Semester at Sea Updates

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Home again!

Time quickly passed the morning of Dec. 7: I was up early to watch as we entered our final port of call. 

I remember feeling so happy to be back home, where I didn’t have to worry about currency conversions or language barriers. My mind was focused on traveling back to Pennsylvania to my friends and family.
 
After the ship was cleared through Customs, it was time to say good-bye to the friends I’d made during this incredible journey. Our small group would soon disperse across the United States, with plans to reunite in the future.
 
Luckily, disembarking the ship was easier than I’d anticipated. The gangway was directly connected to the terminal where our luggage awaited us. As usual, I struggled with my luggage and the numerous bags of souvenirs hanging from my arms.

It felt like hours passed as we took one final look around the ship. This had been our home for the past few months, and I was sad to say farewell.
 
I cannot believe this semester has come and gone so quickly! It feels like just yesterday we were traveling north to Nova Scotia, to embark on the journey of a lifetime.

By attending the Semester at Sea program, I learned so much about the world, its people, their cultures and myself. This has been one memorable semester filled with excitement and adventure, and it’s sad to see such a wonderful experience end. 

For now I am content to contain my travels to Pennsylvania, but I definitely have caught the travel bug!

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On to Brazil

Our three- day stay in Manaus, Brazil, was completely booked with activities ranging from a service project to a visit to a waterfall reserve and the “Meeting of the Waters.” 

On our first day ashore, Lauren Turosik and I were part of the Global Grins Delivery Squad that distributed toothbrushes to children at the Monte Salem Orphanage and School. 

Monte Salem OrphanageChildren at the Monte Salem Orphanage and School show off their new toothbrushes

Smile!

Global Grins was designed by Semester at Sea alumni Joselyn and Todd Miller. Monte Salem is home to children from both Manaus and Amazonian riverside communities. The residential shelter is small, with a capacity of 30 students who are supported by 10 full-time school and shelter staff. We met with the children to teach them about good oral hygiene to help prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, HIV, cancer and complications during pregnancy.
 
On the second day we went to Presidente Figuerido, a waterfall reserve just outside the city limits. Presidente Figuerido is a unique place in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, with a dramatically different setting from the Rio Negro ecosystem. The area is rich in towering trees, rushing rivers, splendid waterfalls and natural caves.

Waterfall ReservePresidente Figuerido waterfall reserve.

Steakhouse dining

Although the nature part of the trip was great, we were especially excited to go zip-lining! After a full day of swimming, hiking and riding zip-lines, we cleaned up and headed into town to a traditional Brazilian steakhouse with some friends. With the staff in gaucho attire, the chart-topping restaurant Buffalo was the ultimate dining experience. The staff brought around large skewers of various meats for customers to try. It was a dining experience we will never forget!

On the last day Lauren T. and I hopped on a riverboat to see the famous “Meeting of the Waters.” This is where the Rio Negro meets the Solimoes, creating one of nature’s curious wonders. These rivers run side by side, but their waters don’t mix because of differences in temperature, density and speed.

From there, our riverboat tour made stops at a neighboring village and an area with large Amazonian water lilies.  

Meeting of the waters."Meeting of the Waters."

Almost home

Manaus was full of adventure and excitement, but it’s finally time to study for our upcoming finals. The voyage is slowly winding down and we are excited to think about being home with friends and family for the holidays.

There are only six days before we arrive in Roseau, Dominica, and soon after we will be arriving in Fort Lauderdale!

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Rio, Rio, Rio!

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful places that I have traveled to! Whether you are peering at the city from Sugar Loaf Mountain or looking at the beaches from the Christ the Redeemer statue, you are in for some of the most spectacular views in the world. 

Rio is a city of massive diversity. It has everything from beaches and forests to skyscrapers and to mountains, all within the city limits. It is filled with the beautiful colors of Carnivale and interesting people who are eager to show visitors their amazing city. 

Rio is going through a massive re-imaging stage, which means a lot of construction throughout the city as it prepares to host the World Cup finals in 2014 and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Lauren on top of mountain. Spreading peace on top of Sugar Loaf Mountain

Beach weather

I spent my first day in the city enjoying the 92-degree Brazilian heat on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. After a day filled with sun, sand, the beautiful Rio Platte water and amazing views of the islands from land, I got ready for my first Brazilian meal and samba! At dinner I tried many Brazilian novelties, including barbequed meats.   

