If you're reading this, I'm assuming that means you signed up for a Semester at Sea. Go you!! I sailed in Fall of 2015, and it was the best experience of my life. I guarantee this trip will change you, challenge you, and grow you in so many ways. You will be so (SO!) glad you went.
I remember being in your shoes, leading up to the voyage and feeling clueless and overwhelmed, having so many questions and wishing I could talk with someone who had done it before.
So here's some of the things I wish someone had told me before I set sail:
You will get seasick. It’s inevitable. Especially if your voyage is taking off from London (Hamburg, England). Those first few days going through the Bay of Biscay were rough for my ship. Literally every person got sick, even some of the crew who live on the ship full time, and throughout the rest of the voyage there were occasional rough seas.
Don’t let this stop you from going though!!! You will survive. Seasickness never killed anyone. I would just recommend coming prepared.
-I found that Bonine was a great over-the-counter pill, little drowsiness involved.
-I also wore motion sickness wristbands most days on the ship. To be honest, I'm certain how much they helped or if it’s just a mental thing, but you’ll see lots of people wearing them on the ship.
-Biggest help: I got prescription seasick patches from my doctor before the trip, and these were amazing. You can wear one for up to 3 days and my doctor gave me enough to last every day at sea, and oh my word it’s a good thing she did. I used them all! The patches really helped me feel better the whole trip, and it's nice to be able to wear it a few days and not have to remember to take pills every few hours, plus they don’t cause fatigue like pills do.
-There’s also free sea sick pills on Deck 3 at the doctors office. It’s right next to the jar of free condoms. You won’t miss it. (I’m not kidding. Shipcest is for real, keep it classy people.)
First of all- you’ll survive without your phone. In fact, you’re going to love it. Trust me. (You should be more concerned about surviving the reverse culture shock of getting back home and having constant stimulation all over again. Let me know in the comments if you'd like a future blog on that..)
Should you get an international data plan? I’d say yes, because if you find yourself in an emergency in another country and you need to get ahold of your friends or the group you’re traveling with, you don’t want to have to find a shop with WiFi in order to use your phone. You definitely won’t regret getting international data, and if you don’t, you might end up in a situation where you wish you had it.
Just promise me this: don’t use it on call home!
Communication with home while you're at sea is tough. When you’re at sea, the only communication with home available to you is email (seamail actually) and buying minutes on the phone in your room. This makes it tempting to spend your time on land finding WiFi, Facetiming back home, catching up on social media, etc. But don't miss out on these amazing countries by focusing so much of your attention on communicating back home while you're there. Don't waste the time of your life trying to keep up with life back home.
My advice: give your friends and family at home a fair warning that you’ll be hard to reach, then you won’t feel so much pressure to keep up with them while you’re gone. Give them a call when you feel like it, like when you're waiting for the ship to depart the country, but don’t waste your time on land!
Another recommendation: Buy some minutes on the phone in your room. I was paying for my whole SAS trip on my own (shout out to any of you doing the same! financial advice and tips for keeping the price of this trip down coming in the next blog, see below!), so I tried to be SUPER frugal and I resisted buying minutes on my phone for the first half of the voyage. However, half way through I caved and bought some time on my phone and I was so glad I did. Ship time is the time that feels loneliest and you get the most homesick, so it was really nice being able to call my mom and dad, even just for 5-10 minutes, from the ship. And that way, I wasn’t missing out on any of my time in countries.
A question I get alllll the time: should you sign up for field programs before the trip? This one’s hard, the answer is maybe.
I say you should only sign up for trips you absolutely want to do and you’d be disappointed if you missed out on. If there’s a trip going to a spot you’ve always wanted to see or doing something you’ve always wanted to try, definitely sign up. Otherwise, I think the best part is porting in a foreign country and figuring it out from there with your friends. Finding your own Airbnbs, getting around the country by yourself, deciding where you want to eat, it’s all a part of the experience.
Also, if you sign up for too many trips ahead of time but end up making really great friends with other people on the ship who didn’t sign up for those same trips, you might be locked into all of these in-country itineraries and not get to spend in-country time with your new friends.
So only sign up for a few if they really really appeal to you, and maybe hold off on the rest. Here's the field programs I signed up for before my trip:
-I picked a tour in Italy, our first port, because I knew there would be a lot to see in Rome and I wasn't an expert at navigating foreign countries yet.
-I also picked a program to the pink lake in Senegal, a destination mid-voyage, because I assumed Africa would be hard to navigate on my own so it'd be better to go with a group from our ship.
