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. Www.ryuchim.com 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.


Day 32 - Saturday, March 17, 2018 - Manila

Not only were we awakened by the whir of the mooring line motors, but our alarms went off at 6:30am as we were to assemble with our group at 7:30am in the Ocean Bar. This was one of the few ports for which Bruce would announce when the ship was cleared and we could go ashore. While eating breakfast we could see some 30 buses assembled to take guests on shore excursions. Plus there was a local dance troupe greeting us as well as the Volendam gently slid into its position at Pier 15. It was shortly later joined by the Silver Whisper (a ship of the Silver Seas group). We made our way into the port where several hundred of the families of the Philippine crew were waiting to board the ship to re-unite with their relatives. It's a nice touch that HAL does for the crew!  

We easily found our guide, John Eldon (yes named after the famous singer/composer). His brothers and sisters also have singer names as well. John was a good Tours by Locals guide and the small group of 6 of us fit easily in the small Toyota van.  

The port area is very very close to the Intromuros (walled old city), but our tour took us to the the very south end of Manila to the Subaro Jeepney factory. A couple of us are car guys and this was totally fascinating to see how they literally build the iconic Jeepney's from the ground up based upon the basic design of WWII jeeps. They put a new frame under them, fabricate all new sheet metal and weld the panels together with spot welds, install 4 cylinder diesels and "doll" them up. All of this is done with lots of hand tools, a couple of sheet metal brakes, a bead roller, hand grinders and use of arc & gas welders without any shielding helmets. It was truly fascinating!

From there we went to visit the Bamboo Organ Church. There was a wedding about to start so we didin't get to hear the organ, but we certainly got to look at it up close and take a tour of the little museum as well. It's a worthy stop. Our next stop took us on a traffic choked drive across town to the meticulously manicured American Memorial Cemetery which holds the largest number of American servicemen & women's graves outside of the United States. it was somber to view the headstone of young Americans who died shortly before I was born.

After spending about 1/2 hour at the cemetery, John told us it would be about 1/2 hour drive to the restaurant where we would have lunch. Because of the traffic it took us over an hour to get there. There's no easy fix for their traffic situation. It was a Saturday, and it was almost a gridlock situation. At the Aristocrat Restuarant, we enjoyed local food and $1 San Miguel beer, and while we were waiting for food, John took me to a local money changer to exchange some money. Our meals cost approximately $10US each.  

From the restaurant we creeped over to Rizal Park where Jose Rizal, founder of the modern Philippine nation who was falsely accused of treason and executed, was buried. Chinatown was our next stop and it was very, very crowded. It's the oldest Chinatown in Asia (outside of China). We took a walk around it and through narrow streets and past venders selling many types of produce and other items.

Fort Santiago and Intramuros was our next stop where we got to watch a video on the history of the Fort and see the cell where Jose Rizal was held before his execution. They even have replicas of his footsteps leading from his cell to his execution point. It was very chilling. Our last stops were at the Manila Cathedral and St. Augustine's both of which were having weddings. That made 3 weddings that we crashed today and unfortunately we couldn't go in the churches!

Back at the Port we said our goodbyes to John and made our way back onto the ship. We ended up watching the local band seranade us as the ship went through its final disembarkation procedures. There seemed to be a delay until a piece of luggage was delivered to the ship. With that accomplished, the gangway was stowed, the mooring lines released, and the Volendam slowly slipped sideways away from the dock, backed into the harbor, rotated 180ยบ clockwise, and sailed out of Manila Bay under the watchful eye of an accompanying fire boat.

We ate a very light dinner in the LIDO before watching Rikki Jay, a British comedian, at the 8pm Main Stage show. His show was clean and funny. Afterwards it was back to the room (or statecupboard as an earlier comedian called our staterooms), for a quiet time and a chance for me to update this blog. I should add that we lost our internet access this morning when my wife accidentally used all of our data by downloading a book from Amazon which triggered some further downloads until our data was used up. So we'll have to wait until Taiwan where a new data plan will kick in.

Tomorrow is another sea day, so I'm looking forward to several lectures and leading the Sunday interdenominational service. Stay tuned for details.   

Day 31 - Friday, March 16, 2018 - At Sea to Manila

Today was a wonderful day at sea. I hosted the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet which was the largest of the three I'm hosting on this 2 month voyage. In order to host this, I had to miss Master Kam's lecture on Fillipine history. We were invited to the Indonesian lunch at noon but passed on it because we're having dinner in the Pinnacle tonight and we didn't want two large meals. So for lunch all I had was 3 pieces of sushii.

