PS - Apparently you can rent out the submarine for overnight stays! How cool is that?
A girl juggling a job, a camera and an extreme case of wanderlust...
Travel junkie, ex-shippie, photog, reader, writer, video editor & yummy brownie baker. Workflow: Canon/Kindle/Mac/FCP/AE/PS/Bowl/Oven. Countries: 46 //LDS
No visit to San Francisco would be complete without a tour of Alcatraz. I highly recommend taking the night tour. Be sure to book your tickets in advance via Alcatraz Cruises) as they sell out weeks in advance. They are the only official ticket provider and any tickets purchased elsewhere are merely AC tickets repackaged.
A Day in San Francisco:
3:30 PM - 9:00 PM
- Ferry to Azkaban, I mean Alcatraz.
- Night Tour of "The Rock." (AMAZING!)
- Ferry back to the mainland
Photos of friend Jesika, who came to visit for the weekend and let me test out my new 50mm 1.4 lens on her
How about THAT sunset!
A Day in San Francisco...
PS - Apparently you can rent out the submarine for overnight stays! How cool is that?
A couple of friends came to stay in my house for a few nights – I asked if there were any allergies or preferences for food before they arrived, and the answer came back, ‘no’ – however, on arrival, (at 11:00 at night) I found out that one of the guests had a milk allergy and was just expecting a piece of toast in the morning. I don’t usually keep bread in my house and had nothing to feed her in the morning, despite my efforts.
If you're my guest*:
-Unless I have access to internet and an unlimited international calling plan, expect to pay for your own internet and phone use.
If you can't afford any of the above, then you can't afford to travel.
Now that’s all out of the way, we’ll get along grandly, so let the good times roll!!
* Sorry, readers, this is not an invitation to perfect strangers or quasi-acquaintances to come and stay with me.
For more Departure Lounge articles about preparing to become an expatriot, visit www.departurediaries.com
Time: After Dinner
Scene: A group of travelers sits around a campfire with their Bedouin host, Sheik Zahid.
Sheik Zahid to the group: "You know, I am looking for a wife. Who is free?"
Group: Uh... silence.
Pat (part of the group, one half of the "mature" couple on tour): These girls are! (Points to me, Freda and Bea)
Sheik: You know, I learn from you all (the travelers passing through his camp) over the years one thing. I say "OH-SUM!" He grinned a toothy grin and gave two-thumbs-up.
Somehow, I ended up being cornered as the Sheik's next wife.
Oh-sum! As a person who takes things very literally I was flabbergasted! Was this a joke? What should I do? I didn't want to be rude!
But then again, when push came to shove, there was NO WAY I was getting married.
Not that night. Not to the Sheik.
But, he did offer me a very handsome dowry:
"What do you want? I will give you three Jeeps, one racing Camel (which are super expensive, who would have guessed? ... as in about $100k!), horses, goats, sheep, a gray mule, chickens, a cook, a house in Wadi Rum, a house on the beach in Aquaba. Gold, silver... Oh and my parents and family would move out there and we would all become Muslims.
Decidedly, this was all fun and games. (But dagnab, why don't American men make offers of marriage like that???)
And then there was much laughter over sugar-coated roasting marshmallows. The Sheik complemented me on my roasting technique.
"This is a very good woman."
And when my fiance lit up a cigarette I firmly put my foot down: "No smoking!"
And he grinned and repeated "This is a very good woman. See how she cares about my health! Oh-Sum! (Two-thumbs-up)" And then he took a long drag on the cigarette.
And before we all turned in for the night I told him "Make sure you brush your teeth!"
And he said "Oh-Suum!"
There are a few ways to leave an island. Airplanes and ferries are the most readily available means of transportation. But, if you can swing it, I highly recommend leaving islands the way I left the Greek isle of Kos: By sailboat.
You can charter your own sailboat most anyplace in the Med and sail yourself around if you're an experienced sailor. If you aren't and still want to sail, you can either hire a boat with a skipper, or do what I did - join a G Adventures tour. (G Adventures in no way sponsored this post or this blog, wouldn't it be nice if they had?)
