Carrie's Adventures

Saturday, September 30, 2006

St. John's, Newfoundland

HOME, HOME, I'M HOME AT LAST... Well at least I'm in the country and I can recognize the money, find all those missing items that I haven't been able to find in the European Drug Stores and understand the rules of the road knowing that when I can skip into traffic I can do so without fear of death!

This was my first time to Newfoundland and I can honestly say I wasn't sure what to expect. I think after being at sea for 3 days, I was just excited to be able to put my feet on land.

After educating Manolis on what 'Newfie' jokes are, why some folks only have one tooth, and how this part of the country is dedictated to tourism and the fishing industry, we had the chance to get out and see the actual town.

Having worked with 2 Newfies while at Class, I am familiar with some of the traits of the Newfies as wellas their affection for Screech. Unfortunately I didn't manage to make it to the pub where a number of the fellow crew were 'Screeched in' ~ although I don't know if you are truly Screeched if you kiss the ass of a Puffin and not the lips of the fish, but hey, they did the shot, so that must count for something.

The town seems rather small, but I forget not everywhere is the size of Vancouver. The buildings are a bit beaten up, but then again, I think I would be too with the wind and the snow in the winter. But there is a quaintness about it all that is very inviting and makes you think, just about anyone would invite you in and have a drink with you....

And of course no ocean side town would be complete without the statue of the mermaid...

It is truly beautiful here, and I was disappointed that I wasn't more on top of it while we sailed away. I went to the purser's office and watched as the pilot boat bobbed in the waves ~ leaving the port past the lighthouse with the waves breaking on the rocks was truly a spectacular sight. I must see if someone got photos, cause I am disappointed that I didn't. But this is what we saw from inside the harbour, so you can only imagine what the view of the lighthouse would have provided...

The Crossing

I recall the Crossing from the Caribbean to Europe, being fearful that I would have difficulties stomaching the motion. As it turned out the crossing was smooth like a baby's bum. Unfortunately, this was not the case this time. As I lived on anti-motion sickness pills, I spent 3 days feeling the ship rock. What was more amazing was despite being a very sound sleeper, the evening of Day 2, I was woken a number of times realizing that there was no need for me to be so close to the wall ~ no wait, that was just where I landed...

Watching the waves out of the port hole was quite the expeience as you could see the depth of the swells ~ first the water being very low, only to then have it come very close to the top of the port hole.

I can see how people go a bit stir crazy being in one place for an extended period of time. By the time we reached land again, I know I for one was ready to set feet on land again.

Brugge, Belgium

First time to Belgium was 3 years ago with Liz. We boarded the train in Luxembourg and headed to Brussels for the night. It was my first exposure to Belgian fries with sauce. I tell you, that and the waffles were going through my mind as I got on the shuttle.

I wasn't sure what to expect but I know Liz had been here before and one of the Assistant Chief Housekeepers also said Brugge was beautiful. So I got off the shuttle and made my way to the train station. It is amazing how you can get just about anywhere by train. For 4 Euros, I had my return ticket and I was off. The ride on the train really made me feel like I had the day off, which can be quite the feat.

I arrived in the city, no map and decided to follow the signs. It took me into town where all the streets were cobblestone, and it seemed like every street took you to the centre square.

Once in the square, there was the ever present monument to some leader and the quaint cafes that line the square. The beverage of choice was of course the Belgian Beer, and the fries were not difficult to find from here...

After exploring the square, I wandered through the small side streets. It looks like it is so peaceful here ~ quiet streams running through your back yard and single lane streets that don't lend themselves to great amounts of traffic.

Heading out of town things became more modern. As you can tell by the water fountain!

The port town that we docked in was quite cute as well. With only 3 blocks from the train station to the beach, it reminded me of other European beach communities. The long expanses of beach huts, and cafes set up to enjoy the food and the sun...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Amsterdam ~ what is with the bikes?!?

Ahhh, Amsterdam. The land of the Dutch, the land of the tulip, the land of the pot. I have been hearing a lot about Holland since meeting Liz, 13 years ago. (Holy crap time does fly sometimes...) Being Dutch, I heard about the coffee, the flowers, the bikes and yes, the pot in Amsterdam. This was one port I was really looking forward to seeing. Something about always hearing about it that makes you want to get out there.

Since we only dock here once, I was bound to make the best of it. I checked in with my old boss Stef ~ his girlfriend is from Amsterdam and figured she would have the inside scoop on what I needed to do. In the 3 hours I had, I managed to fit in a few things.

My first impression ~ do none of these people own cars? Every where you turned, you saw people on bikes like the one I rode when I was 9. There may be 2 gears if you are lucky, the basket seems to be a must and every where you go, there is parking for them. I wish I took a photo, but there was a 'parking garage' for bikes. Yes, just like a car garage, there were 3 levels, all side by side with racks for parking your bike. Amazing part, it was FULL!