-I WISH I had signed up for some bigger field programs before the trip (again, I was trying to be super frugal since I was funding everything on my own so I didn't invest in any big field programs) such as the trip to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the camel trek in Morocco, and the Amazon Riverboat tour. These attractions were each located hours away from the city our ship was ported in so I couldn't have possibly gotten to those spots and done it one my own, plus my friends who went on these trips raved about them. So if there's a bigger trip with high ratings, and you know it's located far from the port, I'd recommend pulling the trigger and signing up before the voyage.
Don't worry, you can also add on to a trip if there's still room at any point in the voyage. The day you arrive in Greece (or wherever) you can still join a Greece field program if there's openings.
The final thing I'll say is it's better to sign up for field programs scheduled towards the beginning of the voyage. It's a good way to meet people at the beginning, and you'll still have room in your schedule later on in the voyage to explore with your new besties.
I've also been asked for advice on embarkation day.
The best advice I can give is this:
Take deep breaths, expect things to go wrong, and just be present.
There’s a lot going on and it seems really stressful with 600+ students showing up from all over the world carting around 4 months worth of luggage, not to mention most people are jet lagged and running on 20+ hours of travel. It's a super long process to have your luggage checked, board the ship, find your cabin, get your ship ID, etc. so do your best to just relax, let the little things go, and make the most of it by becoming friends with the people you're standing next to in line.
I would also recommend flying in a day or two early to your deportation city. I flew into London just one day before I embarked the ship, so I spent embarkation day feeling extremely jet lagged and groggy. The more time you have to catch up and adjust to the time change, the more alive and alert you'll feel when embarking. And trust me, you'll want the energy!
Once you get on the ship, don’t worry about unpacking everything right away, just explore the ship, introduce yourself to everyone, relax and have fun.
Think of how long you’ve waited for this day, this moment!!!!! You did it! Just getting to where you are is SUCH an accomplishment in itself.
I could talk about SAS all day, so another blog post will be coming soon with packing tips, financial tips, and my biggest regrets from my trip.
Enter your email if you'd like to be notified when it's published, and let me know in the comments below if there's any other questions you'd like me to answer!!
Here it is. An unbelievable 100 days, 4 continents, 10 countries, 25+ foreign cities summed up in 30 minutes.
It’s safe to say that these 100 days have been the fastest days of my life. How surreal it feels to scroll back through this blog and seeing all that’s happened, all I’ve done, and still feel as if I just left home yesterday. This trip has been everything I hoped for and so much more. Thanks again to everyone who encouraged me, supported me, prayed me through, and kept up with my adventures over the past 3 months. To all of you, here’s the final post.
Trinidad greeted us with palm trees, steel drums, and calypso music. No really..they set up a band of steel drums outside our ship to welcome us into their country. It was groovy. It’s a shame that we were only given 2 days here, not even a full 48 hours. I would have loved more time to explore this island.
Our first day in Trinidad just so happened to be Thanksgiving day. This Thanksgiving day was unlike any other for me. Instead of family, football, fall, and food food food…I was handed a pair of work gloves and a shovel. My day was spent digging clay and spreading gravel. I worked with a group of students and Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a mother and her daughter. It was some of the hardest physical work I’ve ever done, but it was made worth it when the mother and daughter came to the site to thank us in person. Instead of spending Thanksgiving with the things I am thankful for, this year I spent Thanksgiving building something for someone else to be thankful for.
Thanksgiving dinner (pizza and pina coladas) was also completely different than what I’m used to, but I’m grateful to have sat around the table with some great friends sharing what we are each thankful for.
The following day was too rainy to be a beach day, so we just shopped around the town until we had to board the ship at night. Trinidad was shockingly welcoming, even people on the streets would recognize us as foreigners and come up to greet us and welcome us to their country. So friendly and so hospitable.
For lunch we made a stop at KFC, which all Trinidadians proudly boast is the most visited KFC in the world. These people take their KFC seriously. It is 3 stories tall, open 24/7, and has a delivery service. Congratulations Trinidad, you’ve taken KFC to a whole new level.
How many people get to say that they had a dance party on the top deck of a cruise ship beneath the stars in the middle of the Panama Canal? Not too many….well I guess everyone on my voyage, which is approximately 700 people…but still. Not very many. The night before we made our transit into the canal we had our talent show followed by a dance on the pool deck.
The following day I woke up to see our ship go through the first few locks. The process is insane! I was stunned at the ability of something man made to control and manipulate so much water so quickly, pushing ships of our size and much bigger right through as if it’s no big deal.
