for an endless string of quotes that are jotted into the margins of my marketing notes, for introducing me to the color orange, for becoming one of my closest friends ever in such a short amount of time and for promising to come to California SOON because that was the only thing that made saying goodbye to you even remotely possible. I’m leaving a lot out. But we’ll leave it there for now. Basically, I love you.
to Jackie Diaz for being an awesome roommate this summer, always letting me know we could chat about anything and for always being there for me, and for all the ridiculous things that happened in our room that i can’t even remember but that i know we laughed about for hours (i.e. you sitting up in bed and yelling at me in your sleep for shaking your bed during a particularly rough night at sea and then having no recollection in the morning).
to the Voice (Tom Jelke, Asst Executive Dean), for making me laugh every day at noon and five-thirty.
to Dante, my awesome cabin steward, for always taking such good care of me and letting me sleep through Global Studies when I needed to, your patience and your jokes up and down the hallways every day.
to Darwin, Perry, Roderick and the rest of the crew, for always brightening mealtimes in the dining room, even when it involved teasing me (as it usually did).
to everyone else because I’ll start crying if I have to think about how much I miss each of you individually (yep, just started tearing up… gotta wrap this up NOW). I truly believe this trip would’ve SUCKED if it wasn’t for such an amazing group of fellow students and travelers, all of your combined passion and experiences and personality…. that’s what made this the summer of a lifetime and one that i will never forget or be able to duplicate. Thank you for stereo love, alors un danse, and we no speak americano…thank you for opium, razzmatazz, all’ombra del colosseo, fuego, east/west, taksim square, the mermaid, the four seasons, and theatro. thanks for surviving life-threatening taxi rides, nine hour overnight ferries, too many hours on SAS trip buses, and sweltering heat in non-AC’ed trains. for sea olympics, for an awesome alumni ball, for the caribbean sea pride, for the sights of laundry day and packing day, for the experience of learning to walk on the ship, enjoying taco days, for making sea bands and seasickness patches a popular fashion statement, for never caring about Global until the day of the midterm or final when the whole ship studied one girl’s lame study guide, and mostly, for making the MV Explorer really feel like home.
And thank you Semester at Sea for the most amazing sixty-six days of my life. <3
Ports are finished and our summer sailing the Mediterranean is ending. We are already a few hundred miles back across the Atlantic and will be arriving in the port of Norfolk in eight far too short days (even though most of them will be 25 hour days because of crossing time zones).
Things have been fun though. The first day back on the ship was the auction which raised over $31,000! Now is the shipboard donation drive going on for the next six days and we are hoping to top $50,000. If our ship reaches that goal, we will have raised more than any previous Semester at Sea voyage in history. I think we’ll make it. Also this week: there was a big Greek social where all of the sorority/fraternity affiliated voyagers got to hang out with their brothers and sisters and share ways of doing things, songs, events and stories and take pictures together. It was so much fun, but definitely made me miss my girls back at my home chapter. But I’ll be home soon enough. Then last night there was a meteor shower! The astronomy professor convinced them to turn off the deck lights so we could see everything clearly. The night sky over the ocean is incredible on a regular night but the meteors were SO bright and we could even see Jupiter directly above the mast of our ship. It was definitely another unique experience to add to the list and one of those moments where you just have to take a deep breath and thank God for how lucky you are. At least that’s what I did.
Let’s talk Morocco now!
Day 1: CASABLANCA. I walked past the actual Rick’s Café from the movie and walked down a street that translated to Humphrey Boggart Avenue. I wish I was kidding. Besides that, the beautiful beach and the Hassan II Mosque that inspired the art history paper I wrote two days ago, there wasn’t much to do or see in Casa. And the rest of the four days was spent in Marrakech.
Morocco was one of my favorite ports so I have basically nothing to complain about. But the worst part was definitely the trains. The trip there wasn’t as bad as the way back from Marrakech but it wasn’t the best three and a half hours of my weekend either. So we got to Marrakech and didn’t do too much that first night but plan the next three days. We wandered around the streets for awhile (which gets confusing because all the streets are named after either King Muhammad V or King Muhammad VI) and finally found a hotel that looked acceptable and within our price range (keep in mind, this country doesn’t have much of a middle class – people are really POOR or really RICH). So we checked in and then found this incredible little hole in the wall restaurant directly across the street (which was good because it was raining) and had a delicious traditional Moroccan dinner of tagines and chicken for about 3 American dollars per plate (gotta love the $1- 8.4 Moroccan dirham exchange rate!) Internet was only $1/hour (compared to the $25/hour we pay on the ship).
The second day we woke up, got lunch and local snacks at the grocery store and checked into a new hotel we had found out about the night before – the Es Saadi Gardens and Resort, “one of the most prestigious hotels in Morocco,” five stars, with a beautiful pool, private villas, a casino and the Theatro dance-club known as the best club in Morocco (and that offers free cover charge to hotel guests) and paid only a little more than a $100 for the room with a balcony. Needless to say we spent a good portion of the day just wandering the hotel gardens and swimming in the pool or sitting by the pool bar drinking Moroccan wine and margaritas, but for dinner we took a cab into the old city medina. We ate more delicious Moroccan food (finally had cous cous) and then wandered around the square. Talk about a taste of the African culture. The souk (the shopping area where the bargaining happens) was packed and went on tent after tent forever it seemed like. We could’ve spent three hours just walking through it. Then there were fruit vendors with carts full of cactus fruit and stands of orange juice. The orange juice was excellent but way too pulpy and the cactus fruit was almost nothing but seeds, but I’m glad we tried both. There were snake charmers and guys with trained monkeys and henna artists (and yes, I do have a temporary henna tattoo from my fingers about halfway up my forearm right now) and at night there were these enormous grills that made kebabs and all sorts of delicious food right there and you just came and sat down at a communal table, ordered a couple plates, it came right out, and you were on your way after less than half an hour (we did that the last night).
The next day we spent most of the day at the souk in the medina again. We decided one night was plenty at the five star resort and checked into a traditional rial in the medina. It was so quaint and I wish I could describe it, but it was all sorts of red and blue colors with delicate curtains and divans with tasseled cushions. It was just as fun to stay in as the 5-star but in a much different way (no swimming pool or English television or mini-bar at this place). Then we wandered around the square trying to find ways to get out of the heat (and later the rain) for awhile. Moroccan weather is so weird. We found a little place that did pedicures for about $5 and then later got hour-long Oriental relaxation massages for $24. I wish I could get either of those things at home because they were both phenomenal. (And it was definitely amusing seeing the look on the Moroccan women’s faces when we said Brandon wanted a pedicure as well). In our wanderings we also found a music/movie store that clearly sold nothing but pirated copies of American and European movies and music. I left with a movie that cost me a little over a dollar and four CD’s (mainly ones with African and European club techno music that had basically become every SASers favorite songs somewhere along the voyage) for about $3 apiece. (Friends at home – prepare to be subjected to my two new favorite songs: Stereo Love and We Speak No Americano. I’m obsessed. Whether most of you will think this is an improvement on the country music I usually listen to or a further downgrade, I look forward to finding out.) Stoked that we had copies of our SAS music to take home, we headed to get dinner. We had dinner at the central grill that night and it was delicious and dirt cheap… I think we paid $25 between the three of us total for 3 cokes, 6 kebabs, a plate of chicken tagine, a plate of calamari and a plate of shrimp. And probably the best meal I had all summer. The last night in Marrakech was definitely memorable and full of lots of pictures, dancing around the rial room, hanging out with the French tourists in the room next door to ours, singing, doing a little crying at the idea that it was our last night in our last port, trying to figure out what we’re ever going to do without each other, making plans to visit each other and laughing hysterically over the list of questions we plan to ask at the pre-port for America (many of which only SASers will understand, but that I will post later). It really showed why I liked Morocco so much – it was more a last chance to enjoy time with your friends and to relax and have fun before heading home. We made our last port memories from our amazing summer at sea and in theory should be ready to go home. I won’t be ready till late morning on August 21st.