I have to say, sailing around the Greek Isles on a sailboat is THE way to see Greece. Think about it - Greece is a land of seafaring people, so what better way to see those ancient islands than from the sea?
G Adventures did NOT disappoint. I'm actually thinking of going on their sailing tours in the Maldives and in Indonesia... eventually, because seriously, this sailing tour was THE BEST thing I've ever done while traveling. EVER.
Before our tour left Kos, we spent one night in the harbor there. It gave everyone on the tour a chance to get acquainted, do a bit of grocery shopping and explore the main port area. That night, in stark contrast to the previous three nights I spent on Kos, I didn't sleep cooled by air conditioning in a lush bed in a room overlooking the sea. My last night on Kos, I slept in a teeny-tiny 2-person v-berth on a 50ft sailboat (I had it all to myself because my charter, meant for ten people, only ended up with four- including skipper). No air conditioning, (so it was BAKING hot) No screens on the hatches, (so the swarms of mozzies on the island of Kos all feasted on me all night long) No hot water in the standing head (bathroom/shower) because the engine hadn't been run that evening (cold shower, which really wasn't bad in the heat).
And it was no big deal.
All night long, between mosquito bites, I lay in my v-berth, happy as a clam, being rocked to sleep by the sea.
I'm a boat person. And always will be. And I felt as though, at long last, I'd come home.
Tour the boat with me, in pictures:
One of the two bunk rooms... (NOT where I slept... thankfully!)
My own, private head. Yup. This little cupboard of convenience is both a toilet and shower...
My V-berth. Cozy!
My fellow adventurers.
Skipper Robin Kersten (Fantastic Skipper. He runs his own charter company out of the Azores called Similie Sailing. Look him up!)
Ekavi - my home away from home while sailing the Greek Isles. (She's a Bavaria 50.)
As I walked up to the entrance of Antimachia Castle, I heard a voice call out:
"Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"
The little man was a character straight from the pages of history. Part court jester, part musician, all personality. He was dressed in a native, medieval costume to match his surroundings, this guy was the official greeting party for the Fourteenth century Antimachia Castle.
"English? I speak all language! Tell me, where you are from?"
I laughed at his persistence as I walked up the stairs to enter the Castle.
"American! Ah, U-S-A. Not very many Am-reekans visit Kos. Welcome!" He extended one leg in front of him and bowed from the waist with a flourish of his outstretched hand, then up he went, spry as a mouse and did a little jig, picked up a weird little triangle-shaped guitar and strummed a little tune.
The man must have been pushing 65.
"Thank you." I smiled, snapped a photo of him and dropped a few Euro into the tip basket on the ground next to the main entrance of the Castle before continuing inside.
As far as medieval castles go, Antimachia was pretty darned cool. It was in fairly good shape, having been excavated and somewhat restored. The size of the castle is deceptive. It's huge, but it doesn't look quite so large from the outside:
I blame the optical illusion on the goats. You see, the only thing around the castle for miles and miles is goat pastureland. If there were something (another building) standing nearby, one might actually get a better idea at the scale of the place.
Inside of the castle you'll find quite a variety of things to see: a jailhouse, some very cool ruins, a chapel (that is actually still in use to this day!) And one of the most striking viewpoints of the entire island.
Great castle. But all in all, it may have been the little man who was the highlight of my day.
-You'll need a vehicle to get to the Castle from anywhere on the island.
-Cost: Free (but feel free to tip the awesome old man)
-Take: Sunscreen. Water. A Hat. (Seriously. Brutal sun.)
-Don't: Hit the freerange goats in the road on the way to the Castle.
There is so very much to do in California's Wine Country! And surprisingly, not all of it revolves around wine. Head to charming downtown Sonoma, California. Just next door to the old Armory, which is part of the San Francisco Sonoma Mission, The Toscana Hotel is a fascinating little step back into the "old west."
I’ve been on more than my fair share of cruises. I’m actually not certain how many I’ve been on. More than 100. To be fair, I worked on cruise ships. And yes, some days it actually was work. Really, the amount of time you spend working depends on your job. The first three years I worked quite a bit. I was a youth counselor.
