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John and Diane's 125-day Adventure at Sea


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Wednesday, February 22 and Thursday, February 23 - Days 49 and 50

Xingang and Beijing, China (heading for points west)

What a great (and exhausting) couple of days we’ve had! On Day 1 of Xingang, we woke to two inches of snow everywhere. Our verandah railing was covered and there was enough snow on the back Lido deck to create snowmen and entire snow castles. It’s always fun to watch Indonesian and Filipino crew members react to the snow. Because they never get any at home, it’s usually pretty exciting. I remember in 2010, when we were headed to Antarctica, that it snowed one night and some bar servers built a small snowman on the back deck - holding a bottle of Jack Daniels.

The snow caused a lot of traffic problems, however, and although we should have left on our Beijing overnight tour at 8:00, it was actually 9:30 because the freeways were closed until just about that time. But boy, was it cold! I wore a scarf, mittens, two pair of socks and my warmest leather jacket, and I was sooo glad to get into that heated bus.

The drive to Beijing is usually 2-1/2 to 3 hours, but we were beginning with the Great Wall on the other side of the city, and we had to stop for (a very good) lunch, so we didn’t get to our main stop until 3:00. The tour company had planned to take us to the section of the GW accessible by cable car, but there was maintenance being done on it, so we went to another section where we had not been before. What I remember about 2010 on our first (and only - until now) trip to China, was that we were at a section of the GW that was long, with a gentle slope to it. This part, however, was not that way at all.

The snow-covered stairs were steep and that’s pretty much all there was - no gentle walks at all. I’m usually pretty sure-footed, but I held onto that railing with all my strength. We’re not used to snow, and I certainly never hope to be so.

After the Wall closed at 4:30, we hopped in the bus and drove to a beautiful little tea house where we participated in a tea ceremony and sampled five different types of tea. Of course we had an opportunity to purchase said tea afterwards, but we passed on the idea.

The next stop was The Beijing Acrobatic Show (I think that’s close to the correct name), and we were blown away. The acts went from 12 girls riding on a bicycle (dressed and arranged beautifully) to 8 motorcycles riding inside a lighted velodrome - at one time - to a young boy of about 13 or 14 who kept balancing chairs, one atop the other, until there were about 15 of them and he was doing gymnastic stunts at the top. I had to close my eyes a few times, because I was sure that the act wasn’t going to end well - but it did. It was truly a spectacular show and I recommend it highly.

Finally, at 8:30, it was time for dinner, and of course we had to have Peking Duck. If you’ve never had that particular delicacy, it is served bonelessly on a platter, cut into small slices. There is a bamboo basket containing little crepes (for us, it looked like tortillas), and the idea is to put the duck into a crepe and add hoisin sauce and any miscellaneous vegetables sitting on the table. It was delicious.

We had three meals on this tour, and all were served at large tables for 8 or 9 people with a glass “lazy susan” on top. The kitchen begins with about four dishes on your spinner but then keeps adding. I think dinner last night had somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen dishes - the duck, chicken, beef, rice, soup, two whole cooked fish, etc., etc.

Finally we arrived at our hotel a little after 10:00. It was called the Prime Hotel, and I thought that was a cheesy name and it would be a cheesy hotel. Of course it ended up being a five-star property with enough marble to choke a whole herd of horses. If only we could have had that room on the ship! The sad part, though, was that we’d only be able to use it for 9-1/2 hours, since we set an alarm for 6:00, breakfast was at 7:00, and departure was at 7:30.

Our first stop today was Tiananmen Square, which we had only seen as a “drive-by” in 2010. It’s divided into two parts and it really is as huge as it looks on TV. It’s surrounded by government buildings as well as Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and the wonderful Museum of China. Our cute little Chinese guide, Sharon (clearly not her Chinese name), told us of all the buildings and the history of the square under the emperors. When I quietly asked her if this section of the square was the site of the young man in front of the tank, she told me that she’s not allowed to talk about that, but she said that yes, it was. She continued to say that that particular event has been “erased” from Chinese history, and that young people today do not even know that it happened. I even googled the event later to see what had happened to the young man (who did not go under the tank), but no one knows, or no one will admit to knowing. Apparently he was arrested, but the trail ends there.

