this summer i am attending a study abroad program called semeser at sea. We will visist 7 countries including Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey, Croatia, and Portugal. I am taking 3 classes and will be living on a cruise ship.
Morocco was absolutely amazing!! We did a program with a local tour guide who was our age and also in college. It was him (Khalid), his brother (Abdul), two of their friends (Simo and Youseff), and the girl who worked at the Riad (Raja). They were always with us and answered all of our questions and made us feel so welcome. The first day we ported in Cassablanca and took a train to Marrakech, which was a 3 hour ride. Normally this would be fine, except for the fact that the train didn’t have air conditioning so we were so hot!! We thought the train was hot, but when we got off the train the heat was like a slap in the face. It was around 110 degrees, and it was so dry. It felt like walking in an oven. We called Khalid and while we waited for him we ate McDonalds. Once Khalid arrived we got in the air conditioned van (which felt amazing!!) and headed to our Riad (Moroccan hotel). The Riad was so gorgeous and I have never seen anything like that. There were carpets and tiles everywhere and it was so colorful. We didn’t get to Marrakech until late afternoon so that limited what we had time to do. Once we were settled in they served us mint tea, which Morocco is famous for. It tasted just like sweat tea, so I loved it! After our tea we went to the main square and found a restaurant where the guys could breath their fast. The main sqaure was so full of life and had everything from fresh orange juice to snake charmers to horse drawn carriages. Since it was Ramadan the whole schedule was different and we didn’t eat lunch until around 3 or 4 and dinner until 10 or 11. By the time we got to dinner that night we were ready to eat! We ate on the rooftop of a restaurant and were the only ones there. The food was so delicious and included bread with a tomato salad, chicken tajine, veggies, and watermelon for dessert. After that we walked around for a while and ended up running into 3 of our really good friends who were also in Marrakech which was awesome. We went to a locals only place (they almost wouldn’t let us in but our guides convinced them to) that was outside where we smoked hookah and listened to karaoke night. Our transportation for the night was a cage type thing attached to the back of a motorbike. It was a little scary at first, but by the end of the night we loved it!
The second day we woke up to a wonderful breakfast. Raja made it all and it include fresh squeezed orange juice, mint tea (which was my favorite), crepes with honey, folded crepes with chocolate, really thing pancake like things, and fresh fruit. It was full of carbs, but was so yummy!! After that we headed to a spice market/pharmacy to get what we needed for a Morrocan bath. It was fascinating all of the natural herbs they used for medicine. I ended up getting a spice that is like vicks vapor rub, a natural lipstick, and then our products for the bath. After that we headed to a Berber village which was about an hour away. On the way we stopped and got to ride camels! It was so cool and we got some really good pictures. Seeing the berber village was an eye opening experience. They had no running water or electricity and some just lived in tents. We had mint tea with a family and they let us look around their house and take pictures. Once we finished our tea we went to see how they make Moroccan oil, which has become very popular in the US. It was a very tedious process and I can not imagine that being my job. We then drove a little further and had lunch in a river. I say in a river because the tables were literally set up in the river. The water was freezing but it was really cool! After that we climbed up to a waterfall. The climb was pretty tough (we were expecting more of a hike) but it was definitely worth it. The water was pretty cold, but we were very hot from climbing so it felt great. Getting down from the waterfall was more challenging then climbing up, and I spent most of it sliding down rocks. After that we headed to our Riad and took showers and then headed out for dinner. After that we went to a restaurant/bar and danced the night away. Two of our guides were amazing dancers, and we had a great time! We headed to our Riad around 2:30 and some of us stayed up with the guys and talked to them for a few hours. Simo and Abdul played us music on pots using spoons and tried to teach us how to. We only got about 3 hours of sleep that night but it was worth it to get to know them better and have a good time with them.