After lunch I continued my read of a Tom Clancy spy/terrorist novel (Power & Empire) which I find quite captivating. It's mimicking all sorts of current events in this part of the world as well as others we've traveled in. It's really fun to imagine the fiction taking place in locations we're familiar with.

We had a mandatory Fillipine temperature check as part of the pre-clearance process and when I went through the line on deck 5, it stretched the length of the ship. Fortunately it went fast and I was able to read while walking in line. Yes, the book is that good!

Dinner tonight was a gala night, but we weren't interested in the Main Dining Room menu, so I booked us into the Pinnacle Grill where we had a lovely and relaxing dinner of ribeye steak and Alaskan King Crab which we shared which made it into a "surf & turf" meal. Afterwards we watched the movie, "Darkest Hour" about Winston Churchill. We'd seen it previously in a theatre, but it was nice to see it again to catch little nuances.

We're on a tour of Manila tomorrow with another Cruise Critic couple we met online. Stay tuned for what we see and discover. Manila is a new city for us and it really doesn't matter what we see as all of it will be new!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Day 29 - Wednesday, March 14, 2018 - Hong Kong Day 1

Early on Wednesday morning, well before we woke up, the Volendam reached its berth at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and the whir of the mooring line motors sort of woke us out of a drowsy sleep. Since we're continuing on for another 28 days we were in no hurry to get up and get going. Plus we had to change rooms. Since the LIDO closed for breakfast at 9:30am, my goal was to make it there before closing. And I made the goal after overseeing the transfer of our goods to the new room. We ate breakfast with Katie and Dennis and each of us shared our day's plans. It turned out that both of us couples were planning to take the MTR into Kowloon before departing on separate adventures.

It took 3 tries to get a room key card that would work, but the transfer of luggage went smoothly. While the new bed was made, the room still needed finishing touches of cleaning. But that was okay as we were planning to be gone for the entire day. We could always unpack later when we returned and that was what we did.

It's a really long walk to get off the ship at this terminal. Once we were through the non-existent immigration check, it was another long walk to the free shuttle that would take us to a shopping mall that was also the location for the Kwun Tong MTR subway station. I had changed some money at the ship's front desk which was enough to purchase MTR Octopus cards (be sure if you are over 65 to ask for the senior card, which is only $70HKG, We did add another $50 to each card. Any unused amount is refundable except for $9HK or a little over a dollar. Our ride clear across town only cost $2HKG or about $0.30US. The 4 of us successfully navigated our first rides on the Hong Kong MTR including a transfer. We felt like victors in a battle after having accomplished the ride.

We said our goodbyes to Dennis and Katie and pointed them to the waterfront while we headed the opposite direction to the Museum of Science. We visited it a couple times last year, and decided we wanted to visit it again. Since we're familiar with the street layout of Hong Kong, we walked the side streets and looked for pie since today was national Pi day (3.14). We enjoyed a bakery pie, a KFC custard pie, a bakery chicken pie, a McDonald's apple pie and after a visit to the Temple Street night market, an excellent seafood pizza at Pizza Hut.

At the Science museum, they had an excellent exhibition on graphene which a pair of Nobel prize winning scientists accidentally discovered using simple adhesive tape to remove one atom layer from graphite rock. Google it, it's a fascinating story. We did a quick tour of the museum and stopped to view the Energy Machine which is a four story high demonstration of energy using 9" balls on cleverly designed tracks.

We wandered our way to the Temple Street Night Market and purchased a few items including some inexpensive net travel vests and a few other items.

After our pizza dinner, we found our way to the Jordan street station, and we retraced our steps back to the shopping mall where the MTR station was located. And who did we run into? Dennis & Katie, plus another couple who didn't know their way back to the boat via the shuttle bus. We enjoyed sharing with each other about what we did during the day.

Back on board the ship, two different ladies stopped me for tour advice. I was beginning to feel like I had "Tour Guide" tattooed on my forehead. But maybe it was the "Dam Ships" hat I was wearing. We unpacked and went up to the LIDO for one last Pi treat: I had pizza and Angela had Pi kiche. Of course we chased it down with a chocolate chip cookie which was pie shaped.