The last day was kind of hell. Waking up, heading to the train station, stocking up on postcards and writing them as we waited for the train. Then dying of heat on the train from hell – no air conditioning, no seats together (and no seats at all for the first forty five minutes of the trip), no water to be sold on board, no air circulation, and apparently a lack of belief in deodorant by locals. It was the most miserable four hours I have ever experienced… but we got back, stocked up on necessities at the grocery store before 10 long days at sea (and by necessities I mean every Coca-Cola the grocery store sold because they’re too expensive to justify buying on the ship – and yes, I did actually buy every Coke the store had in stock, but that was only like 15… I had to spend my dirhams somehow!) Then we said goodbye to Casablanca, headed back to the ship for the first time in three days to change, unpack and shower, send our postcards and then in the evening wave goodbye to Morocco from the deck.
And with that, our visit to TEN countries this summer came to a close. As we pulled out of the harbor of Casablanca that night and watched Africa fade in the darkness behind our ship, it was really hard not to cry and wish the ship would turn around, head back to Spain and we could do it all over again… Spain, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and back to Morocco again. THEN maybe back to the US, because now is definitely too soon. But reality is that this can’t last forever. But I plan to still enjoy it while it lasts.
Love from the Atlantic once again!
Just a taste of my time in the Sahara desert in Egypt! This is Romeo.
“…Everybody take a sip of the tap water and whoever gets sick first loses! It’s like survival of the fittest!” –Margaret Johnston
As our Executive Dean John Burkoff would say, and has said several times on this voyage… We’re not in Kansas anymore. Egypt was a little more of a culture shock than most places we’ve seen this summer. The first day in Alexandria was especially shocking… but like everywhere else, we adjusted and by the time we left, we all could’ve used another few days to finish doing everything we wanted to do.
Pre-port lecture scared us more than anything. We were warned not to travel anywhere without a male, dress more conservatively than you think is necessary, don’t drink the water, don’t make eye contact if men make comments, always negotiate taxi’s before getting in and pay after getting out, take Pepto-Bismol before every meal, don’t go out at night, don’t necessarily trust the police, don’t sit up front in a taxi unless you have to especially for women, the list can go on and on of things they warned us about.
The Alexandria cruise terminal is the most deceptive place in the world. It is GORGEOUS. The security office looks like a palace. Seriously. Then you get in a taxi and leave the port… and you’re in a completely different world.
I’ve lived in California my whole life. I live in San Diego. I drive the 5 to get home. I have Eikmeier AND Reilly driving genes. I know bad drivers. No one who sees Egyptian drivers would EVER complain about my driving. (Or Turkish or Italian drivers but that’s beside the point). The difference is that they don’t have rules. Literally. No driving rules. 80% of drivers aren’t even insured. People just go where they need to go. No lanes, no lights, no crosswalks, no speed limits. Just imagine that for a minute.
So the first hour in the country was interesting… and started with another scary cab ride. (It’s funny, I have lost count of the times that I’ve said on this trip “that was the scariest cab ride of my life!” because it keeps getting topped by an even worse one.) But we safely got to our destination: The Alexandria Library! It’s built on the site of the ancient library that housed all the ancient Greek documents and is now this beautiful modern building that has the largest reading area in any library in the world. The structure itself is hard to explain but rivals even Geisel (the library at my school) in terms of being insanely architecturally complex for a library building. We spent about 4 hours there. It is huge. It has a rare book and manuscripts room, an ancient texts room, a whole museum, foreign sections (where Margaret and I looked up our favorite books which happen to both be by British authors in the English Lit section – Dickens and Austen were on the same aisle and we took pictures), and even a planetarium (which sadly was closed randomly on Tuesdays). So we toured around most of it and then just sat on the computers enjoying the fact that we didn’t have to pay and arm and a leg for internet minutes. After about an hour of walking around the city after the library, we were done and headed back to the ship. That was about enough.
Pyramids and Camel/Jeep Safari
Day 2 was the best part of Egypt – Pyramids, Camels, Jeeps and Egyptian food! The pictures tell these stories better but let me just say that I’ve wanted to see the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and Zoser’s Step Pyramid (the oldest pyramid in the world) since I first learned about them in the 6th grade. It was amazing being there, I couldn’t get over it. And of course in front of the Step Pyramid, what else are you going to do but make your own pyramid! So six of us got in the sand and made a human pyramid… definitely one of the best pictures of the trip. But then we went to an ancient tomb I’d never heard of –because it was only recently discovered and only opened to the public a WEEK before we got there. Meaning we were some of the first tourists to walk through the tomb and down the shaft into the pyramid since the time of the ancient Egyptians. They were really stingy about pictures but we snapped a couple illegal snapshots just like everyone else.
So after the ancient stuff, we headed to the Sakkara country club for a delicious lunch of Egyptian food (don’t forget your Pepto before you start eating though!) and then headed out to the jeeps for our jeep safari across the Sahara to meet our camels. The jeep drivers were ridiculous and were just speeding like mad men across the sand of the desert. It was such a cool experience… and then we met our camels. My camel’s name was Romeo and he was being led by our camel driver and tied to another camel named Juliet. Romeo and I got along quite well and my camel driver took a picture of me giving him a kiss at the end of our ride. Riding a camel through the Saharan desert with the Great Pyramids visible in the distance was definitely a highlight of the whole summer…. How many people can say that’s what they did when they go back to school and their friends ask what they did this summer? No big deal, just rode a camel across the Sahara. Once again, I have these moments where I take a step back just to appreciate how lucky I am.
Children’s Hospital and Rural Cairo
Day three was definitely another day I felt overwhelmingly lucky, not just for the opportunities I have found on SAS, but for all the things I am lucky enough to have that I take for granted in the United States. I spent this day in rural Cairo with a small group of students from the ship and a professor. The poverty here is absolutely heartbreaking because even with as little as they have, the people are so friendly and so happy because they have such a strong belief in the future. They believe that if they work hard they will have more later in life or at least their children will have more and at the very least they will be rewarded for their suffering in their afterlife. It just kind of shows how spoiled Americans can be – never satisfied no matter how much we have. It definitely makes you think twice and getting back onto a comfortable air-conditioned ship with a hot meal waiting and a fully stocked medical center later that night made me really say a sincere prayer of thanks. But the visit to rural Cairo was only half the day. The other half was at the biggest children’s hospital in Africa – the 57357 Children’s Hospital (named for its donation code conveniently so people don’t forget it). We got a nice tour of the beautiful donation-only hospital (St. Jude’s is basically the equivalent in the US, this was not just some run down African hospital) and got to talk for awhile with one of the volunteers who is an Egyptian high school student. She was so sweet and told us a lot of cool information about growing up in Cairo and living in such a historical city. Then we got some time to play with the kids. A few people went to the playroom where patients and their siblings can play while waiting to see their doctor or have an treatment done but a few of us actually got to go into some of the private rooms where patients were recovering from treatment in the hospital (not inpatients though). I got to play with a 3 year old little Egyptian girl with leukemia. Her mother spoke fluent English and she was so kind. Tadroz, the little girl, was an absolute angel. She is just now starting to learn English so I got to help her mom teach her some words, which she really enjoyed. She looked tired but other than that playing with her felt like playing with any little three year old girl. She was giggling and playing and looked so happy to have someone to play with and make her day not so long and painful. She was upset when we had to go, but squeezed my hand and gave me a little kiss on the cheek and said goodbye and that it was nice to meet me in her broken English. It was probably one of my favorite things I’ve done on this whole trip. That was some true interaction with locals.
The next day we went to do something a little more American… the girls got in a cab and headed to the Alexandria mall! We had to go through security checkpoints to get inside but once we got in it felt like we had just gone through a vortex back to America (except suddenly everything was in English and Arabic). It was so comforting after a month and a half of very little familiarity. It was nice to see an H&M and a Starbucks. I probably spent about 800 Egyptian pounds… but don’t freak out, that’s only like $140. Haha.
