Thursday, November 20, 2008


How can I escape Europe without telling everyone about the funny little idiosyncrasies that make Americans like me wonder, “How do they get away with that?” After a couple of months over here I’ve had my share of obstacles, challenges and mysteries that have made me understand the true meaning of “do as the Romans do.”

One of the things I began to wonder about was the seemingly non-existent bar soap factor. Where in Europe is the bar soap ya’ll? It seems that all over Europe (at least the countries I’ve been to thus far) there is plenty of liquid soap and shower gel but scarcely any bar soap. Lindsay and I had to go far and wide (ok, only to the super market in Sorrento) to find regular old bar soap! Oh, and add to that list shaving gel, make-up and just about any black girl hair care product too. Now I am not suffering on the black hair care product end because my good girlfriend Mable hooked me up with a couple of canisters of black girl hair conditioner before I left from Vegas. But I did notice the persistent lack of products for women of color over here. Good thing I brought extra lotion, shampoo, face moisturizer and hair products so that I could last until we get to Miami in December. However, the ladies and I were fully expecting to be able to find bar soap and make-up at least! All of us were searching for one thing or another. Molly needed tinted moisturizer. How do European girls LIVE?? Everyone needs a little tinted moisturizer in their lives! I thought that Europeans invented that stuff! Lindsay had the hardest time finding shave gel. Um, WHAT?! How do European ladies shave?! Are they still nabbing a dab of their men’s shave cream? Or are they just roughing it with the shower gel? And don’t think that they don’t shave because I’ve seen plenty of Venus razors over here! As for me, I couldn’t get my hands on any decent gum! Now, for those of you who know me, Orbit gum is one of my weaknesses. However, the Orbit brand over here is not the same as the U.S! It just doesn’t taste good! I have searched high and low to find a substitute brand of gum to get me through and have come up with some weak successors called BROOKLYN and TEZENIS. Suffice it to say Europeans are not into gum as much as they are into cigarettes and coffee. There is a tobacco joint on just about every corner, but just in case you missed any one of them, there are cigarette vending machines built into the buildings as you walk along the main shopping strips. Of course, there are cafes everywhere. All I can say is, “Wow.” But, the last product that I have given up searching for is chewable antacid. The folks over here must have stomachs of steel because after all of the pizza, pasta, sauces, meats, prosciuttos and cheeses you would think the pharmacies would be chocked and stocked full of chewable antacid tablets, but no! Ay Dios mio! I can’t even guess how they settle their stomachs at night.

Aside from the shopping perils there has been a beautiful mystery of architecture that makes me a little jealous for cities in the U.S. How is it that European cities have such old buildings and city designs that are still so beautiful today? I love that the sidewalks are patterned with small bricks in what I call an “Egyptian palm fan” design. I still can’t figure out how they get that pattern to flow together so flawlessly but it’s all over Europe and it’s beautiful. The old buildings seem to be built to last for hundreds of years and the attention to detail can be astonishing. Now I am not an architectural history major so I may be way off base when it comes to the exact date that most of these buildings were built, but there is something about these buildings that is timeless, therefore classic. Unlike a superdome in the U.S. the coliseums across Europe capture the eye from the exterior all the way to the interior with magical detail to doorways and archways with spacious attention to bathrooms and foyers. And applause, applause, applause for color! There are bright and muted colors mixed on every building making each town brilliant and unique in each different scheme. I will not forget the brilliance of Portofino on a cloudy day nor the vibrance of Valencia and Venice because of the brightly colored buildings, one after the other. I love that every time I look at one of these beautiful buildings, it’s possible that it was built several hundred years ago, and it still has the power to put me in awe.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this last unique aspect of European culture that either irks or amuses most Americans. This, my friends, is the every day occurrence of, drum roll please…………………………………………….SIESTA!!!! Gotta love siesta! Every day from around 1pm until maybe 4pm or 5pm everything shuts down in Europe. The only businesses that stay open are the cafes, restaurants and maybe a few tobacco shops and pharmacies. Transportation can be a bit sketchy too. This time of day is when everyone can get their eat on, chill out for a couple of hours, catch up with friends, read the paper or just take a nice nap. Now, how is it that daytime naptime is something that the Europeans have managed to instill into their culture, while people in the states abruptly banish it after kindergarten? As irritating as it can be to be an unsuspecting tourist who is being kicked out of a store at 1pm so that the store owner can go eat, I really dig and respect siesta and totally wish that it could be implemented into American culture. Instead of 9am to 5pm, you can get off of work at 1pm and go get your kids from school. Or meet up with friend during daytime hours. You could also pick up that prescription during the week instead of having to wait for the weekend and then fighting through weekend crowds. You could talk to your husband or wife face to face during some of the daylight hours of the day. Or even have a large family meal in the middle of the week, leaving the weekends free to spend with immediate family for trips or just taking a load off. And when you get back to work for only a few more hours in the evening you feel refreshed, rejuvenated and renewed and very connected (I imagine). There is something natural about siesta and I think Americans should try it!