I think the coolest part about the canal was going through the lake in the middle. It is the largest man-made lake in the world and we spent a few hours going through it to get to the final locks leading into the Pacific. It was odd to see land on the both sides of the ship at once, we are never that near land and hardly ever able to see it on both sides while sailing.
I feel lucky to not only have seen the Panama Canal, but to have sailed through it- something that very few get to experience.
One fun fact on the canal: when transferring through the Panama Canal from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, going from the east to the west, you end up further east when you come out in the Pacific than you were when you started in the Carribean. Why is that? I still don’t know. But I thought I would just throw that in there in the hopes of blowing your minds, it definitely blew mine.
Oh my word. Was Costa Rica actually my favorite port, or am I still just coming off of a temporary high from all it’s excitement? We may never know. But Costa Rica was my favorite. (Side note: Pura Vida is a saying in Costa Rica that is used in any and every context. Translated it simple means ‘pure life,’ however locals use it for hello’s, goodbye’s, and everything in between.)
This country is truly beautiful. I was inspired by how much they value and respect their nature. Bridges and ropes are strung above the roads to help monkeys and sloths cross and reduce roadkill. Additionally, the country just announced that in the next 2 years they will be releasing all their zoo’s and will no longer keep animals in captivity! So if there’s a particular zoo in Costa Rica you’ve been dying to visit, go quick because in a couple years it will be vacant!
A particular inspiration to me was the Life Monteverde project. I spent a day at a coffee farm/sustainable living project, and was shocked to see that the place is almost completely self-sufficient. They grow everything the eat, make everything they use, and best of all, they harvest the most amazing coffee. One thing that fascinated me was how they get their methane to cook their food- they have two pet pigs, each day they hose the pig’s manure into a drainage system which pumps out methane, fueling 2 hours worth of cooking each day. How crazy is that?! I admire this place and these place. They showed me that life really can be so simple, it makes me wonder why we like to make everything so complicated.
And then the adventures began. The next few days consisted of horse back riding up a volcano, hiking through rainforests, walking through clouds on suspended bridges, walking between cliffs on feeble bridges made of only chicken wire (two of which had holes that they forgot to repair before our visit), jumping from a cliff into a massive waterfall and not not drowning (intentional double negative)(scariest thing I’ve ever done), and finally, taking a mud bath and bathing in volcanic hot springs. PURA VIDA!
Let me explain a little more about the hot springs. The place was a massive sulfuric crater in the side of the volcano. There was a small walking path which weaves through gurgling and spewing puddles of hot ooze, and you are highly advised to remain in the very middle of the path because the ground is constantly moving and a new puddle of burning ooze could surface at any second. It was the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen! Steam was just flowed out of the earth, pouring out of piles of rocks. Some of the pools were so hot that their were boiling!! In fact I would argue that they were ALL boiling because there wasn’t a single one I could fully submerge my body into, the water was too hot to bear. It felt like when you get sunburn on vacation and then try to relax in the hot tub. It just doesn’t work.
It was here that we had an all-natural spa experience. We began with five minutes in the natural sauna (aka a cave heated by a thermal vent), then we proceeded to slather our bodies in boiling mud from the mud bath letting it dry onto our skin by the sunlight, then we proceeded to shower off and sit through the three phases of hot spring pools: hella hot, hot, and cold. I could barely get a toe into the first one, I managed the second one after much strife, and I jumped right into the third one. This natural spa treatment left me feeling cleaner and fresher than I ever have.
I’m sad to leave Costa Rica, but I really feel like I’ll be back here. The list of things I’ve done is only a fraction of the size of the list of things I still hope to do in this country.
And now I’m headed home. Sailing for 11 jam-packed days of studying, final exams, convocation, Alumni ball, Christmas parties, and of course, packing. It’s getting pretty interesting watching one another attempt to fill 3 months worth of souvenirs and an assortment of Christmas gifts back into the luggage we came with. Let’s just say it’s a tight squeeze and airlines are about to see some of the oddest carry-on’s of all time. For example, one of my friends unfortunately can’t fit her 3 foot tall paper mache model of Mc Jagger that she purchased in Spain into her suitcase, so she plans on boarding the plane escorting her miniature Mc Jagger. Yikes.
The ship decided to have a clothes donation drive because most of us are leaving behind the majority of the clothes we brought over with us in order to compensate for all the new purchases. I on the other hand plan on wearing home all of the clothes I brought to make up for the fact that in a week I will be landing in Grand Rapids with nothing thicker than a cardigan. Oops.
So that’s a wrap! In the next few weeks I’ll be posting a video of my whole trip. I’m putting a lot of work into it and I’m super excited to share it, so if you wish to see me not not drown in a Costa Rican waterfall…stay tuned.
