LIFE AT SEA
June 21, 2008
Hello my beloved family and friends!!
So I've been on this incredible ship for a week and I am having a wonderful time!! After a day of orientation I started my classes. As a Religious Studies major, I am taking two classes, Europe after Christendom and Ritual and Belief. My first class talks about the history of Christianity throughout Europe and how it has influenced the societies and what prevalence it still has in Europe. It will be exciting to see all the beautiful cathedrals in every port and compare the different ways Christianity changes to accommodate people in different countries. It is a very interesting class because I know so little about Christianity, it has already broadened my perspective on the religion. The only down side is that it is at 8am and because we are traveling north east we lose an hour every other day. Many people find themselves really tired, so everyday I manage to squeeze in a nap to rejuvenate myself.
My other class is about rituals and beliefs. We talked about the definition of religion and how different religions fit into the several different definitions there are. Then we discussed the evolution of religion and what types of religious leaders there are. It is an anthropology class and my teacher's main field of study was in India. I have always been interested in Hinduism and I will be taking a course on it this fall when I return home. It is awesome to be able to sit and talk with her about her experiences and views on the religion and the country. My teachers are husband and wife so their teaching styles are similar and it makes it a lot easier on me. There is a lot of reading and some people are stressing out because of it, I'm doing well with it and find myself with more free time than anything else.
I have meet a lot of really cool people and it is nice to feel as if I have a family of friends here that I really enjoy spending time with. Since we've had class the last 4 days we got today off and I slept in until 1pm and enjoyed the well needed sleep. Every night there is 'pub night' where they have a bar service on the upper deck, we are allowed 4 beers and it is a nice time to get to know new people, play some cards and socialize. Tonight they have a talent show, which should be really fun. Some people are singing, playing guitar, doing comedy, or a dance routine. I got a sweetish massage yesterday, the first one I've ever had and I do not know how I ever survived with out them. I've decided, since I'm on vacation, sort of, that a massage is necessary at least once a week! The weather has been really cold, windy, and rainy. Being a girl from Southern California I don't do well in the cold but hopefully once we start heading south into Denmark it will warm up. We are going to be porting in Norway on Tuesday morning and I am so excited to start experiencing a different culture. The ship feels like it is getting smaller and smaller and I have an itch to get off and go exploring.
It has taken a few days to get used my new surroundings and life at sea but I am doing much better and am trying to take it all in for what it is worth. When I get back from Norway I will be sure to let you all know what it was like. I have planned trips through the campus and then some time to explore with my friends, apparently we port really close to a large college, so we're going to try to meet some locals and get a genuine feel for life in Norway. I hope you are all enjoying your summer and don't miss me too much :) Let me know what is new and exciting with you or if there is anything interesting going on in the outside world. Till next time!
Love, Michelle :)
June 28, 2008
We've just set sail from Norway on our way to Russia. I spent four amazing days in the southern city of Bergen. It was VERY exciting to see land after being at sea for 8 days and everyone was awake at 5:30am to watch us come into port. Everyone kept saying that it felt like Christmas morning, we had all been waiting so long to finally arrive on dry land. The night before we had a briefing on the culture of Norway. It is a socialist country and tax their people anywhere from 30-70% of their income, however since Norway found oil off the North sea they have been a very prosperous country and are the 3rd largest exporter of oil, so they are able to pay their citizens well. Minimum wage is about equivalent to $25 an hour and their average income is $60,000 a year. Like other socialist countries they are taken care of from cradle to grave including schooling, health care, maternity leave, and welfare. Because they are so prosperous they have been able to set up a fund for the day when the oil runs out, so they can ensure the continuation of their society, it is currently at about 60 billion dollars. Quite different than the US's extreme debt. Because of all this wealth in Norway, their prices are equally as high. Everything in Bergen was very expensive and a beer cost about $12 a piece, a MacDonald's meal was about $15, a pack of cigarettes are $20, and any sit down meal can run you from $30 to $60 for one person. The Norwegians have no problem paying these prices, its the America visitors that break the bank with sticker shock.
When we arrived in Norway, the US Norwegian ambassador came aboard and discussed with us more in detail the relations between the US and Norway and the economic differences. Afterward we all rushed to go exploring. I spent the morning wondering around the city with my friends, we went to the fish market and tried whale, moose, and some other weird animals. Whaling is legal in Norway and is one of the reasons they are not a part of the European Union. It sort of tasted like fishy beef jerky. In the afternoon I went on a trip to the Bergen University where we spent some time with a psychologist professor who took us on a tour of the University and talked with us about the Norwegian culture from an outsiders perspective and the differences between Africa, where he was from, and Norway.
That evening we all set out to enjoy the local Bergen pubs. I had such a wonderful time meeting Norwegians and spending time with my new friends from the ship. The most shocking thing about Norway was how incredibly friendly the people are. They were all very social and kept buying us drinks, dancing with us, and told us where all the good spots were to hang out. We ended our night at the oldest bar in Norway, about 150 years old. The bar and adjacent buildings were all slightly slanted as they were slowly sinking into the ground and the owner told us that when it rains the harbor floods all the way to the entrance of the bar.