The next morning we got up, had breakfast, and headed to the Hammam (Moroccan bath). We had gone to one in Turkey and were expecting it to be like that, but it was much different. It was just a big room covered in tile that had a spicket they used to fill buckets with water. We were scrubbed down and then given a massage. You could see dead skin all over the floor and I swear I came out two shades lighter than when I went in. But I felt so clean afterwards and my skin looks much better. We went and showered (to get all the oil off) and then went shopping at the street market. I didn’t buy much but they had lots of cool things and I wish we would have had more time to shop. After that we went to a local family’s home where they cooked us lunch which consister of cous cous, chicken, veggies, cookies, and of course mint tea. While there a woman came and did our henna tattoos for us. They were all beautiful and I absolutely love it. After that we went to our Riad and hung out there for a while. Some of our group took naps, while some of stayed downstairs and talked with our guides. They invited us to break fast with them which was so kind and the food was delicious (we only tried little bits of things since this was their first meal of the day we didn’t want to eat it all). Some of us helped Raja make some of the food and then sat and enjoyed with them. We all got changed and ready to go out that night and then headed to the square to eat. We ate at a street vendor which sold these little sausages with bread and a type of salsa. It was really yummy and Khalid ended up paying which was so sweet. After that we went to the restaurant/bar we had went to the previous night and got some drinks and watched a belly dancing show. I have no idea how the girls move like that but it was mesmerizing to watch. Around 1 we headed to the club. Since it was Ramadan we had to show ids proving we weren’t Muslim so we could drink. We ended up having the best time ever and danced until the club shut down.
The next morning we woke up and got the train back to Casablanca at 11. We were so sad to leave and I wish we could have stayed longer. Our guides were so sweet and I consider them friends. We exchanged facebook and email so we can stay in contact and they invited us to come back. They treated us so kindly and always made us feel safe and welcome. It was also fascinating to get to see them practicing Ramadan. Every day they watched us eat and drink while they had to go the whole day with nothing. During prayer time they traded out who stayed with the group and who went to pray. They were always in the best mood even when you could tell they were drained of all their energy. They always asked us to join their break fast and were open to all of our questions. They asked us to teach them some slang that we use, which was hilarious. They were just as eager to learn about us as we were to learn about them and it was such a rewarding experience. We have already talked about having reunion there but doing a Sahara camel treck next time (Abdul leads them) and we hope that one day we can.
The main thing I can say about Greece is that it is the friendliest place we have been so far! It was very hard to plan for because we wanted to do Athens (for the sights), Santorini (most beautiful island), and Mykonos (known as a party island) and the ferries don’t run very often. Eventually we decided to just do Sanorrini and Athens, and it was much easier to get everything together. There were 4 of us going to Santorini and our ferry left at 2:30 the first day. That morning three of us headed to Acropolis and one of the girls headed to a credit union to get money her mom had wired since she lost her debit card. The Acropolis was very neat, but I really wish they would have had more signs telling the history of the buildings. We did some research when we got back on the boat and then the buildings had more meaning to us. It was also really cool to see the Parthenon. We heard it was going to be very hot, and it definitely was. We got back on the ship and had lunch, and they made an announcement that the Acropolis had closed because of the heat, so we had gone at the right time. After lunch we headed to the dock where our ferry was to take us to Santorini. We had ordered our tickets online and were trying to figure out how we got our real tickets. Every person we asked told us something different and before we knew it, it was almost 2:30. And by almost I mean it was 2:25. We finally found the ferry itslef and they pointed us in the right direction. As we were walking back to the ship they were pulling in the walkway, so we are sprinting and yelling for them to wait for us. They were still loading on cars so we made it on fine. Thank Goodness!! The ferry ride was 9 hours, and it actually flew by. There were some other Semester at Sea students so we hung out with them, slept, and used the wi-fi. Once we arrived in Santorini, we headed to our villa. It was run by a family, and the mother was so sweet. She answered all of our questions and gave us lots of good tips and places to go. That evening we went and got a late dinner at a delicious greek restaurant. We got free wine and afterwards our waiter showed us the nightlife. We had a great night and we could already tell we had made the right decision in coming to Santorini.
The next morning we rented ATVs (extremely common on the island and super cheap) and headed to black beach. It had black sand and was gorgeous! We ate at a delicious restaurant, and since we ate there we got to use their beach chairs for free. It was sunny, but there was a nice wind so it was perfect for laying out. There was a lady who worked on the beach and gave massages, so we all got one. It was so lovely and my back felt much better after. We headed back to our villa and ran into the lady who ran it. (I cant remember her name). She made us all cappucinos for free and we sat down and talked with her and her family. It was so nice and they made us feel like family. We got tons of pictures with them and it was a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, the villa was all booked for that evening so we went to another one where other Semester at Sea students were staying. It was right in in the middle of town, so that was very nice. That evening we went to Oia, which is said to have he best sunset in the world. We rode our ATVs and were literally chasing the sunset on the mountains. (Oia was on the opposite side of where we were staying). It was a highlight of the trip, and one of the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. We had our most authentic meal in Oia, and Greece has been one of my favorite places for food so far. After we got back to our villa, we got ready to go out that evening. Our first stop was the fish spa, which is where you put your feet into fish tanks and they eat all the dead skin off of them. Everyone else looked so relaxed, so when we stuck our feet in we were not expecting it to tickle so much. We literally could not stop laughing!!It was such a strange feeling, and I’m not sure if I would do that again.
