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John and Diane's Amazing Adventure - Part III


Johnny B

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Hi,

 

We are due to stopin Komodo next year. We are arranging our own walk with a guide. We have heard that you can do it on your own with a registred guide with a letter from them.

It was allowed when my Volendam cruise stopped there last year.

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Diane and John,

 

So glad you were able to fulful a lifelong wish. It is always exciting to see something that you never thought you would ever get to see in your lifetime. I hope seeing them was not a disappointment and I hope you got some great photos.

 

Jennie

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Very, very fascinating! I'm going to google the "Komodo dragon" and see if there's a photo!

 

Hi Sheila,

 

Have a look at our video of the Island when we visited on the Volendam...you will see them close up & drooling (around 2 mins into the video)

 

Here is the link, Enjoy

Noel

 

SE Asia Volendam Cruise 2009 - Video Highlights

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I truly enjoy your amazing stories of your world cruise, even if I only got to read them recently. You're very good in telling so much about your incredible journey, especially the Aussie part (I live in Sydney, so particularly interested). Keep it up please.

But i have a question if you don't mind? Why are you saying that you don't normally do HAL tours? I really like to know as we are doing a Mediterranean cruise on the Noordam in June. Can you help please?

 

Enjoy the next weeks of your cruise.

Regards

Ineke (inekee):(

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March 6 – Day 60

Lembar, Lombok, Indonesia

 

This morning did NOT begin well. As this is a tender port, we can’t just walk down the gangplank and take off. The rule is that ship’s tours go on the tenders first, and then four and five-star mariners, followed by others who are given tender numbers. The problems began this morning when 4 and 5-star people (200 days or more) began to assemble on “A” Deck, from which the tenders depart. The area became more and more crowded, and tempers got hotter and hotter, until there was shouting and at least one passenger grabbed hold of Cristal, the Passenger Relations Manger, and said she wouldn’t let go until Cristal did something.

 

We just don’t get it. These are supposedly civilized adults, and we do expect a certain level of civility, but sometimes some of them act like spoiled third-graders who have been refused a treat. It comes across as “I’m important because I’m a four-star mariner, and you’d better treat me better and why in the world do these tour people get to go first?”

 

Our response was to head up to the Exploration Lounge and order a couple of cappuccinos and then go to the Promenade on Deck 3 to watch the tenders going back and forth. About 45 minutes later, we headed back down to “A” Deck and were able to jump right on a tender and head to the island. All it took was a little patience.

 

Shuttle buses were provided to take interested passengers (like us) on the 40-minute drive to Mataram and drop us at an Indonesian mall. The drive itself was fascinating. There were stands with fruit we’d never seen piled in neat pyramids, and we passed thousands of acres of rice paddies, interspersed with banana trees, palms, all kinds of tropical plants, little houses, dozens of mosques, and the occasional water buffalo. Somehow, I think that when most of us think of mosques, deserts and sand come to mind, but here we’re in the middle of a beautiful rain forest as a setting. There were also several Hindu temples, as Lombok Island is home to Hindus as well as Muslims. In fact, Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world, and the country also has a reputation as a peaceful and tolerant place (not including a few crazies from time to time).

 

We also passed several schools, and saw uniformed children headed there. Elementary students have red and white uniforms, junior high navy blue and white, and high school students wear green. Many of the teenage girls wear headscarves, but there is a significant number who don’t.

 

The main mode of transportation on Lombok is the motor scooter, as in Viet Nam, and we saw hundreds of them on the way into town. They compete with cars, trucks, buses and horse-drawn carts, and we’re surprised that we didn’t see any accidents.

 

The Island of Lombok is separated from Bali only by a strait, and was originally ruled by dynastic Hindus from Bali. Then it became a Dutch colony called The Netherlands East Indies in 1894, and eventually became part of the independent nation of Indonesia.