On my second day ashore I traveled to the most popular sites in Rio de Janeiro, including one of the modern wonders of the world — the Christo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer statue.  After being speechless over the fabulous views from atop the Tijuca Forest, I toured the city where I saw both children and adults playing futbol in community parks, men and women exercising along the beaches, and people zipping in and out of traffic on mopeds to get to work on time. 

Christo RedentorChristo Redentor statue

After another terrific meal I went to Sugar Loaf, where I took three cable cars to reach the top of the mountain. Again, there were breathtaking views from every angle. No matter where you look in Rio, you are looking at something phenomenal.  Even when looking at favellas — communities within the city that are comparable to slums — the colors are mesmerizing.  

Rio city line.

Rio de Janeiro skyline. 

I encourage all of you to travel to Brazil someday and particularly to Rio.  It is an amazing city that is so diverse. You will never run out of things to do in Rio!  

Radio waves

Tonight I’m going to bring my “Lauren After Dark” radio show to the Atlantic Ocean by DJ-ing my first dance on the water! Hopefully the rocking will be minimal, but regardless, at least I know that there will be good music. Afterward, we will sleep on the top deck to watch the Leonid meteor shower and see Jupiter. There’s always something interesting in the middle ocean!  

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  

group of students.

 

 

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Don’t cry for me, Argentina!

I made it to South America! Buenos Aires is a beautiful, enormous capital city. It is made up of more than 40 districts and has an amazing atmosphere filled with the spirit and the art of tango and street music.   

On our first day in Argentina’s capital, we enjoyed the 80-degree weather and the beauty of the city. I tasted empanadas that were by far one of my favorite foods I have tried on this trip. I spent my first night in the city getting acquainted with "Argentinean time" — dinner is served around 9 p.m., and dancing goes on afterward until about 5 or 6 a.m.  

I learned how to tango and then worked on my moves at a tango club in the city. It was amazing! I met up with friends afterward, and then woke up ready to take on Day Two.  

friends in Buenos Aires.Picture with a friend in Buenos Aires city center.

By our second day ashore I was able to reconnect with most of my family and friends, which was really nice. I always seem to feel a little more balanced when I am in contact with friends and family.

We enjoyed another day of sightseeing and talking with locals and another night of tango! By my second night in the city, I had a flower in my hair and was paired with locals who helped me perfect my dance moves.  

Day Three came quickly, but after some good South American coffee I was ready to experience the oldest subway on the continent, which was very crowded and headed to La Boca! This area of brightly colored houses and buildings was filled with vibrant culture and lively people.

After seeing a few different districts within the city, I broke off from the group and hailed a taxi to Soho-Palermo. This area of the city was lined with cafes and shops, and filled with the sound of street music. We had some pizza and drinks on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city, and I took some time simply to "take it all in." I have found that I do not do enough of this, so whenever the opportunity presents itself, I take a moment to absorb the atmosphere.  

Colorful houses in Buenos Aires.

Colorful houses in Soho-Palermo.

Speaking Spanish

I spent part of the afternoon on our last day in Argentina at a bookstore talking to a young girl who was working there. Using my high school Spanish vocabulary, I managed to carry on a conversation with her and find my way around the shop. Something as simple as looking through a bookstore in another country can be — and was — so interesting. 

After a little morning shopping and walking through the Palermo district, we sat stopped at a cafe before catching a cab back to the city center of Buenos Aires near where our ship was docked in Puerto Nuevo.

I talked to the cab driver and practiced my Spanish yet again on our trip back to the heart of the capital city. He and I talked about music, movies, politics and social issues, both in Argentina and in the United States. Everyone that I had encountered in the city was so friendly and approachable. Our conversation entertained my friends, but after I apologized for my mediocre Spanish, he appreciated my efforts to pass the time.

Needless to say, by my fourth 20-hour day spent speaking and attempting to comprehend Argentina's Spanish dialect, I was exhausted — but well practiced at the tango and a self-proclaimed professional at hailing cabs!  

