My travels on Harmony of the Seas 2016/2017

Seems like I’m really going from one adventure to another, that’s why last few years I couldn’t keep up with blogging as much as I’d want to. I remember the day when I was on my first ship and we docked in Copenhagen. We saw a massive ship in the distance, it was Oasis of the Seas, the biggest cruise ship in the world at the time. I said I’d love to work on a ship that size one day and my friends looked at me like I’m completely crazy: “Why the hell would you want that!? It must be too many people and too much work to do!”

Well… less than two years later, November 2016, I joined what is at the moment the biggest cruise ship in the world (which is just a tiny bit bigger than Oasis of the Seas), Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas. I can’t describe how excited I was when I heard the news that I’m joining this massive ship. Another dream came true… =D I joined the ship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When I was reaching the terminal I could see the massive thing that looked like a building. I was so excited.

Again I joined as a photographer. Well, Staff Photographer to be more specific and in a bit more than a month I finally got my promotion to Senior Photographer. By the end of the contract I signed up for a Private Studio Photographer position, so I started my training, which kind of gave me a position of a studio assistant.

Ok, so, the ship is absolutely amazing, but I think I’ll write another post about the ship… =) Before I joined I was a little worried how will I cope with so many people, such a big team, and so many guests. I mean, the ship holds around 6500 guests and about 2500 crew members. Only in photo team, it was I think 27 of us, so that worried me the most because these were the people I will really see every day and we all kind of had to get along. I was surprised, but this was the best team I ever had. People I met and worked with this contract were the best people (well, there is always one or two exceptions, but ok, nobody forces you to hang out with them…). =D We worked as a team, we went out together and we had fun and enjoyed the parties together.

Honestly, this contract I wasn’t actually that excited about the locations we visited. I mean… I was… But we were doing the same itinerary all the time, so you get used to it. And I kind of didn’t really want to spend much money for too much crazy stuff and too much sightseeing. I still saw a lot, had probably too much fun, tried new stuff, seen new places, but somehow this contract I lost a little bit of that passion for going out and taking a bunch of photos. I still tried to go out every time when we were in port, I skipped only a few days… This time when I went out I usually just tried to relax, enjoy, be in good company and forget about work and worries. Honestly, one of my favorite things was to go out in the Bahamas and just lie on a beach for an hour our two (usually I didn’t have more time).

 

Bahamas

So let me say something about the places I visited during this contract. High up on my wish list were definitely the Bahamas and I was lucky enough to visit Nassau. Sadly we didn’t have much time there, so I only went around the town usually and to the nearest beach. But I liked it there, I just wish I would have more time to actually explore the area. One thing I didn’t do and remains on my bucket list is the Atlantis resort water park with one of the most extreme waterslides in the world. I did visit the resort and the aquarium, just not the water park. But it’s ok, I fell in love with the resort itself. Seriously, I was dreaming about seeing this place for soooo long and when I actually got there I couldn’t stop smiling. Like a happy kid! Some girls want to go to Disneyworld, I just wanted to go to Atlantis. All this ocean theme is more my thing… =) Décor and the details there are absolutely stunning and I loved the aquarium and everything. I don’t really like cheesy and too much girly stuff, but I felt a bit like a little mermaid there. =D

St. Thomas

Another stop was St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Because our ship was so massive we docked at a different port than most cruise ships, but there are plenty of shuttle buses and taxis available, so no problem. Few times I again went to the nearest beach, which was about 20min walk away. Few times I took a shuttle to the other port, where it was some good places to do shopping. Once I actually saw my previous ship, Fred Olsen Balmoral, docked there, but sadly I couldn’t reach any of my friends that were still on it. Oh well, it was cute to see my previous home. =) And once we took a cable car on top of a hill where we got a beautiful view down on the island, bays, ships, and the ocean. It was great! Oh, and once we went to Magens Bay, apparently one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Honestly, I thought it was really nice, but I’ve seen better. Well actually it’s quite busy, so that doesn’t make it as beautiful, but if you keep walking a bit further down the beach, away from all the bars, it gets much emptier and so much more enjoyable.

St. Maarten

Ok then let’s move on to St. Maarten, one of my favorite islands in the Caribbean. This island is just pure awesomeness. I like the town, it’s cute, it’s not too small, not too big, there is a great beach right there in town and it has some cool shops as well. But definitely, the best thing in the whole island is my favorite fun beach ever, Maho Beach, the one with the airport right by the beach. I’ve been there before, you can check my old video to see how it looks like and why it’s so awesome. This contract I’ve been there twice and the second time was right on my birthday. Honestly, I don’t think I could pick a better spot out of the whole itinerary to be there for my birthday. I loved it! First of all, the whole airport experience is so much fun, just to see the planes landing, to be just a few meters under them and on top of all to stand behind the planes when they take off. Those jet blasts are sometimes really crazy and they blow everything away – one of my friend’s phone got blown away for example… He was holding the selfie stick, but apparently, the phone got jealous or something, so it got blown away in a jet blast. Kind of funny, but also sad, since we couldn’t find a phone after that… But on my birthday the planes were not the only cool thing there. We loved the big waves! At first, they didn’t seem that crazy, but then we were in the water and suddenly quite a big wave was coming towards us – my friend and I thought we can beat the nature and stand strong… Ha, we couldn’t be more wrong. When I opened my eyes I was sitting on a beach. =D Throwing ourselves in the waves and being covered with sand was probably the best thing I ever did on my birthday. =D