 

As we got off the bus and headed for the mall, we were greeted by a McDonald’s next to its front door. Their free computers and free internet attracted several of the passengers, but we headed inside the mall to see a different look at Indonesian culture than was shown on today’s tours. It was a four-story mall, opening onto an interior courtyard, and contained stores from clothing to home appliances to computers to toys and children’s clothes. Our favorite find, however, was the grocery store, where we found a huge fruit section, which again had fruit we’d never seen, as well as some beautiful papayas and bananas. The meat department was interesting in that it sold beef and chicken, but no pork, apparently in deference to Muslim dietary beliefs. Our favorite part, however, was finding the 75 cent Diet Cokes and the chips. I don’t think we’ve ever bought this many chips ashore on a previous cruise, but this time we’re guilty. Today was barbecue potato chips and cheese-flavored corn chips. Bad!

 

For a while, we left the mall and just walked around the area, looking into the open-fronted stores in the surrounding neighborhood. There were clothing stores, a motorcycle shop, and several more, all open to the street to do business. The driving here is on the other side, so we didn’t know who was going to hit us, but we did try to avoid that outcome. After we returned to the mall, we found a little restaurant called “The City Club Café” tucked away in the back. The beef and chicken sate, rice and cold beer were excellent, especially when the check was $11.00. Our last stop was the grocery store, where the aforementioned junk food filled our cart, and then it was time to walk across the street, through the 90-degree heat and 95% humidity to the blessedly air-conditioned shuttle bus, which dropped us off at the tender.

 

That began the last part of our shore time, and the temporary market there provided us with one tee-shirt, one table runner, and a pair of pearl and silver earrings to go with yesterday’s pearls. All told, today’s expenditures totaled $30.00, which we had taken out of the ATM at the mall. If you want an inexpensive place to retire, this would be it.

 

As we waited on the aft deck for the last tenders to arrive and be pulled up, we noticed four or five light outrigger canoes which were being kept away from the ship by a police boat for security purposes. Then, as the ship prepared to sail, we looked around at the beauty that is Indonesia’s 17,000 islands and decided that sometime we need to come back for a week or two to enjoy it even more.

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Thanks as always for your fascinating stories of your wonderful World Cruise as it passes through fascinating Indonesia.

 

As for the passenger who grabbed Cristal, I think that they should have indeed gotten their wish and be disembarked on the very next tender. Then, later in the day, they could come back to the pier and get their passport and baggage, expertly packed by their steward. They could then wave from the pier as the Amsterdam sailed away! That would be the last time anybody tried that caper.

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March 7 – Day 61

At Sea en route to Hong Kong

 

Inikee asked an interesting question: Why don’t we usually take HAL shore excursions? There are actually several answers. It isn’t all one thing or another.

 

First, a bus excursion takes forever. It usually takes 15 minutes to get everyone on the bus and then 15 minutes to get everyone off the bus. Sometimes getting people from one place to another off the bus is like herding cats; they each want to spend more time at something, but everyone’s “something” is different from everyone else’s.

 

In addition, since we are such travel and history buffs, we want to hear the guide’s every word, and I can guarantee you that someone on the bus will think his/her discussion about how much money can be saved by buying Chanel in Hong Kong is far more important than what “that boring old guide” (an actual quote) has to say.

 

Also, when you sign onto a tour, you are going to go exactly where the tour is scheduled to go, whether you like it or not. We really like the freedom to choose out-of-the-way places and skip places with 8 tour buses in the parking lot. We like to speak to our guide and ask for suggestions for places that we might find interesting.

 

Finally, of course, is expense. We know people who pay almost as much for an HAL shore excursion in every port as they do for the entire cruise. As retired teachers, that’s just not going to happen, even if it weren’t for the reasons already mentioned. Here are just two examples. Yesterday, three of our friends and tablemates decided they wanted to get a taxi for a tour of Lombok. There are always taxis waiting at the dock or the tender pier, so finding one isn’t a problem. They ended up booking a mini-van with driver and guide (who spoke very good English) and spent six hours touring the island for $10.00 each. At the end they each put in an extra $5.00, so the entire day cost $45.00, including admissions. On the other hand, there is a really lovely lady on board who literally has unlimited funds at her disposal as the second wealthiest woman in her European country. She booked a car and driver through the HAL Shore Excursions office driver, and spent $849 for four hours for her party of 3. No, I’m NOT kidding, and the decimals are in the correct places. This was actually one of the less expensive HAL private cars hire places. In Sydney, a private car for a maximum of 5 people is $1899 for 8 hours. Ouch!