And so our first day in Hong Kong ended well. I wonder what we'll do tomorrow. As in transit guests, we don't have to do the mandatory face to face immigration inspection so we can stay out until 4pm. The mandatory safety drill is at 4:15pm and we'll set sail shortly threreafter. Stay tuned for more of our adventures. We're not certain what we'll do. But I can assure you we will follow our guiding principle: Just show up.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Day 28 - Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - At Sea to Hong Kong

Today is the final day of this segment of the cruise And we're at the halfway point.  With the clocks being advanced by an hour, bedtime last night translated into a 1:30am occurrence. That, in turn, translated into sleeping in until 9:30am I just made it to my favorite fried egg station in time for my breakfast to be prepared. I ate with one of the tour participants from yesterday and we enjoyed lots of pleasant conversation.  

Since returning from the shore excursion yesterday, I received a number of very positive comments about the excursion which I was glad to hear since I wasn't able to be on the other boats.

Kristian Grey performed another excellent magic show at 11am in the main stage with lots of audience participation. He's truly a master at his craft. My wife and I certainly couldn't figure out how he did it. Following a LIDO lunch, Dr. Kam gave part 2 of his Hong Kong history (excellent), and afterwards I re-met a couple we had sailed on the Maasdam to Australia and circumnavigated the continent with. Jack and Jo were fun to reminisce with and share travel tips with. They're continuing on to Shanghai, so I'm sure we'll spend more time with them over the next two weeks.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Crow's Nest where the visibility was quite limited with the overcast and there was lots of ship traffic passing through the narrow Haikou straights. Even the Captain seemed concerned about the passage due to the number of vessels we might encounter and that the timing of the passage was designed to be done in daylight hours to afford greater visibility. It also afforded me the chance to catch up on my blog which is now ready to post when we get to Hong Kong.

There was only one Main Stage Show tonight, "Rock Legends" which was a rescheduled performance from a few days ago when the 'motion in the ocean' caused a postponement. We also completed the majority of our packing to be ready to vacate our room tomorrow. We move down one deck to 1949. Stay tuned.

Day 27 - Monday, March 12, 2018 - Halong Bay

Today was the day I've been waiting for the entire cruise so far. The preceding ports have been wonderful, but I've really anticipated seeing Halong Bay. As this was a tender port, I had arranged for our 50 person group to meet at 6:30am in the Ocean Bar. With 50 people to 'cat herd' I wanted to make sure all were present before 7am when tender tickets were issued. Everyone showed up on time and I assigned a person as the lead for the other two boats. 5 people didn't make it for sickness reasons, but they were still on the hook for the tour cost. When tour tickets became available, I procured the tender tickets and we were all put on the first tender except one person who forgot his Vietnam landing card and had to take a later tender.  

The dock at Halong is essentially a small barge that's run aground on a sloping landing. There is what seems to be a new cruise ship dock under construction. Once we were on the land, we waited a bit for our tour guides and finally Boat #3's guide showed up followed by #2, and finally my Boat #1 guide, Nguyen. With only about 15 persons per bus or junk, it was a nice size! It was about a 10 minute ride over to Phuong Tuan Chau Island and the departure terminal for our junk boat ride for the day.

The junk boats are converted fishing boats and look like they were built in the time of Noah. Each appeared to have a metal hull but the superstructure was built of what now seems to be very ancient wood. The engine is below deck in the stern and its noise was of no issue during the cruise. Throughout the day there was a lady trying to sell all manner of tourist items including jewelry, fans, purses, paintings, and tapestries. We were free to wander the junk except when docking when we needed to be in the main cabin.

Each group boarded their junk and soon we were off. Each junk had two levels: the main deck was enclosed with tables and chairs and restrooms. The upper deck was a viewing platform and was a lovely way to see the scenery. Throughout the day we only cruised at about 6 miles per hour, and none of the boats in Halong Bay created any significant wake. All the landings were accomplished by pushing headfirst into the docking area and we alighted off the squared off bow. There was an assortment of various sized boats ranging in size from 200-300 person tourist boats filled with Korean and Chinese tourists to little single person fishing vessels as well as high speed speedboats filled with Chinese tourists.

It was a hazy day and the islands looked like an Ansel Adams paintings with the ghostly shapes of the rocky sillouettes being quite scenic. All day we wandered throughout the islands stopping to climb the tower (400 plus steep steps!),visit the immense caverns, served an immense lunch with a choice of a soft drink, beer, or water, a pearl farm, and concluded with a hand rowed sampan ride through a limestone cave. To the delight of Asian tourists on other vessels, we sang choruses of 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat'. And all too soon it was time to head back to our port by sailing back through the magnificent rock formations.