We walked across the street from Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City, where we spent a couple of hours walking from front to back, being amazed not only at the beautiful architecture and the stories of how the emperors (and their concubines) lived, but the fact that it’s still standing in pristine condition.

Then it was time for lunch, and that lazy susan just kept spinning. For me, the highlight of today’s lunch was a chicken dish that was in a moderately spicy sauce. However, the steamed shrimp weren’t too bad either. From lunch, instead of touring the Temple of Heaven, we flagged a taxi to take us to the airport, where we’re sitting in a friendly Starbucks right now. The ride took about an hour and the total cost was just under $19.00 - can you believe it? John had me Google “tipping in China” on the way, and I found out that, except for tour guides/drivers, it’s almost illegal, so we just paid our money and came into the beautiful Terminal 3, the newest and most modern in Beijing.

One advantage of our flight home is that John gets two birthdays! Today (February 23) is his birthday, but because of the International Date Line, February 23 continues for two days, so we'll land in SFO on his birthday and arrive at our house in San Luis Obispo on his birthday. By then he'll probably never want to have another birthday, but so far we're enjoying the rare situation.

Our flight to San Francisco (via Vancouver) is at 5:40, but we can’t check in until three hours before departure, and our visit to Starbucks is part of a time-killing scheme. We have had just a wonderful two days in Beijing, many times re-visiting places we’d been in 2010, but gaining additional knowledge (did you know that one emperor had 300 concubines? or that one concubine became acting empress of China?) and loving every minute. Beijing deserves at least a week, but we gave it as much time as we had.

 

Now we’re headed to California for a week and I’ll be back to you when we return to Hong Kong.

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If you need time to kill, the Panjiayuan Antique Market in the southeast of the city is an excellent way of doing so ... or take a tour of the Bird's Nest. (just for future reference) I'm just amazed you got google to work in China, especially on such a sensitive subject.

Edited by Wehwalt
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Happy Birthday to John and what fun to be home to enjoy it with family and friends. When you gave the benefits of doing a "quick" trip home it made sense, you have possibly arrived before your last post cards to your granddaughter. I will miss your daily reports until you return to Hong Kong but wish you a happy week in California. Cherie

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Thursday, March 1, 2017 - Day something or another

Hong Kong

 

Yesterday was one of those incredibly long days but everything about it was "thumbs up." We had booked United's non-stop flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong (on miles) but were only able to book coach for the 14-1/2 hour flight but wait-listed business class. I do love using miles. When it was time to board, the upgrade fairy stepped in and said, "Mr. and Mrs. St. John, here are your new boarding passes." What a treat.

 

Our short but very sweet stay at home began with a flight from Beijing to Vancouver to San Francisco, thence to San Luis Obispo by rental car. We had 24 hours to take care of errands like opening mail, filling in our CPA's tax information, grocery shopping, filling prescriptions, and so on before the kids arrived Friday evening. What a wonderful reunion it was! We played Grandma and Grandpa and let the kids have "date time" as much as possible. We went to Old Juan's Cantina in Oceano, our favorite local Mexican restaurant, to celebrate John's birthday a few days late (John says thanks for all the birthday greetings), took our granddaughter Jessica to church with us on Sunday morning and caught up with our church family, and then let the kids have an official "date" Sunday evening while we stayed home with Jessica and ate pasta - even though there was no salad or bread in the house - and watched the Oscars.

 

Monday was clean up the house and do the laundry morning, and by 12:00 all of us were on the road north, the kids to Davis and John and I to our hotel near SFO. It was a bit hard on our systems, but it was a wonderful mid-cruise visit and we're so glad we did it.

 

I'm sitting here at the hotel at 7:00 Thursday morning, not sure what ever happened to Wednesday and trying to get in touch with our ship friends for a bit of a get together in our suite to watch the Hong Kong light show at 9 PM.