Haiti

Let me mention Labadee in Haiti… Well, Labadee is basically a large area that’s privately owned by Royal Caribbean, so only RCCL and its sister companies ships can visit this port. The whole place is all about beach time, sunbathing, relaxing and having fun. There is a long zip-line you can try, kayaks, slides, jet skis and a bunch of other activities and tours you can do. Well for us photographers that meant not really having much time, since we had to shoot at the gangway, or on a beach… I would probably like Labadee as a guest, but I absolutely hated standing in the sun for hours – and I love the sun, but what’s too much is too much. Oh well… At least few times we managed to have some fun kayaking and visiting Belly Beach for some local lunch. =)

Jamaica

Then we had Jamaica… Yes, I know, I’m horrible, I actually didn’t go out in Jamaica at all. Every time I only went out to the nearest bar for some Wi-Fi, plus they had a swimming pool… Once my friend and I decided we’ll go and explore the world outside the terminal, and since we couldn’t get more people to go out with us, it was just two of us and so all the taxi rides would be too expensive. So basically we walked around few blocks and were offered weed, a ride or braids on every single step. I hated that, so we got a bit grumpy and decided to just go back to the port. I’m sure Jamaica is amazing when you go out to some beach or waterfalls or so, but seriously, I didn’t want to spend a fortune or I didn’t get enough people to split the fare. Actually, I don’t regret it that much, but oh well, what’s done is done.

Cozumel, Mexico

One of the everybody’s favorite ports is Cozumel, Mexico. This place is always fun because it’s cheap and it’s so many things you can do. Once we had a crew party on a beach, then another time I went to get a new tattoo (yes, I love it and it’s awesome and I would do it again!). =) It was also a great place to go shopping because out of all ports this one was the cheapest. Food, clothes, everything! Well, probably the best time I ever had in Cozumel was when some of us rented two Jeeps and we made a bit of a road trip around the island. It was freaking awesome, like in movies or music videos, so much fun! You know, girls in bikinis, boys driving, drinking beer, off-road driving through some bushes, ocean view… Well, one of the guys knew about some private beach, so we kind of snuck through the fence and enjoyed our own private place, had fun in the water, took funny photos… Well, then the owner of the place came and told us we need to leave, but who cares, since we were about to leave anyway! Haha! Seriously, so much fun! Then another time we rented scooters and drove around, again went to a beach, enjoyed few drinks (personally I fell in love with Kraken – Rum and coke, it makes me feel like a pirate), went in the water… I’m sure these will always be one of my favorite memories. =D

Well from Cozumel you can actually take a ferry and go to the mainland to a town named Playa del Carmen. I went there once because I needed some clothes and I was told this was the best place for shopping. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed. I mean, there is a lot of shops, but I didn’t really find anything much different than at home and the prices seemed quite similar, even though everybody was saying it’s cheap. But it’s a really cute city, I liked walking through it and I loved the spirit of the town, the colors and the people. Worth visiting for vacation I’d say. Once I took a tour from there and I went to see the pyramids. Well, I wanted to see Chichen Itza, but I realized I wouldn’t have much time there, so I’ll leave that for some other time. Instead, I went to see Coba Pyramids and it was absolutely awesome because I wanted to climb an ancient pyramid since I was a kid. And I did it, I climbed up a Mayan pyramid! How cool is that?! I loved it! I can’t describe the feeling when I reached the top and realized I’m standing on such a magnificent and so old architecture! On days like that, I honestly can’t believe how blessed I am to be able to see and experience such amazing moments! Besides this awesome spot, my tour included another thing I always wanted to do – swimming in cenote cave. We visited a nearby place, where you take spiral stairs down in the ground. When we reached the bottom there was a wooden platform and stairs that take you in the water. Absolutely amazing and magical! Yes, it’s a cave, no natural light, just some artificial lights so you at least see where you are. But yeah, the whole cave is basically a lake. There is water all around and we were able to swim, jump in and I even took my snorkeling gear and decided to explore the world under the water. Well, it’s very dark, so you can’t see that much, but there is enough light to make everything a bit visible and creepy at the same time. Magnificent!

Puerto Rico

And then the last port we visited, but when I was on board sadly only twice and I was able to get out only once – Puerto Rico! Oh my, I know why everybody loves this place – it’s awesome! The city is absolutely fantastic, full of colors, charm, history and besides it has some really cool fortresses! I went to see San Felipe del Morro, which stands at the edge of a bay, guarding the city. It’s definitely worth a visit! This is another place I’d love to return one day and explore it more on my own because sadly, my time there was very limited.

 

Honestly, this contract I was quite tired, especially last few months. I can’t complain about the schedule or the team or the ship, all of it was amazing, but I think what made me so exhausted was a number of people we were dealing with every single day. I always loved going out and exploring ports, but this time I needed to rest more than previous contracts. Well, I admit, there were some cool parties that I simply didn’t want to miss, so of course, I had to go to the party and then in the morning, we had to work… Oh, the suffering… But hey, it was fun, so it was worth it and we have funny stories to tell now. =D Well, actually if all you do is work and sleep you go crazy, so every now and then you really need to go and enjoy the party, have fun, try not to drink too much… Actually, as crew members we were not allowed to drink too much – we’re supposed to be “able to drive a car”. Well… we all know how that goes and sometimes you have that one drink too much, maybe two… But yeah, you can get fired for being over the limit, so better be careful.

Anyway, yes, this contract was super fun, I loved it, but I just wish I wouldn’t be that tired… But as I said, still worth it, since I met so many amazing people, plus I can say I worked on world’s largest cruise ship. =D Yaaay!

When I was leaving the ship I was happy, but as usually, sad as well. It was my second home, my second family and it was awesome… =D

Now I hope you’ll enjoy the photos… =)

Italy – Traveling back in time around Naples

Hello again! This is another pretty late post, but oh well, better late than never I guess. So I had a short vacation at home and before joining my new ship I decided to go on a small adventure to my neighboring country for few days, Italy. I’ve seen some of the more northern parts already, but the area around Naples was always high up on my bucket list. Since I had a friend there, even better! You can find photos on the bottom of the post.