I am excited for what the remainder of South America has to bring, and I’m looking forward to the final stretch of my voyage at sea! 

 

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Exploring Often Overlooked Uruguay

Uruguay is often overlooked, with travelers more interested in Argentina or Brazil. But the lucky ones who do make it into this tiny country are amazed at its low-key, friendly atmosphere.

The Semester at Sea’s fall 2012 voyage is the first to visit Montevideo, and the country welcomed us with a front-page story about our visit! The locals were beyond friendly and helpful when the group of 800 students ventured ashore.

newspaper page from Uruguay.

Front page news about Semester at Sea in Montevideo newspaper. 

The first night in Uruguay, my friend Becky and I attended a local dinner and folklore show. The evening consisted of live entertainment that included the traditional tango, gaucho and milonga dancing. I was lucky enough to be pulled from the audience and aksed to join in the fun toward the end of the program!

folklore dancer.

Dancers from a folklore show.

On the second day, Lauren Turosik and I took off for a horseback adventure from ranch to coast. We started at a small ranch where we met the staff and the horses. Together, the small group trailed from the ranch to the scenic views of the coast. We ended our day at a campground for lunch and headed back into the city. 

horseback riding.Horseback riding with Lauren. 

On the third day we walked around the city of Montevideo and explored the city center and local attractions. We stopped at a few art museums, bargained with local vendors on the streets and called it a day. 

There are only three more ports left on the voyage! Time is really flying by — only 15 more days on the ship and eight in port! Next stop is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Among the sharks

Here we are, our last stop in Africa! Cape Town was a beautiful place to port during our five-day visit, conveniently located by the Victoria Alfred Waterfront.

I spent my first day in Cape Town cage-diving with great white sharks, while Lauren Turosik attended a class field lab.

I’m not exactly the adventurous type, but when will this opportunity come again? So I was among the 24 brave souls from the ship who traveled two hours to meet the Shark Diving Unlimited Crew. The water temperature alone was enough to scare me away, because it was only 55 degrees! Not to mention it was already a cold spring morning. Nevertheless, my 20 minutes in the water seeing the great whites was amazing! I would do it again in a heartbeat! 

Shark diving.Cage diving to view great white sharks in Cape Town.  

The next few days passed by very quickly. I explored the Waterfront shopping and craft district and learned the history behind small businesses in South Africa. The Waterfront is a private/public partnership that provides locals with an opportunity to start and run small businesses. It was amazing to talk with the locals and hear their stories; it is an experience I will never forget.

Mandela’s prison

Later that day we traveled to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. The tour operator was an ex-prisoner who told us firsthand how it was to be exiled on Robben Island.

The following day, while I visited the Waterfront again, Lauren Turosik headed out on a safari with the girls to see the Big Five — elephant, lion, water buffalo, hippopotamus and rhinoceros.

Upon Lauren’s return, we got ready for an evening in Cape Town! A group from the ship attended a theatrical performance called Normality, a one- man show by Pedro Kruger. We even spoke with Pedro about the performance and his professional background.

The next day we ran into dreary weather, so we jumped at the opportunity to explore the wine lands across Cape Town. We visited two local wineries and caught a glimpse of the wine-making process. I believe we found the perfect way to spend a cool spring day along the coast.

zebrasZebra sightings while on a safari.

Atlantic crossing

Leaving Cape Town was a depressing moment for many aboard the ship, mainly because we have 10 days at sea before we reach Argentina. To start the journey back across the Atlantic, port authorities delayed the ship from leaving for 16 hours because of high tides and winds! It looks like this crossing may not be the easiest.

Portrait of students on sea shore.Posing for a picture on Robben Island. 

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Across the Equator

Greetings from West Africa!

On Oct. 12, Lauren Snyder and I found ourselves at the center of the world. We became Emerald Shellbacks as we crossed the equator along the prime meridian! 

Lauren Turosik on boat. Lauren Turosik holds a sign to signal she is crossing the equator along the prime meridian. 

Two Worlds Apart

“The greatest glory in living rests not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” — Nelson Mandela. 

I didn’t know what to expect upon arriving in West Africa, and I never could have prepared myself for what I was about to experience.

