Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Problem with Being a Tourist

Dubrovnik has survived earthquakes, tsunamis and war.  It has been reduced to rubble and rebuilt multiple times.   Today it is an urban medieval artscape in marble.  Breathtaking is an entirely appropriate are touristy, crowded and hot.  It is a beautiful for sure and it is amazing how, over the past 20 years, it has been restored to a point that you'd never know that in 1992 most of the buildings inside the old city were missing roofs, walls and windows (and in fact most students from the ship had no idea that, within their lifetimes, there had even been a war here).  It is indeed a place to put on your list if you are travelling to the region but be prepared for the crowds.  

This place is packed with tourists.  My Portland, Maine friends can likely relate to the frustration that comes with the experience of attempting to walk to some place in the Old Port at the height of summer when the sidewalks are full of slow moving, sky-gazing tourists.   Unlike these cruise ship and bus  borne interlopers you KNOW where you want to go and all you want to do is GET there, which you would totally do if the apparently lost and overly wowed tourists would simply make way for you!!!!  Multiply that times a thousand and you'll have Dubrovnik.  

Okay so at first I didn't notice, because I was too busy being one of those slow moving, sky gaping waddlers.  And since most of the tourists come from cruise ships that stop in for only a day, my guess is that they don't notice the crowds either.  Overwhelmed by architectural artistry their senses are oblivious to the press of bodies around them, it is all they can do to keep their eye out for the flag, umbrella or other handheld sign that  their tour guide wiggles and waves above the bustle because without they they'd become quite lost in the warren of narrow, shop filled streets.

As frustrated as the crowds made me one really can't blame them.  Most tourists are in the city for one day, maybe two.  They jam in as many sights as they can, eat a local specialty, drink a little too much and by a souvenir magnet for the fridge so each time they go for leftovers they will be reminded of that beautiful city they visited but never really got to know. 

And I guess that is the blessing and the curse of being a tourist, and what I am beginning to question about this journey; one tastes a lot places, but gets to know none of them.  The place I am coming to know best is this ship and this sea, but that my dear readers is something I am saving for another blog post. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A quick update...

Tonight we are preparing to sail for Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Our next port of call was to be Istanbul. Turkey but due to world events we were rerouted. I am looking forward to a new and interesting port of call, though I am very disappointed that we will miss out on Istanbul.  I was very much excited to see it.

On another note, mailing postcards in Italy has proved to be an unachievable feat.  So a few folks will be receiving Italian post cards with Croatian postmarks. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Civitavecchia at Sunset
Today is our last day in port in Civitavecchia.  Before you ask, yes,  I took a train to Rome though I visited not a single well known monument choosing instead to meander  around a lesser known part of the city called Trastevere.  Here I encountered a giant hill made entirely of discarded terra cotta olive jars, a church with a beautiful black Madonna, the spot of Garibaldi’s battle for Rome against the French and the tomb of those who died in the battle, heard monks singing and ate one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.

I spent far more time in Civitavecchia where our ship is docked.  Civitavecchia is  city well worth visiting for its own sake.  I strolled along the seaside where I watched the sun set and took in an exhibit on Roman ship building.  I ate a lot of delicious food, drank some tasty wine and heard one of the more interesting cover bands I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. 
One of the highlights was stumbling upon a tiny church in the old city known as The Church of the Star which is dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie (Saint Mary of the Graces).  It did not appear on any map and in fact I was actually looking for another church,  Santa Mariadell’Orazione e Morte (Saint Mary of the Prayer and Death), which actually turned out to be closed.  Though disappointed I continued to wander my way through Civitavecchia’s old city, a delight all on its own if you are here and have the time.  I soon found myself in a small piazza with a fountain and several cafes. 

Tucked in the corner was stucco covered building with a plain front.  A single star hung high over the door.  My instincts told me that despite its plain appearance this building was something special.  I noted a sign the left of the door and approached it.  It explained that the church was was founded by the Archonfraternity of Gonfalone in 1688.  Intrigued I stepped through the door.
Upon entering a short, older Italian woman appeared.  We soon discovered we did not speak each other’s language but she ushered me into the sanctuary with the motions of her hands.  I turned and stood to take it all in.
I could describe in detail to you all that I saw in this hidden sanctuary – the colorful paintings of Ennio Galice or the beautifully carved wooden statue of St. Mary and child – but those are things that you can see in the included photo or in person should you decide to make the trip.  Instead I will tell you of the stillness of the air and the sense of peace that permeated this small chapel.  I will tell you how I sat for several minutes just breathing in the quietness as though I could fill myself with it and tuck some silence away for later.  Unlike the other larger churches, cathedrals and basilicas that I had visited no one else entered while I sat in this place of meditation.
 Anytime that I have travelled these are the sorts of moments that always remain with me.  One can journey to a faraway place and follow the guidance of the tourist maps which will lead you to each well-loved monument and landmark, and one should as the places are famous for a reason, but be sure to allow yourself the time to wander, to make room for the unexpected pleasures that come from an unplanned meander.    This is where the treasures are.

