Monday, April 16, 2018

Day 59 - Friday, April 13, 2018 - Yokohama, Japan to Home

Today was our final day in Japan and Asia this trip. We met Rosie and Ozzie in the lobby before heading over the the Golden Arches for a quick breakfast. Since we had to check out by 11am, after breakfast, we put our luggage in storage and decided to head over to the nearby Doll Museum. The Doll Museum was one person's former private collection and it's a pretty complete collection of dolls from all around the world. While much of the signage is in Japanese, this museum had the most English signage we'd seen in a Japanese museum.

After visiting the museum, Angela and I walked to the Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris wheel which opened at 11am. We bought our tickets, got photographed for a souvenir picture and took the 15 minute ride. This wheel is the largest clock wheel in the world and is some 354 feet high. It's closed on Thursday's but is nicely illuminated at night. Our hotel room had a wonderful view of the wheel.

When our time on the wheel was done, we went down a floor to a large room that contained all sorts of claw machines and arcade type games. The Japanese definitely take their claw machines seriously!! There were also a couple of roller coaster type rides but we didn't ride them.

We then walked back towards the hotel along the park paths with a brief stop inside a shopping mall that featured a Hawaiian themed area. Partially down the path, we encounter Ozzie and Rosie, so we joined them and visited a lovely flower arrangement display before strolling back to the hotel. In the park across the street from the hotel was yet another flower display inside tents. These displays were also extremely pretty.

Back at the New Grand Hotel, we met up with Ozzie and Rosie, collected our luggage and waited for our van driver who would drive us to the Narita airport. Before I continue I should say something about the New Grand Hotel. It is a historic hotel having been in this location for over 90 years. The old portion of the hotel appears to be used for meeting rooms while the newer section is about 20 stories tall with rooms which have exquisite views of the harbor area on one side and the city on the other side. The staff is super attentive to their guests and the rooms are quite nice. 

On the third floor of the hotel, there's the Admiral Perry room with several very nice paintings and a model of his ship. Admiral Perry was the American sailor who opened up trade with Japan in the 1800's. A friend of ours' grandfather was the last surviving member of the Perry Expedition, and we were able to send her photos of various Perry paintings and memorabilia from around the port of Yokohama. 

Our van driver met us just before 1:30pm and loaded our many pieces of luggage. He was dressed in a black suit and tie along with white gloves like a limousine driver. Our route to the airport took us across the Yokohama Bay Bridge and then through a series of very long tunnels. It took around an hour to reach the Narita airport where our flight left from Terminal 1 while Rosie and Ozzie's left from Terminal 2. So we said our goodbyes to them and loaded our luggage on a cart and went inside to check in. It was hard to find the United counter, but eventually a friendly United airlines employee beaconed us over to use the first class check in area as she wasn't busy.  

We then cleared security and then immigration before making our way to the gate area. Our Dreamliner 787 flight boarded easily and we were assigned seats in Premium Economy in a bulkhead row with lots of legroom. The flight departed on time and what was supposed to be a 9 hour flight to LAX departed on time at 5pm.  

Initially there was some turbulence as the dinner service was being attempted to be completed. After that, it was a smooth flight across the mighty Pacific Ocean. We ended up landing in LAX about an hour early at 10am on Friday! We used our Global entry to quickly pass through immigration, collected our luggage, and cleared customs. At this point I began checking for open flights to Seattle which were looking scarce on all airlines.  

Our daughter texted us that there seemed to be possibilities flying Alaska Airlines through San Jose, CA, so I listed us on the next flight there. We checked our luggage and we made that flight, collected our luggage and then rechecked in for the next San Jose to Seattle flight. We used our TSA Precheck to quickly pass through security and at the gate, the flight ended up being full. So we waited another hour for the next Alaska Airlines flight which we were able to get on. It departed promptly at 6pm and we landed in the dark and dreary and wet at SeaTac Airport at 8pm. Our luggage had already reached Seattle as it came on the earlier flight that we missed. So we had to go to the special baggage section and they retrieved our luggage.  

We caught a cab home as we didn't want to disturb our family or friends on a dark and rainy night. It was good to be home and see that everything was in order. And so ended our 2 month long 2017 Asian trip. It was wonderful and we got to see many new parts of the world and meet some new friends. Now we have to return to the reality of cooking our own meals, making our own beds, finishing our 2017 income tax return, and all the other day to day tasks of living.  

Will there be another trip and if so, where might it be? You'll have to say tuned. There are some interesting adventures ahead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Day 57 - Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - Yokohama, Japan - Day 1

Today we disembarked the Volendam for the last time this voyage. We met our traveling companions (Rosie and Ozzie) in the 3rd floor Atrium and our Purple 1 tags were called right at 8:30am. We scanned off the ship, walked the short gangplank and gangway, passed through the mandatory passport inspection, gathered our luggage, and cleared customs. 

Since we four had a large amount of luggage, we hired a mini van for the short drive over to the New Grand Hotel which I could see from our breakfast window in the LIDO earlier. It was only 640 yen or $6.40 US. So Rosie gave him 1,000 yen or $10. Our room was ready but they had to upgrade for $20 to get an immediate room. Our room 1303 overlooks the harbor with excellent views of the Wheel, the Volendam, a waterfront park, and a Museum ship Hikawa Maru.  

Our guide for the day met us at 10am and we started our little tour for the day. We got about 2 blocks from the hotel and the skies opened up and we ducked into a Lawson Drug store and bought some umbrellas. We continued our walk down to the Red Brick Warehouses and looked around to get out of the rain. We toured the little Coast Guard Museum (free) with a great display of a captured North Korean Spy boat designed to look like a fishing boat. This little gem could do about 35 knots with 4 supercharged engines and 4 propellers. The back of the ship opened up like a clamshell and a smaller Fiberglas "fishing" boat could be launched. It had 3 Volvo Penta stern drive units. Each of those units were 300 hp and the boat could do 54mph.  Google spy ship captured by the Japanese if you would like more information.  Afterwards and a little further down, we toured the CupNoodles Ramen Museum and Angela and I made our own custom CupNoodles. It's a very cool and engaging process and ends with each participant putting their CupNoodles in an inflated plastic bag for protection (and advertising I'm sure). Afterwards we toured the actual Ramen museum before heading over to a local shopping center where the two couples split up for lunch (we wanted more traditional Japanese food and the others wanted Italian food).  

After lunch we toured the Nippon Maru which was a cadet sailing training ship that was in service from 1930 to 1988. We had a personal guide and we crawled all over that ship. It was really interesting. We then caught a #4 bus back to our hotel where we thanked our guide for a wonderful day. We made arrangements for a shuttle to the Narita airport on Friday. With all of our luggage, we're paying a bit of premium to use a van, but it would be a hassle on the train. We also toured each other's rooms and ours is a notch less elegant, but it works for us.

I spent the evening making our flight arrangements and getting devices charged up. And along the way, we both ate our CupNoodles that we made earlier in the day. They were quite tasty!! We also watched the Volendam back away from its berth, rotate counterclockwise and sail out in the night sky and under the big bridge on its way back to Shimizu.

And so ended our first day in Yokohama. We've been here twice before, but there is so much to see and do in the Port area. We have another guide for tomorrow covering some different items. Stay tuned.

Day 56 - Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - Shimizu, Japan

It's sad to have to type this, but today was our last port of call for this voyage. We arrived on time just before 2pm following a fantastic scenic cruise sail in with clear views of Mt. Fuji. It was the first time that we have seen the mountain and it was spectacular. Before the scenic cruising we played the BBC Earth trivia game with another passenger. With this scenery, memory cards were definitely being filled. Since we weren't in a real hurry as we planned to just do some local sightseeing around the Port area, we ate a light sushi lunch.  

We scanned off the boat, went through the passport inspection, and obtained a local map from the very helpful local tourist information booth that was set up. We headed for the large Ferris wheel and for 500 yen per person and it took around 20 minutes to make the slow. There was also a souvenir photo taken which only cost 1,000 yen or $10. After our Ferris wheel ride, we continued our walk up the very nice pedestrian walkway (we met Pat & Rick from the ship along the way), and we continued on up to the "Fish Market" which turned out to be a mini mall of fish related restaurants. In this little mall was a collection of "Claw" machines. These are coin operated machines that have a mechanical claw that's operated by the player and one attempts to pick up an object and deposit it in the outgoing chute. Generally they are pretty hard to successfully obtain the prize. There was one that caught my eye as it had Claw pens as the prize. For 2017's Halloween at our daughter's church, I built a Claw Machine prop (the mechanism didn't work, but it looked just like a real Claw machine). So I took my chances and for 100 yen or $1US, I played the Claw Machine and won a Claw! While there, we took many more pictures of "Fake" food displays. They were really good!

