Sunday, January 16, 2011

Alone and Homeless in the Mediterranean

Hello, Readers, and thank you for tuning in to trumptettravels - the true accounts of my 11 year career on cruise ships as a crew member aboard Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, P&O Cruises, Premier Cruises and the Holland America Line.  I started this blog in 2010 to share my experiences of working on a cruise for those who want to work on a cruise or for those cruise-a-holics that are curious what goes on behind the smiles and professional attitude you see "front of house" on a  ship.

Today's article will not save you money on a cruise and does not really talk about working on a cruise, but it is a true story of something that could only happen to a crew member on a cruise ship.  If, at the end, you enjoy this story please note that this blog is sponsored by the ads at the right.  Tell your friends or link to me on facebook and please visit one of my sponsors.

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It was in the year 2000 that I was working on my first major cruise line armed with my sense of adventure and a Bb trumpet. I had been working on the Premier line previously which was fun, but too small.  After signing off the Oceanbreeze in Ft Lauderdale I went home for Christmas and contacted the man in charge at Royal Caribbean.  Luckily, some drunk trumpet player had fallen in the shower and they desperately needed a trumpet player to fill the spot. I wasn't very good at the time, but that's beside the point.

I signed on Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas for three months as it finished the Caribbean season and then transitioned ot the Med.  Unfortunately, my contract was up right when the ship hit its first European port of call, Barcelona.  I was upset - I wanted to see Europe, experience the cities, the art, the music, the food.  I was just out of college and the world seemed full of opportunities and possibilities. I had no obligations or responsibilities so traveling Italy, France and Spain finally as an adult making money was a dream come true.  Would I go all that way just to see the airport and go home?

Weeks before I was scheduled to leave my boss got an email form "head office" asking if I could call in.  I waited until we were in Ft Lauderdale and bought a phone card and called in from a payphone like all crewmembers.  You see, cell phones weren't popular yet so all crewmembers used payphones.  Payphones were actually placed there by a phone company hoping a stranger would walk by and deposit money into them to call people! They took coins.

Anyway I called the office and the staffing manager asked if I would like to sign on the Legend of the Seas ten days after I signed off Splendour.  The Legend was in the Med for the summer so this was a dream come true for me.  I could see Florence, Rome, Barcelona and the most amazing cities on the Med and get paid for it!  I told the manger of course I'd love to do it - where am I staying?  Well, that was the catch.

He wasn't going to put me up in a hotel for ten days.  And he wasn't going to fly me back to the US and then back to Europe in only ten days.  So, basically, if I wanted to spend the next three months in Europe I would have to spend ten days on my own.  Signing off in Barcelona didn't seem like it would be a problem to get a hotel room.  Barcelona was a huge city - they even hosted an Olympics there!  I checked on the internet for some hotels but internet search wasn't what it is now - I couldn't really find anything in Barcelona availble.  There were no good European travel sites that I knew of.

I took the job and was lucky enough to get talking with the Shopping advisor on the ship.  She was rolling out the shopping program for the first time in the Med.  She heard I'd be stuck with my luggage and was kind enough to negotiate with a Lladro merchant to hold my luggage.  The owner was VERY confused why he should do this but when he heard I was stuck, took in the luggage.  The store was bright and modern - right down the end of the Ramblas by the Christopher Columbus statue, and the owner brought me to the back.  Opening a closet there was a hole in the floor with stairs which he directed me to bring my luggage.  In the basement of this unassuming store was the most beautiful porcelains I've ever seen.  He was restoring them.  all of the piece sin the basement were heirlooms of local families that he was restoring.  I put my luggage down and out of the way and something caught my eye.  He was currently working on a statue of the virgin Mary and she was wearing a veil.  The veil, though porcelain, looked like woven cloth.  Pieces of the veil had chipped in time and the owner was painstakingly restoring the "fibers" of this veil.  It's funny how my memory isn't the best but the intricacy of this artform, not available to the many tourists squandering their money upstairs in the showroom, has stuck with me all these years.

With only a "double gig bag," a back pack, and my camera (a Nikon N60, or F60) I started up the stairs. I bid fairwell to the Shopping Advisor and opened the front door.  From being in the basement my eyes had adjusted to the dark.  It was only 10am and I had hours and hours to find a hotel room.  I had just been paid on the ship and had a few grand in my pocket.  The light blinded me for a few seconds and then slowly the cobbled walkway, street entertainers, and thousands of tourists came into sharp focus.  I was alone and one of the most exciting places in the world and was totally free for ten days. If you want to know what happened over the next ten days... you'll have to "follow me" and check when I update next!

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