Egyptian Shopping & Departure
The last day was about a thousand and ten degrees (actually like 115) so we decided not to venture out too much. We had done what we needed to do and we were ready to sail. I would’ve liked another few days to see more of the farther cities (Luxor, Abu Simbel, Aswan, El Alamein) but I guess that’ll be for another time. We still had some Egyptian pounds and some people to buy souvenirs for though so we headed into the immediate port area to spend our money. Let’s just say I’m looking forward to coming home to my comfortable fixed-price NON-bargaining culture. It was fun for awhile but now when I can tell you’re trying to rip me off it’s just not funny. One vendor did give me a pretty good deal on my piece of Egyptian jewelry though, I haggled down the price of a couple postcards and stamps and a couple presents I promised to certain special people and headed back to the ship to enjoy the last few hours of the ship being quiet and still rather than rumbling and rocking slowly through the Mediterranean coast of North Africa like we have dealt with since then.
Now after a full week at sea packed with Sea Olympics, our sea’s victory social in the staff lounge with the faculty for winning Sea Olympics (more on that later), a Global Studies midterm and paper, two talent shows, a mad rush to sign up for good seats at the Alumni Ball coming up, a formal special occasion dinner and a Swedish massage… I am ready for my last port. Nine countries since June 13 and number ten tomorrow. We’re already starting to regain our time zones and have officially left the Mediterranean for the waters of the Atlantic. We refueled for the crossing of the ocean today in Gibraltar and now we just make port in Casablanca, Morocco for the next four days then it’s time to set sail for America. I’m trying to think about that as LITTLE as possible and making the most of the time in Morocco with my friends that I have left still as MUCH as possible. So this is where I conclude for now.
Goodnight from the Coast of Morocco. <3
Istanbul is one of the most incredible cities I’ve ever visited. It has so much history (it’s been through at least three names and several empires) and such interesting people and culture. And it literally is where East meets West. There are bridges over the Bosphorous Strait that cross from Europe to Asia (yes I did go to both sides). There are so many opportunities here to and its very recent modernization shows that the world can change if people want to enough.
On Tuesday, our first in port, Jenn, Margaret, Brittany and I did our normal first day touristy thing. We visited the beautiful Hagia Sophia church (was built by Constantine as a Christian church, then converted to a Muslim mosque, and now is a museum) and had traditional Turkish donar for lunch. Then the rain started and we walked through the Turkish rain to visit the beautiful Blue Mosque (right after the afternoon call to prayer got out). Once the rain cleared up, we hung out with some guys at a hookah bar and had Turkish coffees and our first of many apple teas. Apple tea is free everywhere in Turkey, it’s like water. In the afternoon, we went to the Grand Bazaar for the first time. Talk about an amazing cultural experience. SO many vendors and it’s a bargaining culture so you have to sit there and haggle with them. It was fun for awhile, but I kind of miss the ease and convenience of set prices. My friend Meshel taught us how to do it and we watched him for awhile but I picked up how to do it after awhile and got myself a couple decent deals (including beautiful silver earrings, yes I spoiled myself but for less than 20 lira). We didn’t do much for the rest of the day. Just had dinner on the ship, then went out to a hookah bar in the evening with Margaret, Brandon and Chris and had a few drinks, checked out the Istanbul club scene in Taksim Square and experienced the scariest taxi ride of my life (yes Catie, it beats the San Diego taxi drivers).
On Wednesday, I headed on a Semester at Sea group trip to the Black Sea Coast. Mostly, we saw a lot of rain and a few different Turkish cities. But we had a great time, enjoyed the views, enjoyed a relaxing day of enjoying the sights of the city and of course got to cross the bridge and visit Asia. I have a picture of myself on the water of the Bosphorous and standing in Asia and the background is the Istanbul skyline of Europe. (The overheard special question of the day when we got back on the ship was from a girl who was on the Asian side and said to her friend… “Well, now we’ve seen Asia and Europe… I wish we were going to Africa.” I guess someone missed the memo that the rest of the ports we’re visiting are in Africa. Oops.) Wednesday night was our quiet night, I needed some down time and it was nice to just relax with the girls.
Thursday was my good friend Margaret’s birthday so Brittany (her roommate and another good friend of mine) and I went all out to make her 20th memorable. I think we were successful. We hit the Grand Bazaar in the morning, spent 45 minutes bargaining down the cost of our Turkish rugs (and making friends and having apple tea with our rug dealer – they always want to bring you the free tea when you’re shopping!). Then we had a couple British guys on a business trip to take a picture for us and then ended up talking to them for a good half hour in the middle of the bazaar. Then we headed to lunch at this very traditional Turkish restaurant. We sat on the floor on cushions and ate on a coffee table size table - and of course ended our meal with free apple tea. Then we headed to the Spice Bazaar and spent a good hour in one shop smelling and looking at piles of spices and deciding what spices and how many kilograms we wanted of each. I’m not going to say what I bought because most of them are presents and I want people to be surprised! J Deal with it. Then we headed back to the ship to rest up for a night out. We had a group of 11 for Margaret’s birthday dinner but then apparently we missed the memo that no one goes to bars or clubs on Thursday nights in Turkey so we were pretty much the only ones anywhere we went. Which was sort of fun for awhile… but by about 3am most of us were only still out because Margaret and Alex really wanted to see this one place we’d heard about… only to find it was closed after 30 minutes of walking. Then it was time to find cabs and go home.
Friday was my ship day. I just couldn’t leave. I went to Starbucks for a bit but that’s all. I got some very bad news about a friend at home early in the morning that made me just need a day to relax and process the news as best as I can from here, but I’ll get into that in a minute. It did show me what good friends I have on the ship though. Special shout-out to Brittany… I love you girl. Couldn’t have got through that day without you.
Saturday, I decided that I couldn’t be upset forever and that my friend would be furious for wasting my time in port so I made the most of my last day in port. Margaret and I went to get Turkish baths and massages which was incredibly relaxing. (Margaret gets a shout-out for being the amazing friend here—I needed to be dragged off the ship and forced to enjoy myself, thank you girl!) Then we attempted to do some last minute shopping at the Grand Bazaar but it was much harder getting good deals on weekends so I just got my apple tea set that I wanted so I can drink apple tea on the ship now. Tea time is officially at 4:10 every day now in the Garden Lounge on deck 6 of the ship, open to any SASers, hosted by myself and Margaret. J it’ll catch on quickly I’m sure. Justin joined us yesterday and said he’ll be there again tomorrow and Becca also joined us today. We also headed back to the spice bazaar to get one last thing and then spent the last hour in port at our favorite hookah bar before unwillingly saying goodbye to Istanbul.
I was upset to leave Turkey because I loved it so much… but unfortunately, my time in Turkey was overshadowed by a terrible tragedy back home and a sickeningly untimely death. A good friend of mine from San Diego, Kevin Gandhi, passed away yesterday. He was unconscious for the last couple weeks after having open heart surgery on the 11th. I know very little of the matter, but I do know that he suffered severe and irreversible brain damage and his family had to make the difficult decision to take him off life support. I also know that Kevin was one of the most loved people at my college and had over fifty people visit him in the hospital in the last couple days of his life and even more who, like me, just couldn’t be there to say goodbyes but were sending their love from wherever they were. I’m absolutely devastated by the loss, as I know many of my friends at home are as well. But Kevin was the type of guy who lived every day like it really could be his last. He was always kind and energetic and had a smile that could cheer anyone up. His love and awareness of the world around him and the compassion he had for everyone was incredible and unlike any I’ve ever seen. His sense of humor will be missed most… in all the pain of losing Kevin, every time I read an old message or text from him or think about a favorite memory, I always find myself laughing or smiling because he just had that effect on people. I miss my friend already, but it’s so comforting knowing that he is in a better place and no longer suffering. He will be watching over us all and cheering for us to always rock our inner “gametime” like he always did so well.