We were whisked back to the port arriving around 4:30pm where my wife and I headed out to walk the Port and beach area. I found a barber and got a nice 100,000 dong or $5 haircut that was very nice. We wandered a bit further and decided to take a cable car ride at Sunworld (owned by the same owner VinPearl which we encountered at previous ports. It turned out to be a Guiness Book of World Records holder in two categories: tallest tower at 619 feet tall and two cable cars each carrying 230 persons on two levels in each car. The cars were pretty impressive. The route made its way over the harbor to a large ferris wheel and very active amusement park with some very pretty lighting. We didn't have enough time to ride the wheel, so we made our way back to ride the Gondola to the port side area which also has another very large amusement park including a twister styler roller coaster. The night views were spectacular as the nearby suspension bridge was well lit as was the Ferris wheel and cable car as well as the ships in the harbor.

On our walk back to the tender port, we used the majority of the last of our Vietnamese Dong currency to purchase a couple of Coke Zeros. It was important to spend it as it's not exchangeable on the ship. The current exchange rate is about 22,000 Dong per $1US. We boarded the next to the last tender and departed for the 10 minute ride to the Volendam at 7:10pm.

After dropping off our backpacks and coats, we had a light dinner in the LIDO before going to the 8pm Main Stage show which featured Craig Richard, saxophonist and piano player as well as a finalist on American Ninja Warrior. Afterwards we watched the 10pm showing of a Mel Gibson movie, "A Year of Living Dangerously", which was about a young Australian reporter trying to live in Jakarta during the political turmoil during the reign of Sukharto.

Upon returning to our room, we received the official paperwork informing us of our room change to 1949 plus our "in transit" cards for being able to get on and off of the ship in Hong Kong as we'll be there for two days. So we'll have to pack our loose items and vacate our room by 9am. We will be assisted by housekeeping staff to make the transition easier. We've had to do this before so we're familiar with the process. And the day ended with the only bummer: we had to set our clocks ahead by one hour so we would be on Hong Kong time.

Tomorrow is our final sea day of this segment of the voyage. Except for packing it should be a pretty low key day. Stay tuned.

Day 26 - Sunday, March 11, 2018 - At Sea to Halong Bay

Oh the joy of sea days. It provides a refreshing break from all day touring. Jeremy and Phil gave an interesting presention on Hong Kong and Dr. Kam gave oartvone of his history of Hong Kong. There was another session of 'Ask the Captain' which was once again lively and full of good questions from the passengers.

Once again I led the interdenominational service and we had a good time singing hymns, sharing Scripture, and praying for one another. Afterwards we enjoyed a Gala night dinner in the Main Dining Room followed by another presentation of 'Classique' by the cast. We've seen this one at least a dozen times, but I ended up missing the first 15 minutes as I needed to make reminder calls to the next day's tour participants. So we went back for the 10pm show! Yes, it's that good!

Tomorrow is scheduled to be a full day of touring Halong Bay. I have three groups totaling 50 people on this final tour I've organized. Stay tuned to see how this went.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Day 25 - Saturday, March 10, 2018 - Da Nang, Vietnam

I love it when a plan comes together! And did it ever do so today at our port stop in Da Nang.

The ship arrived before 7am and we scurried up to the Lido for a quick breakfast before meeting up with our little group of 8 in the Ocean Bar at 7:25am. Everyone was there early and that makes it so much easier for me as the organizer. We headed down to deck 1 where we disembarked and immediately spotted out guide, Nguyen (pronounced Win), or "Jimmy" as he suggested. We boarded our nice Ford 12-13 passenger van and and headed out to Hue which is supposedly a 2 hour drive from the port. Just outside the port area we stopped at a marble factory and saw how marble statues were carved. I was thinking, "Oh no, not another sales pitch and early in the morning." But they were low key and the pieces were gorgeous; I just wouldn't want to pay for shipping home.  

While there we could see Marble Mountain and a temple structure on the side with an elevator taking tourists up close to the temple. Fortunately we were back in the van and continuing on our way on Route H1A which headed to Hue (pronounced WAY). The road was crowed with scooters but not as many as previous cities. But they all still do the same dance of weaving in and out and somehow being able to turn left in front of big trucks or cars without crashing. We even passed a location where there was a class being given regarding the "new" traffic laws.