The next morning we got up pretty early and headed to the old port. We took a cable car down to the port and then rode donkeys back up to town. The donkeys were so cute, but I felt bad that all they do every day is just walk around with people on their backs. Once we got into town we stumbled upon postcard Santorini (the spot that looks just like the postcards), so we took tons of pictures. It truly did look exactly like the postcards, and it was breathtaking. After that we headed to buy our ferry tickets. We wanted the 6:30 ferry but that one was full so we said we would do the 3:30 one. The system was down so she told us to come back in an hour. We did some shopping in town and then went back. The system was still down and she told us yet again to come back in an hour. This happened 3 or 4 times and when we went back at 2 and the system was still down we started to freak out. (the bus to the ferry left at 2:30). She told us to come right before the bus left so two girls went and got our bags and headed to the buses and two of us got the tickets. We managed to make it in time and our ferry was delayed by an hour so we had plenty of time. The ferry ride back was much worse than the one there. Many of us were sea sick and I spent the whole time laying down. I was so happy to finally be on land, and it was so nice to go to bed on the MV that evening. The next morning we decided to explore Athens. We saw some sights and went into some shops. There is a famous poet sandal maker who makes leather sandals that are fitted to your feet. We spent quite a while trying to find it (everyone told us different things) and we almost gave up. Finally we found it, and I am in love with my sandals!! They fit my feet perfectly and are so comfortable. They also only cost be $30!!
Overall Greece was unbelievable. It is somewhere that I definitely want to return to and will never forget the hospitality and friendliness that the locals showed us.
Lately I have been so horrible about posting on here!! The first two days back on the boat were very rough and rocky, and looking at a computer screen just made you feel worse. I knew when I embarked on this voyage that I would be visiting amazing countries, and seeing things I have only dreamed about seeing. What I didn’t realize was the amazing friends I was going to make and how much the MV Explorer would feel like home. After being on the boat for 10 days on the way to Spain, I could not wait to get off the ship. I never thought I would look forward to getting back on the ship. But after you have been sight seeing in 100 degree weather for 10 hours, the lights on the MV Explorer are like a beacon leading you home. It is so nice to lay in your freshly made bed, wake up to fresh breakfast, have free water (you have to pay for water everywhere we have gone), and be able to find everyone very easily. The crew is so friendly, and I consider my cabin steward a saint. Every other day he comes in and cleans our bathroom, makes our beds, takes our laundry if its laundry day, and makes the room look so clean! If you have anything on the floor or on your bed, the steward will just shove it under your bed (see Mom that is a real way to clean!) which makes the room feel just like my room at home.
Although the rooms and the food and the staff are fabulous, what really makes the ship feel like home is the amazing friends I have made. There is a group of 12 of us who are always together. We are from all over the U.S. including Kentucky, Ohio, Louisiana, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Washington DC, and a girl from Canada! I have known these people for a little over a month, but I am so close to them and can totally be myself with them. It is amazing how fast you get to know people when you don’t have things like txt messaging, facebook, and apps to always distract you. Every time we sit down for a meal we have a conversation with each other, every time we travel we have a conversation with each other, and if you want to tell someone something you have to go to them face to face instead of sending a txt. Its so refreshing to get to know people based on their personality and who they are, instead of their facebook profile. We have countless inside jokes, so many wonderful memories, and we all refuse to believe we will have to leave each other in 3 weeks. We have already made reunion plans and I know I have made many life long friends. Getting to go to 7 countries is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but along the way I have also made some once in a lifetime friends.
