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.