Traveling outside of the port in Tema is difficult to describe, other than to say it was very bizarre and disheartening at first. We exited the port and barreled onto a dirt road. Out the righthand window of our bus we saw miles of land cluttered with trash that seemed to meet the horizon. Ghanaians walked through the overgrown land, tending to their small crops or preparing baskets filled with plantain chips that mostly women and some children would carry on their heads to sell in the streets that day. Small huts made of bamboo, scraps of wood and palm leaves lined the road — and these were what they called home.

When we turned to peer out the lefthand window, we could see a beautiful shoreline, with waves crashing against the rocks. We saw men spear-fishing to support their families across the way. 

Soon we were on a highway with street signs and traffic lights. The developing capital city of Accra was composed of dirt roads and many incomplete structures that had posters for the upcoming presidential election plastered on the unfinished walls. 

Since Ghana’s declared independence, most of the country has preached peace. Despite these efforts, I sensed much unrest during our time there. The majority of people were friendly and welcoming, but some looked at us with fear in their eyes, and others had much anger toward us. After thinking about world history, I was surprised by how many people did not choose the latter approaches to greet a bus filled with Americans. 

This less-than-subtle transition was baffling. Honking horns and awful driving were memorable, mostly because of the two bus crashes I was involved in. Luckily no one was injured, but these instances raised the issues of congestion and a complete lack of traffic laws.

I have never been in the minority, but in West Africa I was definitely in the minority everywhere I traveled. In my first two days of traveling through the country, our group was accompanied by a police escort that, in my opinion, did not help the causes of equality and peace. Many Ghanaians looked to our bus in disgust as they were forced to stop and let us pass.   

I spent our first day in Tema with locals, learning African dances and enjoying the beat of my own drum during a drumming lesson. The following day I went to Kakum National Park, where I walked through the treetop canopy on bridges suspended 300 meters above the rainforest floor. 

Our guide led us through a town outside of Accra where we learned about European control in West Africa, corruption and apartheid — and suddenly the stares that our predominantly white group of students and professors received made sense. 

On our third day, a few friends and I traveled to Accra, where we met a man named John who sells paintings on canvas to support himself and put himself through school. He led us to an all-female school, where hundreds of children sat behind desks that were crammed into eight small, open rooms. We passed out toothbrushes, food and books to the teachers and students. Everyone was so grateful for the small number of things we were able to carry with us. We spent the entire morning playing with the children. 

Accara school students. Lauren Turosik posing with students at the Accra school.

Our next stop was at a university on the other side of town. Buildings under construction lined a campus square connected by dirt roads. Some buildings had working air-conditioning units, and some let the brief, muggy breezes in through their open windows.  

A Day to Remember

And now I will tell you about a day that I will always remember. 

The following day, I traveled to a village about two-and-a-half hours north of Tema – only a few miles from the fluid Nigerian border. After being welcomed into Torgorme Village with open arms by the chief and elders of the community, I participated in a traditional African naming ceremony and danced with the children. The children called me by my “local” name given to me in the ceremony, which was Amenuveve, meaning grace.  

dancing with locals. Lauren Turosik dances with locals during a traditional African naming ceremony. 

After we accepted pottery and peace bracelets from the people, we offered gifts of bread, toys, hygiene items and medicine. The children showed us around the village, and we spent the afternoon talking and playing with them.  

There was a little girl named Ah-koo who never left my side; she had become rather attached to me throughout my time there. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t become fond of her as well. Before we departed the village, her mother came up to me, grabbed my arm and begged of me, “Please, young girl, take her with you. …  She will have a better life with you.” 

Student holds child.Ah-koo was attached to Lauren Turosik during her visit. 

As you can imagine, I was speechless. Tears immediately came to my eyes. Putting Ah-koo down and saying good-bye to her was a pivotal moment in my life as I gain a better understanding of the diversity in cultures around the world. Some of the people that I spoke with said that Africa is “God’s world,” while others were anxiously searching for their escape to a “better life.” 

Allowing myself to register all that has happened in the short time I spent in West Africa has been a difficult process. I have been learning much about myself as I decipher where my life’s mission fits into the “unpeace” of the world. The people of Africa have fallen many times, but they always seem to rise, as Nelson Mendala illustrates.  