The last two years I spent on ships were as a "Computer Lecturer." I taught computer classes to passengers. I was technically a crew member with “Passenger Status.” It was the best of all worlds. It meant that when I wasn’t working, I was playing. I got to use the pools and hot tubs, fitness facilities and eat in the dining rooms. I got to play in the ports and explore fantastic new places. Things that normal crew members aren't allowed to do. Also I was able to have a guest sail with me for free nearly every cruise. It was the perfect job. Truly.
Over five years I worked on ten different ships for two different cruise lines. It was life-changing. And eye-opening. So if you’re planning a cruise, take advantage of my industry insider experience to help streamline your process.
Cruising has become a huge vacation industry. And by huge, I mean just look at the sheer tonnage afloat these days. Before airplanes, one had to sail across the seas to travel. Inter-continental traveling was a lengthy and difficult affair. One group of my ancestors immigrated from Sweden to the US in 1866. They traveled from Stockholm to Hamburg and then from Hamburg to New York. The journey from Hamburg took nearly nine weeks to complete. The ship had only provisioned for three to four weeks at sea. It was a harrowing journey to say the least. These days you can hop on a plane in New York and be in London in six hours. Current Cruise liners make the journey using massive propulsion systems in five days, laden with enough food to feed their passengers and crew for nearly double that time and stocked with amenities enough to keep even the most finicky traveler happy.
Cruising has evolved.
Ships have evolved.
Case in point, Titanic vs. The Oasis of the Seas.
(Image from RoyalCaribbean.com)
(I’m only spotlighting the Oasis because she is currently the largest ship afloat. RCL is not my sponsor. I never worked for RCL. I’ve never cruised RCL.) The Titanic was said to have been the largest ship afloat in her day, a “modern marvel.” Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic weighed in at 46,328 tons. In 2010, Royal Caribbean line launched their new ship Oasis of the Seas, which is the largest ship built to date. It weighs in at 225,282 tons, more than five times the Titanic.
The Oasis of the Seas boasts living luxury at sea with it’s Spa & Fitness center, 4 pools, 10 Hot Tubs, Surf Machines, Sport courts, mini-golf, Zip line, Casino, Theatres, Nightclub, and Youth and Teen centers. And don’t forget the FOOD, FOOD, FOOD. Aside from the traditional dining rooms and buffets there are also cafes and fine-dining restaurants galore.
There are more cruise ships sailing today than ever before and that translates to price drops for passengers. The most expensive suite on Titanic cost around $4500 per person, given inflation, in 2008 that would have been the equivalent of US $95,860! Today, depending on the cruise line you sail, you can sail a transatlantic cruise in a luxury suite (but keep in mind, a standard room isn't exactly steerage these days either!) for between $2500- $5000/person ($500-$1000 for a basic, inside cabin, depending on the line you cruise).
With the huge number of cruise ships sailing the seas these days, it is safe to say that just about anyone can find a cruise they will love. To help streamline the confusing process of finding your perfect cruise, let’s walk through a few things:
1. Is this your first cruise?
First-time cruisers could potentially set sail in a bucket and love it. As you go on more cruises you become much pickier. It’s just a fact of cruising. So if you’ve never been and don’t know what to expect, I’d recommend sailing a less expensive itinerary/ship to get your sea legs. Also, go on a shorter cruise - a two or three-day itinerary, just to see if you like it.
2. Is budget a large factor (Luxury vs. Budget)?
If so, stick to larger cruise lines and larger ships. Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are good bets for finding great deals. But keep in mind, with the larger, budget cruise lines you will have more passengers per square foot than on other lines.
When you book will play a big part in determining the price of your cruise. If you plan your cruise a year in advance you’ll be able to ensure you get the room you want and the itinerary you want, but you’ll pay full listing price. If you can wait until 60-90 days within sailing, the prices drop, sometimes a drastic 50-70% below list price.
A resource I use to help find cruise deals for friends is vacationstogo.com. Sign up for their newsletter and they’ll send you weekly updates on all of the great deals happening at sea. (Again, no sponsorship on their part. And no animals were harmed in the making of this guide.)