 

Our favorite story, however (which John is no doubt really tired of hearing) is our overland tour to India in 2008. I emailed the India tourist office in New York, which recommended three tour companies in New Delhi. We chose one and booked a 5-day overland tour, beginning in Chennai (Madras), flying to New Delhi, being provided with a car and driver for the duration, had private guides in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, stayed in Oberoi hotels (the best in the world), and then flew to Mumbai (Bombay) to rejoin the ship. All of this cost us $1700 each. The HAL tour was exactly the same: same route, same hotels, same tours (on a bus) and cost $5600. Of course ours only provided breakfast and theirs included three meals a day, but we could eat some really great meals for $3900.

 

So there you have it. You do have to have a bit of an adventurous spirit to do it our way, and we do book a tour here and there, but we feel that we get a lot more out of our tours than any other alternative. We also have found that booking overland tours through a company IN the country provides better service (due to knowing the area better) and costs less, because they get “local” discounts on the hotels and tours. On our India tour, we found out that our Oberoi hotel rooms (one of which had a peacock on the top of our garden wall each morning) cost $700 a night, a price we would never pay for a hotel, but since our Indian agent booked it, we know they paid a whole lot less.

 

We’re taking three independent overland tours on this cruise. The first, just an overnight in Colonia, required a phone call to book the hotel (with my broken Spanish and her broken English) and then taking a boat to Colonia and a bus the next morning to rejoin the ship in Montevideo. Our second was in Australia, when we flew to Cairns to spend 3 days there. We had to book air (on Virgin Australia) and a hotel in Cairns, and then once there, we went to the city tourist office and booked our tours. Our next overland is coming up in just a few days. On our second day in Hong Kong, we’ll fly to Bangkok to begin a 10-day, 9-night overland, including three days in Bangkok, three days in Chiang Mai, and three days in Phuket. This tour was booked through a Swiss company which has an office in Bangkok and, again, the tours are in private cars with a driver and guide and staying at top hotels for a very reasonable price.

 

The ship’s bottom line (or threat) is that if a ship tour is late, the ship will wait, but if you are independently late, you may be left behind. That does require careful planning, and the independent SCUBA diving tour yesterday had to have Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to get back on time, but I’m not aware of anyone ever having been left behind.

 

You really have to do what you’re comfortable with, and that’s what we do. It might be a little intimidating at times, but it’s a great experience.

 

Having dealt with that at great length, I just have to tell you about last night’s show. The comedian/singer’s name was Siobhan (pronounced Sha-vann) Phillips, an Irish woman who is the funniest person I have seen in as long as I can remember. We just laughed and laughed and laughed until there were tears in my eyes. Her rendition of a Cher song was spot on. She’ll be performing again the night before Hong Kong, and we can hardly wait.

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Great post. Interesting, informative and sensible. Thanks again for sharing your remarkable adventure with us. Every post is fascinating and great fun to read.

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Dianne and John,

 

Thanks again for your posts. We too always take independent tours when cruising and we also use the Travel Agencies in the countries we are visiting. We have never had any trouble on any of our tours, never missed the ship or even come close to missing the ship and have always had good value and saved hundreds of dollars overall.

 

When we first started cruising we used to use ship's excursions but once we found that we were waiting around for someone who was still shopping or had got lost, then we decided to go our own way. Cruise Critic is invaluable for recommendations of guides in their Port Section.

 

Jennie

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Johnny B I love your posts and live vicariously with you

 

Please could you let me have the name of your Indian tour company some time as, although I normally DIY all our travels I do not feel happy with the thought of my little knowledge of India.

 

Thanks again for your interesting posts.

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Hi John and Diane, Thank you so very much for your reply. We really appreciate the information and it all makes a lot of sense. We will certainly keep it in mind when we cruise in June this year. We are doing the Rome to Rome 20-day cruise and we are looking forward to it immensely. It's the first HAL cruise for us, having cruised with Carnival before in the Carribean some 13 years ago. By the way, my husband is also a retired teacher.