Although I miss the States and cannot wait to get back, I have come to enjoy the little quirks of Europe. As we sail towards the Caribbean after next cruise I am sure to feel a sense of longing for those days of siesta, magic and mystery.

Signing off! Marsha

Saturday, November 1, 2008


What can I say? Italy is just a gorgeous place to be! The last few ports in Italy have been pure eye candy. From the gorgeous buildings to the fabulous fashions, Italy is truly a gem in the heart of Europe!

First of all the shopping is INSANE!! Usually I am a casual window shopper who makes very small purchases here and there for souveniers and little snacks. I have never been very impressed with clothes, hats, shoes, boots and tourist crap in most ports. Nor do I usually spend any money on food. Our ports of call in Italy changed all of that!

Our first Italian port was the city of Rome and although I didn’t spend very much money there, my eyes gorged themselves with the eye candy that is Roman architecture. Trevi Fountain was a treasure to behold! We made our way there after doing some window shopping and picture taking around the beautiful Spanish steps. Then we skipped off to the Piazza Navona for a nice long lunch. This spectacular piazza is lined with numerous cafes and artists peddling their works. We slipped into a café and drank Peroni, the local beer, and, of course, ate pizza and pasta! Our last stop on this trip was Saint Peter’s Basilica. Um, like, WOW! That place was HUGE! I didn’t venture inside though because I was too tickled pink with the gelato place that was blasting salsa music down the road! Girl next door, Lindsay and I popped in there for some REAL Italian ice cream. All I can say is: yummy, yummy, yummy! These places, and other key landmarks in Rome, are all spread out around the city so you have to do quite a bit of walking to get from one attraction to the next. But the beauty of it all is in walking from place to place. Everywhere you go there is a beautiful building, an interesting fountain, ancient ruins or a supremely designed square. And if the architecture isn’t enough there are cute cafes, gelato vendors, Italian fashion stores and, of course, shoes!

Now I managed to keep my budget intact throughout our little tour of Rome, but I broke the bank shopping in Bari!! Oy! You wanna talk about a port for shopping? Mama Maria! The clothes, shoes and accessories in Bari were so beautiful that I was literally gasping! The designs of the commonplace stuff were blowing me away! And the shops seemed to go on forever. In the worldwide corporate stores like Nike, Zara and H&M the selection of styles and shoes is intensely better than in the US. The real Italian shops and boutiques have insanely beautiful fashions. We stopped in an Italian boot and shoe store that nearly broke my heart. For one thing, there were so many beautiful shoes and boots that I wanted to buy them all (Hello Imelda!), but the killer was that the height of each shoe heel was at least five inches! (Hello Next Top Model!) To be perfectly honest, I did not go totally crazy shopping in Bari, but I did manage to pick up two beautifully crafted sweaters that I hope will last forever. Even if they don’t, the memory of shopping in Bari for them will.