I am going to take the opportunity now to challenge everyone who reads this post to do something in honor of my friend Ah-koo today. That might mean picking up a pack of pencils or a bar of soap every time you are shopping for groceries and starting a collection of your own that can be sent to Torgorme Village. Or maybe it’s something even smaller, like flashing a smile to someone you don’t know and bringing a little happiness to their day. There is only one condition to this challenge: No matter how big or how little a difference you decide to initiate, instigate it only with grace

Happy birthday, Mom!  Thanks for giving me the world – I have big plans to help make it a better place!      

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Birthday onboard!

Well today is the day. Looking back, I never would have guessed I would be half way to Africa when celebrating my 21st birthday. As a gift to myself I will be taking full advantage of the spa on the ship, with a Seven Seas massage!

Although, I am excited for today’s events, I am slightly sad that I will not be attending my “birthday dinner” at my grandma’s house, eating my favorite homemade macaroni and cheese, with cake to follow. My mom, however, has made this a home-away-from-home experience by having ice cream cake served for me at dinner.

Lauren Snyder birthday photo.  My birthday party at sea.


Even thousands of miles away, she can pull off a surprise.
 
The girls on the ship have made today such a special birthday, with cabin decorations and birthday wishes. I am happy to have met such a wonderful group to share my special day with!

I love and miss everyone at home, but I am in wonderful hands here on the MV Explorer! Cheers to another year!

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Last days in Europe

Cadiz, Spain
I cannot believe we are almost done with Europe! This semester is going by so fast.

Our stay in Spain was extended by an extra two days due to an unexpected itinerary change from the Institute of Shipboard Education. So here we are, enjoying six days in Spain and two in the Canary Islands.

What to do first? Lauren Turosik and I found ourselves at the beach participating in a day of surfing and yoga. We enjoyed the peaceful sound of waves crashing on shore as we entered a deeply relaxed state in our personal yoga class. 

Students pose for a picture before surfing. Lauren Turosik and I preparing for our first surfing lesson.

Soon the fun would begin. We hit the water dressed in our wetsuits and caught some waves! Surfing was a blast, but by the end of the day we both were exhausted. When we returned, we rested and found the strength to attend flamenco night in Cadiz. 

The dance performance was held in a local club called La Flamenco, and it was like stepping into historic Spanish culture. The five performers took our breath away! Dancing to live music, they moved along the stage with ease, making it hard to take your eyes away.

Male Flamenco dancer. The male flamenco dancer performing at La Flamenco.

The following morning we worked our way to Gibraltar, an area owned by the United Kingdom. We found a mini-bus tour around the island and visited the Pillars of Hercules, toured a cave and held monkeys!

Gibraltar was a spur-of-the-moment day trip and it was definitely worth the three-hour bus ride there and back. 

Lauren Turosik spent the next day in the neighboring city of Sevilla. An American exchange student who has been living and working in Spain for two years introduced her group to the city’s cathedral and popular local spots for an exciting day trip.

For our last two days in Spain, we ventured around the town of Cadiz and experienced a tapas tasting and market visit. It was a tasteful way to end our stay in Spain.

Now, on to the Canary Islands!

Students in front of Spanish market. After our market visit in the city center

 
Santa Cruz, Canary Islands
With our quick itinerary change, there was little time to plan our activities in the Canary Islands. We docked in Tenerife, the most populated of the seven islands, and explored the city during the Sunday market. 

This market was massive, stretching at least five blocks long and three wide. We spent hours walking through the street market and visiting with locals. 

Later, it was time to catch some rays! Most beaches on the islands are black sand beaches because of the active volcanoes, and a good hour away from port. However, in an attempt to lure tourists, Tenerife constructed its own white sand beach. It was a quick escape from town, where many tourists and locals came to relax.

The next morning we had a few hours to hop off the ship and run some last-minute errands. We were in desperate need of a Western Union, so we could exchange our Euros before sailing for Ghana, but the other 500 students also had this idea.

Instead, we walked around town and picked up some souvenirs before heading back to the ship. Although it was a short visit, we had a great time in Tenerife!

Pillars of Hercules.

On the Pillars of Hercules. The Moroccan coastline is directly behind us. 