The next morning I woke up early to go to a fairy tale summer house built by Ole Bull, who was a famous Norwegian violinist. What was so interesting about the house, other than it's beautiful location, was that it was built by 10 different architects and included several different styles; Russian, Asian, Spanish, Italian, and Arabica. It was a beautiful house and you could smell the wood in every room, it kind of reminded me of the smell in my grandparents old basement. We listened to the story of his life and it was interesting to be in a place that was at one point someone's home. On our drive home the bus driver took us on a tour of the suburbs of Bergen and showed us that although there is only a 3 to 1 income gap between the rich and poor, the oil industry had made a handful of people very rich and they had very nice homes. That night we went out again and enjoyed the Bergen night life. What is cool about Norway is that it is really close to the Artic, so it being summer, the sun never set. Even at 3 in the morning it felt like 8pm. It was always hard to tell what time it was and very interesting to be in a place where it is bright all the time, sure makes me happy not to have a window in my room.
Bright and early that morning I went on a hike up to the top of the mountain where there was a troll village. Because it is cold and dark most of the year, their folklore is that there are trolls living in the hills and they only come out when it is dark. If they are caught in the sun they turn into stone, so all of the stone trolls all over the city are actually real trolls that got stuck in the sunlight. Unfortunately for us it was bright all the time and we never happened to come across any trolls. We hiked back down the mountain and I spent the rest of the day on the ship recuperating from my late night.
On the last day, I went walking again around the town with some friends. We bought souvenirs and ate some more whale meat. We ventured into some of the residential areas and looked at all the apartment buildings and homes. After having our last Hansa beer we headed back to the ship and met back up with other friends of ours who had gone on long overnight trips to swap stories and pictures.
This morning we started classes again and discussed Norway in religious terms. Norway is a Lutheran country, however most people only attend church on Christmas and Easter. However a majority of them do send their children to some sort of religious school and they get confirmed. Most churches are now historical places rather than places of worship and religion is more of a way of life then something that is practiced in Norway. We have one more day of class and then we will be in Russia, where the beer and vodka is less expensive and I will hopefully be able to stay within budget.
I have a lot of trips planned for Russia and am very excited to share with you all my experiences. Now I get to take my beloved nap, there is an open mic night tonight which should prove to be interesting and very amusing. Again, I hope all of your summers are treating you well and I look forward to hearing from you all!! I miss you and you are always in my thoughts, with me in these amazing countries!!
St. Petersburg Pioneer
July 6, 2008
Greeting from Russia!!
I just got back from my 5 day stay in St. Petersburg Russia. This was a VERY different experience than that of Norway. This country is rough, the people are rough, and the language is rough!! Before docking we had a lot of warnings about the type of culture that Russia is. There is a lot of petty theft and we were warned about getting pick pocketed or our passports stolen. They did a good job of scaring us before arriving, we discussed the high crime rate a possibility of being harmed. Fortunately I had no such experience, my entire trip was very safe and at no point did I feel like I was in danger or unsafe, which is a very good thing.
The first day we got to Russia, my friends and I went exploring, which was not very easy to do. St. Petersburg is very hard to navigate, especially since none of us can speak Russian. After about 3 hours of wondering around we finally found a bank and a few of my friends were having trouble getting money. Once we figured all that out we went on a mission for food. Five restaurants later we found someone who spoke a little English to help us out. It was the cutest little restaurant in sort of a basement; cramped into a small corner table all 7 of us had an amazing three course meal and a beer. We cheered to good friends, good food, and good times in Russia. When we were done I had to head back to the ship to go on a tour.
I toured a Russian Synagogue and three Russian Eastern Orthodox Churches. The temple was nice and it felt like coming home, they had a display of a lot of old Jewish things; tallis, prayer books, yads, torah covers, pictures and paintings. I took some pictures of a prayer book in Hebrew and Russian, I almost wanted to buy one but wasn't sure what I would do with it. From there we went to a Russian Orthodox church, this was my favorite out of all the churches we visited. In my classes we talked a lot about the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox and they are very into icons. The church was covered in gold, most of these churches were, and very well decorated. The custom is to light a candle in front of the icon you are showing reverence to, cross yourself and kiss the icon. In this first church there was a separate place for tourist and those who wished to worship the icons, I thought this was very important because it showed that they respected those who were there to worship rather than those who were there to observe. In trying to experience what these people were feeling I went up to a picture of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, stared for a bit into their eyes, crossed myself and kissed the icon in an attempt to feel one tenth of how this tradition gripped people. Unfortunately, I was unable to feel any type of connection to the picture, however I understood more how if someone grew up around these icons could feel as if they are similar to a relative. For me, I'd rather show love and appreciation to people rather than pictures.
The next two churches we went to were more of museums that were actual religious churches. They were very beautiful and full of grand pictures and sculptures. It was really interesting to look at the history behind the churches and how they have been restored after being devastated by World War II. Everything was covered in gold and there were big domes in the middle of the churches. One of the goals of Eastern Orthodox churches are to bring a feeling of heaven on earth, this was very evident in the churches, but like I said to me they were just beautiful pieces of art work, not a medium of spiritual experience.
After our tour, I went out on the town with some friends of mine. There was a small outside bar right off of our ship and most of the kids from Semester at Sea were out there drinking so it was nice to feel as if I were in a safe environment. There was a huge yacht parked outside by our ship and we met the captain of the yacht. I asked if we could get a private tour, the company he worked for is trying to sell the yacht and the next day he was going to go show it to some very rich Russians. The yacht was worth about 12 million dollars and was immaculate inside. He showed us the controls, all 5 bedrooms, and the engine room. This was such a privilege and because it was parked outside our ship all our friends saw us on the yacht, I felt so cool on it. He gave us some Vodka from Finland and we sat and enjoyed the lap of luxury. Afterward, we went to a few other bars in the area but did not venture far and ended up meeting some locals who discussed a little Russian culture with us.
