A Short Visit to the Canary Islands

A Short Visit to the Canary Islands

Just a few days out from Valencia, not long after getting through the Strait of Gibralter, we came to a halt just off the coast of Morocco in the Spanish Canary Islands. The reason? To refuel. (The Canary Islands are well-known for resorts and beaches. Unfortunately, there was no feet on land from our ship)

I woke up around 5:30 that morning to sit outside and write, and at around 6AM I felt the ship start slowing down. I was in the back of the ship, so I quickly got up and looked out starboard side (right side) and saw land. Although it was still dark and would be until 7:30AM, I could see the city lights of Las Palmas, the largest city on this specific Canary Island called the Gran Canaria. The lights covered the coast as well as halfway up the large hill/small mountain that is centered in the island.

Eventually, the sun rose and it shined on a lovely island, on the city of 380,000 people. The entire morning, we were docked along its pier right in the central part of the city. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to disembark. We departed just after noon, and it was a welcome unexpected (at least to me) stop off the coast of Morocco!

PS: On the way out of Las Palmas, the biology professor and his class spotted a hammerhead shark in the waters. I’m jealous of those who saw it, but I thought that was pretty cool.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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The Rock of Gibralter

The Rock of Gibralter

Coming from Germany and the English Channel, along the west coast of France and the Iberian Peninsula, we crossed through the Strait of Gibralter as we entered the Mediterranean Sea.

The Strait of Gibralter is a significant place because of its narrow boundaries of entering the Mediterranean Sea, which gives access to southern Europe and northern Africa (Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, etc.). At its narrowest point, it is just eight miles apart from southern Spain and Gibralter to the northern coast of Morocco. So it’s just eight miles from Europe to Africa.

When we entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strat of Gibralter, it was 6AM and still dark as the sun hadn’t started rising. While we sailed through this passageway, though, we could see lights on both sides, from both Spain and Gibralter in Europe, and the lights in Morocco. Morocco had a large sign lit up with Arabic writing, and we were close enough that if I could read Arabic, I could’ve read the sign.

After passing the Rock of Gibralter, we continued up the east coast of Spain, spent a few days in Barcelona and then another two in Valencia, and then we started out the same way we came back in, though the Strait of Gibralter. On the way back, though, it was around 4PM on a beautiful, calm day.

I really didn’t know what to expect with the Rock of Gibralter. I hardly knew anything about Gibralter or why this Strait and Rock were significant. I was pleasantly surprised when we were just over 10 miles away, and I could see this mountain jutting out from the land. It didn’t seem to be connected to anything at first, but as we got closer, we could see it was a peninsula. As we got closer, we could see that it was literally a large rock, the Rock of Gibralter, and that there was almost no permanent homes or buildings whatsoever on this side of the rock. The steep rock is about 1,200 feet tall and somewhere around 3,000 feet long. As we made our way, slowly, to the west side, we could start to see how much development there was. There were many curious voyagers out on the deck excited to see the Rock. Many professors even brought their classes out to see it.

Gibralter, although just a small piece of land in the most southern part of Spain, is actually a British colony. The British took over this piece of land in 1713 and still controls it. Why did the British want this tiny piece of land? Because it is at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s only eight miles to across to Morocco, they could use this to control who enters and who exits the Mediterranean Sea. This proved very important during World War II. Gibralter has 30,000 inhabitants, who are mostly British citizens, on an area the size of 2.6 miles. They speak English there, and the country has become a tourist destination for its location on the sea.

One of the most surprising parts of this passing was just how close Europe and Africa sit to each other at this part. Standing at the bow of the ship, you can clearly see both sides. I was also shocked by the beauty of the mountains on the Moroccan side. After passing the Rock of Gibralter, most people went inside to continue their lives. However, soon afterwards, we passed a few enormous Moroccan mountains that were equally, if not more, impressive than the Rock of Gibralter. Intrigued, I sat outside for another two hours, including dinner, to see as much of the landscape as possible. Slowly but surely, the land became smaller and smaller, and finally, around 8PM, we were back in the open ocean with no land in sight.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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English Channel = No Bueno For Seasickness

English Channel = No Bueno for Seasickness

After leaving Bremerhaven, Germany, we sailed along the northern coast of Europe, near Germany, the Netherlands, and France. I was very excited to go through the English Channel; that is, until I realized how rough the waters were on these days.