Fortunately we didn't have to climb the mountain pass as there is a relatively new tunnel through the mountain that costs around $2US. Once we reached Hue, we had to navigate crowded and narrow city streets. At one point we encountered an overpass that was too low and it took 20 minutes for the driver to figure out a workaround. And finally after 3 hours we reached what was to be our destination: Hue Eco Lodge. By this time I was a bit concerned that we wouldn't be able to get all that was planned in on what was supposed to be Hue Countryside Tour and Cooking Class. Fortunately all of the activities centered around this venue. First we donned aprons and were instructed how to make spring rolls. Each of us then had the opportunity to make a 1/2 dozen and those were deep fried and we ate them all on the spot! Next we made a taco like creation with a crepe filled with a shrimp, some pork carrots, onions, and a quail egg. The quail egg was difficult to crack and flipping the taco like creation was challenging and all enjoyed that. Last we watched the creation of a paste of pork, figs, and various spices. We all had the opportunity to slice the figs which had a mushroom like consistency.. That paste was served on dainty little potato chip sized seafood crackers. Once again, yummy! All throughout this process many pictures were taken, laughs shared, and a great time was had by all.  

We were then served a lunch, but we had to purchase our own drinks. For two Coke Lites and one local beer, it was 100,000 Vietnamese Dong or $5. Next on the agenda was a bicycle ride through the local villages. This was a hoot as most of us had not been on bicycles in quite a while. The first one they gave me had a flat front tire and the second one had a seat that wouldn't adjust. But the third time was the charm. And off 7 of the 8 of us went. The eighth person rode on the back of a motorcycle as he was a large fellow who didn't fit the bikes. We stopped at a picture painting studio and watch an artist masterfully and quickly create pictures. Many of us elected to purchase a picture as they were so pretty. And they cost a whopping $4US. All of us gave $5. After riding back to the Eco Lodge, giving kids 'High Fives" as we rode by them, we were treated to neck and foot massages. Again this was wonderful. I've never had a massage, but I really liked it. With the small group of eight, we all soaked our feet in warm water with special leaves while receiving a head and neck massage until it was our turn for the foot massage.

We gathered for one last group picture at the Eco Lodge before boarding a Dragon Boat for a short sail down the river. There were a number of local craft items for sale and some took advantage of the opportunity to shop. Others of us enjoyed the scenery especially the dredging operation which yielded sand for building contruction.

At the end of our journey on the river, we landed at a Pagoda shrine and reboarded our bus for the trip back to the ship which only took about 2 hours including a bio-break along the way. The universal sentiment was that this was one of if not the best shore excursions we had been on this trip. There was something about the hands on teaching process combined with the bicycle ride, the meal, the painting experience, and the boat ride that just made it special. Yes, the plan came together! 

Back at the harbor, there was a Windstar ship moored next to us. It was considerably smaller.

On board the ship, it was Taste of Asia night in the Lido, and they pulled out all of the stops. There were all kinds of cooked Asian dishes, sliced fuits, coconuts with the milk inside, and more. It was terrific. There was also a local Vietnamese dance troupe from Hue who performed two shows: 7 and 9pm. We attended the 9pm show and it was wonderful.

Tomorrow is a sea day as we make our way to our last port of call in Vietnam: Halong Bay. There are some good things on the agenda, and I'll be leading the Interdenominational Sunday service at 5pm.
Stay tuned for details about our sea day.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Day 23 - Thursday, March 8, 2018 - Nha Trang, Vietnam

It was nice to have sort of a sea day today. We were scheduled to arrive around noon into Nha Trang, so we didn't have get up early. After a late breakfast we enjoyed a BBC Earth Trivia Game and we played with a travel agent from the Netherlands that we sailed with last year on the Volendam and on the the Inaugural sailing of the Koningsdam.

After the game show, we were invited to go out on the bow of the ship to watch the sail in. It was warm and sunny and we sailed under the cable car that serves the Vin Pearl amusement park. They shut off the cable car as there is little clearance for the Volendam to sail under it.

In this port, we had a short walk off the pier and into the port side area to reach our van and guide. The van was a high top Ford van in very nice condition and the tour company was Pham Tours. Our guide's name was An and he was excellent and eager to share any info we had questions about.

This port area was bustling with all sorts of commercial activity, and once again there were thousands of scooters darting here and there. We visited a very old (8th Century) temple (PO Nagar Cham Towers). We made our way to the river and through a boat yard and sailed up the river to a "rustic" dock which was part of single lane bridge crossing the river. That bridge would certainly be a thrilling ride on a scooter and apparently it is rebuilt / replaced every year because it's so rickety.

We visited a noodle making business, an orphanage run by Buddhist nuns (the kids were adorable and full of energy), a mat weaving business, a rice paper business (actually a food), a traditional hat making business, a nice dinner on the river at a business owned by the tour operator, and the large white standing Buddha at the Long Son Pagoda. We ended the tour in town at an embroidery workshop that produces amazing embroidered pictures. They are a trifle expensive for the larger ones. In this last area we saw lots of evidence of Chinese and Russian tourist activity.  