Enjoy the next part of your cruise. I'll read about it later.

Regards

Ineke Esveld

:)

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March 8 – Day 62

At Sea (We crossed the equator at 8:12 AM)

 

It’s “Kiss the Fish” day. If you’ve sailed across the equator (at least in warm waters), you’ve seen this ceremony. It’s ruled over by King Neptune (and his mermaid companion – at least on HAL) and various “pollywogs” are tried and punished for not having crossed the equator before. The ceremony is either at the aft pool or, like today, at the midship Lido pool.

 

The judge, at least since we began doing this in 2008, has been Bruce, the Cruise Director. The jury is made up of the ship’s senior officers: the Captain, First Officer, Hotel Manager, Chief Engineer, and Environmental Officer. King Neptune and the mermaid(s) vary, but the funniest was in 2008 when Craig, a tall, skinny member of the cruise staff, was dressed in the green sequins characteristic of the ship’s mermaid.

 

Several fairly new crew members are brought in and tried in groups. I guess passengers used to be used for this purpose, but the age of liability and lawsuits has taken over, so now it’s just crew members. The charges are pretty funny. One deck steward was accused of being so conscientious that he polished men’s bald heads as they slept by the pool. Bruce said that when Donna, the librarian, was asked by a passenger for something to read with adventure, romance, suspense and humor, she had recommended Cruise Critic. And then he said, “I’m sure this will be on Cruise Critic today! (and he’s right).

 

Once charges are read, the accused must “kiss the fish,” a real one of a massive size, and then “go to the hospital,” where “nurses” treat them on tables by applying generous amounts of pastel-colored goo, which seems to be mostly meringue. (I understand that in “the old days” they used fish guts.) Then the officers give “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” If up, they simply go to the side of the pool to sit. If it’s down, they go “into the drink,” which seems to be the best choice with all that goop on them.

 

Today’s ceremony was conducted with the roof wide open, but dark clouds threatened the whole time. The rain held off, but as soon as it was concluded, the drops began to fall and the roof was closed. We’ve done it before, but it’s always fun.

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March 8 – Day 62

At Sea (We crossed the equator at 8:12 AM)

 

It’s “Kiss the Fish” day. If you’ve sailed across the equator (at least in warm waters), you’ve seen this ceremony. It’s ruled over by King Neptune (and his mermaid companion – at least on HAL) and various “pollywogs” are tried and punished for not having crossed the equator before. The ceremony is either at the aft pool or, like today, at the midship Lido pool.

 

The judge, at least since we began doing this in 2008, has been Bruce, the Cruise Director. The jury is made up of the ship’s senior officers: the Captain, First Officer, Hotel Manager, Chief Engineer, and Environmental Officer. King Neptune and the mermaid(s) vary, but the funniest was in 2008 when Craig, a tall, skinny member of the cruise staff, was dressed in the green sequins characteristic of the ship’s mermaid.

 

Several fairly new crew members are brought in and tried in groups. I guess passengers used to be used for this purpose, but the age of liability and lawsuits has taken over, so now it’s just crew members. The charges are pretty funny. One deck steward was accused of being so conscientious that he polished men’s bald heads as they slept by the pool. Bruce said that when Donna, the librarian, was asked by a passenger for something to read with adventure, romance, suspense and humor, she had recommended Cruise Critic. And then he said, “I’m sure this will be on Cruise Critic today! (and he’s right).

 

Once charges are read, the accused must “kiss the fish,” a real one of a massive size, and then “go to the hospital,” where “nurses” treat them on tables by applying generous amounts of pastel-colored goo, which seems to be mostly meringue. (I understand that in “the old days” they used fish guts.) Then the officers give “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” If up, they simply go to the side of the pool to sit. If it’s down, they go “into the drink,” which seems to be the best choice with all that goop on them.

 

Today’s ceremony was conducted with the roof wide open, but dark clouds threatened the whole time. The rain held off, but as soon as it was concluded, the drops began to fall and the roof was closed. We’ve done it before, but it’s always fun.