It was the first day of classes for students, and the swells in the English Channel were about 12-15 feet tall. It was rough. I was personally down for about a day and a half, and some were out for even more than that. It was so shaky that, while lying in bed, I got that feeling in my stomach similar to that of a roller coaster. I was wondering how many feet I must’ve been going up and down as the front of the ship was pushed around by these waves. It certainly felt like 5-10 feet drops.

It got to the point where I couldn’t eat a thing without it coming back up. For just over 24 hours, I didn’t keep a thing down. The second day, it wasn’t even about the seasickness, but moreso that my stomach and body was so off that it couldn’t hold anything in. I ended up at the medical clinic asking what to do. They gave me a few tablets to help with nausea, as well as a few packets of the electrolyte powders to mix in with water. After this, I was able to eat dinner and was literally back on my feet!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Shipboard Life

When I learned that we would have the chance to be on Semester at Sea, the part that I was most excited about wasn’t necessarily the dozen or so countries we would be visiting. What I was most looking forward to was the shipboard life and community. To have an enclosed community going around the world, including 559 students, 10 Lifelong Learners (paying passengers who aren’t students), 27 staff, 27 faculty, 70 family members, and 170 crew, that is a truly unique. People come from over 30 countries and most states. A large majority are college students ages 18-22. However, there are around 15 kids onboard as young as 2 years old. The Lifelong Learners include a family of 5 from Minnesota and also a few older couples. The 170 crew onboard are mostly from the Philippines, but over 20 other countries are also represented including Germany, Ukraine, Greece, Jamaica, and more.

After we learned that we would be on Semester at Sea, I applied for one of the jobs that are only available to spouses. I was offered the job was the Administrative Assistant for Communications, working with the Assistant Executive Dean. The main responsibility is to create, edit, and publish the daily newsletter that is available on the intranet. Essentially, I am compiling events and announcements from around the shipboard community. The evening educational seminars, student organization events, announcements about special meals available at an extra cost, etc. All of these are published on the daily newsletter and is supposed to be read by the entire community. The job is fairly simple and requires me to be organized and detail oriented.

The experience living on the MV World Odyssey has been fantastic. Our cabin is comfortable, the food is good, there are plenty of events going on, people have been fun, and the ocean views have been nothing short of incredible.

The first thing we checked out when we embarked the ship was our cabin. The main thing I was hoping for was a window, and we succeeded with a ~2ft x 1ft rectangular window on the starboard (right) side of the ship on Deck 5. Our room has two twin beds, two small bedside tables, a small semicircular table/storage, a thin desk/tv stand with a 25 inch tv, 2 small closets (perfect for us), and a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower. The cabin, while not large, is actually bigger than I thought it would be. The beds are comfortable, we have daily cleaning service, and there is plenty of storage space for our belongings.

There are two dining halls on the MV World Odyssey, the Lido Restaurant on Deck 9 (top deck) and Berlin Restaurant on Deck 6. While both restaurants serve the same food, I am usually at the Lido Restaurant for a few reasons. The main reason is that it has outdoor seating on the top deck. There is something special about eating dinner with incredible 360 degree ocean views, surrounded by the deep blue water and feeling lucky if you see even one ship in the distance. The second reason is that the way the dining area is organized, the Lido Restaurant forces you to go by the salad first. When it’s there, I usually put it on my plate. At Berlin, the salad is in an entirely different section on the other side of the dining area, so I oftentimes forget about the salad. Thirdly, I eat there out of habit. During staff and faculty orientation, this was the dining area we used, so it became a habit.

The layout of the ship is probably important to talk about, as well.