Caserta Palace

One of the spots I visited was Caserta Palace, a bit north of Naples. It’s a magnificent palace, beautiful, full of amazing artworks, covered with so much marble that you can’t believe it. Seriously, I can’t imagine how much all that marble cost at one point. I’m always somehow shocked and disappointed how aristocrats often didn’t (still don’t) care how much money is spent on ridiculous things. But yes, I admit, the end result is impressive. In the rooms, you get the glimpse of a life of kings and queens, since you can see their bedrooms, study rooms, throne room with an actual throne and even the toilet. And it’s not just the rooms and regular objects that are interesting. In this palace, you need to pay attention to small details. The chandeliers, the paintings, the statues and all the tiny things that we sometimes don’t even notice – they’re all amazing artworks.

The thing is, the palace is so massive that it’s not fully renovated. Part of it is open to public (and it’s still massive), a big part is still under renovation. Hopefully one day everything will be restored to its former glory and we’ll be able to see every secret corner of this gorgeous building. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the inside (and honestly, I just wanted to enjoy the place without taking photos), so I don’t have much there… Since we arrived a bit late we didn’t have a chance to visit the gardens too, but I’d say if you ever pass the area, this is a spot worth visiting.

Naples

Let me say few things about Naples as well. Honestly, I expected much more of this city. We heard on the news this city has trouble with garbage, but I’m an optimistic person and I always think things can’t be that bad. Trust me in this case – it’s bad. I get there are nasty areas around the world, but I always considered Europe to be quite clean since my country is super clean… Well, that’s not the case in this part of Italy. I’ve seen people actually stopping the car on the SOS stop on a highway to put out on the side of the street a plastic bag full of trash. What the hell is wrong with people and this place?! So yes, for my standards, this place was quite dirty. Also, I thought it would be more interesting for a tourist, more to see, more to do… Well honestly, I was disappointed.

Walking around Naples is a bit tricky. Some parts of the city are really boring, gray, ugly and you get the feeling somebody will come around the corner to rob you. I felt a bit uncomfortable even if I wasn’t walking around alone. If you stick to the touristy streets and roads it feels better, but it’s easy to get off the beaten path. The main streets are actually really interesting, full of cute shops, souvenirs, and small restaurants. There is one main touristy route through the city that takes to all main locations, like the main square Plazza del Plebiscito with the Royal Palace and a church, then through the old town and all the way to the old city gate. Even though these are the main tourist areas I was quite surprised they were still very dirty. Trash was lying around the streets and there was a sad view of a lot of beggars and immigrants trying to illegally sell some souvenirs. I don’t mind the beggars and immigrants, don’t get me wrong, I just think it’s sad to see that and it makes you think what we all can do to help the world. I won’t get into politics here, let’s leave that maybe for some other post…

Castello del Ovo

I went to see the Ovo Castle, which is at the edge of the city, guarding the bay. It’s a nice castle, it’s quite well preserved and renovated and I love how it looks like a really strong medieval fortress that you wouldn’t want to mess around with. I always like to imagine going back in time, how it looked like in all its glory… I liked it. But I must say, I was a bit disappointed once I reached the inside of the castle. The exterior is nice, the walls, the walk up, the canons… But that’s about it. There is not much more to see there. Maybe I’ve seen too many castles and fortresses and I’m not that easy to impress anymore, but I really expected to see a bit more than just some cannons and blank walls.

National Archeological Museum

The place that impressed me was National Archeological Museum in Naples. Since I’m a huge history and art buff this was definitely one of the most exciting things for me. The building is home to so many statues and objects from different parts of the world, even some Egyptian art, mummies and scripts. Really cool. But the main thing that I came to see was ancient Roman art and objects from the city of Pompeii. There are so many massive statues from the Roman times that you can’t count them. Some of them used to decorate private homes, others were part of public buildings, but all of them are absolutely beautiful. The size of some of them is gigantic – I didn’t expect that!

Then there is one area of the museum that is dedicated only to the objects from Pompeii, and that’s more or less what I really came to see. They have an original bed, mosaics, tables, pottery and so many tiny objects that got “frozen” in time because of the eruption of Vesuvius. What I thought was absolutely hilarious was “the dicks of Pompeii”. I’ve heard of them before, my awesome professor of Art History even mentioned them to us once, but I never found much information about this. So that was also the reason I wanted to see it “with my own eyes”. So let me explain just a bit of history here. Ancient Roman times were very open minded and a lot of things that are a taboo these days were quite acceptable back then. They had a lot of brothels and obviously, sex was a big business (well, in a way that is still the case in modern times). So around the cities, there were a lot of “dick” signs to use as direction sign to the nearby brothel. Some signs were just as drawings on the wall, others were big (and hard) statues built in the wall. Walls of brothels were decorated with frescoes that usually had sexual scenes. There were all kinds of sexual positions, orgies and even some weird things they did with animals. Yes, those ancient times were quite crazy! So this kind of stuff is all represented in this museum and when you look at it, you’re not sure if you should laugh or not since it wasn’t really meant to be funny, but it somehow is… I don’t know, it seemed like I was the only one really enjoying this part of the exhibition, I couldn’t stop smiling, while others looked a little disapproving. =D

Well, let’s leave this sex topic now because I don’t want to get you all too excited. =)

Pompeii

Now let’s finally come to the highlight and the thing I was waiting to see almost all my life – Pompeii. Since I was a kid I used to read about this city that literally died in few hours. When I saw the walls I was probably the happiest person that day, it was like a dream come true for me. If I could travel in time, that’s the era I’d go to. The city is so well preserved, so many walls still high up, you can tell where were the doors, where the windows, you can see some frescoes, statues, and mosaics… There are some amazing remains of insulas (Roman houses) where you can see the floorplan and how on the lower level there was some sort of a shop or a craft and upper levels were used as an apartment. It’s so interesting to see massive built-in amphoras (huge vases or bowls) that were used to serve street food. I loved that most of the buildings had some sort of signs explaining their function. Then the villas on the outskirts of Pompeii, near the city walls. You can visit their amazing gardens with flowers and fountains and with a little bit of imagination you can see yourself there in some toga sitting on a bench enjoying Roman wine… Absolutely amazing.