 

We have this also on Princess but they do use the passengers as well as some of the staff. Although we had crossed several times we were asked to join in last cruise and they gave us tee shirts to replace our own ones over a swim costume. They smothered us in green and orange jelly and the colour would not come out of our feet for days, then hosed us off with cold water. Orange feet look quite peculiar but thankfully it was just the soles of our feet. The passengers who did not have free laundry never got their tee shirts clean but - being elite and having free laundry we have pristine white tee shirts.

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March 10 – Day

At Sea (one day before Hong Kong)

 

One of the highlights of a world cruise are the crew shows. Each time we’ve been on one of these wonderful voyages, there have been a Filipino Show and an Indonesian Show. Last night was the Indonesian Show, and it was spectacular, with Balinese dancing, singing, skits, and an orchestra of Indonesian instruments called bamboo angklung, wooden instruments which are shaken. Each instrument has a different tone, so with a director pointing at the numbers of the instruments, a song is played. First the orchestra played one song, and then volunteers were asked to come up – I was among them – and we played “My Way,” the old Frank Sinatra favorite.

 

The nicest thing about the crew shows is that every seat in the Queen’s Lounge is filled, with standing room only in the back. It’s wonderful to see our dining room stewards, room stewards, or other people we know from around the ship in a different role. Yuli and Francesca, who work in the Lido, were in the orchestra, and it was fun to join in with them for a song. I think it shows a great deal about the relationships established between cruisers and crew that passengers wouldn’t think of missing these shows.

 

Before the show, it was Indonesian night in the dining room, with choices like nasi goreng, spicy chicken soup, and sate. It was delicious, and the Indonesian decorations were beautiful.

 

It’s been a quiet day around the ship, with people anxious to get to Hong Kong. We have noticed a change in the weather and in the seas. Whereas it has seemed as if we were sailing on a lake since Cairns, today it actually got a little choppy, and rain is forecast for Hong Kong. Our Australian friends are worried about the rain back home, since many parts of Oz have received a year’s worth of rain in two months.

 

We took our friend Martha to lunch in the Pinnacle today, because we’re taking off for Thailand on Monday and she disembarks from Singapore to head back to Boston. The relationships established on the ship are really very special, and it’s hard to say goodbye, whether in the middle of the cruise or on April 28. Anthony, our wine steward, is also disembarking in Singapore, and we’ll miss his friendliness and smooth singing voice, which reminds us of Frank Sinatra or Elvis. Two years ago, we had three goodbyes: one in Vancouver, one in Seattle, and ours in Los Angeles. It was really strange, and I much prefer it when we all get off together.

 

Tonight we’ll have guest chef George Geary and Neal at dinner for the last time, since they leave tomorrow morning to fly back to Los Angeles. They are great fun, George is a wonderful chef, and we have loved having them sitting with us for their two weeks on the cruise.

 

P. S. In answer to a question, our agency in India was Voyageurs India. Their website was voyageursindia.com, and our contact was with Ajay, whose email is ajay@voyageursindia.com. Hope this helps.

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Back on my armchair. Sounds like you had a marvellous time in Australia and again Wow. So interesting all those places and I also really like your writing style.

 

As a Dutchie do they have Babi Pangang at these Indonesion dinners? This is a kind of roasted pork dish. The small pieces of pork have a piece of fat with crackle on the end and is usually served with a red sauce.

DH could not wait to get back to Holland after his first visit, just to eat this dish again.:D

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March 4 – Day 58

At Sea en route to Komodo Island

 

On the other hand, however, most passengers have a great deal of camaraderie with the staff, and the use of first names often goes in both directions (as it does at our table). There is one woman who asks for the same waiter for every world cruise, and on this one she is flying his wife and two children to Singapore so that they may visit for two days. One comment that we hear all the time is that the passengers and crew are like family; we totally agree with that evaluation.

 

What a wonderful gesture, very very kind and thoughtful.

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March 11 – Day 65

Hong Kong

 

In 1997, John and I came to Hong Kong for the first time. It was another one of those “I’ve always wanted to do that” trips, but this time it was something that John decided he wanted to witness as soon as Margaret Thatcher made a commitment to return Hong Kong to the Chinese. We had never flown quite so far in our lives, and when we got on the Cathay Pacific plane and saw that there were four movies scheduled to be shown, we knew it would be a really long flight.