For the rest of my trip, as much as I want to be home sometimes to be supporting and leaning on my friends, I have to do this for Kevin now. And I plan to enjoy it to the absolute fullest. So Kev, Egypt and Morocco are for you – it’s Gametime! I hope I make you proud and wish I could tell you all about my adventures when I get home, like we planned over the home-cooked meal I will always owe you from that stupid bet I lost ages ago (I wish I remember the bet, I just know that you never let me forget that I lost). I’ll never forget your friendship, love, compassion and uncanny ability to always make me laugh. I truly feel lucky to have been your friend and believe that my life has been touched by an angel and changed for good by knowing you. I love you KG. You’re always in our hearts.
Love from Istanbul.
I always tend to write about the previous country during pre-port lectures in the next country… so I’m sitting in the Piano Bar watching The Voice on the screens hearing all about Turkey right now. (The Field Office is actually currently modeling appropriate attire in Istanbul… it’s quite entertaining.) But all I can think about is Greece. Greece Greece Greece. I don’t even know what to say. Five days has never in my life gone that quickly. With each country this trip seems to speed up just a little bit more. It’s kind of ridiculous that we’re half done already.
We arrived in the port of Piraeus about 1am. Since we could start seeing land when we were still at snack-time in the dining room, we just decided to stay up and watch us pull into port. Somehow that turned into staying on the deck till 5am, but it was worth it. The city was beautiful but was probably a thousand degrees outside by 9am. We ended up not getting to Athens until 1pm but when it was about two thousand degrees. It made it hard to appreciate the ancient Greek architecture but looking back, it’s such an amazing thing to be able to say that I walked (hiked?) up to the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon. The view of Athens from up there was incredible and I never imagined how big Athens really was until I was up there looking out in every direction. We went to the Acropolis museum too although I think what I enjoyed most about that was the air conditioning. Which is why we just gave up after awhile and stopped to get drinks in the museum restaurant. The heat made the city unbearable so we headed back to the ship early, which was nice considering I had to be up at 6am for my Delphi trip.
The second day, we headed out super early for Delphi and pretty much the same story as Athens. Long bus ride to get to the amazing historical site but hard to enjoy because of the thousand and ten degree heat. I thought Bakersfield in June was bad… nope, Greece in July wins the most miserable heat award. But there was a bit of a breeze up at the Oracle of Apollo in Delphi so we really did get to enjoy that at least. The ruins had been rebuilt six times about three thousand years ago and there are still columns standing in the same spot. I’ve never been a huge history buff, but that was cool. There were mainly Semester at Sea people there because there were three different trips from the ship touring Delphi that afternoon but it was kind of nice because who else gets to go to ancient Greek ruins and run into friends that they didn’t expect to see that day. Another unique aspect of SAS that I love.
The drive to Kalabaka (the second half of my overnight trip) was another four hours from Delphi so we spent most of the afternoon on the bus after enjoying an amazing Greek lunch in Delphi. The hotel in Kalabaka was adorable although I was pretty angry that the pool closed at 8:30 because we finished dinner around then and Kassi and I really wanted to go for a swim.
The next morning we headed up into the mountains to see two monasteries in Meteora. The churches were beautiful (but again, stifling) but it was cooler outside and the views from these mountains were breathtaking. The rocks literally were smooth cliffs that went straight down and had tiny little churches perched on the top with winding roads all the way at the top. Most of them only had 1-5 monks living there too, so talk about real seclusion. We had lunch at a really small little family owned restaurant that has been run by four different generations. You actually got to walk through the kitchen and out of all the dishes there you’d tell “Mama” what you wanted and she’d make your plate and it was like 7 euro unless you got meat on your plate in which case it was 9 euro. And Mama would FILL your plate. It was the best meal I had in Greece. Then we began the five hour drive back to Piraeus.
Two days left of Greece and all of the mainland pretty much covered, I did the only logical thing to do and headed to the islands! Kassi, Kelsey and I got back to the ship at 6:30pm, unpacked, showered, repacked and caught a cab to the other side of the port to catch the midnight ferry to Santorini. The ferry ride is 9 hours long, but luckily Kassi had sleeping pills which we each had popped by about 12:30 so we curled up in our armchairs and knocked out for at least 7 hours of the trip. Arrived in Santorini around 9am and had exactly 23 hours to enjoy the island.
This island is known as the most beautiful and the most relaxing which is really all I wanted. There’s a reason so many movies are filmed here (think Mamma Mia and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). I didn’t need the crazy spring break island of Mykonos where most of SAS went the whole week, I just wanted a beach, a margarita and some sunshine that didn’t scorch me. And Santorini was the perfect place for that. We found a hotel within an hour of getting up to the city part of the island. Then we had an interesting little experience with trying to rent motor scooters… but I’m not going to get into that. Ask me about it if you want to know, but I’d rather not get into the details. Haha, it’s better for Kassi and Kels and I just to laugh about.
So we decided to take the bus to Perissa, one of the beaches on the island that boasts of the most beautiful black sand beaches in Greece and for good reason. Probably one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen (I keep saying that, but everything I see is beautiful in such a different way, it just can’t be compared). So we had some lunch (gyros and pizza!) and then went swimming in the Aegean Sea… it was so warm and comfortable to swim in, even for me and I usually hate swimming in salt water. You could even see the bottom and I thought I found a perfect sand-dollar but it ended up just being a rock or something. That would’ve been such a cool souvenir, I’m still bummed. Anyway, so after our swim, we laid out on the beach for awhile then headed across the street to an outdoor beach bar that had 5 euro cocktails so we settled in for some margaritas and relaxed on the couches for a bit saying absolutely nothing because we were just enjoying the paradise that surrounded us. The sun and the drinks made us kind of tired though so we went back and took short naps then got ready again and headed up to the top part of the island (where you can ride donkeys to the top but we went the wrong way and couldn’t find them unfortunately). We wandered around the shops for a couple hours though, enjoyed an amazing dinner at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the typical white buildings with the painted blue domes that everyone thinks of when they think of Greek islands. Then we headed up to the cliffs to watch the sunset. I have never seen people get so excited about the sunset. Not just tourists either, Greeks from the mainland commonly come to the islands on weekends and during summer and people were literally finding any place they had a good view of the sunset over the ocean. Climbing on walls, roofs, patios, up on stair railings, the edges of the cliffs. It was an absolutely beautiful sunset and when the red sun finally sank below the horizon line and disappeared, everyone in the crowd started cheering like they’d just seen the end of a show. Then everyone mobbed toward the buses to get back to the main city. And we sat down and had a drink to wait till it calmed down. Good decision. (But the later bus was still a mess.)
We went to bed fairly early that night because we had to be up at 6:45 to catch our 8am ferry back to Piraeus. The ferry was the fast ship so it only took five hours back, which was perfect for studying, journaling, postcard-writing, and napping. Then returning with just a few hours left in Greece, I spent the time visiting another UCSD sorority friend studying in the city and then wandering up the Athens Flea Market again. And despite my fears, I made it back onto the ship well before on-ship time!
Looking back on the week, I actually did a lot in Greece. But it feels like it just FLEW by. Maybe because I spent so much time sleeping on buses and ferries. But I was still an amazing time, an amazing port and definitely someplace I’d like to visit again (I have to see Mykonos one day right?) but now I’m relaxed and refreshed and ready to hit Turkey!
Today was Turkey Day. No, not Thanksgiving (although we are all grateful for our experience, especially noticing that the last two days have marked the halfway point of our journey). But Turkey Day was just another Sea Day without classes but dedicated to learning about the Turkish culture and history. Pre-port lecture was a little more intense tonight because of all the warnings to be safe, but everyone is very respectful and aware of the dangers we might face so we can hopefully enjoy ourselves with no problems. We’ll be here Tuesday – Saturday and I look forward to raving about the Grand Bazaar and the Black Sea Coast and the Hagia Sophia mosque.