We then walked back towards the Port and stopped in at the shopping center where I used my first full featured Japanese toilet. I did the whole meal deal: heated seat, two kinds of washing sprays. It was pretty cool. I was in there so long, Angela came shouting at the door wondering if everything was okay. We then walked around the mail and even toured the Sushi museum which was a bit disappointing as there was absolutely nothing in English. Our last stop was at the 108 yen store (100 yen or $1 plus 8 cents for tax). We found a few cute items to purchase.

We were back on board the ship around 6pm and went up to the LIDO for a very light last dinner and finished up our last bottle of wine. The movie in the Wajang theatre was "The Ramen Girl" and it was a pretty good representation of Japanese culture. There was "Battle of the Sexes playing on the Main Stage screen, but that didn't interest us. After the movie, I made one last purchase of a travel shirt to use up our remaining shipboard credit. We returned to our room, finished packing, and then went up to the LIDO around 11:30pm to have a last cup of tea. We also said our goodbyes up there to Bill & Jeannette who we met on the ship. And our last day of 56 days on the Volendam ended.  

Disembarkation is tomorrow in Yokohama and we are staying a couple of days to do some more sightseeing with another couple before catching a flight to LAX and another up to Seattle. Stay tuned for those adventures.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Day 55 - Monday, April 9, 2018 - Osaka, Japan

Osaka is one of our favorite Japanese ports. We arrived just after 8am and we took our time preparing to leave the ship for the day. Our plan was to visit the ancient capital of Japan, Nara, which is about an hour away by subway. The tourist information office at the port is terrific! They have all sorts of maps and printed step by step instructions on how to reach nearby attractions. There's also WIFI and a money changer.  

Armed with the train knowledge, we walked up the street from the port a few blocks to the Osaka train station, purchased our train tickets, and headed off on the Green Line from the Osakako station (C11). We rode about 45 minutes to the Ikoma station (C27) transfer point. From there we caught the direct train to Nara (end point for the train). I should note that it's possible to do this trip on Japan Rail (JR), but their Nara station is a bit farther from the NARA Park that we were planning to visit.  

Coming out of the subway station there is a pretty fountain and one just walks direct to the park. What really surprised us was the sheer quantity of wild deer wandering the streets, pathways, and monuments within the park area. It was also funny to see the deer crossing the streets using crosswalks. There are vendors selling little packages of deer feed in the form of 3" thin wafers for 150 yen. We bought a package and it was fun to feed the deer. Some of the deer became mildly aggressive when the food ran out. It was also fun to give pieces of cracker to children and let them feed the deer (with the parents permission, of course).

Within the Nara Park, the principal sites that we visited were the Todaiji Temple with the Giant Buddha and Kasuga Takisha Shrine plus the 5 Story Pagoda. Along the way we found a little local restaurant & gift shop and enjoyed some terrific noodle soup. When we walked back to the subway station, we discovered a 350 meter long covered shopping mall and I took many pictures of fake food which the Japanese take to an art form. There's also the nearby scenic Sarusawa-Ike Pond. I was able to take a few photos of a Kimono clad couple which they appreciated.

After retracting our train ride back to the port area, we did a little shopping in the shopping mall at the port before reboarding the ship around 5pm for a 5:30pm all aboard time. It was another ASIA dinner theme in the Lido and we enjoyed the premium sushii that is served at this dinner event. We enjoyed dinner with Marilyn and Erik and later went to the cast show of "Classique" which is my favorite of the shows.

We also learned that we had $351.11 in unused promo credits that needed to be used by tomorrow. So Angela went on a jewelry shopping spree. Per the clerk in the shop, it's a quite frequent happening near the end of cruises. I also learned that it's very important to know whether any credits that are posted to one's account are refundable or not. If they are non refundable, casino draws or cash advances can't be used to offset the promo credits.

We also learned that we had a separate disembarkation time from our traveling companions, but I was able to exchange the luggage tags for the same color and number as our companions.

Tomorrow we arrive at our next port at 2pm, so it will sort of be like a sea day. Personally I would rather spend an over night in a port and skip a port with a late arrival. But I also understand that getting from Port A to Port B takes a specific amount of time that is hard to vary unless there are long distances with a lot of sea days. We've not decided what we will do, but we'll apply our first rule of travel: just show up. Stay tuned.

Some readers have asked why I don't include pictures in the blog. I have a couple of reasons for the lack of pictures. First, pictures equal bandwith and that's a precious commodity while traveling. It also takes a fair amount of time to resize pictures before uploading to my blog. Second, I try to write in a style that brings the reader along in the journey. The mind is a wonderful thing. Third, if one searches the internet, there are quite possibly much better pictures that I can begin to produce. 

 If you are a reader who really wants to see pictures, I do post a few on Facebook. Send me a friend request to be able to see them.  

Monday, April 9, 2018

Day 54 - Sunday, April 8, 2018 - Beppu, Japan

For the first time, I can honestly say, I've been to Hell and back. Today we arrived in Beppu, Japan just before 7am for the first time and backed slowly into our berth. Looking out to the city from the LIDO we could see the steam escaping from many hot springs that are on the high part of the city. The hill beyond those hot springs has what looks like a major fault line indicating prior earth movement.  

Shortly after 7:30, we were released from the Main Stage area to head for our HAL chartered buses. We headed out of town to visit the Usa Shrine and then returned to visit two of the "Hell" hot springs. Those were the "Shaved Head of Monk" Hell Hot Spring with its bubbling grey mud pots and the nearby "Blood Pool" Hell Hot Spring which had a off red color. Both pools were over 75 degrees Celsius! And both pools had a warm water trough in which we could soak our feet.  

In addition, there are 6 more "Hell Hot Springs" and we learned after we reboarded the ship that a couple of guests (Japanese language speakers) had figured out how to visit 7 of them very inexpensively. If we were ever to return to Beppu, that's what we would do: Focus on the Hell Hot Springs. Today was also a fairly short port stop with an onboard time of 1:30pm.  

Back on board, we ate a quick LIDO lunch (there's nothing near the port and we didn't have time on the HAL tour to stop and eat) and waved our yellow souvenir handkerchiefs to the community members on shore who were doing the same as we slowly moved away from the pier and sailed out into the harbor and began our voyage to Osaka.  

At 5pm, I led the Sunday Interdenominational service in the Hudson Room. I'll miss meeting with these folks.

We enjoyed our company at Gala night in the Main Dining Room with a couple from Australia and a fellow from San Diego. Unfortunately both Angela and I felt the lobster was miscooked: it had the consistency of eating egg whites.

The evening's entertainment was a variety show of Katei (rock violinist) and Monique Dehaney (Jamaican singer). It was very, very good! We even bought one of her CD's.

We think that we will head to Nara tomorrow. It's an ancient capital city of Japan and worth a visit since we've seen the other ancient capital of Kyoto. Stay tuned for what we choose to do.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Day 53 - Saturday, April 7, 2018 - Hoshoshima, Japan

The plan for today was to do around a 10 mile walk with Linda P that she had put together. The Volendam arrived on time at 8am and we were ready to disembark the ship as soon as it was cleared for us to do so which was shortly after 8.  

We consulted with local Tourist Information staff about the walking distance to our first stop at the OMI Shrine. They all said it was a 15 minute walk which we knew not to be accurate. We initially got on a shuttle bus for the Aeon Shopping Mall but were later told it would go directly to the train station. So we just decided to walk to the mall as it was on our way to the OMI Shrine. The shuttle bus personnel did not seem organized about their bus activity. We beat the shuttle bus to the mall!

It was about a 15 minute walk to the Mall and another 1/2 hour walk to the OMI Shrine. It was important to me to visit the OMI Shrine as we missed it on last year's visit after 4 guests on my tour convinced me to skip it in favor of more time in Mimitsu. When we got to Mimitsu, I knew I had made a mistake and have regretted it all year long.

At the OMI Shrine there is an active temple and some grea seaside views. Even more impressive is the cave which is reached using a flight of really steep and rocky stairs. The cave has this incredible view looking out which gives the illusion of a sliver of light. From there we walked to the Cape Hyuga Green Park (very scenic with a sculpture park), The Sea Cross (a perfect cross formed by gaps in the rocks in the sea), Sanpo (a hidden treasure only reachable by walking), Hoshoshima Lighthouse, Umagase viewpoint (largest collection of vertical columnar rocks in Japan and similar to the Giant's Causeway in Ireland), Mihokogaura Beach & Park, and the Fisherman's area, and back to the mall where Linda caught the shuttle while we enjoyed some local food (yes, noodles for me). At this point we were just over 10 miles of walking. We then caught the next to last bus back to the port where we watched the drum band serenade us. If you are reading this and would like a copy of our map, write me at tkbowman at gmail dot com. Put Hoshoshima Map in the subject line. If one isn't interested in walking, there's a HOHO bus for 500 yen that will stop at most of the viewpoints I noted. The drawback is that the bus only travels once an hour and most of the sites can be see in way less than an hour, so it's not a very efficient way to travel.