Deck 3 – medical clinic, student cabins
Deck 4 – student cabins
Deck 5 – main reception, student cabins (plus our cabin)
Deck 6 –Kaisersaal Union (large lecture hall), Academic Success Center (library), Berlin Restauraunt, non-student cabins, fitness center
Deck 7 – Upper floor of Kasersaal Union, deans’ offices, 4 Seasons Classroom/Restaurant (pay extra for 6-course meal), Fritz Lounge (non-students only), non-student cabins
Deck 8 – Adlon classroom, Kino Cinema (classroom and movie theater), Registrar’s office
Deck 9 – Lido Restaurant, swimming pool, Lido Terrace (classroom)

I have really enjoyed the ocean views. I typically wake up around 6AM and set up in the outdoor area on Deck 7, just outside the Fritz Lounge. I do this because there are nice tables to work on and it is under a roof, so I can get ocean views but also sit under cover if it happens to be raining. And this is where I catch the sunrises. Because we’re always moving east or west, and/or north or south, the sunrise and sunset times are always shifting. Two nights ago, we actually went back one time zone, so we gained an hour overnight, so the sunrise time shifted from 8:20 to 7:20.

*As I was writing this, the ship began to slow down. I look over the starboard side of the ship and see an island lit of by city lights. We’re making a stop to refuel at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain. While we won’t be getting off the ship, it’s a cool experience to be here. It’s still dark so I will look forward to seeing the surrounds in an hour with the sunrise!

My position does not have an official desk, so, luckily for me, I am able to essentially work from anywhere on the ship. This is perfect for someone who likes a change of scenery. I am usually working outside the Fritz Lounge, but I also work in our cabin, in the Kaisersaal Union, or even in a deck chair. I love trying out new spots.

The ship has a free intranet available to everyone. An intranet is a self-supported network, which means that one can only access certain sites that are already downloaded onto the network. The main site is called Homeport, and this is where the daily newsletter is posted, and it’s where plenty of other information is located, including health information (like malaria prevention), info on student clubs, field program (field trip) information, and more. This can all be accessed for free on a relatively quick network.

There are also a few free sites that have been downloaded onto the intranet and can be easily accessed. Some of these sites include Wikipedia, Yahoo Finance, Washington Post, UNESCO, and more. While slow, these are free and available with up to date information.

We can also pay for internet if we want to access the worldwide web (i.e. Facebook, other news sites, anything else). However, it is very expensive and slow. We all start out with 250MB for free, which is probably about as a normal internet user uses in a day or two. After this is used, one can buy more data, starting out at around $1 per MB. This means that if I were to log into a website like Facebook, I would be paying more than $1 just to get in. In other words, it’s not worth it! I haven’t used the internet on the ship at all and am not sure if I’ll have a need for it.

I try to spend as much of my time on the deck. It never ceases to amaze me when I can almost 360 degrees around us, and all I see is ocean and more ocean. And when I look 3 hours later, same thing. And tomorrow. And the next day. It’s a big deal when we see land, because many days go by without being anywhere near it.

There have been several spottings of dolphins so far on the voyage. I had the chance to see a few of them one evening after dinner. We have a few professors who have their doctorates in fish and wildlife, and they are usually outside with their cameras with their enormous telephoto lenses and their binoculars. When they spot something, no matter what it may be, they always have a wealth of knowledge about the animal. It pays to stay close to them on the deck!

Many of the students tend to spend quite a bit of time at the pool deck and lounging in the sun. On a hot sunny day, there could be 200 students enjoying the sun while studying. Since our first few days leaving Germany, the weather has been very pleasant. Usually 70s-80s during the day. At night, it sometimes drops to a cooler temperature, especially with the wind. The last few nights have been very nice, even at night, where a light jacket is enough to keep warm.

As you can probably see, ship life is quite unique. I have especially enjoyed spending a majority of my time outdoors, whether it’s in the sun or under a roof with a table while working. The sunsets and sunrises never get boring, and neither does seeing the expanse of the ocean.

I hear we will be running into some weather soon, so I wonder if I’ll feel the same way in a few hours!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Embarkation at its finest

Embarkation at its finest

On September 6th, we woke up in the Radisson Blu Hotel Hamburg Airport, which is so close to the airport that it could be considered Terminal 2. A last-minute run to Aldi was in store for us this final morning on land. We had found this nearby supermarket the previous day and had already visited once. Stocked with Trader Joe salads, German snacks, and 2 euro bottles of wine, we made one last snack run.