The last, and greatest of all these ports is Venice. Ahhh, Venice! Venice encompassed the best of shopping, cultural interest, eating and city design out of all three ports. This was the only place where all of the touristy stuff that I never buy became completely irresistible. The major tourist items were the masks for ****the carnival celebration. **** These masks are so divinely colorful and diverse in style and creation that I could have spent a month’s salary on them alone! The local mode of transportation is by boat, which in itself is too crazy to believe until you see it. Like the subways in New York or the bus stations in any major city there is a little map on each boat showing each stop the boat makes and what it’s route is. There aren’t any cars! There aren’t ANY cars! I could really get into this city!

Like in Rome, most of the beauty of Venice is in walking through it. The architecture and city design is stunning with all of the mini bridges and streets that wrap around themselves like ribbons of stone. Getting lost is not only easy, but preferred. While wandering the streets I stopped at several gelato vendors to have a taste from the fantastic assortment of flavors. My favorites included Snickers, peanut butter chocolate and caramel: Again, yummy, yummy, yummy! Local shopping included shoe shops, clothing stores, jewelery stores, pastry shops, souvenier shops and free standing vendors with just about anything you could ever need or want. Wine bars and cool cafes abound at every turn although we found a gem of a local pizza shop that was selling slices for very cheap. Lucky for us we stayed in Venice overnight and also had a chance to experience a little night life! We went to a little “Jazz” bar called Bacaro. Now I put jazz in quotes because this place is not a live jazz bar but a really cool place where they play jazz as background music. I was a little let down by this fact until the delicious smorgasbord of bruscetta, fries and beers arrived. How on earth do they get the food to taste so good? The unique décor included bras hanging from the ceiling in rows. They are hung in a beautiful array, arranged by color and size and there is a tradition kept there: If you leave your bra to be hung on the ceiling, you can get a free T-shirt. If I wasn’t wearing one of my favorite bras that night I would have had a free T-shirt! Oh what a night!

Signing Off! Marsha


This year’s birthday was certainly one for the books! There was a perfect mix of fun, discovery, friendship, dancing and delicious food involved so it was hard to get anything wrong. It helped that I had my girls Molly and Lindsay to help make the day super-girly-fantastic! From midnight Tuesday night until 3 AM Thursday morning there was a perpetual party! Let me tell give you the rundown:

11:59 pm Tuesday night – Our lovely cruise director, Sue, buys a drink for me at the Looking Glass (the ship’s nightclub). I get one of the sweetest toasts ever and manage to keep my age to myself! We dance to some hot tunes, work up a nice buzz and then go to the crew bar!

1AM Wednesday morning it is officially my birthday and we go dancing to thump and bump house music in the crew bar. The spa girls sing happy birthday and I get a bourbon and ginger. We shake our thing until the crew bar closes at 2AM. Then Molly sings HAPPY BIRTHDAY all over again!

8AM I wake up and take a peek at my email inbox. There are 35 new messages! I LOVE my friends! They have all wished me Happy birthday on Facebook! I am laughing in my bed early in the morning at all my messages and I am thinking, “This is a great way to start my birthday!” I hop in and out of the shower and hear a little knock at the door. It’s Molly and Lindsay and they are singing HAPPY BIRTHDAY to me through the door. I feel so bad that I am running late for breakfast with them so I frantically swing a towel over me so I can open the door and tell the ladies I will be late. I opened the door to find they had taped balloons all over the front of it!! I am ecstatic and half nekked! We are all laughing so hard because I am thanking them and telling them I am running super late and apologizing and promise to look more decent in a few minutes! I am truly over the moon!