Visiting the old theater was one of the best things because in a way I was hoping actors would come on stage and play some amazing act. It’s beautiful. And if you’re on the top of the main theater you have a really good view of the city as well. Underneath you can also see a smaller theater and a large sports court that was beside competitions also used for training purposes. Apparently smaller rooms next to the training court were used as rooms for gladiators.

And that leads us to the amphitheater on the outside of the city walls. It’s pretty large and it’s quite well preserved. When you walk inside you can imagine the crowd screaming, shouting… You walk around wondering how much blood was spilled on the spot you’re standing. Brutal, I know, but it is part of the history… Then next to the arena there is another massive sports court where there is part of the exhibition of interesting findings from the city. There is a lot of food that is still preserved from the day of the eruption. It is somehow trapped in time and just got black because of the heat, but that’s why it’s still preserved. So you can actually see some ancient bread, fruits and other things that would otherwise be long gone. As sad as the story of this city is, in a way we can be thankful that the disaster allowed us to be part of it all two millenniums later.

I know a lot of visitors come to see Pompeii because of the dead bodies. I know, totally creepy, but it’s true, there were people in the city that turned “to stone” because of the ash and heat. Those bodies are preserved to this day and they were found in few different areas of the city. There are still some visible on their original spots, but they are actually replicas. Originals are now stored in a museum (which I sadly didn’t get a chance to visit), so they won’t get damaged. But even if you know it’s a replica it’s still quite an emotional encounter, to see them lying there, probably praying for their lives, hoping God’s will have mercy…

Herculaneum

Now, this leads me to another city with a similar story as Pompeii. A bit less known, but also very impressive, Herculaneum. This place was closer to the sea at that time and a bit more west from Mount Vesuvius, so it got more ashes and less lava and massive stones falling down. That’s the reason why it’s more preserved than Pompeii. There are so many buildings with more than just the ground floor, you can see second floor, rooms, decorations on the walls and floors. It’s absolutely amazing. Some buildings even have wooden parts preserved, like wooden ceilings, floors and even doors and window shutters. The bottom level of the city is really impressive since that was actually the water level of the sea in those days. Down there you can see what used to be boat houses and a pier, which was one of the routes people of Herculaneum decided to use as their option to escape the tragedy. So there they lie, their skeletons, still holding on to each other and trying to protect the kids. It’s so sad to see that. And there they are now, a tourist attraction…

Mount Vesuvius

So to make the whole visit of this part of Italy complete, I had to visit the king of the disaster, the Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that killed thousands, destroyed cities and at the same time preserved all this for us to see so many years later. You can go quite high up the mountain with a car, then it’s up to you if you want to take a shuttle bus even higher up to the crater or you want to walk. We decided to walk, even though the path isn’t really meant for pedestrians at that part. But I wanted to enjoy the view, I wanted to take in as much as possible. So we walked… Once you get closer to the top you can see the different soil, smell the different air and eventually see the crater. In some areas, there is still smoke coming out, just enough of it to make you think that one day this thing will erupt again. It’s just sitting there, waiting, looking down at large and very populated area of Naples… I really hope it doesn’t create the same “Pompeii tragedy” again. But yes, when you think about it and that you’re standing on all this majestic power, you feel helpless. We came so far as human race, but on the other hand, when nature decides it’s time, we can’t really do much about it, except evacuate. The power of nature…

 

Visiting the Naples area truly was an interesting adventure for me, touristy and emotionally. This was probably emotionally the most fascinating place I ever visited, just because of the Pompeii, Herculaneum and the sad history written by the volcano. When I was leaving Naples with an airplane it was towards evening and for the goodbye, I got a magnificent view out of the plane window, down on a majestic volcano with sunset. That was the best ending of this trip, I couldn’t ask for a better view.

So if you ever go on a similar road trip, travel or adventure, try to take it all in. Try to think about history here, about the events that happened and try to imagine it all, put yourself in those times… It’s so much better. =)

My 2016 Ship Life

Long time has pass since I last wrote. I guess that should tell you I was a bit too busy enjoying life. =) So what happened this year? My new adventure started in February. I decided to return to ship life and start a new adventure with a different company. I got hired as a cruise ship photographer by American company named Image Group. So yes, I spent few months on the waves again and that’s more or less the reason I didn’t write anything on this blog. When you’re on board it’s just hard to find any free time to write, and when I do have time I spend it to rest, relax and have fun. =)

In February I flew to Miami where I joined the rest of us “new hires” and we all attended a few day training program. We were a fun international group and I could say we got along very well, considering we only met each other. For most of us this was our first time in USA, so we were all excited about small things. We were all impressed by cars in Miami, the avenues, the width of the roads and of course we were unable to resist some typical things we see online and on TV – Walmart… =D I know, for Americans probably silly thing to be excited about – for us, this was fun experience, because we hear so much about it. So yes, we all had to go to Walmart. =D Beside this unusual tourist experience we also went downtown to Miami Beach. Sadly we didn’t have much time to really enjoy it, but we had few hours and that was ok with us. Few drinks, some food, see the famous beach, stare at amazing cars that passed by and we even saw CSI van parked in front of some house! Now that was a proper TV scene. We kept saying: “OMG, look, it’s like in the movies!” =D

Last day of the training they told us what are our assignments and which ship will we be joining. I was one of the first ones to be told I was going to Australia. I was shocked and happy at the same time. I expected some Caribbean or Europe, instead I got the land down under! I checked the itinerary and I was immediately excited. I was joining in Brisbane in Australia, then we had circular navigation around Australian continent together with Tasmania. Then followed some New Zealand and crossing the Pacific Ocean with stops on French Polynesian islands and Hawaii. After that we had two weeks of dry dock in Portland, Oregon and after that 4 months of cruising in Alaska and in the end of my contract another crossing of Pacific back towards Australia. I was really surprised in a positive way, because I don’t think I ever imagined I’d actually visit this kind of places ever in my life.