On to Africa
This is the end of our European excursion. It is hard to believe we will be on another continent within six days. Here comes Africa, where we will experience something entirely new.

Traveling through Europe was quite the adventure, but the real culture shock lies just ahead. We will be pushing the limits and stepping out of our comfort zones!

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Studies at sea

One day “at sea” translates to one day of class in between ports. I am really enjoying my classes, which are focused in tourism, global issues, and communication. 

It is hard to get bored when you have classes once or twice a week. Our class schedule depends on our travels during that given time period. 

Belgium, France and the Netherlands

Sept. 12-14, 2012

The gateway port of Antwerp, Belgium, led me to not one, but three more countries. I enjoyed the stereotypical Belgian traditions, like delectable waffles, chocolate and fries — served separately, of course!   

I traveled to the capital, Brussels, and spent time with one of my classes at the European Commission, which is a part of the European Union. Then it was back to Antwerp for a day, where I spent some time exploring the city, shopping, and venturing through Europe’s oldest zoo with friends. 

The following day I traveled to Paris, France. After mastering yet another city’s metro system, I was amazed by the Cathedral at Notre Dame, the Louvre and the designer showrooms on the Champs de Elysse. Spending an evening in the Tour de Eiffel Park and watching the Eiffel Tower light up as dusk turned to dark was a surreal moment. 

Notre Dame cathedral. Lauren and I posing for a picture in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Lauren poses for an image in front of the Eifel Tower.
Me in front front of the Eiffel Tower. 

The fashion capital of the world kept me on my toes, and I enjoyed each moment!  On Friday, I boldly went to the Grand Nord Train Station, where I hopped on a train to Holland to meet friends from the ship in Amsterdam!

New travel limits and a new city: Hallo, Holland! I would like to return to this city, with its canals, cobblestones, windmills and beautiful floral arrangements. I stood in Anne Frank’s home, the hiding place where she wrote her famous diary during the German invasion in World War II. This was one of the most moving experiences of my life. 

Auf Wiedersehen, Holland! Belgium welcomed us back with a bustling atmosphere of street fairs, live music and lunch at a little café in the heart of the city. 

Portugal calls

Sept. 19-21, 2012

Three days of classes and cultural/logistical pre-ports (meetings preparing students for upcoming ports of call) later, and I was saying, Olá, Portugal! Adjusting to the constantly changing atmosphere is a difficult feat, but amazingly worthwhile.

We docked in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, which is lined with white sand beaches, clear waters and interesting historical elements. After a day of discovery at the oceanarium, we enjoyed the beautiful weather with a walk on the mile-long pier, and a little taste of history in the capital city.  

Day two brought me to Costa de Caparica – a beautiful city across an ocean inlet where the Tagus River flows. We headed straight for the beach! A new adventure — staying in a beach bungalow — kept our group enthralled as we enjoyed a few days of sun, surf and a breathtaking horizon. 

Photo of Costa de Copria.Surfers at Costa de Caparica, Portugal. 

Change in plans

Sept. 21, 2012

When we got back on the ship today, a slight change in itinerary was announced because of anti-American riots in the Middle East and Northern Africa. We will be saying goodbye to Portugal early tomorrow morning over breakfast and sailing toward Spain, where we will have an extended stay and a detour to the Canary Islands instead of our original destination, Morocco. 

 

Learning to roll with the punches is another area of study throughout this semester of cultural immersion!   

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Portugal: Seaside and swordfish

 Sept. 21, 2012

After spending the first day in Portugal with my group of friends and visiting the Oceanarium, I was off to Algarve! A three-hour bus ride separates Lisbon from Algarve, and luckily I was able to catch up on some schoolwork along the way.

I never realized how hard it would be to keep up with school while at sea. The semester with "no weekends" to play catch-up on schoolwork is hard!

In port, you want the chance to experience each country fully and not worry about school, but days on the ship fly by with little spare time. Needless to say, it's a hard schedule to get used to.

Anyway, along the way to Algarve our group stopped at a local restaurant, and I ate swordfish for the first time. After eating typical dining hall food for the past month, I am beyond excited when I can experience new foods!