Back on board, we headed for the Crow's Nest to watch the sailaway and do our last minute internet at this port using our portable internet device. The Harbor has a very narrow channel between two wood processing facilities followed by a series of left and right turns to exit the Harbor and clear the breakwater. We also had a light rain shower during our sailaway.

After a very light Lido dinner, we watched the Liam Neeson movie, Silence, about the last priests in Japan in the 1600's and how the emperor attempted to quench Christianity. It was very brutal to watch. We then watched most of the 10pm cast show, Rock Legends before retiring.

Tomorrow we have an early tour to Hell Hot Springs. Stay tuned. 

Day 52 - Friday, April 6, 2018 - Kagoshima, Japan

Kagoshima was another port we visited last year and were able to use local transportation to travel over to the island and visit the volcano. So this year we decided to do something different.

Since this was our first Japanese port after leaving China, we had to go through Japanese immigration and customs inspection. Fortunately this year it was done in a brand new facility compared to doing it on hastily set up gear on board the ship. We got off early before the HAL tours started, so there was no line. We conferred with Jeremy and the local guides as to how we could get out to the Peace Museum. Jeremy was apprehensive and the local guides wanted us to take very expensive taxis. But I persisted and the local guide directed us to take a Chiran bus which left from a stop about 4 long blocks from the ship.  

So off we went walking in a driving wind and rainstorm. By the time we reached the bus stop, we were thoroughly drenched. Our bus was late but we began the ride at 9:30am and according to our map, the ride was expected to take an hour. The bus windows were fogged up with the moisture from the passengers so it was difficult to see out and get our bearings. Additionally there was not one single word in non-Japanese characters except for the stop # and fare on the electronic fare board up front. With the GPS on my phone I could see the route that bus was taking. When the Peace Museum showed up on my map, I was able to press the STOP button. As my bills were wet, the driver assisted in getting us change. It was around 900 Yen or $9US for the fare.

The Peace Museum is devoted to the tokkō (kamikaze) pilots who trained and flew from the Chiro airbase. No photography was allowed inside the museum, but they have an excellent electronic tablet with English commentary about the various exhibits which include pictures of the 1,036 pilots who trained and flew and died out of this airfield in the Okinawa battle. While the museum and perspective is from the Japanese view, it's still a sad commentary on what was a costly and ineffective method of fighting. Only less than 20% of the tokkō missions were successful. It's a museum worth visiting. Nearby is the Samurai Village, but we didn't have enough time to visit it. We did have enough time to enjoy a nice noodle lunch meal at a local restaurant before getting on our return bus.

A few stops later, another couple from the ship got on the bus after visiting the Samurai Village. Again we used my phone's GPS to navigate our way back to get off at the correct stop. We then walked back to the ship and arrived there before the 4:30pm onboard time. We changed clothes and went up to the Crow's Nest to watch the sailaway. The volcano was covered by clouds this year while last year it was clearly viewable during the sailaway.

We ate dinner in the Pinnacle Grill (a prize we won in the BBC trivia game a few days earlier). I had a ribeye steak while Angela had Alaskan King Crab and Lobster (the Lobster was a $20 supplement) and we shared the items. Afterwards we attended a HAL senior officer cocktail reception before watching an outstanding Jamaican singer, Monique Dehaney. Her show was energetic and she had the audience fully engaged. We chatted with her afterwards and it was interesting to hear about her career (little professional training but lots of passion about music). We then watched the late show of "The Last Samurai" starring Tom Cruise. We really liked it.

Our next port is another repeat from last year (Hoshoshima), and we have a long walking tour planned. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Day 51 - Thursday, April 5, 2018 - At Sea to Kagoshima, Japan - Day 2

This cruise's sea days have been very laid back compared to our previous ones. This is principally due to the absence of a second lecturer. Jeremy's lecture on Osaka and Shimizu was excellent and we enjoyed another cast chat.

After lunch Master Kam repeated his lecture on Japan including the section on toilets. We spent the remaining time until dinner chatting with Linda P about doing a walking tour at Hososhima. Doing this tour will allow us to see the Omi Shrine that we passed on seeing last year. I've regretted not seeing it for the past year.

After dinner we didn't watch the movie or 'Frozen Planet' as we've seen them previously. So our evening was spent reading in the Crow's Nest and the Ocean Bar as well as updating this blog.

Day 50 - Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - At Sea to Kagoshima, Japan - Day 1

We lost an hour of sleep last night due to our clocks being set forward to Japan's time zone. That coupled with me staying up until 1:30am reading the last part of a spy novel led to a short night of sleep. But it was nice to wake up to a clear view of the sun after 6 days of fog and smog in Shanghai and Beijing.

Jeremy gave his upcoming ports of call talk for the next 3 ports of call and it was once again excellent. The Mariner's award reception followed and for the second time in a row there were no complimentary nuts due to the anti-norovirus procedures which were still in effect all day today. After lunch we attended the BBC trivia game show and because one couple declined to participate, we volunteered at the last minute to fill in. We ended up winning the contest, but due to technical difficulties with the equipment, all of the teams received a free dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. Even though we've seen the game show many times, it's much harder to be up on stage in front of people on a moving ship and retain one's composure.

Master Kam gave his second presentation on Buddhism with a few minutes spent on the empty high rises we saw all around Tianjin. In summary it was the product of a failed Chinese policy to move people from the rural areas to the city. He noted that many of the buildings have been vacant so long since being built that they are being torn down.

Since it was a pretty nice day, we went up to the Crow's Nest and watched the open and wavy seas ahead of us. About 4pm, a Costa Cruise ship passed by us going the opposite direction which indicated to us that they must be heading for Tianjin.  

It was Gala night and we enjoyed a nice dinner in the Main Dining Room with a couple from Vancouver, BC before watching the day's movie "Roman Israel, Esq". We concluded the night by watching Katei, the Australian rock violinist we saw earlier in the cruise. He performed exactly the same show as before Before turning in for the night, we strapped our feed bags on for a late night snack in the LIDO Market.  

We have one more day at sea before reaching Japan. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Day 49 - Tuesday, April 3, 2018 - Tianjin, China - Day 2 - Tiananmen Square

Our morning started early with a 7:15am buffet breakfast in the the Hotel after which we checked out and rejoined our guide and driver for the short drive over to Tiananmen Square. It's huge to say the least and security was at a high level. If you weren't with a licensed guide, there was a detailed inspection of your person and parcels and there were both uniformed and "plain clothed" personnel all over. The "plain clothed personnel were all dressed in white shirts and black suits and their eyes were darting left and right inspecting the crowd. The tomb of Chairman Mao is in the center of the square and we didn't have time to visit it. The back side of the square adjoins the entrance to the Forbidden City and it reached by an under ground passageway with more security. One then passes through three sets of massive gates and separating large courtyards before reaching the inside of the Forbidden City and the Heavenly Palace.  

The exit from the Forbidden City passes over the remains of the moat and we waited for our van. He picked us up and we went to the Da wan ju restaurant where we enjoyed another sumptuous Chinese lunch. Chinese food in China is so flavorful compared to American Chinese food. We then headed back to the ship which was about a 2 1/2 hour drive with very little traffic. We did have a little episode at one of the highway toll booths. It seems that the computer system was not working correctly and we entered a lane that was open but the equipment didn't work. So we backed up, drove perpendicular to the flow of traffic and chose another lane.

We were back at the Port by 3:00pm and quickly passed through the scanner. It was really interesting that there are absolutely no vendors or services in this totally modern cruise terminal. Today was also very cold and the termainal area was even colder. We dropped our things off at our stateroom and headed up to the Crow's Nest to relax, get warm, have a beverage, and update the blog.  

We departed over 3 hours late at 9:15pm after 4 guests didn't surrender their passports and held up clearance. I was even able to watch the cast show of 'Dance' on the Main Stage before the ship sailed.

We now have two days at sea to Japan. Stay tuned! 