For now, Love from Greece! XOXO.
No big deal.
Thursday: Kotor Bay, Montenegro
Friday: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Saturday: Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Sunday: back to Dubrovnik, Croatia
The four days I spent in the Balkans may have been my favorite so far (out of my so far 29 day journey). It was a whirlwind of international buses, tall city walls, crystal clear water, beautiful beaches, multiple currencies, multiple languages, passport stamps, new foods (and some familiar ones) and making friends with foreigners from around the world. Not to mention I was in the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. Yes, that includes the last two ports as well. Don’t get me wrong, Spain and Italy were phenomenal. But Croatia… I’m obsessed. I just can’t put my finger on why I loved it so much. No one on the ship can. We all got back on though on Sunday and looked at each other and said that was easily my favorite port so far. The professors asked us why. And we all paused then said… I have no idea, I just loved it. It was also the first port that the entire shipboard community has been legitimately depressed about leaving. I miss it already too. I feel homesick for a place that I spent four days. I can’t describe that feeling. But I’ll share my experiences at least, maybe more just to help me make sense of them.
My friend Margaret and I have a similar view on traveling. We hate tourism. We travel to get out of what we’re used to, see something new, experience another culture and learn to look at things from a new perspective that we wouldn’t have thought of any other way. We can’t stand tour guide who just rattle off a ton of dates and facts and lead you around museums. Not saying I don’t enjoy museums or tourist sites sometimes, but I would much rather wander through the local streets and talk to the locals and get a taste for how they live and why they make the choices they make and how different their lives are from my own. So when we decided to travel together in this port, we knew we’d be in for an adventure or two. And that’s definitely what we got.
So we dock in Dubrovnik, Croatia and no one has any idea what to expect except some pretty beaches with clear water and an old city with walls. And for some people, they left with a similar view of the country because that’s really all they got (because that’s all they looked for).
Margaret and I went straight to the bus station and got on a morning train to Kotor Bay, Montenegro. The ride was about 2 ½ hours but it flew by because we were in awe of the view outside the window the entire time. It was breathtaking. The hills, the countryside, the endless natural beauty. We got to Kotor about 1:15 and it turns out that the last bus back to Dubrovnik leaves at 2:45 and we had to get back to the ship that night. Talk about upsetting. But with an hour and a half, we did as much as we could and I wouldn’t trade that hour in Montenegro for anything. We wandered around the bay, got some lunch, looked around the city which was so cute and walked along the coastline marveling the unique view of being surrounded by beautiful dark, tree-covered mountains as well as walking on a beach. That’s because the mountains of Montenegro lead directly into the Sea. It’s really unlike anything else you could imagine. We didn’t get to do much but I loved every second.
We headed back and arrived back in Dubrovnik around 5pm which gave us plenty of time to still take a bus to the Old City of Dubrovnik and walk around the famous city walls. The walls themselves were amazing, but the view of the sea and the whole coastline was my favorite part of the walk. The Old City was my favorite part of Dubrovnik. It’s so unique. It really is its own little city – there are the most adorable little family owned souvenir shops, gelato stands, clothing stores, banks, restaurants and so much else. The people were all incredibly friendly and always smiling. We saw lots of families together who actually looked like they like one another and not too many tourists at that time of day so it was just a great atmosphere. I never wanted to leave. Not to mention the city is beautiful – stone carvings everywhere, polished marble streets, statues all over, and one big church right in the middle, all surrounded by the soaring high city walls. I went out with some other friends that night and found a couple interesting bars (an Irish pub and a Mexican cantina… not exactly local but still a fun night in Croatia).
Friday morning I had to wake up early to go to an organized SAS trip. So we went to a place called Desa which is a non-governmental organization that was started during the Croatian war for independence from 1991-1995. The organization was started by local women who lost their jobs and needed to find ways to support their families, themselves and each other morally and financially, so they began making things with their hands because it was all they could do. Now fifteen years later, they have the largest non-governmental organization in Croatia and they have enough money to give out small business loans to women who want to start their own businesses, some of which have been successful opening shops in the Old City. It was really cool hearing about the war from a local’s perspective and seeing a different side of Croatian life. The woman we met there was so nice telling us all about it and answering our questions and really welcomed us.
In the afternoon, I met up with some friends again to go sea kayaking on the Adriatic Sea! That was an experience. We had a great time (even though Margaret and I were pretty bad at first… Brittany and Becca weren’t much better though) and an even better workout. We figured out that singing while we kayaked made us think less about paddling and more about remembering the lyrics so that helped and made it fun. We circled the whole island of Locrum off the coast and then stopped in a small cove on the mainland to go snorkeling and lie on the shore for about forty-five minutes before heading back alone the coastline into the city. It was about 3 hours total. What I couldn’t believe (besides the fact that my arms didn’t fall off) was that the sea water was incredibly clear – you could see the bottom of the sea for most of our trip and we weren’t that close to land most of the time. It was such a beautiful shade of blue and green, I wish a photograph could capture it but it just can’t. The funny part about the trip was that we actually circled past the nude beach on the island… that was definitely more than I needed to see, but they didn’t seem too bothered by it, so we just awkwardly kayaked past them pretending not to notice. That was uncomfortable and yet slightly hilarious.
We finished kayaking and got back to the ship in time for dinner and with just enough time for me and Margaret to pack up, take a short nap and then head to the bus station again for our trip to BOSNIA! We really really wanted to see Sarajevo, despite the 6 hour bus ride, so we boarded at 10:30 and after 6 hours of hardly any sleep and trying to get comfortable we got into the city at 4:30am. That’s when the real adventure began.
So we get there at 4:30am, try to ask the worker of the bus station when the buses are back to Dubrovnik the next day leave and he doesn’t speak a word of English. So we panic a bit thinking maybe no one in Bosnia speaks English. Then this ANGEL of a girl comes up to us and asks if we want her to translate (she was Bosnian!) so she figured it out for us. Then we walk outside to go just figure out what to till things started opening (the sun was already rising so we were thinking maybe a coffee store.. or even a bar that was still open? haha) but then realized we were too tired so maybe it was worth it to get a hotel for a couple hours. So we start walking and hear these CREEPY guys start singing Middle Eastern chants from a little ways away…so we start walking FASTER in the other direction, officially creeped out. But then we see a red neon sign ahead of us that said HOTEL and with a sigh of relief said that whoever decided that the word ‘hotel’ needed to be the same in every language was a genius. so we walk up to this sketchy looking hotel (I’m talking hole in the wall, neon signs that half work, and letters of the name of the hotel from the 2nd floor falling off) and it’s locked (duh, 4:30am). So we ring the doorbell and a man comes down, who LUCKILY spoke English and invited us in. We were a little nervous but then we get inside and there are big nice couches and marble floors and a perfectly polished desk and the man was really nice. So we checked in and went up to our room and I swear we had just walked through a portal into a Hilton. I got the best sleep of this entire trip in the next four hours in the softest bed I’ve seen in weeks. So we finally got sleep and got up ready to check out the city a few hours later.
We didn’t have much we wanted to see, but we wanted to see the Latin Bridge where the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand took place that triggered the start of World War One. It took us about two hours, going the wrong way and asking directions (without knowing the language) three times, and getting laughed at by locals on more than one occasion for being so lost, but we finally found the bridge! It was nice to know our common sense came in handy though – we figured out the local currency exchange rate (which was a new currency from Croatia) based on the price of a Coke in the grocery store. Then we found our way to the river by pointing to a random point on our map by the river and asking the cab driver who spoke a little English to take us there because we didn’t know where the bridge was exactly, we just knew it had to be over the river. So we had an amazing time in the city, had a great Bosnian lunch of local cuisine, got tshirts and postcards and then made it back on time for our 2:30 train. On the ride back (and going through customs three times), we met some Turkish guys who gave us a LIST of things to do when we’re in Istanbul and had a really fun time talking to our new friends. And oddly enough, we even ran into them that night at about 3am at the opening of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival in the Old City! That was fun. The whole city was packed and buzzing and had so many activities going on with concerts and bands and lightshows and everything you could imagine. I think we got back at about 5am that night, but it was worth the sleep deprivation for the incredible night we had.