Lastly, don’t forget to figure in your airfare. If budget is a determining factor, stick to a homeport near you. If you live in Seattle, you can find cruises to Vancouver/Victoria and even Alaska that sail out of your home city. Omit airfare entirely, if possible, to help push your hard-earned cash further. If you have to fly to meet a ship, find a ship that departs from an airline hub city like LA, Miami, Fort Lauderdale or New York. Flights to those places will be immensely less expensive than flying to a small island in the South Pacific to meet a ship.
If flight price isn’t really a big deal to you, try flying into San Juan, Puerto Rico or Bridgetown, Barbados to catch a Southern Caribbean cruise. They’re my absolute favorite Caribbean cruises. If you’re able, spend a few days in the city you’re sailing out of before or after your cruise and explore.
If money is no object, try a very small luxury ship or yacht. Seabourn, Crystal and Windstar cruises are all very highly rated small luxury lines. Some of these lines include alcohol in the price of your cruise. FYI: These lines often have strict dress codes.
3. Large ship vs/Small ship and Age Group
Size does matter. If you’re looking for a cheap, spring break cruise go for a larger ship in a region that is ship-dense (ie: Caribbean or Alaska in the summer).
But if you want to go to places a bit off the beaten path, smaller ships are often the only ships that will take you there (because the big ones don’t fit into port!)
Large ships offer more stuff. More pools. Ice Skating rinks. Rock Climbing walls. More stuff to do on those days at sea.
If you’re sailing with children/teens, you want a ship that has a diverse offering of things to do. Disney cruises are ALWAYS a great idea for children, but you will pay a premium to sail with Disney. Other cruise lines offer phenomenal children’s’ centers and activity programs to keep your kids occupied and having fun the whole cruise. Generally the larger (and newer) the ship, the better the kids facilities.
Small ships are great for a quieter, more intimate cruise. Less people, less crowding = more relaxation time and less regiment. Smaller ships will offer more traditional cruise activities like quoits and shuffleboard and group games to keep you entertained.
Specific Cruise lines cater to specific age groups. Carnival and Royal Caribbean go for the younger crowd. Celebrity and Princess cater best to the 25-50 crowd. Holland America is generally known for retirement cruising. No matter what the age target for the cruise line, every ship will offer something for all age groups.
4. Do ship amenities matter to you?
Some people simply like to spend their vacations reading or sitting by the pool. If this is you, you’ll want to ensure you find a ship with a larger passenger to square footage ratio. Less passengers = less crowding = less crowding in ports & easier access to ammenities. Generally you can look to smaller ships on cruise lines like Holland America, Princess or Cunard for great passenger to space ratios.
These are your best bet to finding a quiet hideaway.
5. Cruise Length
It’s up to you, really. For that quick getaway you can find cruises that run 2-3 days. If you’ve got time on your hands, try an around-the-world itinerary (90-120 days). If seven days isn’t enough you can sail two seven-day cruises on the same ship in the same cabin back to back. Personally I like 10-day cruises. In my time working on ships I met several elderly passengers who were full-time cruisers. Basically, instead of going into retirement homes, they lived on ships. Pretty great idea. And fairly cost-effective. For about the same price as a retirement home they received a luxury home with extremely attentive service.
6. Destination & Timing
Where you want to go will often limit when you can go. Ships are generally assigned to a specific region for a season, but some can be assigned a region indefinitely. For instance, The Oasis of the Seas is currently dedicated to cruising the Caribbean. It offers several itineraries in the Caribbean. On the other hand, in 2010, the Splendour of the Seas will sail South America, Transatlantic, Europe, Transatlantic and back to South America.
Generally in the winter ships move to warm places; in the summer they sail Alaska, Europe and the Baltic. Spring is the season for Hawaii and Mexico, and in the fall you can find cruises to Canada and New England. When the seasons change, the ships reposition. Repositioning cruises are generally a bit longer and have more sea-days.