Back at the ship in the dark (we don't leave until 11pm), we took some nice night pictures of the aerial tram that serves the Vin Pearl amusement park. By the way, one can't just buy a round trip ticket on the tram, the entrance fee to the amusement park is included in the fee which is around $42US.

Back on the ship, we enjoyed some ice cream and then enjoyed what was probably the best magic show we've ever seen on a HAL ship. Kristian Grey was the artist and he's really good.  

Tomorrow is a sea day before we reach Da Nang. It should be a low key day, but you'll have to stay tuned to find out if it was.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Day 22 - Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - Phu My, Vietnam

Phu My is the gateway port to Ho Chi Minh City of which Saigon is a part of. The city is divided into districts and when our guide would say we're going into District #5 or 1 or 3, I'd have a flash back to the movie, Hunger Games, which involves the use of districts.

Our tour today, which I didn't organize, met our guide, Nguyen Tri Dung (www.saigonprivatetour.com) and our shuttle bus just outside the port gate around 7:30am. And I should add that our entry card was stamped by Vietnam officials dressed in green military styled garb who were waiting for us just before the gangway. No words were exchanged and they weren't really smiling.

It was about a 90 minute drive to the city from the port. The port we are docked at is an industrial port with container cargo handling facilities as well as several scrap steel processing buildings. There was also a flour mill. There's literally nothing of tourist interest for miles from the port. Some form of transportation would be needed just to get to basic shopping.

Most of the route into the city was on an expressway (toll road and it seemed that our driver didn't know how to maintain a speed consistent with the traffic flow, so we were constantly being passed.

As one approaches the city, the first thing that impressed me was how clean it was compared to Cambodia, Thailand, or Indonesia. The second thing was the sheer quantity of scooters and small motorcycles, All of them seem to be doing a dance that they've learned from childhood. Lanes are just a suggestion. It's not uncommon to see left turns from the right lane AND passing through another direction of traffic like threads being woven into a tapestry. Traffic doesn't flow especially fast, but it does keep moving.  

Our first stop was at the Rex Hotel for coffee (my wife and I had Coke Lites as we don't like the taste of coffee. The Rex hotel was the site used during the Vietnam war from which the daily casualty counts were broadcast and many of the war correspondents stayed there.  

Without going through a blow by blow narrative of all of the stops, we visited the principal sites: Unification Palace, City Hall, War Remnants Museum (definitely presented from the North Vietnamese perspective and lots of captures US war materiel was on prominent display), the Heavenly Lady Temple in Chinatown, a lacquerware factory, Notre Dam Cathedral (interior was closed for renovations), lunch at the Pho 2000 (former President Clinton ate there in 2000 when visiting the country and our guide gave Chelsea and her protective detail a city tour), a major market which was one of the cleanest we've ever visited with two kinds of vendors: fixed price government vendors, and negotiable independent vendors), General Westmoreland's villa, and a few embassy's. The famous American embassy featured in the helicopter evacuations at the end of the American involvement was razed a number of years ago. We could only see the compound wall.

Our guide really liked to take a lot of photos of the group or couples at various locations and those he posted on Facebook throughout the day. All too soon it was time to head back to the ship where we were let off the bus at the port gate around 4:45pm for a 5:30pm all aboard time. It was a wonderful 8 hour tour for $36 per person!  

Some might be thinking, how do the Vietnamese accept Americans. The average age of Vietnamese is about 31 years and the war ended some 42 years ago, so there's not much memory of it. Sure the War Remnants Museum paints a pretty one-sided view of the war, but my opinion is that their graphic presentation on the effects of Agent Orange was totally appropriate. It's nasty stuff and our veterans are even suffering the bad side effects of it.  

For a socialist country, capitalism seems to be thriving. There seems to be a pride of ownership in the way that things are kept clean in comparison to what I saw in other countries. That's the end of my soapbox comments.

We had to walk about a quarter mile to the ship where there was a welcoming committee along with the Welcome Back to the Volendam. I don't recall ever seeing that in any port on any other cruise. It might have had something to do with the number of guests who did overnight trips to other locations and were rejoining the ship.

Back on board (no excitement there today!), the Captain announced that the people we left behind a few days ago had rejoined the ship. They had wanted to do some private touring, but didn't let the ship's representatives know. While eating dinner in the LIDO, the lines were cast off, and the Volendam backed away from the pier and swung the stern around clockwise so that we could sail down the river and out to sea in the dark. A couple of tugs guarded the busy river waterway which the Volendam executed its turnaround maneuver.