Needless to say though, we were exhausted the next day. We all slept in though then headed into town to buy last minute postcards, spend the rest of our kuna (the most annoying currency in the world) and then head back to the ship before 1800 for on-ship/departure time. I couldn’t even stand on the deck to watch us pull out of the harbor because I was so sad to be leaving. This has definitely been my favorite port so far and I hope I get the chance to come back to Croatia one day (and maybe take my little brother who is dying to see it as well). Four more ports. I can’t believe how fast this is all going. Ahh, I can’t think about that though, it’s too much.
Well, I meant for that to be a shorter blog. But I guess I still haven’t perfected that art. Oops. Oh well, congrats if you made it through to the end. I enjoy writing them, I hope someone enjoys reading at least parts of it. Haha. I miss and love everyone at home and family so hello to all. Very sad to be missing the Eikmeier family summer reunion in Minnesota this weekend… but WE’RE ARRIVING IN GREECE IN A FEW HOURS! So I’m trying not to be too sad.
So two days of class and now we’re ready for another port! Time for Pre-Port Lecture on Greece! Another Country, Another Greensheet, Another Grand Adventure!!
Love from Athens.
You learn to adapt to things, adjust to living on water rather than solid ground, and learn the ways of the ship. And after awhile, things that were once annoying or strange become comfortable, familiar and endearing.
I realized I didn’t want this blog to just be a compilation of all my experiences in port. Although ports are a huge part of SAS, so is life on the MV Explorer, our floating home and school. It makes the traveling so much more relaxing because we have something familiar to come home to without having to really travel all the way home after each port. We get a couple days to refresh and relax (and take midterms and go to class) and make plans for the next port before jumping off the boat once again. So I’m going to go through some of the things that I knew nothing of one short month ago that now are part of my life on Semester at Sea.
Examples of things we’ve gotten used to (and some that have even become endearing) in only 3 weeks:
-bumping into people in narrow hallways because the ship is rocking
-hearing things fall off the table in the middle of the night -having to convert time into AM and PM because you get used to the nautical time of a 24 hour clock
-knowing when you can and cannot take a nap based on when your cabin steward comes to clean your room (unless you have Dante who likes to mess with you and show up at a different time every day)
-forgetting what it’s like to spend real money and wishing you could still charge everything to your shipboard account even in port
-hearing “The Voice” come over the intercom at noon and seventeen thirty (5:30p) for the Bridge Annoucements
-Special Question of the Day and Rumor Control being the reason you even TRY to listen to the Bridge Announcments
-learning terms like port and starboard, and actually using them
-calling the MV Explorer a “boat” but if any non-SASer calls it that, you immediately correct them saying it is a SHIP (and it’s not a cruise, it’s a voyage)
-spending $2 for a can of Coke (actually that will never be okay)
-finding clever ways of getting information without using internet minutes (like really specific Google searches that don’t require you to click the link)
-watching everyone get excited about a “pub night” on the pool deck and then watch them get really depressed when they finish their third beer and can’t have any more
-going to the pool deck at any point during the afternoon and being lucky to find an open lounge chair to sunbathe
-not seeing anyone study for days until the day of a Global Studies exam, when suddenly everyone cares about that class for about six hours
-hearing a phone go off in class and instead of getting mad, the professors check their phone (as do the rest of the students) to see if they have reception too finally
-being let out of class early on long travel stretches because we’ll be able to see land for a certain amount of time on one side of the ship
-being close friends with people but not knowing their last name, phone number or even being their facebook friend because all you really need to know is their cabin number and maybe their blackberry PIN.
-going through security to come home back onto the ship
-having conversations about what salad dressings are offered that day. And having even more excited conversations when there is something besides salad in the buffet (like on taco day!)
-flash drive sharing parties (for post-port photo swapping)
-learning how to shave in the shower (safely) while the boat is rocking
-figuring out whether it’s day or night (inside cabins only)
-realizing how much music actually refers to boats and ships, etc (thanks to the music playing when we arrive at Global Studies every morning or at pre-port lectures)
-being slightly sad when you don’t have any emails at the end of the day but then realizing it’s because you read them all that morning and everyone back home has been sleeping since you woke up because of the time change
-accidentally saying hello or goodbye in different languages on the ship because we have to learn a new one every few days for each port
-feeling unsafe traveling unless you have your greensheet (like our lifelines in port with phone numbers, etc), local currency, your SAS ID and your passport (usually)
I’m sure I could go on like this a lot longer (especially if I ask around for people’s input) but it’s time for our Croatia Pre-Port lecture (which I am watching in my new cabin (that I’m living in temporarily due to a leaking water pipe) on the shipboard TV so I don’t have to go upstairs to the Union).
Time for more Greensheets, a lesson in the Croatian language, warnings about crime/weather/local politics/etc and lame jokes.
Turns out (as we were just informed by our Academic Dean on the shipboard TV lecture) we will be in Croatia in about 2 ½ hours (it’s 2100 now and we’ll be there at 2330)!!! Welcome to the Balkans!
Love from Croatia!
With my glorious seven days in the land of wine, pasta and gelato behind me (and a Global Studies midterm in a few hours that I don’t really want/need to study for), I think it’s time to write about my experiences with the sights and flavors of Italia!
All I have to say is that I’m glad that I’m traveling the way I am and that I am now heading towards another new and exciting place (Croatia on Thursday!) because otherwise, leaving Italy would be one of the most depressing things I’ve ever had to do. In just seven short days, I became completely enamored with the entire country (or at least what I saw of it) and still have enough left to see that it is without hesitation that I can say I will need to go back at least twice more in my lifetime. Let’s start with what I did see though before getting into what I missed and need to return for.
Maybe it was because I was still preoccupied with all the excitement of Spain or exhaustion from only having one day in between ports, but it really didn’t sink in that I was actually going to Italy until we got there. I was excited, just like everyone else on the ship during Italy Day, which was the day between ports that was dedicated to different seminars the professors give about Italy, but it just hadn’t hit me.
The ship cleared, we got off, headed into Civitavecchia (which we had been advised to leave as soon as possible) and bee-lined for the train station and caught the first train to Rome for our day of being touristy. Brittany, Margaret and I started wandering the city in search of a real Italian lunch, which we definitely found. Probably the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten in my life (get used to the extensive talk about food, I could write a whole blog just on what I’ve eaten on this trip) and a glass of wine. (Advice to anyone that ever goes to Italy – never spend more than 3 euro on a glass of wine. You don’t need to. The house wines are usually better than anything else because it’s all locally grown anyway and way cheaper.) So after lunch we start wandering in search of a map to start finding the attractions of Rome. Well, we never found a map – but we happened to run into the Colosseum! (Which made it kind of unnecessary to find a map anymore.) That led us to the Ancient Roman Forum ruins, the Trevi Fountain (yes, I made a wish and threw a coin in) and the Spanish Steps. Just the pure amount of history and age of most of the city makes Rome such an incredible place. Although as a modern city, it really wasn’t my favorite. The heat made it simply unbearable to be a tourist and the city really has been built on top of the historical monuments so you can appreciate the sites but then they’re surrounded by shops and hotels and buildings, which personally I think took away from it. But I still loved it. We headed back to the ship Tuesday night because all three of us had early trips the next morning, but we met the most interesting Brazilian guy on the train (who actually lived in Ireland). I think that hour train ride was the coolest part of the day because of our conversation with him – we got to learn a lot about his culture as well as his perception of ours and he had a lot of interesting questions that made us think about the way we do things as Americans. It’s those kinds of experiences that make me just love traveling - the interactions with such different types of people that teach you so much.