Regardless of where or when you cruise, I always recommend cruising a newer ship, or an older ship that has been Dry Docked recently (within the last year). Ships are taken out of service every few years and put into dry dock. Dry docks usually mean a ship will be gutted and redone. Sometimes the ships in drydock will have major structural work done – enlargements or complete renovations to certain areas. When dry dock is over, ships return to service good as new, sometimes better.
I'm rather embarrassed to write this account of shame, deception and *gasp* getting taken for a ride.
Dare I say my pride is wounded because of the following experience?
yes I dare say it is.
Because I consider myself to be somewhat travel savvy. I mean, traveling to 44 countries has to mean you've gathered some travel know-how, right?
That's what I thought before.
That infamous day I set off down the streets of Cairo (yes, nervously) on foot and I had no intention of falling into any tourist traps or spending money on stupid souvenirs. It was the furthest thing from my mind. (Perhaps therein lies the problem.) Shopping-wise, there was one item I wanted to attain: a tiny miniature pyramid. (Which I never did get, by the way.) Anything else was completely uninteresting to me. Or so I thought.
And at one point in my Cairo walkabout (on the way to getting that previously blogged about heavenly pedicure) I found myself on the wrong side of a very busy Egyptian street.
Having lived on a verrrrrry busy street (complete with railroad tracks next door) at one point in my young life, and also having crossed that verrrrry busy street regularly, you know, to get to the other side (my little friends lived over yonder) I would cross that street without any problems. So with the confidence instilled by my childhood in tow, I crossed 1/2 of the crazy street (barely, and getting yelled at in Egyptian in the process - all words that I'm sure were just lovely and fuzzy warm good words) and came to rest on a median in the middle of the six-lane roadway. And I stayed there in the middle for quite a while... because the second half, it turns out, was the hardest half to cross. Every time I thought about setting out for the other side, another mad, speed-demon auto-macchina would come barreling at me out of nowhere, shouting at me and making lovely hand gestures.
And then, just as I was finally going to cross the street in a mad dash, I was distracted by a tall, thin Egyptian man running across the street towards me, from the direction I wanted to go.
He sidled right up to me and say "Hello there! I think you do not know how to cross our Egyptian streets, come I will show you." And with that, he dashed back the way he came, with me following closely behind. There was something shady about him, and being that I had been about to self-rescue myself from my predicament, I tried to quickly thank him and made to keep walking to my destination (the spa-hotel that was now just yards away).
But he kept talking to me.
"Whereareyooofrom, yoooarewelcomed, dooyouvork? Wheredooyouvork? Ahhh, theeeseeseaverrrygudcompany." And so on, and so forth. Finally, I found myself a block to the left of my destination, following a few steps behind the fellow, prepared at any moment to make a mad-dash for my life. But as we entered a small store, and he disappeared I realized that he was a schill. His job was to get me into the store to buy stuff. The store was filled with seriously overpriced Egyptian art and perfumes. And when I left the store with a small vial of perfume and a Papyrus with my name written on it in ancient Egyptian (actually it doesn't have my name on it because I wouldn't write my real name down as they'd requested - I made one up, having violent daydreams of credit-card and identity theft) for an exorbitant price. (In dollars!)
I was stuck in a stupor, thinking "WHAT THE HECK JUST HAPPENED?" "Why am I holding this freaking perfume?" "Why did I just pay them all of that money?"
And I recounted the event to myself: Schill. Some story about his sister getting married the next day. Happy wedding! Christy uncomfortable. Christy distracted by pretty perfume bottles she doesn't need. Christy checking out the artwork. Smelling perfumes. Paying money. Leaving store minus money, plus stupid souvenirs she didn't want.
Really. I was speechless. And a bit baffled by the mystery that is Egyptian Salesmanship. So crafty. So practiced. So artful. SO manipulative. SO FRUSTRATING.
And I vowed to myself then and there, fist raised high to the sky, Scarlett O'Hara-style:
"Cairo! I vow you will not get the best of me!!"
Until it happened again the next day. The getting-taken-advantage-of-thing.
"But I can't think about that now, I'll think about it tomorrow."
Originially published: http://www.departurediaries.com/2010/10/getting-taken-for-ride-cairo-style.html