Since the evening entertainment was Frozen Planet Live, we opted to watch the movie, Victoria and Abdul, which we had previously seen in the theatre back home. It was good to see it again and pick up on more of the nuances.

Tomorrow we have a projected noon arrival in Nah Trang and a countryside tour planned (again not organized by me). For the adventures that await, you'll have to stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Day 21 - Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - At Sea to Phu My, Vietnam

We enjoyed a lazy day at sea which are some of my favorites. The seas were calm and its color was a stunning green. The ship's bow cut a pronounced wake that fanned out in a vee shape for at least a mile behind us. Never in our years of cruising have I seen such a sight. It was very pretty.

On board we had a port lecture by Jeremy and Phil that was very informative about our next two ports of call. Dr. Kam gave a lecture on the history of Cambodia which was quite good. At the beginning of his lecture he requested that no photos or videos be taken. A fellow in the front row started taking pictures of every slide before Dr. Kam stopped his lecture and respectfully requested that the fellow stop taking pictures. Fortunately he responded.

Our afternoon was filled with a mile walk on the promenade, a Battle of the Sexes game show, some reading and listening to live classical music, and a presentation by Phil on coffee in Vietnam.

It was Gala night with Alaskan Crab as a highlight dish. One couple at our table will be on one of the excursions I'm leading at Halong Bay and they are also motorcycle riders. We had an invitation to another Officer's Reception, but passed to see the movie 'The mountain Between Us' which was filmed in Canada. We finished up the night watching the 10pm cast show of Dance on the Main Stage for the second time this cruise before retiring. 7am is our departure time tomorrow for our visit to Saigon, Vietnam. Stay tuned for what will likely be more adventure.

Day 20 - Monday, March 5, 2018 - Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Some of the best days in life involve a little adventure, and even better is when that adventure comes about unexpectedly. But I get ahead of my account of our day in Cambodia.

It was scheduled to be an 8am arrival and my group arrived on time at the Ocean Bar. But we were joined by a large HAL group that was doing an overnight trip to Angkar Wat. So we headed down to the gangway before any announcement of being able to disembark the ship was made. When we reached Deck 1, we were motioned to go off the ship. Easy peasy. The HAL buses were lined up on the dock so we walked the length and our guide was waiting for us along with our bus for the day. We were a group of 10 in a 15 to 20 person van.  

As we left the port area, the first thing that impressed everyone was the sheer quantity of garbage littering the streets and ditches and waterways. It was so sad to see. The second observation was that the roads were in fair to poor condition. Like Indonesia and Thailand, there were lots of scooters and motorcycles darting in and around the bus. Near the port area on a hilltop was our only temple stop of the day at Wat Leu and it was much like many of the Hindu temples we saw in Indonesia (Bali particularly). This one also had a monkey colony and they definitely scampered up to us in search of food handouts. As well there were women with small children who were looking for a handout.

From the temple we made our way down the main highway (potholes and all) and past the small airport when suddenly the driver pulled over just short of a bridge. We hopped out and walked through a sort of small village down to the water and boarded a long boat. It turned out that we were going to be taking a long ride down the river through the National Park. The river was absolutely muddy with mangrove type banks and there were numbers of fishnets and traps and some fisherman plying their craft. About 2/3 of the way through the voyage, we suddenly crossed the river and pulled up to a rickety looking dock. The dock deck was covered with former boat deck wood and partially round slabs. One really had to be careful in walking this deck as there were gaps from time to time. But that made it part of the adventure. At the end of this dock was a tower about 150 feet tall that looked much like a Western USA or Canada fire tower. The four corner columns were made of concrete and on top was a shaded viewing platform. To get to that platform, one had to navigate a series of stairs of about 10 steps each made of what I'll call "vintage" wood. The steps were pretty easy to navigate, but only one person could be on a section at a time! The views were spectacular over the river and swamp area, but we saw no animals or birds from the platform.  

After our brief visit there, we retraced our steps down the dock and reboarded our little boat. The engine man coiled his starter rope around the starting pulley on the front of the motor, gave it a pull, and the little engine came to life. The front deck hand with only one arm, pushed off the boat and the engine man lowered the propellor into the water, pulled on his throttle string, and off downriver we went.

At a little dock we disembarked the boat and passed by shrimp being dryed on the dock and walked past what in their culture would be considered a "cafe". We reboarded our bus and headed off a red clay dirt road in search of our next destination which was to be the Kbal Chhay Waterfalls. This collection of waterfalls was at the headwaters of the river we had just sailed on. It was at the end probably a 10km or 6 mile gravel road off of the main road. About 1/3 the way up the road we noticed a large dump truck positioned at an angle backwards off the left side of this rough two lane road. It was totally sunk in the mud, but we didn't think much more of it as we had the expectation of seeing a waterfall.