99.9% of my time in Brazil was spent in the horizontal position besides a body of water. I am not ashamed to admit that I passed nearly all of my days at the beach and/or by the pool. It was nothing but a vacation in paradise.
Semester at Sea offered plenty of fun trips and excursions for in Brazil, even trips to the Amazon, but they all cost a fortune so I decided to just take it easy and I’m sure glad I did (and I think my bank account would agree).
Brazil’s beaches are some of the nicest and cleanest I’ve ever seen! I am not sure who pays them or if they do it out of the sheer goodness of their hearts, but every few minutes a person can be seen passing by on the beach, garbage bag in hand, collecting any trash laying around. There is also an occasional person who walks by with a watering can and sprinkles water on your toes to cool you off. I like these people. But my absolute favorite thing about Brazil is the coconuts.
Coconut stands are scattered everywhere throughout the city and on the beach. People can be seen walking to and from work or school with coconut in hand, or laying out by the beach with a coconut by their side. Curiosity got the best of me one day, so I ordered myself a coconut from the nearest stand. Maybe it’s because my expectations were low, or maybe I was slightly dehydrated at the time, but that coconut was the best thing I’ve ever sipped. Holy moly me oh my I did not expect to like drinking coconut water that much! It was so delicious, simply sweet. And so began my obsession with coconuts, let’s just say that wasn’t the last coconut I purchased in Brazil. I love the fact that God created something as simple as coconuts for us to stick a straw in and sip out of. Brazil, your coconuts will be missed.
Another thing that sparked my excitement in Brazil were the Christmas decorations! On a trip to the mall I was especially excited to find the mall decked out in Christmas decor from lights, to music, to sleighs, to nativity scenes, and a massive tree in the center! I am a Christmas fanatic and one of the hardest parts about being away from home right now is knowing that I’m missing the majority of the holiday season. So bumping into a massive Christmas tree was a pleasant surprise!
Brazil was a time of much needed relaxation and reflection, but now it’s back to sea for 9 days. With out trip coming down to the final stretch most of our time now is spent at sea, but believe me it’s almost as fun as being on land! When I’m not in class I’m usually laying out in the sun on the top deck, swimming in the pool, or taking a yoga class. Every few days I also meet with a group of about twenty students for Bible study. I love Bible study nights, I always leave feeling fulfilled.
There are also fun events planned every night on the ship. Movie nights, ice cream socials, star gazing, coffee house (a talent show sort of hangout where everyone sits around, drinks coffee, and listens to people sing, play piano, or recite poetry), game nights, and so on keep us from getting bored.
Currently everyone is prepping for the Sea Olympics. Every student is assigned a ‘sea’ based on where their cabin is located on the ship, each hallway is a different sea. On Sea Olympics day all of the seas compete with one another in various activities, from extreme musical chairs, to ping pong matches, to name games, to synchronized swimming, and so on. It is an entire day of battle, and at the end of the day the sea that scored the highest is announced as the champions.
So as we take off from Brazil and head toward Trinidad & Tobago I will be in rigorous training for the Sea Olympics, and hopefully next time you hear from me I’ll be able to say that the Yellow Sea took the trophy this year!(:
There is a difference between hot..and African hot. To be hot at home typically means to choose a spot in the shade rather than in the sun, to drive with the windows down, and maybe grab an ice cream cone (from Captain Sundae, obviously). On the other hand, to be hot in Africa leads to much more drastic measures. African heat is the kind that blurs your consciousness, it messes with your mind to the point that sneaking into the country’s nicest resort and swimming in their pool without any intention of making a room reservation seems like a good idea. Who would have thought that my first time swimming in an infinity pool would be in Africa?! Not totally legal, I know, but no worries I plan to write a very nice review for the Radisson Blu resort in Dakar, Senegal on Trip Advisor.
Sunday was spent on a field trip with my World Religions class. We attended two completely different religious ceremonies and experienced two separate rituals: Catholicism and Islam. The Catholic mass we attended was at a monastery. It was incredible to partake in a service so different yet so similar to the Catholic masses we might find at home. I especially enjoyed whenever the choir (is that what they’re called in a Catholic church??) sang. Mesmerizing.
Then we went to an Islamic ceremony in a mosque. In order to be permitted in the building everyone had to remove their shoes, and girls had to cover their heads, shoulders, and knees. After our Muslim guides saw how we came dressed (shorts and tank tops to beat the heat), they quickly ordered the women and girls of the community to return to their homes and bring back all of the clothes that they owned to cover us naive foreigners. So before I knew it a thirteen year old girl was wrapping me up in her black lace head scarf and tying one of her homemade skirts around my waist. She giggled the entire time, clearly enjoying this opportunity to play dress up on me. After all were dressed, we proceeded to the mosque where the Muslims sang and sang and sang.