So… First I was laughing because I packed one sarong with Hawaii text, some snickers with brand name Australian and another pair with brand name Polynesian. It was almost like I was packing and buying stuff that later led me to these locations. I thought it was really funny. But since my religion is “Law of attraction”, maybe that was it… =)

I started my journey in Slovenia, flew to Miami for those few days, then all across the US with airport stop in Los Angeles and continued my journey to Brisbane, Australia. Let me just say that I’ve been dreaming about LA since I was 16 and I always wanted to live there, even though I haven’t been there yet. But for me just changing flights at LAX was like a dream come true. The view of the city from the sky, the streets, lights and the airport itself… My eyes got a bit wet, and trust me, I don’t cry easily. When you dream about something so passionately and you can touch just a little bit of those dreams in real world, it’s absolutely indescribable experience. I went for some food at the airport and for the first time in my life I opened a fortune cookie – it said “Your future is bright”. I still carry this paper with me in my wallet and it gives me extra dose of optimism every time I look at it. =)

All I can say – my journey started absolutely amazing, even though I didn’t have Valentine’s day this year… Ok, this is another interesting story. =) My flight from LA was around 10PM local time on 13th February and because of the international date line in between I landed in Australia on 15th February, so I basically skipped the whole 14th February. Haha! My brother said to me: “Forever alone.” =D Haha!
So, let’s try to summon up these 8 months. In Australia I had a chance to cuddle a koala bear, pet a kangaroo, see some massive bats, some crocodiles, Tasmanian devils, dingo, seen the lightening hit the ground, touched the Sydney Opera house, snorkelled at The Great Barrier Reef and I visited some cool museums. Once I was on the forward outside deck in the middle of the night and I’ve seen dolphins jumping out next to the ship – absolutely amazing!

In New Zealand I’ve seen amazing Milford Sounds fjords, done some nice hiking and visited WETA workshop museum – the place where they make movie props. WETA is most famous for props in movies Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, but also Narnia, District 9 and many more. I took some photos at the shop and in front of the building, but we were not allowed to take photos inside. Let me just tell you I touched the mithril, seen original armors and weapons and I even held an original gun from the movie District 9. For movie buffs and LOTR fans this is close to paradise. =D
From there we actually did go to proper paradise. We had stops in Bora-Bora, Tahiti and Morea – three French Polynesian islands with proper tropical climate, palm trees, white sandy beaches and turquoise sea. I visited those small wooden houses that are built above the water, I’ve seen some amazing jungles and I was snorkeling with reef sharks and sting rays. It was absolutely amazing!

Another paradise stop were Hawaii. We visited Maui, Oahu, The Big Island and Kauai. I’ve been to the famous Waikiki Beach, I’ve seen volcanos and even a real lava flow coming into the ocean, I was swimming with turtles (we randomly encountered them while snorkeling), I’ve eaten at the famous Duke’s restaurant, seen dolphins, seen some waterfalls and I even learned how to surf! I guess I couldn’t pick a better place to learn this sport than the islands where it all started. =) Although I was told later on in the day that they spotted a great white shark just at the area where I was surfing… I guess luck really is on my side. =) Nevertheless, from now on Hawaiian Islands are my favorite place in the world and I think plumeria is now my favorite flower. =)

Following all these paradise islands there was dry dock in Portland, Oregon waiting for our ship. We disembarked all the guests and basically crew had the whole ship for ourselves. Well, obviously we had quite a lot of limitations, because a lot of areas were closed for maintenance. But we did eat at the main self-service dining room called Windjammer and we didn’t have to wear our uniforms (that was the most awesome part for most of us). Now and then certain sections of the ship would be without electricity or water, but hey, that was part of the fun of the dry dock. Photo team was one of the lucky ones that didn’t have much work to do during dry dock. That meant we had a looooot of free time. And that meant – have fun, enjoy, relax, discover, explore… One day we rented a car and went to see the famous Multnomah Falls. I actually had this place as desktop background on my computer for years and for a long time I thought it was some sort of fantasy style illustration and learned years later that this place actually exists. I had no idea that’s so close to Portland, so imagine my excitement when I realized we can drive to that place! This was like a dream come true for me and I think all my friends were really glad I suggested we go there. It was spectacular! =D

Beside exploring the waterfalls we’ve also done some hiking in the park above Portland, we visited the river side, we’ve all done some shopping, visited famous Saturday market, we even went to a strip club (Hey, they say try everything once in your life… Well, except drugs and other illegal stuff – don’t do that.). I even got a lap dance from some sexy male stripper. Never thought I’ll ever experience that, haha! =D Besides all that I even visited a “Filmed by Bike” festival, because my friend’s girlfriend was there representing their video. They even won some award there, so I’m definitely glad I went. And it was absolutely amazing feeling to meet up with another Slovenian. =D And since she knows my brother I even managed to give her some small souvenirs to take them back home and give them to my family when she comes back. =D