After passing the water treatment plant, at the end of the road is a little village which has little vendors selling various food items and renting out 10'x10' covered platforms that people rent for $10 per day and hold picnics there. Numerous vendors pressed us to purchase flowers and other small items. After a short walk, the waterfalls were actually quite pretty, and people were enjoying the water, although it seemed a bit dirty to me. On the walk back we purchased some deep fried bananas that were extremely yummy.  

On board the bus, we headed back down this rough road; and when we reached the point where the dump truck was in the ditch, however there was now a huge crane positioned in the roadway blocking all but motorbike traffic. After waiting in the bus a bit, I asked the driver if I could get out and take closer pictures and watch the recovery process. He said it was okay so I got out and walked up to the scene where the recovery crew were positioning cables around the truck. Keep in mind that 4 or 5 electrical cables were between the crane and the truck and the crane operator had extended the boom over the wires and the plan appeared to be to lift the 24 ton truck over the electrical wire and place it back upon the road. We watched this process for about 45 minutes to an hour. I went to our guide and asked if his company could send another van to the other side of the incident, but his response was that his driver would probably not permit that. I told our guide that I estimated that it would likely be a couple more hours before the road might (the operative word is might) get cleared. I'll also add that we learned this road was heavily mined and supposedly all the mines were cleared back in 1993 or 1994. That was comforting news. . . Right?

Suddenly a man on a little black Honda scooter rode up to the guide and explained that there was a back road we might be able to take get around this incident. So, we all reboarded the bus and the driver turned it around and headed for that road which turned out to be one I saw earlier, but had no idea where it went. A car turned into the detour road ahead of us and shortly about 8 people bailed out of that car to give it more ground clearance and eventually our driver passed the the car. I should add that the road was the type of road that I routinely ride my dual sport motorcycle on. It was really not a piece of cake to drive in a car, but our bus had lots ground clearance and low gearing.

Eventually we got out to the main road past some little villages, and turned left on the left shoulder (they drive on the right in Cambodia unlike other SE Asian countries) and the driver accelerated to 20-30mph with traffic coming towards us on the shoulder. When a gap appeared, we made our way to the right hand paved lane. Whew, we dodged another bullet.

We then made our way to a nice but rustic beachside cafe where we had the opportunity to enjoy some Khmer food. Both my wife and I chose seafood and vegetable dishes and they were yummy. Angkor beer was $1 per mug on draft and it was very good on such a hot day.

Let me make one further comment on the garbage. Our guide indicated that the previous garbage collector did a fine job, but that the current collector is not adequate. The sheer quantity of the rubbish everywhere was staggering.

Also the Chinese are building extensively here (like they are in the rest of the world). And generally they don't use local labor.

After our lunch we made our way to the local downtown market which was pretty large and had all manner of goods for sale. A visit to a local fishing village was next and it was cool to see some pretty large and very old lathes. There was also a timber framed ship under construction and it was really interesting to see the construction method. They were drilling holes and countersink bolting the exterior planks to the ribs. Those countersunk bolt holes were then filled with a wooden plug and further sealed with a plaster sealer. For a mere $25kUS it could be yours!

The Volendam was within sight distance so the trip back was quick and we said our goodbyes to our guide and reboarded the ship around 4:30pm.

As we reboarded the ship there was more adventure when Angela was flagged by security and told to wait at the entrance and there was a message from the front office. After a few minutes wait, a security person said they would call us in our stateroom. But rather than wait for message, we went directly to the front office and were told that Angela's passport had no blank pages and the officials had to affix a full page sticker over one of her pages that had immigration stamps over 5 years old. Since we got off the ship before the immigration officials processed passports, they were unable to get her permission, so they just went ahead and did it which was fine with us. So it looks like we will need to renew our passports before our next trip so we have enough blank pages. That will be 18 months before they officially expire. I'd say we've done a bit of traveling!

After that little bit of excitement, we enjoyed a light fruit based dinner before going to the evening Main Stage entertainment which was Rikki Jay. He basically did the same show as we previously saw. Unfortunately the Filipino crew show was at 11pm; but fortunately tomorrow is a sea day before we start 4 ports in a row in Vietnam. Hopefully our sea day will not be quite as adventuresome as today was. But you'll have to stay tuned to learn if it was.