The next evening I went to a Russian Folklore show. There were performers who were singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments. They also wore traditional Russian Folk clothing and really looked like they enjoyed what they were doing and are very proud of their Russian culture. It was beautiful to watch the traditional dancing of Russians. We all know the stereotypical Russian dancing, arms crossed, squatting and kicking; it was sort of like that but much cooler. There was a lot of fast twirling and fancy foot work, they were all very talented and gave a very good performance. I was lucky to have been able to experience this aspect of Russian culture that few other participants were able to see.
The next day I got up early and went on a tour into the Russian country side where there were grand palaces. We drove through the heart of St. Petersburg and it looked just like NYC but with Russian words everywhere. Everyone was on their way to work, dressed in suited and dresses and the roads were jammed with people trying to get to work. We went to a couple different lavish palaces which were bombarded and ransacked by the Nazi's in WWII. We got to see pictures of what the palace looked like before they restored it and I was amazed at how much hard work and dedication went into re-creating these beautiful grand pieces of artwork. The greatest thing about the palace was that everything was covered in gold and the whole place took your breath away once you entered it. Additionally there was art work of angels, women, and men in every room, beautiful china and stone fire places. The second palace we visited had more of a Greek and Egyptian style and had separate rooms for the men and the women, one adored with war symbols, the other with peaceful symbols. Again, there were a lot of beautiful paintings and statues.
That evening we went to the heart of St. Petersburg in hopes of going to a bar called SKY. We rode on the Metro to get to the center of town and wondered around until we found the bar. However, once we got there they had closed their doors to Americans, so disappointed we looked for another place to spend our night. We ended up at a really cool Russian bar and met some really cool guys from Florida who gave us a private tour of Russia form a local's perspective. They took us out to some cool restaurants and we went to the banya, which is a Russian sauna of sorts and spent the afternoon at the spa. It was really sweet of them to show us around and I felt privileged to have a view of Russia I would not have had otherwise. When we got back to the ship there was a little barbeque for the 4th of July and although there were no fireworks we did our best to display our patriotism and pride to be American. Especially after being in Russia, I have never been happier to live in America.
Fortunately for me, my friends all had a very different experience, a group of people on a tour saw a guy fall off scaffolding three stories high and no one stopped to help him, and they were all a little disturbed by the experience. My friend almost got a gun pulled on her, another one of my friends was being harassed by a prostitute, there was a big Russian bar fight outside by our ship, some of my friends jumped into the smelly canal, and my other friend hung out with the Russian Mafia. Needless to say everyone was ok in the end and no one was ever in any serious danger, I'm just very happy that my experience was not like any of that. Russia is a very crazy country with a lot of problems, they are slowly modernizing but they have a long way to go and their people have to be the ones that wish to change the way they treat each other.
I had a really great time in Russia but am excited that we are on our way to Copenhagen, Denmark. Most people there speak English and we are told that it is a lot like Norway. This makes me very happy and I am very excited for the crazy experiences that Denmark will have to offer. For now it's back to school, writing papers, and studying for exams. We have one more day of classes and we will port in Denmark. I hope you are all enjoying life and had a good 4th of July!! I look forward to hearing from you all soon, you are all in my heart and I miss you dearly!!
July 11, 2008
I LOVE Denmark, I had such a fabulous time here! If there were ever a draft in the states I would move here! We ported in the America Harbor of a small town named Kors?r. It is about an hour and a half outside of Copenhagen, and when we pulled in there was a band playing music and about 100 people greeting us into the port, there was also a red carpet laid out right as we got off the ship. Already we all loved Denmark and we realized it was VERY different from Russia, with the VIP treatment and all. Unfortunately it was pouring rain outside; I think I've seen more rain this summer than I see all year in California! After the ship was cleared, some friends and I went to go hunt down an ATM, after asking a few people and getting drenched we found an ATM then spent some time trying to figure out the exchange rate without a calculator, this is where our college education came into question. Then we ventured back to the ship for lunch.
Later that afternoon I had a trip into Copenhagen and we went to the Danish Resistance Museum. We first went to the little Mermaid statue that is very famous because Has Christian Anderson came from Denmark and they are very proud of the fact. In our pre-port lecture the lady told us that it had been decapitated twice and is a very popular tourist attraction. Afterward we took a short walk around the neighboring park, looked at all the statues and fountains, and heard about the history of the area, especially during WWII. Then we went into the Danish Resistance Museum, the lobby had all these uniforms and gun, it was interesting to look into the barrel of these huge guns and think about how many lives they must have taken and how much destruction they much have caused. The museum followed the progression of the occupation of Denmark, which originally was given the opportunity to be natural but because of their strategic location the Nazi's decided to occupy them anyway. When the Danish government heard that the Nazi's would be occupying and taking all the Jews, the people came together and smuggled 7,000 out of 7,500 Jews into Sweden and saved their lives. For the other 500 that were captured they were held at a nearby concentration camp as the government arranged for them to not be transported to a death camp. Additionally, they regularly sent them food and supplies through the Red Cross and ensured that as Danish they were treated well. During the war, the king of Denmark would ride on horseback through Copenhagen without a body gaud, to give the people home and reassure them that everything we going to be ok. When a Nazi solider asked a little girl why he rode around without a body gaud she replied that all of Denmark was his body guard. I thought that really reflected on the Danish mentality. There was a large amount of Dane's who printed illegal information about the war and distributed it to the people. Additionally, there were many people how supplied the British government with information about the Nazi's during the occupation. They risked their lives for truth and justice and that is very admirable. When the war was over and all the Jews returned to Denmark they found all of their homes and belongings just as they had left them. Denmark really has a good ethical and moral compass that is very apparent through the museum and should make anyone who is Danish very proud.