Suite? Yep, the upgrade fairy struck again and we have, what the young man at the desk told us, is "the best room in the house." The living room has floor to ceiling curved windows overlooking the Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong Island, and the harbor, and we're trying to get our friends together to watch the light show tonight and then go to Ned Kelly's Last Stand, a favorite dive bar with jazz around the corner. I hope all of this is Karma from good behavior, but who knows? It's so good that we extended it for a second night!

 

The weather in Hong Kong when we arrived last evening was 65 degrees, and although it's a bit hazy, the sky is clear enough to see Victoria Peak. We love to sit here and watch the Star Ferry wander across the harbor (it's free if you're over 65!) Can't wait to wander around Kowloon, one of our favorite ports.

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Greetings from HK where we've been for a day while on a land cruise. We flew here with a couple from Vancouver who are joining the cruise for the remainder of the voyage. His name is Pat if you happen to meet any of the newbies. Enjoy the next segments!

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Forums

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Forgot to mention we're staying at the YMCA in Hong Kong. Before you think we were given the best room in the hostel, this is the most luxurious YMCA in the world, 4-1/2 stars on TripAdvisor and it really is beautiful. If you pull up

ymcahk.org.hk you'll find the hotel, and the "money shot" of rooms is where we're staying. All I can say is WOW!

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Diane,

I am on next year's World Cruise and am thinking of flying home for a week mid-cruise. How do you set this up with HAL to be off the ship and return?

Thanks for you insights.

 

And glad to hear you had those great upgrades.

 

Barbara

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SJSU Librarian,

HAL really has little to do with it. They have a form that you fill out, indicating when you'll leave and when you'll return, but then you just make your own arrangements. Glad to hear you might do the "whole enchilada." It really sounds like a wonderful itinerary, and the buzz is that Desmond Tutu will be the special guest in South Africa.

Diane

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Friday, March 3, 2017 - Day 58

Hong Kong, China

We?ve been to Hong Kong several times, the first in 1997 for a week to help observe the handover from England to China, and since then two or three days at a time on world cruises. Every time we?ve been here we just love it and find something new about it.

Last evening we invited our friends Rich and Ginni and Will and Nancy to come to our hotel suite to see the Hong Kong light show at 9:00 PM. They had had dinner in the Ocean Terminal - one of the largest malls I?ve ever seen - and then came to us just a couple minutes after 9:00 - certainly in time for the show. We drank wine, Coke Zero and beer (not all at once) and waited and waited and waited. Finally I called down to the concierge who told me the light show was at 8:00 PM for 13 minutes. WHAT? At that time our four friends were having dinner overlooking the harbor and we were in our room, also overlooking the harbor, and no one saw anything near a light show. It was so disappointing. Several friends commented on the lack of a light show, but most agreed that the haziness of the weather would have made it less interesting anyway.

The Amsterdam had had to dock in Kai Tek (near the old airport) because there were two ships already in the Ocean Terminal, but the Princess ship that was ahead of us was sailing at 10:00 last evening, so the Amsterdam could move right over. We sat and watched the Princess ship sail, and then at about 11:15, our ?home away from home? sailed right past our room and docked in what is one of the most perfect places for a cruise ship in the world. It?s right next to the Star Ferry and near Nathan Road, also called ?The Golden Mile.?

The Ocean Terminal is, as I mentioned, a huge, high-end shopping mall which seems to go on forever and includes a couple of hotels and some really excellent restaurants. Since we were staying a second night at the YMCA Hotel, we had a really lazy morning, using free internet to check email and Facebook, taking long showers and heading down to a really nice Starbucks for breakfast. Afterwards, we put all of our ?stuff? together and walked the five minutes to the terminal and then the additional five minutes through the terminal mall to board our ship. Everything was just as we left it, except for a stack of ?Daily Navigators? and two Waterford boxes, each with a beautiful crystal picture frame. We get such lovely ?pillow gifts? on formal nights, but this one was to celebrate the annual ?big party? which is held when the HAL president, Orlando Ashford, is on board.

From what we heard, the party was fairly low key, but with some of the best Chinese food around. There were food and drink booths built around the midships Lido pool and extending into the Lido buffet with dim sum, all kinds of seafood, Peking duck, and everything anyone could imagine finding in a fine Chinese restaurant. We?re sorry we missed it, but glad we got to see the family.