Day 48 - Monday, April 2, 2018 - Tianjin, China - Day 1 - The Great Wall

Despite the fog, our Captain skillfully guided us into our berth at the Tianjin International Cruise Terminal on time at just after 7am. We were scheduled to be on tour for two days (overnight in Beijing) with Sam & Jon and met at 7:30 in Ocean Bar. Just after 8am the ship was cleared and we exited on Deck 3 midship to the sight of the Oceania Insignia moored behind us. There was a temperature check inside the terminal and just outside the terminal we met our guide, Ricco and our driver, Mr. Li.

The drive north went well for the first hour until we came upon the traffic stopped. And we sat there for an hour. Finally we started moving and Mr. Li took some side roads to get us out of the slow traffic. We skirted central Beijing, and made it to the area of the Mutlanyu section of the Great Wall which was a different section than what we visited last year. We stopped at a tourist area for a very nice lunch although the service was slow and Ricco went back to the kitchen several times to 'encourage' the cooks to work faster. It seems that our order was lost. We probably lost an hour waiting for our meal.  

When I learned that we were going to take a cable car up to the wall I was a bit disappointed as we really wanted to climb the Wall like we did last year. However, it turned out wonderful and the cable car ride was excellent while the views were a bit hampered by the smog and I do mean smog. At the top end of the cable car, we could finally see the section of the wall that we would be climbing. Initially there was a steep descent into Zhengguantai Pass. On the other side of the pass there was an even steeper section that Angela and Ricco immediately ascended. I stayed back with Sam and Jon, but after a while I climbed that steep section to the first guard tower. Angela and Ricco went two more towers higher and I waited for them before accompanying them on the way back and collecting Sam & Jon. After the ride down on the cable car, I purchased a "I Have Climbed Up on the Wall" tshirt. The vendor started at 280 Yuan and eventually settled at 110 Yuan or $17US.  

At lunch Ricco asked us if we would like to do anything that evening. He suggested the "Legend of Kung Fu" stage show for 280 Yuan or $45 per person and we all agreed that would be fun. So after the wall we negotiated the Beijing traffic to the Red Theatre and enjoyed the action packed history of how a young boy became a Kung Fu Master and eventually head of the temple. There was lots of Kung Fu action and narration in English and Chinese.

We finally made it to the Regent Hotel around 9:15pm and checked in. Angela and I wanted to go out and walk and see the area around the hotel, so we took off and found a Subway Restaurant on the 5th floor of a nearby office / retail building. We saw 4 Oceania busses parked outside so they must be staying here. It seems we hadn't had dinner because of attending the Kung Fu show. Finally, we were back at the hotel and were able to log onto the hotel's WIFI and use our VPN connection to be able to post pictures to Facebook and check messages and do other internet items.

And day 1 in the Beijing area came to a close at after midnight for me. It was a good day, but a 6:30am alarm was also going to come early and along with that new adventures. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Day 47 - Sunday, April 1, 2018 - At Sea to Tianjin , China - Day 2

It's Easter Sunday morning and the fog continued unabated from yesterday. It's so thick that we couldn't see the water from deck 8 or 9. And the fog horn blasts its lonely tone every two minutes. Even the Lido chairs vibrate from its deep bass tone.

I led the 9am non-denominational Easter Sunrise Service and it went well. We had 47 in attendence in the King's Room. Master Kam presented part 1 of his talk on Buddhism. At noon the Captain announced that there was likely a norovirus on board (brought on by a Shanghai embarking passenger) and that there would be immediate changes in food and beverage procedures whereby guests could not serve themselves and we were encouraged to wash our hands well and often, not use handrails or public restrooms. Additionally a letter describing the situation and protection procedures was delivered to our stateroom.

The 2pm game show on the Main Stage was Battle of the Sexes which pitted 3 men vs. 3 women. Afterwards Angela and I read our books in the Explorer's Lounge until dinner. Following dinner we listened to the Ocean Quartet in the Ocean Bar. This quartet replaced a trio in Shanghai. They were easy to listen to.

The Main Stage entertainment was an excellent Hong Kong born harmonica player, Cy Leo.

After the show we enjoyed some great conversation with Tom, a passenger we've sailed with before, reminiscing about music; and the three of us also enjoyed a brief chat with the Captain.

Tomorrow we're on tour with another couple to Beijing & the Great Wall and an overnight stay in a hotel there. Stay tuned for details.

Day 46- Saturday, March 31, 2018 - At Sea to Tianjin , China - Day 1

The window of sailing opportunity opened this morning around 3:30am for us to finally sail out of our berth at the International Cruise Terminal located near the Bund. I remember the ship vibrating before I dozed off to resume my sleep. When I finally woke up around 8am I could see the banks 
of the Yangtze passing by. It takes around 7 hours to transit the Huangpu and Yangtze rivers and reach the open ocean. In the Captain's speach at his welcome toast, he noted that he had a 1/2 hour window of opportunity to sail out of the port.

The rest of the day was really laid back. We listened to Master Kam's lecture on modern China where he emphasized education of the elderly. It was really good. In the afternoon we skipped the BBC trivia game show and attended a makeup wine tasting that we missed the previous day. Two Washington state wines were featured and we learned a bit more about wines and how fruits and cheeses enfluence the taste of the wine. Afterwards I spent time preparing for the Easter Sunrise service which I'm leading and did some reading.

We enjoyed a Lido dinner with Erik and Marilyn before attending the Captain's Toast and the Main Stage show featuring Grant Galea, an Australian singer of Las Vegas style music. He did very good impressions of a number of artists. We even came back for the 10pm performance.

At the Captain's Toast, Captain Frank Vanderhoeven gave further details about the delay in Shanghai. He spoke like he was sitting across from you on a couch, and it wasn't stilted like a prepared speech. He's rotating off the ship in Yokohama for 3 months.

The fog is very thick tonight and the fog horn is blowing every 2 minutes and will likely do so all night.

Stay tuned for what tomorrow brings.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Day 45 - Friday, March 30, 2018 - Shanghai, China - Day 4

The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. I woke up this morning in a daze but thinking that the sailaway last night was sure smooth as well as the time on the sea. But then I looked out the stateroom window and saw we were still moored in Shanghai. About that time the Captain came on the PA system and announced that due to weather conditions at the mouth of the river along with tidal conditions, we would not be sailing until at least 2pm today, but that was not guaranteed. So we were able to go ashore but had to be back on board by noon.  

After breakfast, Angela and I took the shuttle to the drop off point in the Bund and then walked up to the Peace Hotel to visit the museum there. When we arrived, the museum was closed until 10am, and given that it was 9:45, we elected to walk around the hotel and then visit the museum. It actually opened just before 10, so we were able to visit it briefly before walking back to the ship in time for me to facilitate the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet at 11AM in the Crow's Nest. I had to miss Master Kam's lecture on Chinese history, but I had heard that talk before. It was well attended and the attendees lingered on longer than any prior such gathering. By now we all knew that our next port of call, Quingdao, had been cancelled so there was more than a bit of sadness in the air over that as it was a new port for all of us.

I ended up talking with several participants after the gathering but was able to get a quick lunch before attending the 2pm Upcoming Port talk as well as Jeremy's talk on Beijing and Tianjin (which was once again excellent). As it was Good Friday, a special interdenominational service was on the calendar and I prepared for and led that in the King's room which adjoins the Main Dining Room. Afterwards, Angela and I walked down the street adjoining the river to a grocery store to purchase a supply of Coke Zero to last us the rest of the trip. On the way back we met Master Kam and his wife who were looking for a Chinese dinner. Back on board, we ate a quick dinner and then watched the 4th showing of the cast show "Variations" on the Main Stage.

Since the fog was lifting, we went up to the Crow's Nest to watch the ship traffic and lights before returning to our room. Back at the room, there was a detailed explanation from the Bridge Team on the factors that go into the decisions to be able to leave our berth. The key factors are the visibility at the mouth of the river some 14 miles away and another 52 miles on the Yangtze River for a total transit time of 7 hours. Currently the port is closed and no ships of our size can go in or out. Add to this that we have to go out on a high tide and be able to back into the turning basin at times of low tidal enfluence by the moon and the sun, we only have two times per day that we can do these maneuvers. If the pilot association and the maritime association close the waterways, we don't move! Fortunately we are a priority ship to be disembarked and with a now 24 hour hold on the port sailings, there is quite a back up of vessels trying to get in or out since Shanghai is the busiest container port in the world. Add to that that only 3 pilots out of 350 are licensed to pilot the Volendam. There are certainly some challenges.

Will we be at sea tomorrow? Stay tuned.

Day 44 - Thursday, March 29, 2018 - Shanghai, China - Day 3

Unfortunately it's our last day in Shanghai. It was certainly a short night last night and the 6:30am alarm seemed much too early, but I heeded it's noisy interruption to my dreams at 6:30am.