Once we left the Danish Resistance Museum, we went on a tour through the city and the government buildings, then to a small Jewish museum. This is the only museum dedicated to a minority in Denmark. It was designed by the same guy who is working on the new World Trade Center building and was a beautiful collection of old Jewish things from all over Denmark. There was a short video that explored the history of Jews in Denmark and the museum had a wide range of artifacts; letters, coins, pictures, artwork, and ritualistic objects. It was nice to be in a Jewish place, I don't do many Jewish things on board the ship and it was good to feel a Jewish presence. When the tour was over, my friend Clair and I stayed in Copenhagen and met up with some friends.
Our friends had a hotel room we were sharing with them and they had free dinner and breakfast which helped with my budgeting. We went to a little dive bar that was right down the street and then had dinner and got ready to go out. There was a main city square about 2 blocks from our hotel room and there were all kinds of performers there. They had these two Native American dancers singing and dancing in full costume. It was fun to see other Americans in Denmark; we sat on a bench, listened, and watched for a bit then did some bar hoping. There was a Jazz Festival in town and every bar had live music which was really fun and added to the experience. We got back to our hotel room and enjoyed a free breakfast in the morning.
That day all of my friends went on a bus tour to see the Mermaid, so my friend Clair and I, who had already seen the tour, took a walk through the town. We went down the main shopping street and it was packed full of people. It was sort of like 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica but with way more people!! There were a lot of pregnant women, babies, and children, I was wondering what they were all doing shopping on the Wednesday afternoon but it was fun to walk around. Afterward we lost our friends and decided to take a walk to a hippie village called Christiania. Back in the 60, this commune decided to tell Denmark off, create its own society and have its own government. They legalized all drugs and built the whole area themselves. There is awesome graffiti/art work all over the buildings, there is a little tent city, and lots of messed up homeless people. Denmark allowed them to do this over the years but have recently stopped allowing them to sell drugs or have their own laws, the people of the town were not very happy about this but I suppose have no choice. It has become sort of a tourist spot but when we went, there was live music and lots of people at the outside bar enjoying the atmosphere. The sun was shining and I finally felt like I was getting a tan, which was very welcomed since I haven't been hot this whole trip. We spent about an hour walking around and looking at all the little shops before heading back into town. As we were walking we ran into my professor and his wife, my other professor, as they were going into a Danish design museum which was free only that night. So we tagged along and looked at all the cool chairs and furniture. It was interactive and you could sit on the chair or open and close the drawers. They had these jars with different tree oil smells in them and we took a wood test but failed miserably. It was a nice spontaneous visit and then we went back to the hotel and met up with our friends for dinner.
The hotel we were staying in had an Absolute (a brand of Vodka) Ice Bar, so we went with about 15 people. It was cool, literally, about 20 degrees, -5 degrees C. We wore these big ponchos, snow boots and gloves. Everything was made of ice, the table, chairs, walls, our glasses, and the bar its self were all made of ice. It was neat because as I drank my drink I was melting/eating my cup, I felt like I was in Willy Wonka! We were only allowed to stay in there for 40 minutes so we sat around and had a contest to see who could eat the most of their cup before we left, it was really fun! Afterward we went back to the city square and spent some time there. As we went looking for another bar we were stopped by a Swedish guy asking us if we knew where a bar was, since we didn't we started a conversation and he invited us back to his apartment for a pre-party. When we got there, there were about 8 other girls from our trip already at their place, we spent some time there and then we all went to the hottest night club in Denmark. We didn't have to pay to get it and took an elevator to the club. I felt like I was transported back to LA, there were a lot of flashy people and great music. The dance floor light up and followed the beat of the music. I meet these guys whose bachelor party it was and they let me hang out with them for the rest of the night. I felt like the coolest American girl in Denmark and left just around the time the sun came up and the club kicked us out.
The next morning we again enjoyed our free breakfast and headed over the bridge to Sweden. It was not that much different from Denmark but we wanted to say that we had been to Sweden. We went back to Christiania because our other friends had not gone, it was not as excited as it was when we went the other day because it was earlier in the day and there was no live music or lots of people. After doing some last minute souvenir shopping, we all got back on the train and headed back to Kors?r. We were all really exhausted and it was raining so I spent the rest of the night enjoying being home. It is funny to look at a big blue cruise ship and think, home at last. Today I went out and walked around Kors?r for a bit, it is a small town of about 1,000 and not too much to see. I sent some post cards and got some needed toiletries.
I had such a fabulous time in Copenhagen, the other day I couldn't stop smiling and singing because I was so happy with the experience I was having. We're leaving tonight for Belgium and I can't wait to see what other adventures lay ahead for me. Thank you all for taking the time to read about my adventures, it makes me so happy that I can share all this with you, you are all so important to me, I would not want it any other way. I hope you have all seen the sun more than I have and are enjoying life!! I can't wait to share pictures and presents when I return. I have about 42 days and 5 countries more, and loving every minute of it!