As I got over the main mode of transportation, I set myself up to take a canal tour. It takes an hour and shows you the highlights of the city. Anouk was right, good way to get your bearings and see the city. The tour left at 2pm so I had a bit of time to wander around. I managed to wander through some streets catching sniffs of pot here, sniffs of pot there. I wonder how many people become stoned just from being 'around'. Anyway, the streets were cute, the stores sold everything from bongs, to mushrooms, to lingerie, to elaborate sex shops. The incredible part about it all was that despite the nature of the business, none of it was seedy. They were all respectable shops just out to do their business.

Made it back to the canal to board the boat ~ yes you would think I would have enough of the water tranportation ~ anyway... Only drawback on this was that the boat had a roof. It would have been a much more enjoyable cruise if the views had not been obstructed by the boat. Anyway, did my best to lean out with the camera and catch the snapshot of the canal.

Everything here is surrounded by water. I had no idea that Amsterdam had such an intricate water system. (Although I also didn't pay attention and apparently we had to pass through 2 locks to get there...) But none the less, everyone seems to enjoy the water with not only tour boats filling the water ways, but locals with their water craft. I can see how it would be an enjoyable way to spend the day. What I did learn on this tour was that Amsterdam due to the incredible demand on property, had allocated it's land in very narrow packages. As such the houses are only one or two windows wide. This makes for a narrow but long house. Apparently there are gardens in the back of the homes which are spectacular. With the width of the home being what it is, there is some issue when it comes to moving furniture. So there are hooks at the top of each house, which was used in the warehouses in previous times, but are now used to take furniture in and out of the house as there is no way else to get it in...

My final stop on the way back to the ship was to take a quick tour of the Red Light District. Not being sure what to expect, it too was not seedy or sketchy from what I could tell. It was a bit strange to walk down the street and see mostly naked women standing in the windows looking at you. It is at that moment that you aren't quite sure what to do. Do you look away? You you smile and wave? Do you check out her outfit and wonder if you could have ever worn that? For the most part, I smiled like an idiot and kept walking, which seemed to the be option others were taking. I was truly amazed to see that there were in fact 'red lights' above their doors. I wonder if the red makes them look better... Anyway, it was interesting to see during the day, I'm sure it would be quite the sight at night. This photo, the woman was no longer in the window, but behind the curtains was the bed ~ yes, I was able to see it when I walked past. Definitely a different life.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Akis turn to cruise

So it was a great treat to have Akis come to visit. He was here for 2 weeks and we got the chance to head out in ports we used to hang out in when we had first met.

Akis arrived in Copenhagen insisting on taking a direct flight from Athens. While the airport wasn't extremely far from the ship, the rate for the taxi was unbelievable, and 60 Euros one way! So the decision to pick him up at the airport did prove to be a bit expensive.

The next day was his birthday and I do have to admit, I did a terrible job at planning anything for him. In getting ready for my audit on board I didn't have much to offer other than taking him out for coffee and an ice cream. Here's hoping that spending the day with me was enough of a gift for him... We were in Oslo and the day was great.

After hitting Dover and Aks being able to sleep through the 5am wake up for embark, we turned the ship around and headed for Helsinki. We picked up Ioannis, the corporate auditor who also was onboard. Good in a way, as I could send Akis off to have coffee with Ioannis and carry on with work knowing both were well occupied.

One requirement of coming was that Akis be allowed to go out in Russia. With strict requirements on Visas, we did have to request special permission for them to go out. Unfortunately the message was not passed on and as we prepared to go out for the night to the club, we were stopped by immigration and the Russians decided he wasn't going to go. Akis spent a good 25 minutes trying to convince them that he could go out, and it wasn't until I decided to stay in with him, that she decided to process his papers and let him go. I am grateful to those in the shuttle we held up ~ I think Akis was too when he got to the club and saw the ladies! Things hadn't changed much, but I do think the boys were disappointed that there wasn't much of a 'show', but there were enough women around to keep their eyes 'occupied'.

After leaving Russia we went to Tallin ~ one of my favourite spots and had lunch in the square. It was more expensive than I remember and the food not as good. After speaking with others, I realize, I should have stuck to the tried and true... You can't go wrong with the Beer House!

We spent some time walking around Stockholm. This was our 'regular' coffee stop last year. We managed to take in lunch at a cafe before the rain started coming down. But again, I love walking through Old Town. Something very cool about the cobblestone streets.

Our final day was spent in Germany in the town of Warnemunde with Ioannis, walking the streets, taking photos, having lunch and coffee. Of course we were not able to resist the German Beer nor the sausage from the Choo Choo. (A ship institution where people will dash from the ship to get one of these sausages!!)

We had a really great visit and I realize just how hard it is being apart. I was very sad to see him go ~ and it took me about 5 days to get back 'into the groove' where I was OK coming back into the cabin and not finding him here.

Se agapo moro mou ~ Mou leipeis.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Hermitage ~ I made it

If you recall, this was one of those items I didn't get to last year... Well I get there, only to discover that I am not very culturally aware. When I heard everyone speak of the Hermitage, they would mention how this was the Winter Place and Winter home of Catherine the Great. So, I thought, great I am going to see one of the places of the Russian royalty.