We met Rosie and Ozzie up in the Ocean Bar at 8am. There were supposed to be 8 of us on the tour, but one couple had some sickness challenges and elected not to come along. So the 6 of us headed off the ship and out to catch the subway train #12 from the International Cruise Terminal Station to Qufu Road where we caught the #8 line to Laoximen, where we met our guide, Harris Gu. The tour was intended to a markets tour and it certainly lived up to its billing. This early in the day the subway cars were packed, but we were able to get on and off with little issue.

We met Harrison at Exit #1 at the Laoximen Station and he led us in old town to some really interesting markets primarily located in the older part of the city. Clearly the most interesting of the markets was the first one: a pet market. There one could buy any manny of pet: cats, lizards, frogs, turtles, crickets, grasshoppers, bonsai trees, rabbits, birds, chipmunks, and the like plus all of the necessary feed and accessories to care for them. Did you know that cricket fighting is a big deal in China? It is principally for the betting. We also visited an antique market, tailoring market, food market, toy and dry goods market, and we passed by the Yu Garden where we ended the tour at a noodle shop. The noodles we terrific.'

2 members of our group walked back to the garden, while Rosie and Ozzie and us walked back to the ship via the Bund which was very crowded with tourists.

On board we relaxed for a while before watching the 3:30pm showing of "Birth of the Dragon" about the early life of Bruce Lee before getting some dinner and then watching the ship traffic and colorful light displays on the buildings. The evening show was "Listen to the Music" which we've seen 4 times this cruise. It's used to introduce the entertainment staff. Afterwards we went up to the Crow's Nest to watch the boat traffic and possibly see the ship's departure. About midnight, I looked outside and we were still moored with a gangplank deployed. So I knew we weren't going anywhere soon, but there had been no announcement of any change of plans.

Would we leave tonight as scheduled? Stay tuned to find out.


Day 43 - Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - Shanghai, China - Day 2

I am really liking these multi-day port stops. It gives a chance to tour at a more relaxed and varied pace. Today we were on a city tour with Yuni which duplicated several of the things we visited last year which was okay.

In no particular order, we visited People's Park (nice cherry blossoms), the Jade Buddha, the French Concession, Yu Garden (very picturesque, The Bund, the Pearl Hotel (featured in many movies), the fringe of the old city (currently being torn down and redeveloped as part of the city's plan to renew itself every 3 years), & lunch on our own near Sun Wonderland..

We left the tour near the end and walked a mile and a half back to the ship where a Lido dinner was in order to watch the commercial barge traffic on the Huangpu River and unwind from the day's activities. After dinner, the Main Stage 
entertainment was a Chinese Acrobat/Magic company. They were totally different from last night's off the ship program. Angela got called up to to participate in one of their routines.

The skyline in Shanghai at night has to be the prettiest we've seen all over the world. I took a bunch of GoPro Footage since it was such a clear night. We capped the evening off watching Karate Kid in the 10pm showing. As it was embarkation day for about 1,000 people, it's fun to see the new boardees with the deer in the headlights look. About 400 of us are in transit or continuing passengers. 

Stay tuned for our last day in Shanghai. Since we watched the movie until 12:30am and we have an 8am tour departure, it'll be a short night.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Day 42 - Tuesday, March 27, 2018 - Shanghai, China - Day 1

While it was possible to get off the ship shortly after 7am, we elected to sleep in a bit and got up around 8. After breakfast, we gathered up our things and because we are 4 Star Mariners, we were able to head for the gangway immediately. At the time we left, they were called WHITE 8 and had issued up to WHITE 16. It was going to be a long wait for some people.

The Chinese immigration process generally went pretty slow. In the terminal they had 10 or so lanes with 10-15 people per lane. Every passport was being checked as well as visas. We did see people turned around because of a lack of visas and a number of passengers were subjected to additional scrutiny. There was a 4-5 Star and Pinnacle Suites line so we used that. One had to present your passport and a photocopy of the passport. If you cleared immigration, they stamped your passport copy and you surrendered your passport to HAL personnel (which we did!). The whole process took around 45 minutes for us.

We headed out of the terminal and caught the shuttle to the Bund stop. While there is a Tourist Information office there, it was closed and there were no other paper maps. I had previously downloaded the Shanghai Subway App to my phone so I had the subway map on my phone.

I should add here that at this time Google and Facebook are blocked in China. However, I use a VPN called Express VPN, and it appears to be working so far. Last year I used another VPN and it became disabled after a few days of use. Using the VPN and our GlocalMe portable internet device has been wonderful in allowing us to maintain our internet connectivity on our schedule and not have to seek out WIFI.

We then walked 4-5 blocks to the East Nanjing Road Station, bought subway tickets to the Longyang station (about $0..65 each or 8 Chinese Yuan). We took the subway to the Longyang station and then walked upstairs and bought round trip tickets on the Maglev train which runs to the airport.

The Maglev train is a ultra high speed Magnetic Levitation train that travels up to 240mph or 400kmh. Those ultra fast speeds are done during two time periods each day. The rides we were on only hit sustained speeds of 180 mph. At those speeds, there is a a bit of side to side motion, but there is no sensation of being on a wheeled vehicle until the train slows down below about 60mph. While the train is labeled as a "demonstration" train, it's been in service for 16 years and is a popular and fast way to get to/from the airport. I recommend doing it and taking a picture of the posted sustained speed on the speedometer reading in each car.

At the airport, we enjoyed some local Chinese food at a restaurant that seemed to be a favorite of the airport workers. My noodle dish was excellent and Angela's pork dish was excellent as well. At the airport we were able to finally find a paper copy of a Shanghai street map which we found to be quite helpful.

After a quick ride on the Maglev back to Longyang, we bought tickets to the Museum of Science and Industry station. We toured the Museum for most of the afternoon and it's a museum clearly airmed at youth. It's a huge museum with lots of interesting exhibits. I think I liked the robot exhibit the best (one robot could solve a random Rubik cube in 43 seconds). Second on my list would be the natural history section with the dioramas. In the rain forest area, I nearly fell on a slick stone but was able to recover.

After the visit to the museum we shopped at a nearby underground shopping mall which appeared to be selling largely 'knock-off' goods. From there we took the subway back to the East Nanjing Road station and got lost coming out of the station and ended up walking a bit farther back to the ship. However, along the way we go to see some neat tool and industrial supply stores.

Our evening entertainment was a HAL excursion to see Chinese Acrobats. It was really really good and only marred by the insensitive HAL passengers who ignored the request to not photograph the performance. On board the ship, every night before a Main Stage show, Bruce, our Cruise Director, will say something like, "If you have a camera, phone or any other device with a light or lighted screen, please power them down and put them away as they are not permitted during show time." Lighted screens are really a distraction.

Back at the ship, they opened the buffet at 10pm instead of 10:30pm because of the shore excursion, so I ate a late dinner and then chatted with Bill & Jeannette, fellow passengers, before retiring to our stateroom to update my blog.

Tomorrow we are supposed to be touring with Yuni, but she didn't contact us today. We'll see how that works out. Stay tuned.      

Day 41 - Monday, March 26, 2018 - At Sea to Shanghai, China

It was another very lazy day at sea. The first real event of the day for us was Dr. Kam's 3rd lecture on modern China. The highlight of that lecture was his presentation about the matchmaking done at Peoples Park on weekends. While the success rate is very low, it's a very busy social time for the parents.

The 2pm event was "Backstage with the Cast" which is a Q&A session with the cast members and the opportunity to go back stage. We stayed for the Q&A and because we had been backstage before, we elected to do other things. I got in line to speak with Jeremy about Shanghai activities, which Angela went to the gym. We also had the opportunity to catch up on our reading while listening to Adagio.

Empire of the Sun was the movie and we were able to watch it at 3:30pm and it finished at 6pm. Since it was Gala night we normally would eat in the Main Dining Room. However, we checked out the LIDO and they had lobster and filet up there, so we skipped the Gala night in the Main Dining Room and ate in the LIDO.  I have to confess I ate 4 lobsters (but they were small).

Classique was the Cast show on the Main Stage and afterwards we went up to the Crow's Nest to watch the sail in up the Huangpu River to our berthing location near the Bund. It was a bit smoggy, but the building lights came into view and we docked at around 11pm at the International Cruise Terminal. Along the way, we were able to use our portable internet device to check email and Facebook and the like.