After lunch, the group ventured into town and enjoyed a quick visit to the Moorish Castle and the Chapel of Saint Anthony. Both sites were amazing to see, but my mind was set on one thing — the beach!

It was time to relax! I planted myself by the water and enjoyed the sound of waves crashing on shore for the next few hours. It was nice to let loose and enjoy the scenery along the coastline.

Soon it was time to pack up and return to reality. Portugal was a beautiful country, and I hope I can visit again someday! 

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London calling

Sept. 15, 2012

Welcome to the world of royalty!

After arriving in Southampton, Lauren (Turosik) and I jumped on a bus and traveled three hours into the heart of London. Together we experienced the city, visiting sites such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye (Ferris wheel), the Royal Mews, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Both Laurens pose for a picture on the London Eye. Lauren Turosik and Lauren Snyder on the London Eye looking over the city.

 

One stop that really caught our eye was Buckingham Palace. We were lucky enough to take a walking tour through the royal family’s 19 staterooms.

These tours are offered only for two months at the end of the summer season. This is to ensure that there is ample time to prepare the palace for the holiday season.

Buckingham palace. The front view of Buckingham Palace on our first day in London. 

Although we could not take pictures, the staterooms held beautifully crafted sculptures, paintings and gifts presented to the royal family dating back hundreds of years. 

We later headed across town and hopped on the London Eye to get a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful city. During our 40-minute ride, we caught the panoramic view of Parliament and Big Ben. Contrary to popular belief, Big Ben is not the name of the tower, but rather the 13-ton bell that strikes on the hour.

London was, by far, an experience of a lifetime! 

Big Ben in London, England.

View from the London Eye ride of Parliament and Big Ben.

 

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Adjusting to Shipboard Life

Sept. 5, 2012

We boarded the ship, but only after we posed with 8-10 people in the Halifax terminal with our bags. Many people seemed to be amazed at the size of our luggage, and we were asked numerous times to stop for photographs. Needless to say, that was interesting start to the semester! 

After a few different registrations, we were off to Cabin 4017 — our new home! Our bags awaited us outside our room. We dragged them into the cabin and sat on them, because we could not walk around them. 

Lauren and I sat in silence for awhile and let it all sink in ... but then it was time to decorate and unpack. 

Orientation followed the entire next day, and then classes began on a Saturday. It is difficult to have any sense of what day it is on the ship, because we have class when we are "at sea," and the ports are our considered our “weekends.” It has been tricky to get used to, but in return for 3-5 day weekends in all of these amazing countries, I will work it out!

On land! 

Living on a ship has definitely been a major transition. We were very happy to reach Galway, but even happier to reach land! It was a little rough crossing "the pond." Let me tell you — the Atlantic is way larger one may think! 

In Ireland we saw the Cliffs of Moher, countryside and castles, and we enjoyed our first Irish meal at O'Conner's. Then we traveled back to the city of Galway, where we enjoyed our first pub experience. 

Lauren Turosik and Lauren Snyder pose for a photo in Galway, Ireland. Our first steps on land in Galway, Ireland after six days at sea. 

The following morning we ventured to Cork to see the Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone  — now we’re said to have the luck of the Irish forever! We spent some time wandering around the quieter part of the city before we hung out with locals at a pub in the north side of the city. 

Morning came quickly, and we hopped on a bus to Dublin. Our group, which had been traveling independently from the ship for two days, met the MV Explorer to freshen up and hit the streets of the capital city. We watched the Gaelic football semi-finals with locals at The Oval. We stopped at the famous Temple Bar for cider and live music, and soon it was our last day in the city.  

Photo of bridge in Dublin, Ireland.
Dublin, Ireland

Lauren and I split up what was left of the city. I learned to pour the perfect pint of Ireland's favorite beverage, Guinness, at the storehouse. I also experienced Dublin Castle, saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College, and finished the day with shopping, coffee and live music on Grafton Street.

Lauren got in touch with her inner love of nature and took the Howth Head hike, where she took in a view of the city from atop higher ground. 

Royal family, here we come!

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Send Me on My Way

August 23, 2012 

After months of planning, today we will board the MV Explorer and officially begin our journey around the world.  