9:45AM I arrive at Windows, our ship’s buffet restaurant and every guest and server I see wishes me a Happy Birthday! Everyone knows about it because I told them in the show the night before. I feel like a total movie star! I slide over to a table to have breakfast with Molly, Lindsay and Karen Granger. We dish girl talk until our cute environmental officer, George, stops by to wish me happy birthday! Fun, friends, celebrity and eye candy in the morning! What more can a girl ask for?

10:30 Off into Split, Slovenia where I’ve never been! It’s a cute little town with loads of shopping and we girls LOVE to get our shop on! Billy tagged along with us but, being a guy, could not keep up with the shopping! By the time we got to ZARA (one of our favorites), he was ready to go! Poor guy! Amidst the shoes, the silky tops, the swingin’ coats and casual dresses I found a fantastic, basic black dress to wear for the evening. Full throttle into our shopping ventures, we parted ways with Billy and continued on until our bellies started grumbling. That’s when we found this little local bar set on the second floor of a building in the café area. What a cool little place this was! We sat at the bar overlooking the street, cafes and people walking by. It was a cute little getaway with an even cuter waiter! And what did we devour for birthday lunch? Local beer and fries! Yes, ya’ll! I had beer and fries for lunch! Talk about a renegade birthday meal! Afterwards we skipped over to the local gelato stand for some yummy deliciousness and then headed back to the ship. There we had a proper lunch and went to our cabins for a little down time.

4PM Nap Time! Isn’t it lovely to have a nap in the middle of the day? It makes you miss preschool and kindergarten!

8PM – Running late again! I put the finishing touches on my make-up, threw on my fabulous new black dress and ran up to the Cabaret Theatre with Molly and Lindsay to see Karen Granger’s show. She was fantastic, as usual, and she even used me as one of her audience victims! Well we all had a laugh and the night was just getting started!

9PM – Dinner at Prime C with Molly and Lindsay. Anyone who has experienced fine dining on a ship knows that the food and the service are unbeatable but the experience I had at Prime C was pure magic! Our waiter Brian and assistant waiter Jose were so sweet! They told us about everything on the menu and told us if we wanted to have one of everything we could have it!! We were tempted to take them up on the offer but knew that we could not manage to eat it all so we settled into our choices. Karen G. stopped by to have some wine and soup (which we tasted and it was tha bomb!). Our cruise director Sue stopped by to check in to see if everything was going all right (how sweet is that?). Then the cutest chef in the world came out to chat with us: Chef Kyle!! What a complete HOTTIE! I guess they sent him out to keep me preoccupied because I didn’t see the birthday cake coming from a mile away! The waiters sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY and I almost started to cry! I was so happy!

11PM – Drinks and dancing at the Looking Glass where my good friend Earl has ordered champagne with strawberries! Oy! To add to the fun the musicians in the orchestra are hanging out too! We chat it up until DJ Ron starts playing Motown and you know what happened next: DANCING!!! I can’t believe Ron even played James Brown’s SEX MACHINE! So you know I got a chance to “shake my money maker!” Oh but the night didn’t end there! By 1AM Molly, Lindsay, Gary and I were down in the crew bar for a raucous night of craziness! Mind you I’ve had about two Jack Daniels and some champagne too so I am on a buzz FOR REAL! Plus, to make the night a little interesting, I took about twenty single dollar bills to the crew bar to see how scandalous the folks could get. Well they showed me a thing or two (to say the least) and I have to tell you that I will never, ever, ever, ever, EVER be able to run for public office for the rest of my life!!! Or I will just have to pull an R. Kelly and deny it all: “It wasn’t me! I swear it wasn’t me!”

2AM – Birthday Cake at the staff mess! Remember that birthday cake they brought out for me in Prime C? Well they saved it for me so that I could have it for later and have it we did! At the end of the night that cake was devoured in our drunken silliness! I haven’t had such a good time since my 29th birthday party. Needless to say the next morning I woke up with a teeny weeny little hangover. But it was all worth it!

Thank you to everyone who made that day ever so special. It will go down in the history of birthdays as one of the best!

Signing off! Marsha