Tomorrow we have to go through immigration and then we are planning to travel independently to see some things we've not seen previously. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Day 40 - Sunday, March 25, 2018 - Nagasaki, Japan

Today's visit to Nagasaki was our second as we were here last year on the Volendam. In that visit we visited the A-Bomb ground zero, the museum, and the Glover Gardens area. So this year we joined another small group with a Tours by Locals local guide (Miyuki) that took a public bus (170yen) to the top of Mt. Kazagashira, enjoyed a kite museum (unfortunately they were too fragile to consider bringing one home), the views (it was a bit hazy most of the day) and walked down the mountain through small neighborhoods with even smaller streets and by various temples and shrines as well as many cemeteries. This area was sheltered from the A Bomb blast by a mountain.

At the bottom of the hill we entered the shopping district and found the oldest dam in Japan which is located on the Nakashinagawa River. Our tour ended there and we found a ramen restaurant to enjoy a nice lunch at. Unlike the previous day's ramen restaurant, this one was a bit more open and we could see the cooks and the cooking process. Like the previous one, one paid for the meal with a vending machine. And it was good, although I'd give a slight edge to the Fukuoka ramen.

After lunch we boarded a blue line train (120 yen flat rate) out to the 26 Martyrs Monument & Museum (500 yen entry fee) that documented the crucifixion of 6 priests and 20 lay persons in the late 16th century after the emperor Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned Christianity. Christianity survived underground for the next several hundred years. It was a sobering reminder on this Palm Sunday, 2018.

We had to do a face to passport immigration inspection exit of Japan and then surrender our passports as we were leaving Japan for China. Back on board the ship I led the Interdenominational service with about 30 present. Another passenger, Bill, helped and read a sermon. Our departure was delayed for an hour as 6 guests didn't make the mandatory onboard time of 4:00pm, and the immigration authorities would not permit the ship to sail.  

After our customary Lido dinner, we watched the comedienne, Stevie Jo who was back with a new show. Some of his jokes were really funny, but some of the British ones went right by me.

The Indonesian crew show was at 11pm, fortunately we gain an hour tonight. Tomorrow is a very laid back sea day which will be nice. We are anticipating a scenic cruise into Shanghai up the Huangpu River starting at 9pm. Fortunately we are a small enough ship and can berth right in the center of town at the Bund. Next year the Westerdam will have to berth an hour from the city which will be very inconvenient for the passengers.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Day 39 - Saturday, March 24, 2018 - Fukuoka, Japan

As we awakened I noticed that we were backing into our berth at this new port of Fukuoka. The port facility is very nice with WIFI and covered walkways to the cruise terminal. Two of our group weren't feeling well, so we were down to a group of 6. Our guide, Myami, met us outside the terminal and we took a short walk over to the main terminal building and caught a #11 bus to our first destination, the Tochoji Temple which holds the large carved wooden Buddha (Daibutsu). We also got a first glimpse of the blossoming cherry trees. It's also the burial place of the 2nd feudal lord of the area dating to the 8th century.  

After enjoying some pastry, we took another bus to the Kushida Shrine where we crashed yet another wedding. It was really neat to see a bride and groom dressed in traditional Japanese a wedding clothes. We also toured the local museum and I was fascinated by the traditional weaving being done using punched cards but dating back to the 18th century.  

We then made our way to the Canal City shopping center where we individually chose where to eat lunch. Angela and I chose ramen at Ichiran where you order from a vending machine, sit at an isolation counter (they call it a concentrate on flavor counter), mark on a sheet how you want your order prepared & order a beverage or side order items, and your order is delivered through a little opening before a little door is closed. Then you eat in seclusion to savor the flavors. And I have to admit, it's really good.

After lunch we caugh another bus over to Ohori Park and the Fukuoka Castle ruins. Today was day one of their cherry blossom festival and lots of people were on the grounds and there were hundreds of small vendors selling mainly craft type items. We also visited the small museum and climbed the remains of the castle tower from which we could see 360° views of the city.

We then bussed back to the city hall where 4 of the group took the HAL shuttle back to the ship while Angela and I looked for a handle for our new GoPro Hero 5 camera. I was successful in finding one while she visited the chicken festival. This tiny little camera is pretty good for video and is unobtrusive. I was also able to download the software APPs to link it to my iPhone.

We caught the 4:30pm (next to last) shuttle back to the ship and reboarded around 5pm for our all aboard time of 5:30pm. Everyone was aboard and we departed promptly at 6pm to the accompaniment of a jr. high drum band. I should also comment that while it was mostly sunny, temperatures were brisk in the high 60's Fahrenheit.

After a light dinner, we attended the variety show at both 8pm and 10pm. Naomi Edemarium (concert pianist) and Annie Frances (vocalist) were the billing and were excellent. We've seen Annie multiple times, and she's really good.

Tomorrow is our last Japanese Port (Nagasaki) for this leg of the cruise. We have another walking tour planned. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Day 38 - Friday, March 23, 2018 - At Sea to Fukuoka, Japan

With another sea day before arriving in Fukuoka and getting to bed early, it was a good chance to catch up on sleep. Following breakfast, Jeremy gave an excellent presentation on Shanghai. The Mariner awards presentation and luncheon took the center part of the day and while my wife went to BBC game show, I went to the GoPro 5 demo and ended up buying one with some of our shipboard credit. Afterwards, Dr. Kam gave his part 2 lecture on China which was excellent.

When we went to Phil's 3pm presentation, we were informed that his father had some sort of incident and that Phil was given the day off for bereavement and was flying home to Toronto tomorrow. We were saddened to learn this.

Gala Night was tonight and we had great table mates from Canberra and Los Angeles. The movie was 'The Commuter' (a thriller) which was followed by the cast show 'Rock Legends'.

More adventures are planned for tomorrow in Fukuoka. Stay tuned.

Day 37 - Thursday, March 22, 2018 - Naha, Japan - Day 2

I love it when a plan pretty much comes together. The plan for today was to do a self-guided walk using an app called GPSMYCITY. Since we had overnighted in Naha, we didn't get up until after 8am and that was a short night after staying up late the night before. So we went up to breakfast and came back and our room keyscard wouldn't open the stateroom door. We called our cabin attendant over and he tried his card, and it wouldn't open the door either. He said it was probably a dead battery in the lock assembly, and that it would take a while for the locksmith to come and fix it. We indicated that we needed in to get our things to be off the ship for the day. So he called the front desk and a front desk clerk came down with a physical key and let us in to collect our items.

We carded off the ship, and just outside the gangway, Angela remembered that she had forgotten her iPhone. So I stood with Phil, the EXC guide, and helped passengers with routing while Angela went through the drill of scanning back on the ship, going to the front desk, drafting someone to go the the room with a key, and then repeating the first departure process.

With all of our goods in our possession, it was a short walk to the Naminoue Shrine which was the first stop on our tour route. The shrine which literally means 'above the waves' is perched on a cliff with some pretty caves in the sandstone. Nearby is a poignant memorial to the Tushima Maru ship that carried some 1600 children and teachers and soldiers who were being evacuated August 22, 1944 to Nagasaki. The ship was torpedoed by American submarines and almost everyone was killed. It's another reminder of the horrors of war.

From there we walked across the harbor area to the Tomari International Cemetary where many foreigners are buried and there's a memorial plaque honoring Commodore Perry who landed near there in 1853. If you Google the cemetary name, you can find an excellent article about the cemetary and one man's attempt to document all of the graves there despite the names being rendered unreadable due to the ravages of the elements. At this writing there are only 6 remaining plots available and the cemetary will be closed to further burials.

Just down the road from the cemetary was the Naha fish market. This was the cleanest and neatest fish market we've ever visited in all of the world. It certainly smelled fishy, but wasn't overpowering. We even bought and consumed some sushii that was quite good.

It was then a long walk and hike up the hill to the Okinawa Prefecture Museum. This is a relatively new museum that is a very large and stark fortress appearing structure. Inside it was bright and cheery. We aren't art fans, so we passed on spending much time in it other than to use the restroom, visit the gift shop and the hands-on exhibit.  

From the museum, we walked about a mile to Sugar-Loaf hill which was the site of one of the bitterest battles of the American's fight to capture Okinawa. There's a plaque on top of the hill (over 100 steps to climb or a more gentle ascending path on the backside of the hill) describing the battle with a picture of what it looked like during the battle. It was again a reminder of the horrors of war. Now there is a water tower on top of the hill and it appeared that major parts of the hillside had been landscaped more steep than the original from 1944 as shown in the picture.

Nearby we found the fairly large Catholic Church which had for my taste a very refreshing sanctuary design. It was rather plain with good architectural detail and a simple sculpture of Jesus with outstretched arms at the altar area.