The Trip to Halifax

My mom prepared us for our travels by organizing an exciting trip to Nova Scotia. We stopped along the way to climb the highest peak in Vermont at Killington, taste ice cream from Ben and Jerry's factory, and tour the estates of FDR, Calvin Coolidge, the Hillmans and the Vanderbilts.  

I have decided that if I choose to marry, it will be at West Point's chapel!  

These are just a few of the activities that kept us busy and entertained on the 23-hour drive to Halifax.  

Reality Setting In

I have never been on a roller coaster of emotions quite like this one. I’m unsure of what to expect, sad that I could not fit my friends in my duffle bags, heavy-hearted to be away from my family, but anxious to decorate our fourth-deck cabin in a fitting nautical theme, and so excited to experience what tomorrow and the days following are going to bring.  

I am as ready as I am going to be to set sail and embark on an adventure that I imagine will shape my life forever.  

I would be lying if I said that I am not concerned about how I am going to wheel my two "extra-large" rolling duffles onto the ship. I will absolutely, without a doubt, look ridiculous wearing everything that will not fit into my bags — more than likely including the fedora that I mentioned in an earlier post.   

Each bag weighs roughly 50 pounds, and they are not the easiest to maneuver, but challenge accepted!

Watch out world — here I come! 

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Time to say good-bye

August 22, 2012 

In my opinion, this may be the hardest good-bye I have had to muster together. I am accustomed to saying the quick version when leaving for a semester at Cal U, but this good-bye is a tear-jerker.

Mostly, I am not ready to be disconnected from the world for so long. This whole experience has created a mix of emotions. I am happy, sad, nervous, excited and scared, all mixed into one. 

It has been quite an adventurous trip up the Eastern Seaboard to Halifax! I have seen so many beautiful places in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

I cannot wait to experience all the remarkable ports that we’ll soon be approaching. What adventures will Lauren and I run into next?

Tomorrow morning I will board the MV Explorer around 11 a.m. Soon we’ll set sail for the most exciting semester of my college career!

Here's to meeting new friends, studying hard, and a safe voyage!

Bon voyage!

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Ready, set, and pack!

August 15, 2012

Lauren Turosik and Lauren Snyder in front of a packed trunk. Right now I am feeling slightly overwhelmed. As a Semester at Sea voyager, I am permitted to bring only two bags onto the ship.

I repeat: TWO!

Who thought of this rule? Did I mention that this trip is for 107 days?!

Here I am, staring at a heaping pile of clothes, shoes, books, electronics and miscellaneous items, all to fit into two bags!

Now don’t let me fool you, I did not buy those reasonably sized rolling duffels they sell at Walmart or Sears, the kind that any normal American would purchase to travel. No, I purchased the big and mighty XL rolling duffel with three wheels. Overkill!

You see, if I were a reasonable packer, my two extra-large rolling duffels would be my friends instead of my archenemies.

But who knows the weather conditions I might run into? I mean, it rains in Ireland, it’s cool in London, and it’s hot mostly everywhere else. I feel slightly unprepared.

I’d better start lifting some weights, because my two fully stuffed, oversized bags may rip my arms right from the sockets!

I guess in the end it won’t matter what shoes will look cute with that outfit, or what accessories I should wear. What is important is that I have the necessities. Right?

 

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The challenge of packing

August 15, 2012
 

In just over a week I will embark on a journey around the world. I’ve been spending the majority of my time with family and friends, as I know that I will miss them while I’m away on the Atlantic Exploration semester at sea. 

I have commuted to Cal U for the past two years and have never had to pack up and move into a residence hall, so the packing process for an entire semester abroad has been challenging.

I have been making piles and rearranging them in our spare room all summer. Now, less than 10 days away from setting sail, I have begun to further separate my piles and I continue making lists. 

Eager to experience what awaits me on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, I find myself packing for many scenarios — peering over the Cliffs of Moher, walking the streets of London, zip-lining over waterfalls in Uruguay, and learning to tango in Buenos Aires.  

Having the perfect attire for these adventures seemed critical to me while I was shopping for this trip early this summer. A fedora for the beaches of Spain, bug spray for the jungles of Africa, and formal attire for the Ambassador’s Ball held on the ship are only a few of the variety of items that I am taking along with me.