Day 2: SIENA. One of the most beautiful, quaint little cities I’ve ever seen. We had a real privilege to be welcomed into the churches and preparation houses of one of the seventeen contrada (or neighborhoods of Siena) in preparation for Il Palio, the traditional annual summer festival where the different contrada compete in a horse race. There’s so much more to it and we got to learn a lot about it from the locals actually (although I unfortunately didn’t get to be there for the festival itself). I absolutely loved Siena though because it didn’t have the touristy feel of so many of the bigger cities, like Barcelona and Rome. The people were so kind and welcoming and the sights of the city were breathtakingly beautiful, especially at night when everything was lit up. There were certain places on the edge of town that overlook the countryside of Tuscany – I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful. I definitely want to go back to Siena.
Day three, I met up with Brittany and Margaret again in Florence, where I probably could’ve spent a week by itself. It, like Siena, had a much smaller-town feel to it that made us feel much less like tourists. We even took a chance and ended up finding an adorable old hotel that ended up being cheaper than most of the hostels and definitely more fun to stay in (maybe just for the free breakfast and the TV in the room which used to watch Ten Things I Hate About You… in Italian). We didn’t have a lot of time in Florence but we saw the famous bridge as well as the replica of Michelangelo’s David which was one of the things we really wanted to see. Other than that, we just wandered around and enjoyed the city, did some shopping, chatted with some locals, enjoyed dinner at a family owned restaurant (again, absolutely incredible food and dirt cheap wine that’s better than anything I’ve ever tasted in California). The next morning, before heading to Rome, we wanted to go look at a few more shops and wander around some more and found to our surprise that everything was closed due to a huge protest against the Prime Minister. I think watching the workers and families in the streets with their signs and horns and seeing the way they protest against their government for something they believe is wrong (and comparing the similarities and differences of how people protest in the US) was again one of the experiences that I value more than seeing tourist attractions. We were fascinated by how unified they all were (literally EVERY shop was shut down) and we really enjoyed talking to a few locals who were standing outside shops out of the way of the main road who spoke English who told us a lot of what was going on. But after awhile, we realized there wasn’t anything left for us to see or do, so we decided to head to Rome early.
So Day 4 was more of a travel day…Florence in the morning, Rome in the evening. Brittany and Margaret had to catch the ship back in Civitavecchia to travel with it to Naples, but I had told the ship I wasn’t coming back that night so I met up with Jackie, Kristen, Rachel, Serena, and Megan and had dinner and went out later that night with them. For being the only night we went to bars/clubs in Italy, it sure was an interesting night. We went to a bar that we’d heard about called the Drunken Ship (haha I know, but we had to) and watched the Ghana-Uruguay World Cup game… I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about soccer, but we all kinda got wrapped up with the excitement and the crowd with all the locals… too bad everyone was cheering for Ghana, but those at the end penalty shots were pretty intense. Definitely a fun experience, if not much one that felt very Italian. I guess Italians love their soccer though right?
Day 5 I got to do something I have wanted to do since I was a little girl. I finally got to visit Vatican City. St. Peter’s Square was just like I imagined, except somehow it looks much bigger in pictures. I liked it better in person though…how close and intimate it felt, and how big it was but how much grander it felt regardless of the size. I literally got chills walking into St. Peter’s Basilica. I knew a lot of how it looked, mainly because my family watches Christmas Midnight Mass celebrated there on TV every Christmas Eve (even last year at 2am when we got home from our own Midnight Mass), but being there in person just made me really want to see Christmas Midnight Mass in person one year. (Catie and Joey- I got Mom to agree that we’ll do it one year, help me hold her to that!!) The Basilica was huge and every little piece of art was so particularly planned and beautifully crafted and designed with a distinct purpose. I could go into much more detail, but like I was telling Mom when I called home on Sunday, it’s something you just can’t put into words (which is my excuse for coming back with Mom, so I can show her). We didn’t get to see the Sistine Chapel, which again just is another reason I have to come back, but the Basilica is really what I wanted to see so I wasn’t too upset. The Vatican Museums are just going to have to wait for my next trip to Rome. After not being able to get into the Sistine Chapel though (we weren’t going to wait 3 hours in the sweltering heat of Rome for five minutes inside), we decided to settle for a place we were told has the best gelato in Italy by our inter-port student from Italy. So we stopped at Old Bridge, got a chocolate gelato and headed for the train toward Naples.
Now when you think of all the cities in Italy, Naples is one of the ones you hear about… but I can’t figure out for the life of me why. It was a terrible city to make port in because if that’s the first thing you see of a country, most people wouldn’t get off the ship. It was dirty, felt really sketchy, it smelled awful, and I felt unsafe just in the cab ride from the train station to our ship at the port. Granted, ports are usually not the most beautiful part of a city, but Naples was definitely the worst we’ve seen yet. Fortunately, we didn’t plan to spend our last two days in Italy spending much time there!
Sunday morning (Day 6) we were all up bright and early to take a ferry to the island of Capri. It was absolutely beautiful, but from the moment I got on the island I felt like I’d been there before and I couldn’t figure out why. It didn’t hit me till mid-afternoon when I was lounging on the beach by the boats that the island is literally the spitting image of Catalina Island off the coast of California, where I spent a weekend back in May. I still loved the island, and it did have its differences (like taking the chair-lift to the very top of the island, the homemade pizza and the shoe shops where they literally make shoes and you can custom order them and have them fitted to your foot, which I still am wishing I had done). But by the end of the day, I was ready to go back to my boat.
The last day was actually pretty uneventful after the morning, but I guess the fact that we hiked a volcano before noon still qualifies it as a successful day in port. We woke up at the crack of dawn, got a hearty breakfast and headed out to hike the famous Mount Vesuvius that destroyed the city of Pompeii in the year 79 A.D. The mountain itself wasn’t too bad of a hike, but the history of it and the crater at the top made it a really amazing experience (besides the fact that we can all say we hiked the active volcano that is responsible for the most deathly eruptions in history). They say if it erupted today (which it is overdue for by about 13 years), it would result in over 8000 fatalities and 13000 injuries (yes, I did wait until now to let Mom know that little detail… until after I had already done it and survived).
So we got back to the ship about noon with just a minor battle wound from the mountain. I took a little tumble near the bottom hiking back down because I was preoccupied with getting out of the way of a little old lady who probably shouldn’t be hiking anything much less Vesuvius… and I lost my footing and scraped up my leg. (Yes, I fell going DOWN the mountain… is anyone surprised? Probably not.) So we got back, took showers, naps and studied a little for the Global Studies midterm and then headed to the pool deck for our Fourth of July BBQ! Now any SAS alumni will tell you wonderful things about the crew… they’re amazing. We are so spoiled by these people who work so hard to make our time on the ship comfortable and clean, but I had never heard of their BBQ skills. It was fantastic. Who knew you could get a whole spread of burgers, ribs, corn on the cob, and chocolate cake for American Independence Day when you’re on a ship in Italy? So we spent our last three hours or so looking out at the kind of ugly landscape of Naples, Italy and celebrating our American patriotism. Kind of ironic, but a great time nonetheless and a great way to wrap up an amazing week in Italy.
Standing on the top deck as the ship was pulling out of the port of Naples last night and watching Italy shrink away in the distance, I had to remind myself that I can’t be disappointed by not seeing everything I wanted to see. Italy is a large country with positively endless opportunities and I would need much more time than I have in any given country on this voyage to experience the whole thing. But that’s also one of the joys of Semester at Sea – it’s a sampler platter! It gives us a little taste of several different cultures, makes us fall in love with each one in a different way and instills the desire to go back to the places we love most to learn more and see everything.
When I go back to Italy one day I still need to see a few things: Venice, Verona and Milan in Northern Italy, the Sistine Chapel and the Pantheon in Rome, Sorrento and Pompeii (the city destroyed by my volcano!) and as much more of Tuscany as I can see (and I still need to go wine tasting)! I don’t think I’d ever dislike anything in Italy (except maybe Naples, but they invented pizza so I can’t hate on them too much) so I’m open to see anything.