It was an interesting walk under the monorail tracks and then through the neighborhoods to the pottery street and museum which we visited last year. From there we entered the back side of the market and quickly walked through it in search of the Giant Tug of War Monument which was located behind the Tourist Information Office next to the Market. The tug of war rope is about 4 feet across for the center sections, and smaller ropes are attached for the contestants to pull on. It's a long time tradition that stopped during the war, but was revived in 1971 and is certified by the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest rope in the world. It was pretty cool.

The tourist map then indicated another memorial of what we thought was to Don Quijote (their spelling). After walking back and forth next to the market and not finding it, I pointed to the map with a policeman, and he laughed and pointed behind him. It was a shopping mall! We did enter it and go up to the hard goods section where I looked at small Japanese automobile and motorcycle items.  

We were now officially at the end of the planned tour and I was pleased with the app even though I think it needs some tweaking. That part of the plan came together. But would we be able to get back into our stateroom? That would have to wait as we stopped at Burger King for a little late lunch for me and a drink for Angela. We then strolled back down the main tourist street (A. Loki said-Dori Street) and did a lot of window shopping. This city is quite walkable with lots to see and do. If one added in the Monorail as a travel option, it opens up visiting Shurijo Castle Park and the Tamaudun Mausoleum 

Back at the port, we showed our passports to the Japanese officials to get back on the ship, got scanned on the ship, went through the metal detector, and then headed for our stateroom. We both bet that we could get into our stateroom as they had all day to get the lock battery fixed. Wrong!! Both keycards wouldn't work. So we had to walk back most of the length of the ship and up 3 floors to the front desk where new keycards were printed for us. One of the guest services personnel then accompanied us back to our stateroom which is 4 doors from the stern or back of the ship. Wahla! It worked. Finally that part of the plan came together.

We then made our way back the length of the ship and up 8 floors to the Crow's Nest to watch the sailaway. We were there after 5pm and missed Happy Hour, but we met up with Rick and Pat and shared about our day. We set sail on time at 6pm with a modest 22mph wind and only one tug assisting us to do a clockwise stern first rotation from our berth. The harbor exit has two breakwaters that are slightly offset and the Captain skillfully navigated us through the narrow opening despite the wind. As we were leaving, commercial and military jets overflew us on their takeoffs and they were quite low as the airport was nearby.  

Tonight was another Asian night in the Lido with primo sushii and a full compliment of Asian cuisine. The whole area also had lots of Asian decorations and it was a very popular dinner venue and was crowded.

After dinner we decided to see the 8pm Main Stage presentation of Frozen Planet Live which we've seen multiple times before on other ships including when it was first released. It's a film produced by the BBC for HAL, and is accompanied by a live orchestra. It's always fun to see the penguins and baby polar bears and the sheer majesty of the ice formations of the Arctic and Antarctic.

Given that we walked over 10 miles today, we came back to the room to get to bed early and it allowed me to update my blog for the day. Tomorrow is fortunately a sea day so I can prepare for leading the Palm Sunday Interdenominational Service in a few days. As part of the turn down materials there was an advertisement for a HAL shore excursion in Shanghai to see Chinese acrobats on the first evening of our 3 day stay there. So I booked us for it on the Mobile Navigator which is HAL's smartphone application that doesn't require the use of the internet but allows one to see the daily schedule, plan dining options, book shore excursions, review your statement, chat with other guests electronically with text messages and much more. It's actually pretty nifty,

We're looking foreword to the sea day tomorrow. We need to catch up on some rest. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Day 36 - Wednesday, March 21, 2018 - Naha, Japan

Our overnight sailing to Naha was a rocking and rolling affair. With winds Force 8 on the Beaufort scale (40 plus mph), and a very choppy sea plus sailing at 18 1/2 knots, we had the most motion of any sailing on this cruise. Since we weren't planning to dock until 2pm, it was sort of like a sea day. But it was a very full time until we docked.

After breakfast in the LIDO, we attended Phil's Japanese language primer session, He drafted a native speaker Japanese woman to assist him and we were exposed to some simple words and phrases. I collected our passports and then Jeremy did another fabulous presentation on the upcoming ports of Fukuoka and Nagasaki. He talked nonstop for 45 minutes with lots of tips and details for the independent traveler. Since many of these ports this leg are repeats, it's good to get a refresher course on them. Dr. Kam followed with his presentation on the history of Japan. He concluded his talk with a very funny segment on Japanese toilets that he learned about on last year's Volendam Asia cruise that we were on.  

Following a very quick lunch we watched as the Volendam came into the harbor with 26mph side winds and two tug boats helping restrain her from being blown into the dock. This is the first time we've experienced tugboat assistance. The Captain skillfully inched the ship up to the dock at precisely 2pm and we then went to the Main Stage to get a disembarkation ticket. Ours was number 16. The ship was cleared about 20 minutes later but we continued to wait as the immigration officials were not yet set up. Finally Bruce, our CD, started calling numbers and the process went fairly smoothly. Once we got inside the terminal we were termperature scanned and we noted that 4 and 5 star Mariners had a special line, so we skipped ahead of about 100 people who were queued up.  

The immigration inspection involved presenting a filled out landing card, one's passport, fingerprinting one's index fingers, and having a photo taken without a hat or glasses. After that was completed, we went through a customs inspection (there were agricultural inspectors looking for suspicious characters) where one presented one's passport again along with a customs form (one per family). We were out of the terminal by 3:20pm and gathered up a map, confirmed some directions with Phil, and walked out of the building. We later found out we could have played our 4 Star Mariner card earlier. A note to future travelers: Be sure to allow lots of time for your first port of entry into Japan immigration check. While I described ours in some detail, yours may vary. We'll have at least one more when we return from China.

Our plan for this day was to walk into town seeing things we hadn't seen on last year's visit. On last year's visit, we visited many of the major landmarks, so this year our plan was to find some we hadn't seen plus re-visit some others that might come our way. I had walking maps from GPSMyCity.Com on my iPhone plus the paper map. A short distance from the Port we found Fukusyuen (spelled Fukusyuen on the map) Garden which was marked as a must see on my GPS map. We paid the 200Yen per person entry fee (about $2US). The ticket agent asked us where we were from, and we said USA, Seattle, Washington. I handed them a sticker which has an outline of Washington State and Seattle and the Space Needle on it), and they were thrilled to receive it.

The Fukusyuen Garden was very tranquil and we took our time following the circular path around the garden snapping pictures and feeding the carp. There was one large white carp that we nicknamed "Piggy" as it bullied the other fish for food. The fish would see people come to the railing and they would swim up to railing. I even got Piggy to stick his head out of the water in anticipation of receiving some fish food. It was good fun.

We continued walking along Matsuyama-Dori Street to the main shopping street which Matsuyama-Dori Street teed into. The Okinawa Prefecture Government Building is located at that intersection. We turned left and strolled along the clean and colorful street with all sorts of merchandise for sale. We found the Makishi Public Market that we visited last year and strolled through it locating vendors we remembered from last year including the Owl Museum and a Beef restaurant that we ate at. This market is huge and fully covered and very neat compared to many others we have seen around the world. Afterwards, McDonald's was nearby so we ducked in for a drink and a chance to use the WiFI (it saves the data on our portable device).  

We started a stroll at 7:00pm back to the ship retracing our path but on the other side of the street. We wanted to be back at the ship in time for the 9pm cultural performance. Steak dinners were $50 per person and up (this area is noted for its beef). But we found this nice restaurant on the second floor of a candy store and enjoyed some WONDERFUL pork and noodles and a most delicious broth for around $10 per person. There was also a couple performing traditional music on the 3 stringed instrument found in this area plus drums. The restaurant wasn't full, and the entertainers tried to communicate with us in their very limited English and our non-existent Japanese. In the end "Icharo" (a Japanese baseball player now back with the Seattle Mariners resonated with them and they also got a sticker. There was also a family from Brazil eating there. I wish I could give the name of the restaurant, but there were no English characters spelling out the name. I do have a picture of the building if anyone is planning to visit and needs a tip for a nice meal (they have much more than pork).

We wandered our way back to the ship and watched the cultural presentation which I didn't understand a word of. The costumes were very colorful, the music was nice, but I couldn't exactly tell if this was modern music or historical music. I'd bet on the former. is their website.

Afterwards, I happened to be next to the Event Manager, so I mentioned that I've led the last 3 Sunday Interdenominational services and asked if there would be a Protestant Chaplain on board for Easter Sunday. He said no and Bruce, the CD, was standing next to him confirmed it, so it appears I'll be the one leading both the Palm and Easter Sunday services as a volunteer.