So… When the ship was back in the water we sailed towards Vancouver, Canada, got our new round of guests and started our Alaskan season. Four months of Alaska… For many people real fun and amazing experiences, for me it was kind of torture… Yes, I agree Alaskan wilderness and nature looks beautiful, but the climate is just not what I crave for and I’m used to seeing mountains every day, because I live under the Alps. I guess few cruises would be nice, but few months were too much for me. First few weeks we also had nice warm sunny weather and later on we had a lot of rainy and cloudy cruises. But I did see some whales, I’ve seen how the glacier ice is caving and falling into the water, I’ve seen some nice lakes, mountains and forests. Our last cruises we were even lucky enough to see northern lights. But even with all that beauty of nature, my head was set on tropical places and palm trees. =)
Luckily I was on board for another crossing, so I got Hawaii and French Polynesia one more time before flying back home. I must say that when I was on board we were quite lucky with the Ocean Gods and we didn’t have any really bad weather. We had a big storm a day before my departure home, but it didn’t feel that bad. It did look rather spectacular, because we were in the middle of Pacific, black night all around us, strong wind and then the whole sky would turn white when the lightening started. Amazing and a bit scary feeling, but I’m happy I’ve seen something as impressive as this.

I was flying home from Wellington in New Zealand, to Melbourne, to Dubai, to Frankfurt and in the end to Ljubljana. I had 28 hours in the air, 38 travel hours all together. This was for sure the longest journey I had so far. =)
When I look back I can only say these eight months were absolutely spectacular and I’m so glad I’ve done it all. On board I met some amazing people, got great friends, had the best parties, explored so much, seen places I never thought I’ll ever see, had experiences I never believed I can possible have and I came home believing anything is possible even more than before. It’s hard to explain to people how “ship life” works and how it changes a person. For sure it’s not for everybody. I mean, I’ve seen people quitting after few weeks, crying after few hours, being home sick and just had enough of being around people. But to me, this is the best adventure of my life so far. I truly feel blessed and often still can’t believe all this is happening to me, because it feels like a movie. But it is true, it’s my reality. =D
Thank you all that shared time with me in these few months, all of you that I consider my ship friends and everybody that was crazy enough to do some of these adventures with me. =D I’m also attaching a video of my adventures… =)

Video: Radiance of the Seas 2016

So now I’m already on the way towards new adventure… I’ll let you know about this one when I return. =) For now I just wish you all great start of New Year and keep dreaming – dreams do come true! =D

Experiencing Philippines 2015

Ah yes, another late blog post. But better late than never! So, long story short… Fell in love with Filipino while I was working on a cruise ship, so I decided to visit him when we were both off ships. I was thinking I might stay there at first, by my plans soon changed, so I just decided to have a time of my life, enjoy the country, travel and have fun!

This was my first visit of Asia and my first really long flight, but I wasn’t too nervous. I just took it as another adventure. My flight was from Venice (Italy) to Istanbul and then to Manila. It was really funny because I bumped into another Slovenian on my first flight and then in Istanbul two Slovenian couples were standing next to me, so we talked a bit which places are they planning to visit in Philippines and so on. Seriously, there is 2.000.000 of us Slovenians, but we seem to be everywhere… =D

 

Anyway, at the airport Joe was waiting for me and his dad picked us up. He took us to Joe’s brother’s house, where we were staying for most of the time. It’s just a bit south of Manila in a smaller town. For me this was my first “Asia experience”, first time being in such traffic, seeing all these weird vehicles, so many people, such different buildings, smell, noise and heath… Then followed the experience of living “as locals” in Philippines… Using the tricycles and jeepneys to get anywhere, buying stuff at some random stands in the middle of the street, watching local tv shows (there is one around noon that everybody is watching but I failed to see why it was so interesting), eating like locals (which means going to fast food restaurants too – they love it)…

The biggest shockers for me happened first and second night. I went downstairs to the bathroom in the middle of the night and there was small roach waiting for me in front of the door. I hate bugs, I seriously hate them and I’m scared of them and they are disgusting! Second night I nearly died because there was not one small one, but two large cockroaches running around the ground floor so I couldn’t even get to the toilet! Then one night I went to the kitchen (that’s where they originated) and I wanted to take a plate and another one crawled out and ran across kitchen counter. Holy sh*t! By the end I learned not to be on the ground floor after about 10 p.m., that’s when they come out… But sadly I learned later that they are everywhere around Philippines and that they get into any house, and they can get much higher than ground floor… Yay, great news… NOT!

 

Ok, let’s leave these disgusting menaces now… =) So, we did some sightseeing around Manila. We had to take few jeepney rides and a bus to get to city center. I managed to experience proper traffic, but actually I learned later that it can get even worse… Around 6 a.m. traffic already starts, by 8 all vehicles basically stop, or at least I have no idea how anything there moves for more than 1m. We went to the fortress and old city, which is kinda nice, but to be honest, I’ve seen so many more beautiful historic places that this one didn’t really feel special to me.

We even went to Tondo, area where most tourists don’t go because it’s more of a ghetto place and it’s considered dangerous for white people, but being with a local makes it a bit safer and easier. I was actually really happy to see this place, because you can see how so many people live in such small poor apartments. Eye opening experience, honestly. But funny, most still find a way to own a tv, smart phones and stuff that we actually consider as a bit of a luxury. We also visited Divisoria – shopping area with cheap stuff, fake brands and you can buy everything you can imagine! And it’s soooooooooo crowded!

Then we went to another extreme – to Mall of Asia, one of the biggest shopping malls in the world. It’s huge, at least for me… It’s posh, full of expensive brands, restaurants, cinemas and even ice skating ring, but every weekend they have fireworks in the evening… That day I went from one world to another in few hours, it couldn’t be more black and white. You can’t see this kind of extremes in Slovenia, not even by far!