Sorry I have not updated my blog in a while! Everything has been going so fast and I have had no time. Croatia was so stunning and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it (I wasn’t quite sure what to expect). It is unlike anywhere I have ever been. Croatia was in a war until 1992 so you can talk to many people who were alive for it. It was so interesting to hear people tell their stories and it brought the history to life. They are known for their sea food and boy was it yummy!! Their currency is the Kuna and the exchange rate was 6 kuna for every 1 dollar. This sounds really good but most things were a lot more Kuna then they would have been dollars. For example, In America a bottle of water is one dollar, but in Croatia it would be 5 or 6 Kuna. It was quite scary at first to get a dinner bill that was 120 Kuna instead of 20 dollars! (but once you did the math you realized it was fine). Croatia is famous for it city walls, and they were very interesting. They were built to protect the city, and they are literally huge walls that surround the city. They are gorgeous and most of the time when you’re in the middle of town, you are walking between two walls. Cars are not allowed in the town square so you are able to walk wherever and not worry about cars coming.
The first day in Croatia we had our field lab for marine biology. We kayaked to an island, had lunch there, and then went snorkeling and cliff jumping. We knew that we had to kayak but no one realized how far we had to. We ended up kayaking for about 5 miles so my arms were very sore the next day! Snorkeling was so cool though and I got to hold a star fish and eat sea urchin (it was NOT good). That night we went to dinner and I had some delicious fried squid. During the summer Croatia has a month long festival and the first night was the start of it so we went and watched a fireworks show and then went out. The second day we walked the city walls and went to the beach. The beaches are quite different because they are rocky instead of sandy. Some have big rocks while some have small pebbles. The water was so clear you could see straight to the bottom and it was very refreshing. After the beach we went and had sushi for dinner. It literally melted in your mouth and it the freshest and best seafood I have ever eaten. That evening we hit up the town and had a really great time. The third day we went white water rafting which was so fun!! The rapids weren’t very big but the water was so clear and it was a nice change from the salty ocean. At one point we stopped and hiked to a water fall and hung out there for a while. They provided us with dinner and it was so good. You could choose from fresh caught trout or veal so Rachael and I got one of each and then shared it. Although the fish came with the head on it, it was so fresh and very yummy. We also had soup, salad, potatoes, carrots, and bread. The last day we went to an island and walked around the cliffs and did some swimming. It was more of a relaxing trip since there wasn’t many tourist sights to see.
I cant remember everything in my last post so im sorry if I repeat myself. I know I posted about Rome so I will continue from there. After Rome we went on to Florence, which I absolutely fell in love with! Rome was beautiful but Florence felt more homey and is somewhere I would want to live. When we arrived we headed to our hostel to put our bags down and discovered a very nice room. The bathroom was shared between all the rooms and the shower had the toilet in it. How strange!! Then we went to the oldest bridge in Florence and the castle and gardens where the Medici family lived. The next morning we headed to the leather market (not so good for the budget) and then took a bus to a winery. We had the cutest tour guide and met some other people from the states who knew what semester at sea was! We took a tour of the beautiful grounds and then got to taste the wine. We tried three wines, olive oil on bread, and a vinaigrette dressing with cheese. Yummy!!! I really wanted to bring some olive oil home but they were running low so you couldn’t but any. (sorry mom and grandma) That evening we took a train and headed ot the port hwere the ship was. When we got off the train we stopped at a pizza place and met up with some other SAS students. We had to be back on the ship at 9pm so we headed to the bus stop around 7:45. It was supposed to come every 10 minutes so my 8:15 we decided to just walk to the ship. It didn’t look far at all, but ended up being around three miles (yikes!) We made it to the ship RIGHT before 9 and there was some running involved. I slept great that night and the next morning we went to the Amalfe coast. The bus ride there was quite scary!! More than one time I thought we were going straight over the mountain. But we had the most gorgeous views and it was so neat to see towns built into mountain sides. The beach had rocks instead of sand, but Amalfe was a very cute town and had pizza and gelato which is all I need. We reunited with our group (9 of us girls)that night and the next day we went to Capri. We rented a boat with a tour guide and he took us around to all the caves and we swam and tanned and climbed all day. I was able to put my underwater camera to good use and got some very neat pictures. It was a very relaxing day and Rachael and I took the tram up to central Capri before heading home. On our final day we went to Pompeii and climbed Mt. Vesuvius. It was nice to be in tennis shoes and athletic shorts and ot be sweating from physical exertion instead of just sweating because its hot. The way up Mt. Vesuvius our legs were burning and the way down we were sliding everywhere on the gravel! Pompeii was cool but I wish we could have stayed for longer. We ran out of time so we didn’t get too much out of the experience. Italy was indescribable. It was more than I ever imagined it would be and I will definitely be returning!