Love you all, Michelle
July 26, 2008
Wow, 42 days and 5 countries and so far I am having an amazing time. I finally feel like a savvy traveler, at the first few countries I didn't really know what I was doing and now I feel as if I have the hang of this and am getting the best out of the experience.
On our first day at port I slept in till about 12 and then got on a bus to Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that erupted and destroyed Pompeii. We took a bus to about half way up the volcano and hiked about a half an hour to the top rim of the volcano. The view was fabulous and I could see all of Naples, the bay, and the surrounding towns. The last time the volcano erupted was in 1944 and you could see the lava river flow that it created, it didn't kill very many people and was manageable because of its predictable lava flow path. We walked around the rim and right before we left there was some smoke coming out of the side of the mountain, which was really cool to see. I took a few geology courses when I went to school in Santa Barbara so I had some back ground with volcanoes and now I can say that I climbed an active one. A few of my friends did the trip on their own and hiked two and a half hours from the bottom, conveniently as they got to the base we pulled up in the bus and I got to climb the last part with them. After some time on the mountain we headed back to the ship and I took a shower and a nap. When my friends got back we all went out for some pizza and wine, Americans really could learn a thing or two about how to make a pizza, it was so fresh, delicious, and creamy, unlike any pizza I had ever had before.
The next day my friends were lagging and although I had been up since 7am, we didn't leave for Rome until about 11am, I went with Dave and Jared who are brothers. It took us about 2 hours to get to Rome and once we got there we checked into our hostel and set out to explore Rome. The first place we went was the Colosseo (Coliseum), it was really interesting to try to imagine what it might have looked like in its prime with thousands of people cheering as a gladiator and a lion fought. Afterward we walked around the ruins in Palatino, in the same way it was remarkable to look at what is left of such a grand society. Because my friends were so exhausted we headed back to the hostel, showered, and took a nap. Then we headed over to the Trinita dei Monti (Spanish Steps) were we partook in a pub crawl, we stared at one bar where they gave us a free t-shirt, pizza, and as much wine or beer that we could drink in an hour. Then we went from bar to bar walking through out Rome, it was really fun and we were able to do it with several other people on our trip which made it that much more fun. At the end of the night I met some guys from Australia and had a great conversation about Hinduism and what it was like to live in Australia. As the night died down, my friends and I headed back to our hostel for the night.
The next morning I woke up to find that my friends had left to go to Vatican City without me. I was a little upset but I figured I'm in Rome and there is no sense in wasting time, so I headed out on my own. On my way to the Pantheon, I passed by Colonna Traiana, which was a huge pillar with very detailed sculpture etched into it spiraling all the way up the pillar. It was remarkable to think that they were able to make such beautiful carvings that are so intricate. Then I went to a military museum, Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, there I saw my friend Tim and traveled around with him for the rest of the day. We finally got to the Pantheon, I'm not sure if I could put into words how breath taking it was. In the center of the done in a large open circle and the sun shines into the building in such a beautiful way that it feels like god is taking a soul from the earth, or an alien in abducting someone, either way it was beautiful. I got chills and was in awe of the beautiful structure. We spent some time there enjoying the building before we headed over to the Piazza Navona, which used to be where Roman's would come to watch a circus and was later transformed into a city market, there were three fountains and it is surrounded by buildings in sort of a long oblong shape. My friend Tim haggled with a street vender and purchased a cheap knock off watch for his brother, it was funny to watch him argue with the man as the price slowly came down. Once he made a deal we sat and had some pizza and decompressed for a bit. On our way back to the train station we went by the Fontana di Trevi, the Trevi Fountain, where we both threw a coin in over our heads and made a wish. It was really crowded but we managed to get some good pictures and enjoy the beauty and grandeur of the fountain. Exhausted, we headed back to the train station and took a very crammed two hour train ride back to Naples. We had to sit on the floor for the first hour until enough people got off and some seats were open, needless to say my bottom was not very happy. On the way we could see some towns with trash all through the street, because of the trash strike about a year ago and we could see people burring their trash along the side of the road to get rid of it, it is still a really big problem in the out skirt of the city, not so much in the cities any more. We also saw some oxen, which I don't think I've ever seen before in real life, my friend Tim is from northern Florida and made the comment 'wow, you really are a city girl hu?' I suppose I was forced to say ya. Once I got back home, to our ship, I took a much needed shower and called it a night.
This morning I didn't make it a priority to wake up, so I slept until about 1pm, which is what vacation is for, right? Feeling very well rested I set out to walk about Naples, it is not a very nice city, it's kind of dirty but I got a nice walking tour in and saw what there was to see. Our ship is docked right in front of a castle and I went on a self-guided tour, it had a lot of really great art and an amazing history of war and conflict. The bronze door to the front had a cannon ball stuck in it, I thought that was really cool, and one of the towers, there were 5, is now used for city council meetings. What an incredible place to have a city council meeting, I could just imagine them arguing about the trash strike under an ancient renaissance style dome. After my tour I headed back to the ship and joined my friends in soaking up some sun and played a bit in the pool, it actually felt like summer. Then we had a big barbeque with chicken, ribs, and corn, it was a very nice change from the mass produced food we normally get to eat.