Then one day we went to Enchanted Kingdom, small amusement park (that is actually the largest in Philippines), which had one or two really awesome roller coasters and some cool water rides. And I love extreme thrill rides… =)

 

Tagaytay was also on our list of places we wanted to see. It’s a bit south of Manila and it’s a town by a lake and there is the world’s smallest volcano in the middle of the lake. It was a bit cloudy, foggy and rainy day, but that didn’t really ruin the day. On one of the viewpoints they have zip-line, so we had to do that. That was fun (and cheap and you also get free photo)! But to be honest, I don’t know, it was ok, but I’m not sure if it’s worth all the drive… Maybe on a sunny day.

 

Our first “proper getaway” was when we visited “Joe’s island” Marinduque, an island not so far from Manila. We had to travel in night time, so we left house in the evening, got to ferry terminal around 2 a.m., had ferry around 4 a.m., got to the island around 6 a.m., got to Joe’s house around 7 a.m.. This was totally different extreme from what I saw around Manila. Peace, quiet, no traffic, just nature and palm trees everywhere! His house is kinda on top of a hill in the middle of the forest and rice fields. Beautiful getaway, which is cool, but also a bit too disconnected from civilization for me. But it was nice for few days. We got some fresh coconuts, pineapples, bananas and mangoes. I was also a huge attraction in the area, because apparently I was the first white person that came to that hill. All distant family members came to see me and we even got invited to a funeral. What the hell?! So ok, I went. But it wasn’t really a funeral, it was that thing where they all gather around deceased person. But Filipinos manage to make a party out of it, everybody is laughing, eating and getting drunk. And this time it was an opportunity for all the local kids to take photos with me… I felt so strange, I’ve never felt such an outsider before! They were all really nice to me, but still, when I walked into that area it felt like in movies where music stops and everybody turns around and looks at you. Creepy!

One day we went to the beach, but that took us one hour with tricycle (these things are so slow…). Well, it was a nice beach and it had some nice huts for shade. But I hated the water, because there were coral and stone areas in the water and soooooo many large black sea urchins! I love seaside and I love to be in the water, but I couldn’t really enjoy it this time. Another thing – most Filipinos wear t-shirts and shorts on a beach, especially girls. I was told a bit because they don’t want to get tanned, a bit because they’re not really confident apparently. This isn’t a touristic destination, so I was the only white person at the beach and I was in my bikini, so I felt uncomfortable that everybody was staring at me. Later on a white couple came by, so apparently I some tourists do come there…

Well going to that island took us about 6 hours, while going back took us about 12 hours… Seriously, don’t be surprised if your ride stays still for an hour because there is still one free seat that they need to fill. Yay… =) Almost nothing and almost nobody is on time there…

 

Then we had another great trip when we visited our friend from the ship that lives just a bit north of Manila. Funny, but his grandpa just had his birthday party when we arrived. Once again, everybody was so happy to meet me and they took me in as part of the family. We drank, sung videoke and had fun. It’s amazing how Filipinos make you feel welcome, even though you’re a total outsider.

 

My favorite part of the whole month I spent in Philippines was when we went to Palawan, which is considered the most beautiful island in the world. Well, first our flight was delayed and instead of arriving there 7 p.m. we got there 7 a.m.. Jaka, a Slovenian that lives there arranged everything during our stay there, so he got us some cheap but nice hotels and recommended which tours were the best to take.

As soon as we arrived we had our first tour to the Underground River. Another typical Filipino “organization” – whole group gets to the location, but then there is a line of tourists and your tour guide gets a number and then you wait for hours for your turn. You have to schedule a tour in advance anyway, so they could just tell you what time to come… Oh well, luckily our tour guide suggested we go on a canoe ride through mangrove forest while we were waiting. I always liked mangroves. Maybe because we don’t have them in my country. I felt a bit like Pocahontas. It was peaceful, you could feel and hear the nature, not just see it. Beautiful!

After that we had on a typical bamboo boat, fought with high waves and arrived to our destination – the Underground River. Oh, what a beautiful place! First you walk through meters through jungle, then you arrive at some hidden bay and you can see water going inside the cave. They put few of us in these canoes again and our tour guide paddled us inside. It’s beautiful because there are no lights, only a tour guide turns his flashlight in direction he wants. Quiet, peace, different stalactite above your head, you can hear water dripping and there is dark water everywhere around you… Truly one of the most mysterious and beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I loved it!

After our cave adventure we went to El Nido in northern part of Palawan. It’s probably the most visited tourist spot in the whole Philippines. It took us about 6 hours with a van from Puerto Princessa to get there, but it’s totally worth it. Our hotel was in the center of the small town, just second line from the beach. I felt so much more comfortable there, because that area is full of white people and a lot of them actually live there. We had a tour next day and it was supposed to start at 9, but it started 10 a.m.. As soon as the boat got out of the bay there was a gorgeous view on all the small islands and islets scattered around the area. We stopped at one beach for a swim in a tropical paradise. Then we went to another island and stopped in a bay where they offered kayaks to get to Small Lagoon, because rocks in the area are sharp and there are some poisonous creatures on the sea floor. So we rented a kayak and we had to go through a small tunnel to reach this hidden lagoon and once you get out on the other side it’s like a new world. It’s beautiful and mysterious, there are high grey cliffs around you and you really feel small. Then we were supposed to have lunch on another island, but our boat broke down, so we had to have lunch on a small “Robinson” beach in the bay. Oh, what a “torture”! Food, sea, sandy beach and palm trees… I really didn’t mind being stuck there for about two hours! =D