We have had two days on the boat and I have had a test on both days. (so much coffee has been consumed to stay up and study) Yesterday I saw dolphins jumping and saw a whale which was awesome. Lunch was delicious today ( a nice change), and tomorrow we will be in Croatia!
Rome was one of the places I was most excited about seeing, and it was more than I expected it to be! We got off the boat yesterday morning and went to the train station. It was intersting trying to figure out where to go and what ticket to buy since everything is in Italian, but eventually we did. Once in Rome, we checked in to our hotel so we didnt have to carry our bags around. We have so much to do in Italy so we dont have long in each country. We wanted to see all the sights and knew we had our work cut out for us. Right next to our hotel, there was a cafe so we got lunch there and set off. There is nothing like getting a croissant with fresh meat and cheese and a glass of wine and setting of to explore Rome! Our first stop was the Spanish Steps since they were pretty close to our hotel. The view from the top was amazing and it was a great way to start the day. After that we headed to the Trevi Fountain and it was so amazing we agreed to come and see it again at night. Next was the Pantheon and then the Colloseum. We got an audio/video tour and it was so interesting. It sounded like it was a real life hunger games which is crazy to me. After that we got some gelato and headed to Vatican City. I nearly cried at St Peters because it was os beautiful (cheesy I know). I went to confession there and was hoping to attend mass but there wasnt a time that I could go to (but no worries I will go next time I am here :) Once we explored everything in Vatican City we headed back to our hotel to meet up with the rest of our group. We freshened up (it was so hot out) and headed out for some Italian pasta. We found a nice restaurante and got cheese (geet cheese served with honey, pasta (I had spaghetti with a white pepper bacon sauce), and wine. It was AMAZING!! We reminisced about the day and had many laughs. After that we headed back to the trevi fountain to see it lit up at night. We met up with even more of our group and got some more gelato (yes i did eat gelato twice in one day). We found a big group of SAS students and hung out with them for a while and then headed back to our hotel. We woke up this morining and went straight to breakfast at our hotel. I had a croissant with jam and cheese and coffee with milk. The coffee here is delicious and I am looking foward to a cappucino tomorrow. Then we just wondered around and wint a few stores and saw some more sights. We stopped for pizza and words cannot describe to you how good it was. Now I see what pizza is supposed to taste like. It tastes so fresh and delicious. After a few hours we headed to the train station and got on a train to Florence where our Italian adventure continues.
Spain was absolutely amazing!! I stayed in Barcelona for 3 days and went to Ibiza for a day and a half. The first day in Barcelona I had a field lab ( a required field trip for class). We toured the soccer stadium and the soccer museum. It was very interesting and the stadium was so cool to see. After that I met up with my friends and we went to a local restaurant and watched the soccer game that night. We went to a club called Opium that evening which was a blast! Then next morning I left for Ibiza with a group of 6 girls. Ibiza is an island about an hour away from Barcelona that is known for its beaches and its clubs. We spent all day relaxing on the beach and met a ton of locals. We went to dinner and on our way back to our hotel stopped for crepes. IT was just a little stand on the street but he had everything you could imagine to put in the crepes. I got caramel and chocolate and could only eat a few bites because it was so rich. That night we went to a club called amnesia. It was unlike anything I have ever been to in my life. It was the most amazing music I have ever heard and we had so much fun!! All the locals stay out until at least 6AM but we didn’t last that long. We went back to Barcelona the next day and saw some sights like the le gratta de familia and then went to a beautiful light show at night. The fourth day we had to be back on the ship pretty early so we just went to the square and walked around and went to the market. The market was HUGE and the food was delicious. I have never seen so many types of candy, fish, or fruit. They had smoothies for 1 euro and they were one of my favorite things to get. We strayed away form the main area and ended up having the most amazing lunch surrounded by beautiful buildings. Right by where we were eating, there were some stands set up selling jewelry and little things like that. They have these all over Barcelona, but these ones the stuff was handmade. We all got a bracelet from this one stand where you could watch the guy make it. I had more sangria, gelato, tapas, and churros than anyone needs! The food was so good and there was an endless amount of tapas. I could have spent weeks in Spain but we definitely7 made the most of the four days we were there.