Alas, this was not quite the case. What I did discover however was that the Hermitage is made up of 5 buildings, one of which is the Winter Place. The big draw however, is that inside these 5 buildings, they have an incredible amount of Art. Yes, ART. It was the Louvre only in Russia.

So not being a big fan of the painted portrait, I found myself walking around in the tour with these wireless receivers to hear the tour guide, learning about artists and his interpretation of the art. While for some I am sure this is quite fascinating, for me, I was disappointed I wasn't going to see the incredible opulance of a Royal Palace. Guess I really need to read the excursion description next time! But I did see the Winter Palace...

Now don't get me wrong, what I saw was beautiful, just completely not what I expected. I did learn some interesting things however. Such as, you are not permitted to bring any liquids into the Hermitage. Once a crazed art fan came into the museum and splashed acid on one of the paintings, completely ruining it. So now, all liquids are confiscated at the entrance, along with any bags that are carried on your back ~ purses must be tiny to be permitted in. I also learned that while Catherine the Great was there, they build bridge across to another building which spans one of the canals. Despite assurances that the bridge was safe, nobody wanted to use it. So under the guise of having a big party, she called them to the other side of the bridge and while all of them were in the middle crossing the canal, she locked them in there and they had to remain there overnight. Thus proving that the structure was sound as it held a number of people for a number of hours... Can you believe that?!?

Anyway, I didn't take many photos as there was just too much to look at, but here are a few to give you an idea of what the building was like. Oh yeah, there are over 1000 rooms and apparently people get lost ~ true story, we left someone in there. He went to find his wife after she wandered away from the group. She found the group, he didn't. He had to overnight in St. Peterburg and join us later... Can you imagine?!?

Bergen, Norway

I didn't get a chance to get out in this port last year, and was nicely surprised to see how great the port was. A number of people had spoken about the Fish Market and of course, knowing how much I LOVE fish, this was not the draw for me!

Despite not being a fish lover, the market was very cool. After I got over the 'fishy' smell, I was able to enjoy not only the sights, but some of the berries as well. I swear, these were the best Raspberries I have ever had!

The market is situated right on the harbour, with many pleasure boats around. My friend Karene would have loved the 'sailboat' factor. (OK the photo only has motor boats but I swear there were sailboats too...) While not quite as populated as Le Havre, there definitely was a number of boaters ~ so much so they were double parked...

The town is constructed pretty much of brick. I guess this is to endure the cold and snow! But it did make for a pretty walk.

Then in true 'Viking' form, there were the symbols of their culture located in the centre of the square. Amazingly enough, there were a number of buskers here in the square as well ~ either trying to sell you something or show off their juggling skill, or their ability to stand still for an extended period of time. (Still not sure how that is art, but hey, to each their own...)

Monday, September 11, 2006

My final thoughts on Greece

OK - it has been 2 months since I have left, but the feelings about my experience there are still the same. The life in Greece is very different that it is at home ~ it seems that people are very social and are out all the time. Now this could have been because it was the summer time and hey, look around Vancouver in the summer and you too would think it is an incredibly social place!! But I can't help but be amazed at their choice of pastimes which is all about meeting up with people for coffee. But I also got the feeling that this is their enjoyment and they definitely seem to live each moment to the fullest!

Now I do have some concerns if I were ever to become a Greek resident. And they are as follows:

The parking. I have never seen people park like this without fear of their car being towed, rammed or in some other manner damaged. They seem to be able to find parking where any true blooded North American would say, 'there is just no way'. And then there was the car that hadn't been moved the whole month I was there. I am sure it is still there and probably a bit more white from the bird crap... Anyway, here is the proof...

The houses. They are also much smaller. I keep forgetting being in a country as large as Canada, that space isn't always an issue for us. Here with everyone crammed into the city, the homes are apartment style and rarely have the lawn that I am so accustomed to. I now get why Akis was so amazed at the homes in Southampton.

The meals. I'm not sure that I or my digestive system will ever get used to having dinner at 10pm. Somehow that just doesn't seem right ~ but I will get used to the food. That is something I have definitely missed being back here on the ship ~ no more Souvlaki.

The service. Well they give a whole new meaning to customer service. Perhaps it is because they are wanting to go out and have a coffee, of that it just isn't a priority to them, but it seems to be very difficult to get people to do things for you with any kind of speed. Akis has been out to get his passport. Something you would think should be a slightly time consuming, yet routine process. He took a number, just like you do at the deli. He was 30 numbers away. He left to go get coffee. Came back 2, yes 2 hours later, and was 6 numbers away. He went away for another hour, only to find they had passed his number. So he had to do this all over again. When he finally did submit his papers, they told him to come back Monday to collect it. He arrives Monday, still not done. Come again some other time... What is that all about. I think I might go mad!

But on the upside, there are plenty of markets and this is something you don't see every day! This was outside of Akis' apartment and they are there every Tuesday. And you apparently buy everything by the Kilo. No wonder Akis got upset with me for wanting to buy just ONE apple...

But overall, the people there are very welcoming and I enjoyed my time a lot. I can't wait to go back.