So after our tummies were full we got another boat. This one was named Fast and Furious, so we were confident it will work! =D We went to a Hidden Lagoon this time. I thought the last one was hidden, but at this one you actually had to climb through a hole in a rock to get into a small lagoon, again surrounded by majestic high cliffs. And our last stop was the Big Lagoon, where we had an option to walk into the lagoon or to do some snorkeling. Because I simply love snorkeling I decided for that and I’ll never be sorry I took this option. There is a coral reef full of corals and colorful fish! I had my underwater camera with me, but I never imagined fish would swim towards me and stop in front to “pose” for my camera. Seriously, I started laughing because some of them just stared at me! Hilarious and magnificent experience! I loved every second of it! =D

Sadly we didn’t have much time, so next day we spent a morning at the beach and then we had to go back to Puerto Princessa. In the evening we went to an Italian restaurant that I heard about and the owner is Slovenian. We bumped into our tourist agency guy, Jaka as well! But the funniest thing was when those four Slovenians I met at the airport in Istanbul came in the restaurant and suddenly we were a majority! =D

Ah, Palawan, totally worth visiting and I’d love to revisit it one day. Truly magnificent island and I can understand now why they say it’s the most beautiful in the world. Well, roads and houses could be better, as they could be everywhere in Philippines, but this is not why you travel and visit beautiful nature. =)

 

Before I left we still had few days and we couldn’t book a tour to Segada and rice fields in the north, so we decided just to go to Subic and have some time at the beach there. Well, not really what I expected, but still better than to stay in Manila. What I didn’t know and nobody told me beforehand, that this area is mostly famous for prostitution and not really for sandy beaches… =D Oops! Well, we still spent some nice time at the beach and they offer great deals for scuba diving, but we decided just for snorkeling again. Ah, bad idea! There is a port on the other side of the bay, so you don’t get that feeling of paradise and water is far from clear. Boat took us to a small island in the middle of the bay, but the whole area is surrounded with large sea urchins! Really, not much to see beside sea urchins. But the worst thing was when my whole body felt itchy and I couldn’t even swim anymore, I just had to scratch myself! Joe told me it was because sea urchins put some toxins into the water to drive away potential predators. So yeah, not really the best snorkeling site…

But the funniest thing at the Subic beach are the “floating bars”, that are built on a raft and they have some other raft that takes you there. What I didn’t know and believe until I saw it, was that around noon some girls in short skirts and high heels get on the raft to the bar. A bit later a group of American guys goes over and then it you can hear the laughter… Raft is just enough far away from the beach that you can but can’t see what’s going on there, but when you kinda figure out you know that it’s all kinds of “dirty stuff”. Kinda awkward if you don’t know and you might be at the beach with a kid or something. =) So if you ever go to Subic, expect that… But honestly, I wouldn’t recommend visiting that place, there are so many much more beautiful locations!

 

That’s how a month passed by really quickly and I had to go back home. Yes, I had planned to stay there, but once I got there I realized I’d need to have some more savings. And after being there for a while I realized there is just no way could I live in metro Manila area. It’s too different, to polluted, too dirty, too smelly, too much traffic, too crowded and really not what I want. And to be honest, when you’re a tourist there you don’t’ really care about make-up, you wear sporty clothes, you don’t care about sweat too much, but when I realized if I’d live there and go to work, meetings and have to dress up a bit better, I think I’d hate it! To dress nicely and then drive around with public transportation it’s easy to get clothes dirty or torn, but also you sweat like a pig, so if you just washed your hair, before you reach your destination you already look like you didn’t shower for a week. So yeah, I guess it’s true, moisture and high temperatures start to annoy you, because it’s always like that. Probably if your job is not an office job and you don’t have meetings or you don’t have to drive far away it’s ok, but otherwise I’d really get annoyed.

If I’d stay in Philippines I’d pick Palawan, but it would have to be a house on a beach or very close to the beach, otherwise that just wouldn’t be it. And I think I’d have to say goodbye to my photography career, because if you’re not a wedding or family photographer there is not really a chance to earn any money there. Or maybe I just didn’t see it…

 

So that’s it for now, but before I let you all go, I just made a bit of a sum-up of things that I found unusual, weird or “not expected” in Philippines.

  • Toilet paper is not really a common thing, most people just use water – I have no idea how that works, well, I can imagine, but I don’t really want to… =D So I rather just had tissues with me everywhere I went.
  • There is a security check every time you go in a larger grocery store or a shopping mall.
  • You can get normal shower, but a lot of locals just have a bucket of water… It’s not so unusual if you only have one pipe with running water inside or outside the house and you just use buckets.
  • In some remote places there is running water only few times per day for few minutes!
  • Around larger cities – traffic, traffic everywhere, all the time, but especially around rush hours!
  • Their weird roosters shout all the time! Seriously, every half hour or so, even in the middle of the night. And yes, they have chicken and roosters in the middle of the city as well.
  • A lot of stray cats and dogs everywhere.
  • If you’re white most locals assume you’re rich and famous, so most likely they’ll want to have photos with you, or they’ll ask for some money. And yes, everybody stares at you, especially at not so touristic places.
  • In Manila prepare for smog, bad smell and loud noise!
  • There is “Filipino time” for a lot of things – which means people will be late for few hours…
  • If you shop where most locals do (like Divisoria in Manila) you can get seriously cheap stuff!
  • Prepare to see cockroaches in the evening, sometimes even on the streets…
  • Watch your step EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME, because there are often some open shafts, holes, cables and trash lying on the ground, but also look above, because sometimes old electric cables are hanging really low and you can hit your head (almost happened to me).

My opinion overall – amazing country for adventurers, totally awesome to spend your vacation there, awesome islands and beaches and I would totally do it again and again, but I can’t see myself living there. After being at home for a month after the visit, I feel this even more, but I’m grateful I was able to experience it a bit different than most tourists. I could say I saw less, but experienced more. Next time I need to visit some more islands! =D