Now it's back to grind of school work and papers. We are soon on our way to Istanbul Turkey, I excited to do my fare share of haggling in the bazaars and I have a few really cool trips that I am looking forward to. Rome was fantastic and I had such a great time navigating around the ancient city with so much history, culture, and beauty. We have three more countries and then I'm on my way home, this has been an incredible summer and I am so lucky to share it with all of you. I hope you are all doing well, please let me know how your summer is going. I miss you all and can't wait to see you soon!!
Crazy Cairo Cruzer
August 1, 2008
Greetings from Egypt!
With such an unexpected port, I had an unexpectedly amazing trip to Cairo. As many of you know our ship was diverted here on our way to Turkey. The environment on the ship was very chaotic when we first heard that there had been bombings in Turkey, the morning after we all found out about it our Dean came on the loud speaker and made an official announcement about the bombing and said that everyone, here and back at the states, were discussing the issue and that as soon as there was news we would know. For the next 12 hours everyone was buzzing trying to predict whether or not we would be going to Turkey and if not then where our voyage would take us. That night around 7pm the Dean made an announcement that we would in fact not be going to Turkey and that we would have a meeting in an hour time to find out where we were in deed going. We have a large lecture hall in the front of our ship where we have most of our community meetings, shows, events, and classes; I have never seen that room packed so full of people, all 1,000 people on board must have been there. The Dean came out and the room was silent in anticipation, she came on the microphone and announced that we would be going to Alexandria. The room erupted in cheers and clapping, a few of my friends looked around confused until someone informed them that Alexandria was in Egypt, then they too were just as excited. We were informed that the port was another day away and that we would have a day at sea to relax and 'study'. I spent the next day sleeping, eating, tanning, anticipating and sleeping; it was a great day at sea.
We docked at Alexandria at about 8am and were off the ship by 9am and took a very long, very hot walk through the city to the train station. After buying our tickets the train was sold out and two of our friends didn't make it on the train. As we ran to the train it started leaving, I have never run to catch a train before and I don't know if I ever want to do it again. I ran my legs off, grabbed on to the railing, and hoped onto the train about 30 seconds before the platform ended, needless to say my heart was racing, it was very scary but I made it and got to Cairo. Once there we took a very exciting cab ride to our hotel, Tandy thinks my driving is dangerous, she needs to come to Cairo! There are practically no lanes and no rules, our cab was packed full of about 10 people and the cab driver was weaving between cars, cutting people off and slamming on his breaks, it was the cab ride of terror, but fun terror. Once we got to our hotel and settled in we went straight to the Grand Bizarre. I have never seen so much stuff in such small alleys with so many people in my entire life; it was like one large never ending dollar store but with much cooler stuff. Bargaining was the name of the game and it was quite a fun game, we all got so much stuff for so cheap, they really want you to buy their stuff so they are willing to take the price you want and if you walk away two seconds later they agree to the price you want and its yours. All the people were SO nice, welcoming us to Egypt, asking us where we were from, if we wanted something to drink, how we liked Egypt, etc. Apparently I am worth a thousand camels, am a queen, everyone wanted to marry me, and some man would give up his three wives for me. About ninety percent of the women were wearing head scarves and there were a lot of women in full burqa covering walking around, it felt kind of weird to be dressed in my normal cloths even though we were told to keep our shoulders and knees covered. What I thought was interesting was that the women on their television and on their billboards were all very sexy even though all of their women are completely covered up. After weaving and wobbling through the streets of stuff we found our way out and headed back to our hotel for some food, and then headed across the street to the Sheridon Hotel's hookah bar, fruit flavored tobacco smoked out of a water pipe, and spent some time relaxing and hanging out. Some of our friends went down the street into a Papyrus shop, the first paper made out of the reeds from the Nile River which was used by the Egyptians to paint stories on, and they met a guy who offered us a ride to the Pyramids and Egyptian Museum for 5 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to a dollar, a person. Needless to say we agreed and were set to meet him at the corner gas station at 9am.
The next morning we woke up, had breakfast and headed out to the cab. There were about 12 of us squeezed into a 10 person van; we've all learned to be very cozy with each other by now so this was no problem. Then we went to the Pyramids and the Sphinx, they were incredible, pictures can't do justice to the height and grandeur of the two biggest ones, I really couldn't believe that I was actually there. We got attacked by people wanting us to ride their camels, so we did and then was hassled for money, they are a tourist attraction and I understand that these people want money but they were really pushy, the only rude people I have met in Egypt, but it was cool to ride on a camel though. When I went down to the Sphinx we took a tour inside a tomb with hieroglyphics and other cool pictures carved onto the walls, it was so surreal to be in a place that was so old, built so long ago during such a great empire. Like I said, you see pictures and learn about them but there is comparison to actually being there. Afterward we gathered everyone up we drove over to the museum and had some good ol' KFC for lunch before going inside. The museum was huge and just full or Egyptian artifacts, coffins, statues, chariots, jewelry, beds, mummies, King Tut's (or Tutankhamun) golden head covering, pottery, and papyrus paintings. Although not the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts, the largest being in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, we spend about two hours looking around at all the cool ancient stuff. By this time we were all exhausted and headed back to the hotel for a nap and shower.