 

We arrived the last week of June, since the handover would be on July 1, and found ourselves in the middle of the rainy (or typhoon) season. We stayed in Kowloon in a hotel on the waterfront without any views of the harbor and went everywhere we could and did everything we could. We met two women on the way in from the airport, one of whom was Chinese, and she decided to be our guide for the week. We ate a Peking Duck dinner, but let her be the one to suck the duck beak (rather a delicacy, I guess), and she took us to a tiny little noodle shop in Wan Chai (Hong Kong Island) where we were the first non-Chinese to be customers. It was a wonderful trip, and our Chinese junk at midnight on June 30 followed Prince Charles’ yacht as it sailed out of Hong Kong Harbor forever.

 

Since then, we’ve been to Hong Kong three times (including this one) and loved every one. It is a fascinating city, with more skyscrapers every time we come and enough jewels in the stores to choke an elephant. Walking along Canton Road toward Kowloon Park, we saw jewelry stores with windows dripping with diamonds, emeralds, and jade, their price tags proudly displayed. I guess there’s a lot more money in Hong Kong than in San Luis Obispo. There were also stores for almost every fashion house: Gucci (with a queue outside waiting to get in), Versace, Prada, and so on and so on. Every boutique had a doorman, and the Swiss Watch Company even had an armed guard at the door. It was absolutely incredible. To balance that, however, there was a hawker about every 20 feet on the sidewalk saying, “Do you want a copy watch or a handbag?” or “Come to my tailor shop.”

 

The task set before us today was to find a new lens for our Nikon camera. When we bought it, there were two lenses included, one for short distances and one for long distances. The frustration has been having to change the lens, sometimes very suddenly. About a month ago, John dropped his backpack, and the long distance lens was no more. It may be repairable, but we’re not even sure about that. While it was unavailable, we borrowed one of Jeff’s lenses and just loved it. It’s a Tamron 18-270 and has the advantage of being able to take photos from close up to far away with just a twist of the lens.

 

We knew what the price of the lens was on Amazon, so our job today was to try to find one that was less expensive. Since the larger stores weren’t open until 11:00, we began the day by checking out some of the smaller stores on side streets where we found that the cost was about 2/3 that of Amazon. However, we had been warned that if the store did not post a sticker on the window with the red junk insignia of the Hong Kong Tourist Authority, there was no guarantee that we would get a genuine version of what we wanted.

 

When the Harbor Center opened, we found a whole corridor of camera stores, most of which did not carry Tamron. However, one did, and its price was almost exactly that of Amazon. We decided that safety was better than a discount, so we went ahead and bought it there. Problem solved.

 

By then our shopping had given us growling stomachs, so we headed up some escalators, down long hallways and around corners until we came to a wonderful dim sum restaurant. It was filled with Chinese families around large round tables with nary a fork in sight. We were shown to a lovely little table for two overlooking the harbor and ordered five kinds of dim sum and a bowl of vegetable, mushroom, and pork fried rice. Our biggest problem, of course, was figuring out which of the two sets of chopsticks should be used for what, and then actually using them. When it doubt, chopsticks are great for spearing food.

 

Lunch was followed by a looooong walk to digest some of that wonderful lunch, and we headed up to Kowloon Park and then down to the waterfront and the Chinese Walk of Fame Not only does Bruce Lee have a star, but he has a dramatic brass statue, too.

Our energy began to give out, so it was back to the ship for us for a rest before deciding what to do with the evening. We still don’t know, but we do know that we’d better get packed for our flight to Bangkok tomorrow.

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Diane and John,

 

Your post has brought back so many memories of Hong Kong. We first visited H.K. back in 1976 and I can remember so vividly the descent into Hong Kong through the blocks of flats before landing at the old airport in the heart of the city on Kowloon. Since then, we have been back many times but I still get a thrill when we arrive there. Nothing beats the business of the harbour and just the ambience of that exciting city.

 

Thanks so much for your wonderful posts and have a great time on your adventure away from the ship in the next few days.

 

Jennie

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