We're overnighting in this port so tomorrow, we're planning to find a number of scenic points on our GPSMyCity walking tour. I created a custom walking tour and we'll follow that. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Day 30 -Thursday, March 15, 2018 - Hong Kong Day 2.

I guess we are getting spoiled by this cruising thing. Today we are still in Hong Kong and there were no whirring motors to wake us up. So we didn't get up until after 9am and were just able to get some breakfast in the LIDO before heading out for another day of touring in Hong Kong.

The shuttle this day went to a different shopping center at the Diamond Hill subway station. Nearby was the Nan Lian Garden which was a real treat to visit. It's an immaculate garden with amazing shrubbery, glistening clean reflection ponds, beautiful rocks, and a display of some intricate wood joinery. The koi in the reflecting pond were among the prettiest I've ever seen.

We then hopped on the MTR (subway) and made our way to the Ladies Market which we had never seen before. It's much like the Temple Street Night Market but not quite as big. While we arrived after noon, many vendors were still setting up their 8'x10' stalls. Probably the biggest difference that I could see between the two markets is that there were much more ladies clothes and accessory items. We also were finally able to find some deodorant and disposable razors at a nearby beauty store. We retraced our route back to the Diamond Hill Subway station and cashed in our Octopus cards. We used that money plus what we had left to enjoy a very nice Chinese meal at the Modern China restaurant in the huge mall.

Our 3pm shuttle bus was waiting for us at the meeting point and it turned out to be a full bus. The mandatory passenger emergency drill was held at 4:15pm for ALL guests including the in-transit guests like us. Fortunately, as in-transit guests we didn't have to do the face to face immigration check as HAL was already holding our passports. As I write this at 5:30pm, there are still two guests who haven't shown up. Fortunately they must have finally shown up, because at 6:03pm we cast off from the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and began our slow cruise out to sea and towards Manila.

The only evening entertainment on the Main Stage was "Listen to the Music" which introduces the entertainment staff as well as the singers and dancers. We've seen this 3 times this voyage and many times on previous HAL voyages. We continue to enjoy it.

We'll be at sea for a day and I am leading a M&G tomorrow for the Cruise Critic members on board.

Day 35 - Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - Keelung, Taiwan

Today we had another 8am Port arrival and we didn't have to meet our group until 8:30am in the Ocean Bar. We ate breakfast in the Lido with Dennis & Katie before I went down and exchanged 100US$ for 2810 Taiwan New Dollars from the money changer that had set up shop on board.

We scanned off the ship just after 8:30am in a very industrial port. There were 4 cruise ships in port today including the Celebrity Millenium and our ship definitely drew the short stick as we were docked the furthest away. We had to walk outside the port gate where we were warmly greeted by our guide and driver, Jeff, for the day. It was then about a 45 minute drive to Taipei where we did a highlights tour. It turned out that Yuni, our tour organizer, had used Jeff for another tour in Taiwan back in January.

It started raining as we reached the city and 
began our tour. We visited the National Palace, Martyr's Memorial, The Grand Hotel, Confuscious Temple, The Chang Kai Shek Memorial with the changing of the guard ceremony, and the Sun Yat-Sen Square with its views of Taipei 101 which was once the tallest building in the world. During the day we ate a yummy lunch at Formosa Gong for $4 per person, and enjoyed pastries at Riyu Sunny Cake.

On the drive back to the port it began to rain harder and continued to rain throughout our departure into the open seas. The Captain's departure announcement even included the prediction of rough seas as we progress to Naha, Japan. We watched the sailaway from the Crow's Nest before eating a light dinner in the Lido.

Our evening entertainment was first the movie, 'I Tonya' followed by a concert pianist, Naomi Edemariam.

We don't arrive into Naha until about 2pm, so tomorrow will be like a sea day.

Day 34 - Monday, March 19, 2018 - Kaohsiung, Taiwan

We weren't scheduled to dock until 8am, so we didn't have to roll out of bed until 7am. Our little group assembled in the Ocean Bar and after the ship clearance announcement was made, we scanned off the ship and walked through the small terminal area. A couple of us tried to use our ATM cards to get local currency, but we were unsuccessful. In the end it didn't matter as our US$ were accepted where we needed them.

We headed off with Andy, our driver and guide, for our first stop at the Lotus Pond. This area is marked by a very colorful dragon and tiger with a couple towers. Across the street is a temple and we visited it along with another temple down the street devoted to government officials and business people. Next we drove a ways out of town to an area called Tianlao Moon World Mud Rock Geology Tourist Center which could best be described as a miniature Dakota Badlands. It was quite scenic and we strolled around a little retaining lake named the Jade Pool formed by a set of earthen dams. The Rihyue Temple was also located there but we didn't visit it.

After a short drive back towards the city we came to the Fokuangshan Monastery. Its notable feature is the world's largest sitting Buddha and the teaching here is of the Humanistic persuasion as championed by one monk. The complex is huge and contains meeting rooms, museums, a hotel, restaurants, and the like. Our meal there was nice with many courses of primarily vegetarian cuisine. The cost was $15US per person.

After lunch we made our way back to the city and saw the glass done in the main subway station before visiting the Holy Rosary Catholic Church and then the Shoushan Love lookout (it overlooks the Love River). We were back at the terminal just after 4pm and said our goodbyes to Andy, did a little internet in the terminal, and then were shooed back onto the Volendam.  

There were no stragglers and we watched the sailaway from the Crow's Nest while enjoying nuts and a beverage and conversation with a couple from Alaska that we've sailed with before. The captain indicated that the narrow harbor entrance was only 1 1/2 ship widths and I can certainly agree that it was narrow as we passed through. There was an electronic guidance screen to aid in the departure. Once we were out in the open sea we turned north to follow the west coast of Taiwan which should give us some smoother seas tonight.

After a very light dinner we watched a short film about Salvador Dali and Walt Disney (a strange combo to say the least) and then the movie 'Red Obsession' a documentary about China's obsession with Bordeaux wines. We capped the evening off watching the cast performance of 'Dance'.

Tomorrow we're in Keelung which is the gateway to Taipei, Taiwan. Stay tuned for more adventures.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Day 33 - Sunday, March 18, 2018 - At Sea to Kaohsiung, Taiwan

The waters overnight were relatively calm as we plied our way north along the west coast of the Philippine Islands. But that would change about 2:15pm in the afternoon. But I'm getting ahead of my story.

Sleeping in a regular window stateroom wth the curtains not drawn at night has the important effect of causing an early wake up due to the sunlight streaming in the large window. Given that it was a sea day, it was a nice lazy sort of day. After breakfast, Jeremy gave another excellent and fact filled summary of the next two ports of call: Keelung (Taipei) & Manila. He's a wealth of information and if you ever have him on a cruise you are on, DON'T miss his presentations. Dr. Kam followed with his first lecture on Chinese history. He elected to skip his dynasty presentation and went immediately to the era from 1921 to almost current times. It was excellent also.

After lunch, Phil gave a brief introduction to Mandarin with a few typical phrases like Hello, Goodbye, and the like. He's another presenter to not miss for his cultural insights and helpfulness. The Ask the Captain session followed and it was during his presentation tha the seas became rougher with a bit more chop. When I looked at my map, I could see that we left the protection of the Philippine Islands, and we were now in the open seas. The ship had a bit of a pitch to it (pitch is the sensation of the bow moving up and down) and pitch cannot be controlled by the stabilizers. They are only effective for dampening rolling action (side to side motion).

Phil then gave another presentation. This one was on Chopsticks: History, types, and how to use them. He even had enough chopsticks for his audience along with various shaped objects for people to practice on. It was a good presentation.

At 5pm, once again I led the Interdenominational Service with over 30 in attendance. Since several of the participants had 5:30pm dinner plans, I held the length of the service to 1/2 hour. Easter is only 2 weeks away and I don't know if HAL is putting a pastor on board for that segment. If not, I'll be prepared to lead it.

We enjoyed a light dinner in the LIDO. Roast turkey and cranberry sauce along with carrots and brussel sprouts made for a nice dinner. Erik and Mary Anne joined us after dinner and we sat and chatted about a number of things and made plans to have dinner together before the cruise ends. They're going all the way to Vancouver. We'll also be on another cruise with them next year.

The evening entertainment was Annie Frances, a VERY talented Australian singer we've enjoyed on a number of previous cruises. She covered number 1 hits from the 1970's. She was so good that I saw both of her shows while my wife only saw the later show as she watched the movie, Walk With Me which was about Buddhist monks.

Tomorrow will be our first visit to Taiwan and we're looking forward to it. Stay tuned for what we discover in this new port.