In other news we received the news yesterday that we will not be visiting Istanbul, Turkey due to the Syrian crisis.  Instead we will be spending that time in Dobrovnik, Croatia, also an interesting destination.  While I am disappointed that we are not visiting Turkey I am looking forward to seeing what unexpected joys are to be found in Dubrovnik.  Between now and then we have short stop in Naples and two days of classes. 


Thursday, September 17, 2015

38 degrees 39.69 minutes north, 002 degrees 37 minutes east

I'd been out of sorts all day.  I had just hit send on an unhappy email to a friend about my struggles with homesickness, my complaints about the coffee and my frustration with the availability of so few quiet spots on the ship. 

As I made my way up to Deck 7 to read, I was berating myself about how I should be excited and happy, wondering what might possibly be wrong with me that I could be on this ship traveling the Mediterranean, about to set foot in a country I've always wanted to visit and still find a reason to be gloomy.  My eyes caught the light of the sky outside and I decided to step onto the outer deck to see if I might be in time to catch the sunset. 

In that moment it ceased to matter what sort of day I had, what ocean I was on or where the ship was going.  Before me were to two immense expanses of contrasting blue and a brilliant ball of fire hovering just above the horizon; its orange fire reflecting on neither sky nor sea.  As I stood watching it sink beyond the horizon a single dolphin broke the water, one, two, three, four (?) times and disappeared. 

I laughed.  It might have been more of a giggle. 

In what world outside of Hollywood do moments like that happen? 

Mine it seems…

(PS - thank you to all for the comments left on previous posts.  I'm unable to approve them until I have regular internet access again, which should be on Saturday.  Thank you!)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

First Day

Check in was a slow and tedious process that involved more slow moving lines than I ever care to spend time in again.  It seemed to take everyone by surprise, including the SAS staff but when I finally received my room key I found my bags were delivered as promised.  While my accommodations are not the same as the wonderful cabin pictures shared on the FaceBook page, I do have a room to myself with plenty of space for me and my things.  I have unpacked and settled in. 

Our ship left port at 5:00PM London time; three hours earlier than originally planned. There is a storm the captain is hoping to keep ahead of.  As I am writing this at 10:40PM the ship is rocking back and forth and, while I don't find it to be unmanageable, we are expected to have rougher seas tomorrow.  There are a few students who are suffering from seasickness.  Anti-nausea medication is being freely distributed as are barf bags.

After we set sail dinner was served.  I could easily gain weight on this trip. All of the food we have been offered has been quite delicious.   I do look forward to being in port and finding better coffee though. 

I have been asked many times today by younger students if I am a professor.  There are no other students my age on the ship.  The lifelong learners so far seem to be far older than I but I am sure that in the coming days I will find common ground with some folks here.  I've met a lot of people and while I don't recall many of their names all do seem personable and friendly. 

I am about to head to my cabin to bed.  I've never slept aboard a rocking and rolling ship before, though right now it does not feel that dissimilar to a slow moving train.  I hope I continue to avoid sea sickness. 

Thank you again to all who have wished me well and who have supported me in this journey.   I do hope to hear from many of you by email.  I admit that though it has been a scant 48 hours I am feeling some homesickness. 

Good night. 

Semester at Sea Update

Good day!

After 15 hours of travel, I have safely arrived in London with my bags and body intact! I spent the night at the Hilton International Heathrow Hotel.  I admit that due to being exhausted from my journey I chose not to venture into the city but instead to stay here, rest, eat and take advantage of the opportunity to meet some of my fellow students.  I had a restful evening.  This morning I feel ready to begin. 

In just a few short hours I will be stepping aboard the MV World Odyssey for the first time and beginning my three month long adventure around the world.  An adventure I would not have been able to do without all of your support.

I am still feeling a bit astonished that this is all really happening.  Back in November when I first applied to be a student of Semester at Sea, September seemed so far away.  Ten months no longer seems all that long as day of departure has finally arrived.  I am about to leave my hotel room to have breakfast after which I will recheck that my bags are set to go and soon after I will board the shuttlebus that will take me to Southampton and the ship.

I will be sending updates to all of you when I am in port.  You can expect an email about every other week.  You may also follow my journey at my blog,

I am very happy to share my journey with all of you.  Thank you once again for all of you love and support.

The journey begins...


Saturday, September 12, 2015

The moment...

...when I realized I'd not be back on my home soil for over 100 days.