Around noon, many Semester at Sea people (SASers) began congregating in the hotel lobby. We introduced ourselves to faculty, staff, and families, all of whom we would be spending the next four months with on a ship going around the world. It’s funny to meet someone and know that you will be living in such close quarters of them for an extended period of time. We will be spending a majority of our time within 500 feet of each other, and there is no way around that.

We gathered outside the hotel and loaded up our luggage into a trailer pulled by the double decker bus. Some brought more than others. I thought we did okay with luggage. Between us, we brought one large piece of luggage, 2 medium sized backpacks (our travel backpacks), and two small backpacks with personal items. It seemed reasonable but not as minimal as I feel like I would usually bring. Since it’s just a matter of getting it on the ship and unpacking, I wasn’t as concerned about it.

Three hours later, we arrive to Bremerhaven and enter the shipping port. Our bus zig zagged all around the port, mostly used for commercial shipping rather than passenger ships, and we arrived at the terminal with our new home waiting for us. The MV World Odyssey is what we will call home for the next four months. Leased by Semester at Sea for nine months out of the year, it is converted into the MS Deutschland in the summer months to be used as a German 5-star luxury cruise liner and travels anywhere from northwest Russia to Iceland. The ship, as you’ll see in the pictures, is as elegant and ornate as you might expect a German luxury cruise ship to be. On the other hand, it’s not exactly what you would expect for a ship carrying almost 600 college students. The 10-foot classical mural hanging over reception, the statues of busts of German artists, and the chandelier and table lamps in the Kaisersaal Union room.

Embarking was a pretty simple process; just show your passport and go through security. We found our way to our room, located on Deck 5 right by reception. After putting the luggage in the room, we immediately started exploring the ship with our map. We searched out the library, the Kaisersaal Union, the Fritz Lounge (quiet area + lounge only available for non-students), the Fitness Center, the Lido Restaurant and Berlin Restaurant (dining halls), and the swimming pool. Yes, we are sailing around the world with a swimming pool and a fitness center.

Most of the classrooms are makeshift. One dining room is converted into a classroom, the Kaisersaal Union (seats 600) is used for large seminars and is carved into two different sides for smaller classes, the Lido Terrace is a well-lit lounge area used as a classroom. There are almost no “desks”, per say, but students use clipboards and books as hard surfaces on which to write.

When we embarked on the ship, Semester at Sea had quite literally just taken over the lease. The SAS home staff and the ship crew completely changed over the ship to a college campus in the matter of a few days. The expensive jewelry store was converted into the Executive Deans’ office. The souvenir shop was converted into the campus store. The cigar lounge on Deck 8 was turned into a cozy classroom. Most cabin beds were separated to accommodate two college roommates rather than a middle-aged German couple. It was quite the process, but it all worked out and they were successful in changing it to the Semester at Sea campus.

We had a three-day orientation on the ship with all faculty and staff before students were on the ship. In total, there are 27 staff, 27 faculty, and I believe around 30-40 family members (including around 15 kids). It was calm and quiet when we had everyone but the students onboard, almost like the calm before the storm.

The evening before students embarked, there was a parent reception on the ship. Any parents who made the trip to Bremerhaven for invited on the ship for a few hours for dinner and drinks. It was fun to see the parents and their excitement as they toured the ship and got a glimpse into what their childrens’ lives would be like as they sail around the world. The Executive Dean said it best when he said to the all the parents, “I know what you’re thinking. We’re all here. Crew is ready. Let’s just set sail now.” I think most of the parents would’ve been okay with being on the ship themselves without their children.

Finally, student embarkation day came on September 9th (we originally embarked on September 6th). The entire morning and early afternoon brought waves of students onto the ship to see their cabins and explore the ship, exactly what we had done three days earlier. Soon, there were 559 students added to our final number, along with the 170 crew and the faculty and staff and families. At 7PM, we officially departed Bremerhaven. Some parents were there at the port waving to us as we departed Germany. It became real as the distance between the ship and the port widened, and we were soon surrounded by water.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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