The same guy who got us the cab to the Pyramids told us about this dinner and a show on a boat down the Nile and we couldn't refuse. So we all got ready and piled into a cab once again and got to the boat. We had an amazing buffet dinner and then we watched a belly dancer, two guys with cool sticks, a guy who twirled around nonstop for ten minutes, and they brought up people from the audience to dance with them, all while floating down the Nile river. We all had such a great time and were very thankful to have met the guy who hooked us up with such great deals. Because alcohol is taboo in Islamic culture there were very few places to go drink so we bought some and hung out in our hotel room for the rest of the night. We had planned to wake up early to catch a train back to Alexandria and just as we laid down to go to sleep we got a phone call from one of our friends who told us that all the trains were sold out. So we got up and spent the next two hours trying to figure out how to get back to our ship. After calling every bus station, they were all sold out as well, the guy at the front desk of our hotel offered to help us find a ride home. In the morning he got us a 10 person cab for all 12 of us plus some of our other friend's luggage and bags, again we have all learned to be very cozy with one another. It took us 4 hours to get home and we all wanted to strangle each other by the time we got home, sitting in a squished cab in the Egyptian heat will do that to people. Once home we cooled off ate showered and took a nap.
Tomorrow we have one day at sea and we're going to have the Sea Olympics. Each hall way is designated as a specific sea; Yellow, Baltic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Dead, Arabian, and I am in the Adriatic Sea. Throughout the trip there are competitions between the seas and there is a whole set of games that are going to take place tomorrow, I'm not participating in any of them but it should be fun to watch and cheer on my team. The winner gets off the ship first when we get to Virginia; I'm not too worried about it as long as I get off before my flight. Then we will be in Greece for three days, right outside of Athens so the commute shouldn't be too bad.
I had a fantastic time in Egypt, especially since the trip was so unexpected. I can't wait for Greece, there are 22 days left on my trip and home is within the horizon. I miss you all terribly and am blessed to have you all in my life to share in my journey. I'm so excited to bring you all back pieces of my travels! I hope your summers are going well and life is treating you well!!
Gorgeous Gracious Grecian
August 6, 2008
So after 48 days of summer I am finally on vacation! Greece is like one big beach town with beautiful blue waters and a very hot sun. Traveling mostly alone or with only one other person, I had a very relaxing stay in Greece and I couldn't have been happier with my stay here. On the first day I walked around Piraeus and found a beautiful beach to spend my afternoon. Once I put my feet in the water I couldn't help but jump in the warm water in my cloths, I swam around for a bit and as I tried to climb out of the water onto the rocks I ended up having some difficulty and scraped up my legs and feet. I was alright though the cuts weren't deep and I took it as more as battle wounds than actually being hurt. After laying out for a bit to dry off I went to a little restaurant right off the beach and had a delicious Greek salad (fresh tomatoes, cucumber, and onions swimming in olive oil topped with a block of feta cheese with herbs and more olive oil), bread and a glass of wine. Being alone, several guys in the restaurant started talking to me, asking me where I was from and such, the guys I met actually knew the owner and I ended up not having to pay for my meal and got several more glasses of wine. Being wet and salty I went back to my ship for the night.
The next day my friend Ally and I took an hour long ferry ride to the nearby Island of Egina. We found a beach, laid out, swam in the salty water, and had a great lunch by the water. We did some shopping and took the ferry back to Piraeus. It was nice to spend the day with her, when you are traveling with only one other person there is more of an opportunity to have a good conversation and create a bond, more so than when you are in a big group. Once we got back to the ship we took advantage of the free internet that the port in Piraeus had to offer, I uploaded some pictures, downloaded some music, fed my internet craving, and felt better having connected with the outside world.
After sleeping in till noon I ventured into Athens to see the Acropolis. They have a very convenient metro system and a ticket was a little over a dollar, except that I rode it too far and was quite lost until I got on the other train in the opposite direction and finally found what I was looking for. It was a very hot day and quite the hike to the top of the Acropolis but it was very cool to be in the place of such great history and a place where such great people once stood. I've seen a lot of ruins in the past few countries, and I thought the stars make me feel small; it really puts a perspective on life and the fragility of it. I might not be as great as Aristotle or Plato but I stood where they once did and that's pretty great. When I had, had enough of the heat I walked back down the hill, found a restaurant, and had myself some amazingly scrumptious stuffed grape leaves. I love having native foods that you can get in the states but are a million times better, more authentic, and covered in olive oil. After my meal I headed back to Piraeus and waited for my friend Jamie to get back from her visit to Cyprus. We went back to the beach that I had gone to the other day and met up with the waiter from the restaurant that I had meet there as well. After a few glasses of wine we all jumped into the ocean, once again in all my cloths. Needless to say I need to do some laundry; I have a lot of very salty cloths. We ended our night at a club dancing and enjoying the Greek techno music.
Today Jamie and I set out to find another beach to hang out at. After an hour of walking around the harbor we decided we were not going to find another beach by walking so we walked in the opposite direction back to the same beach I had spent more of my time at. By the time we got there I was so hot and exhausted, I have never wanted to jump into a body of water as bad as I did at that moment. The water was so cold and refreshing; we swam around, laid out, swam again, laid out again, then headed back to our ship. After a well needed shower we used the free internet one last time and spend the last of our Euros on chocolate and chips.