I also met up with a Christian missionary from Alabama whom I had found online and have been in contact with. She has been living in Senegal teaching English for about four years now. She took me out to lunch and told me her story, then showed me where her and her husband live. It was incredibly neat to see their home and get an idea of what every day life can look like in Africa. From there we walked to her church down the street where I sat in on one of the English classes that she teaches. There were only 6 kids at this particular class but I had a great time playing with them, coloring with them, and listening to them show off by singing the ABC’s over and over and over again.
It was fantastic for me to witness three different religious spectrums in the very same place and in such a confined amount of time. Although uncomfortable at times, I am so glad to be experiencing beliefs that coincide with my own as well as ones that are different from all cultural angles.
My final day was spent riding through the dunes on these crazy ATVs/dune buggys. Definitely the highlight of my time in Senegal! The ride was supposed to take us to the ‘pink’ lake, or as I like to call it, the brown pond. Yea nothing about that place was pink. Nothing. If you get really really close to the water and squint your eyes and think pink thoughts, you can sort of kind of see a tint of pink in the water, but definitely nothing like the Pepto Bismol oasis that is flaunted on Google images. Never trust the internet folks.
Half way through the ride we made a pit stop at the ocean. Everyone got off the ATVs and waded into the water but kept close to shore because the riptide in Senegal is not to be messed with. After wading in just a couple of feet I could already feel it, it was incredibly forceful.
But…my friends and I were hot. Really hot. Africa hot. So what did we do? We whipped off our clothes, which we had conveniently placed swimsuits beneath just in case of an opportunity such as this one, and we ran straight into the waves. Out of our tour group of over 100 people no one else was swimming besides me and my friends, but that definitely didn’t stop us. It was so terrifying and so fun to be tossed around in the waves..until we got yelled at. It didn’t take long for our tour guide to shout out at us telling us to get back to shore because the riptide is far too dangerous and swimming was not a part of the program. Oops. So we battled our way back to land, struggling against the riptide for several minutes, then attempted to disguise our laughter while drying off. It didn’t even matter that we got scolded, it was so worth it.
After another dune ride we ended up at a local village where they put on a huge show for us. There were drummers and singers, women dancing in Senegalese attire, and even a Senegalese wrestling match. It was such a fun thing to watch, but honestly I think they had more fun performing for us than we had watching them. They gave it their all to put on a show and were clearly having an incredible time doing it.
The day after we boarded the ship and left Africa, I was sitting in my photography class on the ship and we were talking over what it was like to approach Africa behind a lens. My class quickly came to a mutual agreement that we witnessed a lot of mistreatment as far as photo taking in Africa. We all admitted to have seen our fellow shipmates, and even professors, taking photos of locals without their consent, invading their privacy to capture a photo, and sometimes even getting in the picture and posing with them as if they are objects. It made all of us feel uncomfortable, and we can only imagine how uncomfortable it made the locals feel, so we decided to address this issue by role reversal.
We made a plan to have a ‘flash mob.’ Literally, a mob of flashing cameras. One night during the height of dinner time, all three photography classes came together and stormed into the cafeteria armed with our cameras. We snapped pictures of professors and students getting their food, sitting at their tables eating, even captured a few mid-bite action shots. Everyone was stunned, incredibly confused, and rather annoyed at this disruption and invasion of privacy, but we proceeded to take their pictures for about ten straight minutes. Then later that night at our pre-port meeting my photography professor explained to the whole ship why we did it and encouraged the shipboard community to be more considerate when photographing a culture and it’s people. I’m so lucky to be learning from a professor like her.
As you can tell by the length of this post, Africa had a lot to offer. It was such a wild adventure. We are now setting sail across the Atlantic Ocean headed towards Brazil! The next time I write to you I will no longer be a slimy pollywog (someone who has yet to sail across the equator), but I will be a trusty shellback (someone who has sailed across the equator and performed various ridiculous rituals). Wish me luck!
I have realized that there is a significant difference between vacation and travel; vacation often includes traveling, however traveling is not always a vacation. Europe was a vacation, but once we landed in Africa it became an adventure. Being in Morocco finally felt like travel.
Culture shock for me came in the form of the following emotions:
-Ew this is awful take me home.
-*mental self motivation* Be brave. You can do this. Take a deep breath…wait what on earth is that terrible smell?
-Where is my hand sanitizer?
-What is this thing on my plate? Is it breathing? How is this legal?