So that was Italy. Seven Days. Rome, Siena, Florence, Vatican City, Capri and Vesuvius. No big deal right? Just a typical Semester at Sea week.
And in less than 48 hours… we will make port in Dubrovnik, Croatia where I will also get to see Bosnia and Montenegro. Three countries in four days. Again… just a typical weekend around here!
Ciao from the Mediterranean along the Italian Coast!
One port down, six to go and this trip is already going too fast! We are back on the ship and almost about to dock in Italy for port #2 in Civitavecchia in a few hours.
Barcelona is such an amazing city, a blog will truly not describe how much I loved it. They warned us pretty heavily about all the things that could happen and I know people that dealt with it but I was lucky enough to have a nearly flawless experience.
I couldn’t have asked for a better first day especially. We got through customs and everything very smoothly and were of the ship and into Barcelona by 10:30am. My group of girls decided instead of starting off touristy, we were going to start at the beach for the morning and then go to a quiet lunch of Spanish food then go to explore the city. Well, that didn’t really happen. About 2 minutes after laying our towels on the beach, I was approached by a local guy named Manuel who “wanted to practice his English.” He wasn’t creepy though, so the girls and I started chatting with him. On the ship we had been told that the night before was a big Catalan holiday celebration so that lots of the stores would be closed and locals would probably be walking around hungover (haha). So this guy had his group of friends with him but they were all still sleeping from the night before on the beach. He even had a couple of us try to help him play a trick on them by waking up his friends and knowing their names but them not knowing who the cute American girls were. So for awhile we actually had a really good time practicing our Spanish and helping him learn some more English (although he was much more fluent than most of us were, except my roommate Jackie who is fluent and was our lifesaver all weekend). Then his friends started waking up and joining us and they were so much fun! It turned out that they were in some kind of band though and had their guitars with them and decided it’d be fun to serenade the American girls on the beach! All they really knew was Nirvana and Green Day songs (shoutout to my little brother- Joey you would’ve LOVED it) but they didn’t know the lyrics correctly so half of it was in Spanish. Then they also sang us some local Spanish songs that they knew and by this point we had half the beach watching us. I think it was the best possible way to be welcomed into our first port.
Then of course, we set off for lunch and had a lovely first meal of TAPAS, which are like mini finger-foods that come similar to appetizers, but you eat just a few of them as a meal (I had them for lunch every day I was in Spain) and are absolutely to die for! It’s really fun and easy to just find something on the menu and try it too because they’re small and cheap so it’s not a big deal if you don’t like it, you just order something else. There was one that I had three times and could probably eat every day for a year and never get sick of… I plan to post the recipe out of my friend Jenn’s tapas cookbook that she bought.
After lunch we decided to explore a little and we walked down Las Ramblas, which is like Barcelona’s Main Street and has all kinds of markets and vendors and stores and the most interesting people all over the road. We spent about an hour just wandering down the road and enjoying the sights and all the different trinkets (but decided not to do any actual shopping till Sunday because we would spend all our time AND money there).
Then we found a subway and took the metro to another part of Barcelona where we visited Antoni Gaudi’s famous Parque Guell, which is basically a huge public park up on a hill that overlooks the city and has all kinds of beautiful architecture that you can walk through. I ended up going there again on a tour the next day and enjoying it just as much as the first time.
At that point, we were pretty tired and had enough time to head back to the ship for dinner and short “siestas” before getting dressed up to explore the Barcelona nightlife!
We had all kinds of adventures the three nights we spent in Barcelona, but I think I’ll spare anyone who’s still reading this novel the extensive details. Here’s the gist: Night #1. Went to a club called Opium, didn’t pay cover charge, met a bunch of guys who just graduated from a university in Texas and danced with them till about 5:30am when they walked us back to our shuttle. Except on the way, the sun started to rise over the harbor so it distracted us and delayed our return to the ship even more. I got in bed at 6:45am. I woke up at 9am for a guided trip that left at 9:30. Night #2. I was going to go to bed early. In fact, I did. I was in bed for about five minutes though when my roommate and our friend Rachel barge into the room screaming my name and insisting I come out with them because “you’re only in Barcelona once!” which of course got me out of bed, into another cute dress and out to another club. This one was Catwalk, which I had heard wasn’t great making me a bit skeptical but once again we didn’t pay cover charge (it’s great to be with a group of cute American girls) so it was worth it. Didn’t love the club because they didn’t play very good music and pretty much everyone there was either from SAS or they didn’t speak a word of English and didn’t like American girls. So we left at about 3am. Night #3. Went to the lightshow at Montjuic and saw a HUGE rave in the square. More on that later. Then went to a shot bar called Chupitos, which is famous for their over 600 varieties of mixed shots that are only 1-2 euro apiece. I choose one I’d heard recommended called a Harry Potter shot… named for the fact that they LIGHT IT ON FIRE. No joke. I was so impressed (and it barely even tasted like alcohol) that I ended up buying another one! Then we went to a third club of the weekend, this one called Razzmatazz which was easily the worst. It was about 7 rooms all connected in weird ways, which made it very popular and thus very crowded and easy to lose people (which we did several times, making it much less fun). By about 4am I was ready to leave and ended up saying goodbye to my group of girls and leaving with some other SAS people with an extra seat in their cab back to the ship. (And yes, that was the without-details version!)
Day two in Barcelona I got to see all the sights on a tour! Saw the Barcelona Cathedral, the Gothic Quarter, Parque Guell (again), La Perdera and La Sagrada Familia (which was easily the coolest – it’s a huge church designed by Gaudi who started it in the early 1900s and it’s still not done 127 years later but they estimate another 20ish years before it’s done…. Definitely something I recommend to ANYONE going anywhere near Barcelona in their life, it’s definitely a sight to see. It almost looks like it’s melting but the architecture is incredible and each side has an incredibly detailed façade of different scenes in the life of Christ.)
Day three was dedicated to (besides sleeping in finally) seeing the monastery at Montserrat, which houses the famous black Virgin statue (making in an important religious site). We took a long train there (which we said was going to be spent studying or sleeping… yeah right) and then a cable car to the top of the mountain (talk about kinda scary… let’s take a shaky metal car over a huge gorge on thin cables against a steep cliff… they can get tourists to pay for anything!) and then the monastery is basically carved into the mountain. It’s incredible and the view is to die for (friends, see my facebook picture).
Later that evening, we headed to Montjuic for the fountain lightshow which was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen (yes, including the Bellagio’s in Vegas). Then in the whole courtyard and walkway in front of the Montjuic museum was this HUGE rave… there was a stage and lights and music and people dancing in the fountains and drinking and in the dance pit in front of the stage there was a pool of foam that was being sprayed from the stage and all these people just having a crazy amazing time dancing in the foam. It looked like so much fun, but we decided to keep our dresses clean for later in the night (for Chupitos and Razzmatazz) and watched the lightshow and the whole crazy rave scene from a wall off the main walkway. Sitting up there talking to the girls on our last night and overlooking the amazing city of Barcelona was when I realized exactly how lucky I am to be doing this. I know it’ll hit me a few more times but this being the way I spend my summer is pretty incredible and definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am grateful for.
The last day was mainly uneventful. We slept in, hit Las Ramblas for shopping and saw a couple other must-see tourist sites but most things were closed for Sunday (other countries still do that) and then got snacks for the ship to make up for the food on board, which got about the third day at sea. Then we headed back to the ship early to make on-ship time and that completed our experience in Barcelona, Spain!
Allow me to apologize. I don’t know personally how to keep blog entries short… I will never be a good journalist because I just can’t perfect the art of being concise… details are too important to me. The story seems so black and white without them. So if you’re still reading this, I applaud you and I hope you enjoy my colorful renditions of my travels.
We arrive in Italy in a few short hours and embark on Port #2 of our Mediterranean Adventures!
Sending love to all from Barcelona, Spain.
And now Italia-bound!! Ciao Bellas!
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