One thing about traveling alone or in pairs is that I felt like I hadn't seen my friends in forever and when everyone got back on the ship I was excited to hear everyone's stories and adventures. It makes me think about what it's going to be like when we all leave and go back to our lives at home, it'll defiantly take some adjusting and it makes me sad to think that we will all never be in the same place at the same time again. In a day's time we will be in Croatia, more beaches and more sun. We are hopefully going to sleep out on the beach if it is warm enough, it'll be our last port and our last opportunity to hang out with each other off the boat. Then we are back to school for a few days and then we are home.
Greece was beautiful and if I were to choose one country that I really would want to revisit, it would be Greece, or maybe Croatia, we'll see. I miss you all and am excited to see all your smiling faces when I return. I hope your days are treating you as well as mine have and thank you again for being here with me in spirit. I look forward to hearing from you all!!
Hugs and Kisses, Michelle :)
Calm Competent Croatian
August 10, 2008
As our last port of our voyage, this was the most relaxed place that we have visited. Everyone enjoyed the great weather and resort like atmosphere. Because the port was very busy, our ship was unable to dock at port so we dropped anchor in the middle of the harbor and took the tender life boats to and from the ship. It was an interesting having to take a little boat into the port and timing our ventures around half hour intervals, when the boats left the ship. On the first day, my friends and I walked to the old city in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which is within the city walls fortress in the main part of town. We walked around the streets, went shopping, ate some delicious ice cream, and had some wine. After our tour we retired to the ship for dinner, shower and a nap. That night I met some really cool people from my trip who were on their way to a concert, I'm not sure how they found out about it but it was something that no one else on our trip knew about or went to. I've never danced for so long and the humid air made us sweaty and sticky. I had a really great time; it was nice to hang out with a few different people who were really friendly and fun to hang out with. We made it back to the ship on the last 2am tender, just in time to not be left ashore till 7am.
The next day we woke up and went to the Coca Cabana beach resort and drank some pina coladas while lounging on the beach. It was a very relaxing day and I improved my tan quite a bit. The water here was not as nice as the water in Greece but it is always fun to go swimming in the sea. We came back to the ship to clean ourselves up and headed out to the club 'Fuego.' As our last night as free people, and our last night being able to go out, all my friends went out together and had a great time hanging out for the last time in a club for the summer. Once again we made it back to our ship in the last 2am tender and I felt very accomplished not having to sleep outside for the night.
Today everyone on the ship prepared themselves for the long 12 days ahead of us. We all went to the local grocery store to stock up on snacks since we know how 'amazing' the food is going to be on the boat for two weeks. I stumbled upon a hiking tail right outside of our ship and took a nice long hike to the top on a hill where I could oversee all of the islands and the harbor with all the ships. It was a great last thing to do, I got a good fill of nature, it gave me some time to reflect on the past 2 months and I got a chance to say good bye to dry land for a while. There is a lot of buzz about how crazy these 12 days are going to be, cooped back up on the ship at the high seas. We all have a lot of papers to write and we get to go back to our school schedule in the morning. I'm very excited to be back in LA, see all my friends, start school, but these next two weeks will be an amazing time to say goodbye, reminisce about our trip and prepare for life to change for us all once again! I will let you all know how these next few weeks go before I disembark from the ship on the 22nd. This has been an amazing journey for me and although we have left dry land, it's not quite over yet. Thank you all for being here with me and I look forward to seeing you all and sharing more pictures, videos and presents.
As the Fat Lady Sings....
August 21, 2008
As the last part of my voyage comes to an end, I only have positive things to say about my excursion throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. These past twelve days at sea have been interesting and bittersweet as I spend time with my friends who have been with me every day for the last 70 days. When we first got back on the ship we were instantly thrown back into classes, papers, and finals. On one of the first days back at sea there was a talent show put on by the crew. It was really fun to watch them sing, dance, some flipped bottles like bartenders and put on a performance for us. We're so used to being served by them or having them clean our rooms that it was nice to see them in a different way, they were very entertaining. We had two days of classes bright and early.
On our one day off between classes, the captain decided it was important to wake us all up at 9am for our last life boat drill. The only good part was that there were some dolphins that decided to entertain us while we impatiently waited to be able to go back to bed, the rest of the day we spent laying out in the sun relaxing. Then it was back to classes for another two days.
We had a study day for our Global Studies exam, which basically meant sleeping in, lying out, and watching movies all day. The next day we all took our exam and proceeded to study for our other two finals. We had one whole other day to study for those and I had to write a 6 page paper on the secularization of Europe, it was very exciting! Then we took our finals, it was the best feeling to be done with classes and really feel like the voyage was coming to an end. That night we had an ambassadors' ball and everyone got dressed up and we had a fabulous meal; brushetta, French onion soup, ceaser salad, and a nice big juicy steak. It was a nice break from the slosh we are normally served, my tummy was very happy and my plates were very clean. It was nice to see everyone look really nice, even though we were all still on the ship.
The last couple of days have been filled with packing, picture and phone number swapping, and an attempt to savor the last moments of being together. One of the nice thing about going across the Atlantic is that we have been setting our clocks back for the last 4 nights, it's nice that we have had some extra extended time on the ship.
So I'm all packed up and ready to be on my way home. By this time tomorrow I'll be sitting in the airport waiting for my flight, decompression myself from this intense trip I've just been through. I'm so excited to get home and see you all, share more of where life has taken me for the past two months. I hope all of your summers have gone well and yielded many exciting adventures. I'll be home before you know it!
All my love, Michelle