-Okay. I think I can handle this. I feel adventurous & independent.
-Nope. Take me back to Spain.
-Wow! This is so fun, new, and exciting!!!
-I think today is the day I’m going to die. Tell my parents I loved them.
There is no specific order to which these emotions became me. They arose in alternating patterns and could switch very abruptly. Any given minute may have contained anywhere between one, two, or all of the emotions listed above.
I was a mess, it was great.
This lasted mostly for the first two-three days. It was exhausting and exhilarating. It was traveling. I did eventually overcome the shock and discovered how to embrace a place with absolutely zero familiarity and ended up loving my Moroccan experience.
My time in Morocco was divided between the cities of Casablanca, Fez, and Chechaouen.
Casablanca was mostly industrial and urban. The greatest part of my time there was visiting the Mosque of Hasan II. It is the third largest mosque in the world and it is one of the only ones that you can enter if you aren’t a Muslim. The building is vast and immaculate, even the purification halls and hamom (communal bath) beneath it were exquisite.
On day three, me and my girlfriends boarded a train and embarked on our journey to Fez. At first I was very anxious about traveling in a small group of only females in Morocco, in fact looking back it still probably wasn’t the best decision, but hey we survived and had a wild time!
Fez was…intense. Fez is basically one giant, never ending medina, or market. Tiny, dirty streets packed with garbage and terrible smells and people all yelling forcefully at you to buy their stuff, as if yelling is the way to entice a customer. I think Moroccans have this idea that harassing an innocent person is the best way to make a sale. They are wrong. So our time in Fez was spent weaving throughout the streets, dodging crazy vendors, and keeping a tally of every time that we got called ‘Spice Girls.’
On our second to last day we decided we wanted a break from the hustle of Fez, so we spoke with our hotel owner and asked him his advice for getting to the blue city, Chechaouen. Within a matter of seconds he whipped out his cell phone, called up a buddy, and arranged for us to be driven to and from Chechaouen the next day.
So in the morning we followed him out to our ‘taxi driver,’ whom we still don’t think was a legitimate taxi driver, just one of his friends who had some free time and wanted to earn a few bucks. The car that awaited us was a small white five passenger Mercedes Benz….we had a group of five girls…including the driver himself that makes for six passengers…Chechaouen is a four hour drive up the mountains from Fez…and so the fun began.
For a total of eight and a half hours that day I was squeezed into the backseat of a non-air conditioned car weaving through the deserts and mountains of Africa with one too many passengers. When I wasn’t in the car I was strolling the blue streets of Chechaouen, a magnificent city that felt much separate from Africa. Absolutely everything was blue; the sidewalks, the walls, the doors, the windows. It was magnificent, it made every minute in the sweaty backseat worth it.
So that was my Moroccan adventure. It was nothing like I had expected it would be but I enjoyed it and am grateful for it just the same. In the words of my friend Maddie: “Let’s just say Morocco is Africa.”
At sea for four days then making our final stop in Africa: Dakar, Senegal.
I have loved every single place I’ve met so far. Each country has been incredibly beautiful and unique in it’s people, food, sounds, and experiences, however Spain brought something to the table that none of the others have. Spain felt like home. Unlike any of the other countries, Italy Croatia Greece, Spain truly made me feel like I was at home grabbing Starbucks on a Saturday morning and shopping the day away with my girlfriends. It was a breath of fresh air, a relief from any minor culture shock felt thus far.
Valencia was our first stop in Spain and it ended up being the best city we’ve been to so far, in my opinion. This city is unlike any others in that it is immaculately clean, the people are friendly, the atmosphere made me feel 100% safe, and despite the fact that it is a large city, the lifestyle is slow-paced and relaxing. I absolutely loved my time in Valencia and I could have had a lot more of it.
Next we ported in Barcelona. This city was a bit dirtier and faster, as would be expected given that it is a larger city, but it was just as exciting and still much cleaner and safer than any of the other cities we have stopped at. I spent my time exploring the streets of Las Ramblas and the Gothic quarter, trying crazy tapas, and appreciating the art that is on every corner.
One evening I attended a Barcelona futobl/soccer game which was a total dream come true! If you think soccer is a fun sport to watch, which I did, try watching it in Spain and you’ll gain an entirely new appreciation, which I have. Despite the nose bleed seats, I had such a blast at the FC Barca game with 300 other Semester at Sea students!
Additionally, I had the chance to visit La Sagrada Familia. This was the climax of my time in Spain. I had heard great things about the place, yet my expectations were low. Personally, generally, I don’t get too excited to see buildings, monuments, man-made things. I am more enthralled by nature, raw beauty, and the Lord’s artistry. This site, however, left me speechless in a way that normally only God’s masterpieces can, and I think I know why. Gaudi made the place holy. He filled it with spiritual assets, he covered the exterior with infinite biblical stories, everything I could see seemed to have some sort of scriptural significance, making it far more than a man-made place. Gaudi designed La Sagrada Familia to feel heavenly, and I so much appreciated that.
However the most beautiful part of La Sagrada Familia was nothing visual, it was the story behind its blueprints. It is beyond admirable to me that a man named Gaudi would dream up a place, design a masterpiece, and set it into motion fully aware that he would never get to see it completed and never get to take in its glory. They began building La Sagrada Familia in the late 1800’s and it is estimated to be completed in 2026.
If more people were like Gaudi and took the time to truly invest in something, not knowing whether or not they would get to reap the harvest of it but knowing that someday, someone would be blessed by it, I think the world would be so much more beautiful and humanity itself so much more fulfilled.
On an entirely different note, I’d like to quickly comment on the night life in Spain. Wow. Let’s just say that if I could go to the ‘disco’ every night for the rest of my life I’d be more than okay with it, my friends have better dance moves than Mick Jagger, and I truly believe that every public bathroom deserves it’s own personal DJ. That is all.
After this quick visit, Spain definitely made it’s way to the top of my list, there is not one thing I didn’t love about it. I know for a fact I will be back again and next time I’ll give myself a lot more time, maybe even stick around for a while.
2 sea school days, then porting in Casablanca, Morocco. Europe was amazing and I’ve already began planning future trips back to that wonderful continent, but I am incredibly eager for a change and a taste of something vastly new.
Africa here I come!!
This port seemed to go by especially fast. We ported in Piraeus, Greece just about 30 minutes outside of Athens. My first reaction of Piraeus/Athens was less than endearing. In fact, I was disgusted. The city can be dirty, gross, and uninviting if simply taken in at face value, but if you give it a chance and emerge yourself into it it becomes a thoroughly entertaining place. After spending time in the city, discovering the best cafes and coffee shops, and walking the docks and local marina, the town has sort of grown on me.
I spent one day visiting the Acropolis, shopping the endless flea markets, and eating everything Greek, from gyros, to hummus, to falafels. Another day I had the opportunity to visit a vineyard/winery in the mountains outside of Athens with my friend Maddie and other Semester at Sea students/staff. Such a beautiful business and enriching atmosphere! We walked the vineyards, explored the cellar, and even sampled seven different house wines.
For the final portion of my time in Greece I flew out of Athens to Santorini with a group of friends. Santorini has always been a dream destination for me, a bucket list item I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to cross off. Yes, it is just as beautiful as the internet and Mama Mia make it seem. It was absolutely fantastic!
We stayed in a perfect little villa on the caldera, strolled the stone streets, shopped a bit too much, and ate meals at fancy places with incredible views. In fact I’d argue that every single restaurant has a view, there’s no such thing as a bad view in Santorini.
After catching the sunset over the caldera we were heading back to our villa for the evening when we passed by a fish pedicure spa, a shop filled with large leather seats each with their own fish tank at the base. Curiosity got the best of us and in a matter of fifteen minutes I found myself sitting in a chair with my feet in a tank of small fish eating away at my toes. It was both horrifying and exciting. I still haven’t decided whether or not I hated it, but I’m definitely glad I did it and grateful to have friends who are just as spontaneous and adventurous as I am.
Waking up in Santorini was the best part of my time in Greece. By far.
I woke up in a queen sized bed cozily snuggled between three of my closest girlfriends (yes, we squeezed four girls into one bed. This is how college students afford to travel in Santorini). The sun was pouring through little blue shutters and the warm morning air made the white curtains float. I headed downstairs and opened the door to our back patio. Everything was beautiful. Clear blue skies met crystal blue waters, only separated by an occasional scattered piece of island.
A perfect breakfast was served to us containing breads and jams, fruits and juices, delicious coffee cake, and the most amazing Greek yogurt with fruit and honey. We woke up sat and ate together and it was just beautiful!
That was my favorite moment in Greece. It’s the little things I guess.
So long for now Greece.
Four school days at sea, then porting in Spain. Still cannot believe this is real life.
Everything happens for a reason and our last minute itinerary change was no exception. Croatia completely took me by surprise! I did not anticipate to enjoy Croatia nearly as much as I did.
My first day was spent on a field lab for my Travel Writing class. We took a cable car to the top of a mountain in Dubrovnik where we enjoyed some awesome views of the city and walked through the war museum located in the fort. I was shocked at how recent and rampant this civil war was, in fact the war didn’t end until just before I was born. It’s unbelievable to me what this city and these people went through and yet how proud and patriotic they remained throughout. They have made incredible progress in repairing the city of Dubrovnik however rubbish and evidence of the war are still on every street.
I also had the chance to walk the wall surrounding the city of old town Dubrovnik. Typically it costs about 12 euro to walk the wall, however a friend and I sort of scaled the wall and got in for free. We followed some local kids up a few sets of rusty ladders and managed to climb up into the wall, both saving money and adding to the experience(: While on top of the wall we witnessed a local man trying to impress some non-local cliff jumpers by jumping into the sea from standing on the edge of the wall, about a 50 meter drop. It was terrifying. I honestly thought he had died but he swam off as if it was no big deal, succeeding in impressing the non-locals.
Later in the week I went on a trip up into the mountains and shared a traditional dinner with a local Croatian family! This was quite the experience. The mountains were so serene and the silence shocked me. The only noises that could be heard were ones that we were making. I admire the simplicity and solitude of their lifestyle. They gave us homemade grappa, the strongest and worst alcohol I’ve ever met, as well as homemade wine served with a dinner of smoked ham, potatoes, dried figs, and cake. It was delicious! I’m so grateful that Semester at Sea gives us opportunities to truly immerse into a culture rather than simply taking it all in on a tourist’s level. It was a fantastic evening!
In my final days I kayaked along the coast, snorkeled in some caves, and visited the island of Lokrum. What a quirky little island! Lokrum is rather small and infested with peacocks who wander around, stroll down the sidewalks, and steal unknowing tourists’ food. It was so fun to see these beautiful, exotic creatures in a relaxed, uncaged setting. I tried to catch one but only managed to get some of it’s tail feathers, not the greatest idea I’ve ever had. They are speedier than you’d think!
This entire trip in Croatia was much more my pace. I had time to slow down, soak it all in, and simply enjoy the present.
Two days at sea then porting in Greece!!!
Ciao! I spent the last 6 days in the endearing land of Italia! I visited Civitavechia, Rome, Positano, Capri, and Naples. Overkill? Probably. Worth it? Absolutely. I wouldn’t have done Italy any differently.
In Rome I visited the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Despite the fact that nearly each one of these sites was under construction, they all completely fascinated me! The art, the history, and the beauty they extolled could never be captured in a picture, let’s be clear that every one of my photos is an injustice to how truly amazing these places are. The masses of tourists were overwhelming and utterly chaotic making for an exhausting two days in Rome, but I’m still grateful to say I’ve been to these ancient sites.
I also spent a day in our port city, Civitavechia. It was unexpectedly quaint & charming! It was in this city that I have my first ever true Italian gelato…and from then on I proceeded to have gelato every day that I was in Italy. God is good. Gelato is a blessing.
For my final few days in Italy, I took a train down to Positano and stayed in a hostel with a group of 5 friends (side note: there was a tornado while we were on the train. The funnel was visible and LARGE, but thankfully it receded by the time we passed it. I survived a Tornado in Italy). Wow. How do I even begin to explain how wonderful the Amalfi Coast is? I’ll let the pictures do the explaining.
We had so much fun in that little town of Positano, shopping, beaching, having classy pasta dinners overlooking the sea, and of course, enjoying some gelato for dessert. We all agreed that we could have skipped much of the time we spent in Rome and traded it for more time on the coast.
On our second day in Positano we had the privilege of taking a private boat tour to the island of Capri! It was just the 5 of us and our chauffeur riding along the Amalfi Coast soaking in it’s beauty and exploring it’s famous grottos. Our captain showed us each of the grottos, the Blue grotto, Emerald grotto, Pandora’s grotto, and White grotto, and he even let us jump out and swim in the Green grotto! IT WAS AMAZING! One of the best experiences of my life! (Keep an eye out for some video footage of my grotto experience!) My inner mermaid was completely at home. Such an incredible opportunity, and an excellent way to end our time in Italy.
Now we are back at sea taking classes for four days. At first it was weird to be on the boat again. Land is fun and on the boat it’s easier to feel homesick, however it’s been so great to reunite with all my new friends that I didn’t get to see in Italy. The boat truly feels like a home base now and it’s comforting to be back after a crazy week in Italy.
The original plan was to head to Istanbul, Turkey at this time, however due to certain conditions and current events we have changed our itinerary and are now headed to Dubrovnik, Croatia instead!
Given that this was such a last minute change I have no clue what to expect of Croatia, we shall see what comes!