This afternoon we had to see the Chinese officials for immigration exit interviews, and that done, we headed up to the Crow?s Nest, where sailaway was held beginning at 6:00. It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends, and we?re really looking forward to being at our table again tonight.

 

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Forgot to mention we're staying at the YMCA in Hong Kong. Before you think we were given the best room in the hostel, this is the most luxurious YMCA in the world, 4-1/2 stars on TripAdvisor and it really is beautiful. If you pull up

ymcahk.org.hk you'll find the hotel, and the "money shot" of rooms is where we're staying. All I can say is WOW!

 

We have stayed at that "Y" and it has the best location!

 

Welcome Back!

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Saturday, March 4, 2017 - Day 59

At Sea en route to Viet Nam

The situation never ceases to amaze me when we are either headed to or traveling in Viet Nam. John reminds me that I should feel the same way about visiting Japan or Germany, but I wasn’t aware of those conflicts. Viet Nam, however, occupied about half of every evening’s newscast and John was drafted but never had to go (long boring story). It filled our consciousness for several years and now everything is just so different. I have absolutely no hard feelings about the country or the people; it’s just that everything was so horrible during that time and now it is an economically healthy and industrious country.

We visited Viet Nam a few years ago (on a WC) and were amazed at the beauty of the country and the friendliness of the people. Of course most of them weren’t even born until well after the war (which they call “The American War”), and they have done so much to rebuild their country and make it a desirable tourist destination. I had never seen so many motor scooters in my life; I understand that there are more scooters than people in the country.

I do understand that people who fought there or lost loved ones may feel differently than I do, but I truly believe that it is the citizens who suffer the most in a war which they didn’t plan or want to participate in. We have an onboard friend who lost someone close to him to the Japanese during WWII, and he won’t even go ashore while we call, no matter how many ports there are. When we had to go ashore for an exit meeting, he was asked how he liked his visit in Japan. He answered simply, “I didn’t.” Sherman was right, (and thanks for the correction).

Last evening’s sailaway was in the Crow’s Nest, and we arrived before it started just because we were wandering the ship wondering where it would be. When we arrived we found friends, so it suddenly became happy hour. First we sat with Alan and Annie, who will travel to India with us, and then when they went to early dinner, we moved over to sit with Aart and enjoyed some Tsingtao, an excellent local beer. Then Bill and Jane joined us, so we had a chance to exchange stories about our overlands - ours home and theirs to see the marvelous warriors in Xi’an. They had a wonderful time and were thrilled and amazed at their destination - as I think anybody would be. When we went in 2010 we certainly were. The warriors are one of the wonders of the world.

It was great to have all eight of us at the table last night, and we talked and laughed as much as ever - actually more, since we had to exchange silly stories about our adventures in China and Hong Kong. Our table servers, Indi, E.T. and Sam, were as wonderful as ever and it was good to be back with “the family.” After dinner, we listened to the evening’s entertainer, a Malaysian singer named Sun, who patterns her singing after Teresa Tang, another Malaysian/Chinese singer and Chinese star who died several years ago at the age of 42 from an asthma attack. Sun was an exceptional singer and we’re glad we went.

 

As we boarded the ship yesterday, we ran into Jeff, Cathy, Ann, and Ellie, all ready to begin their adventure on the Mekong Delta. They’ll be gone five days and rejoin in the port for Ho Chi Minh City. You’d think with what people pay for this cruise that we’d all just stay on board, but it’s just too tempting to go overland to see as much as we can. In fact, we’ll only be on board seven nights before we go gallivanting again, flying from Singapore to Cochin to begin our Indian overland to Kerala, rejoining in Mumbai. As I’ve commented before, the fun never stops.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017 - Day 60

At Sea en route to Viet Nam

The sun has returned! After (literally) freezing in Japan, Korea, and China, we have a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and the temperature in the low 80’s. Bliss! After lunch it will be time to return to the back deck (AKA “the beach”) and start ruining my skin again.

Last evening was a gala night, originally called “Red Lantern Night” to suggest that anyone who wished might wear Asian attire. We were told upon our return from our “San Francisco overland” that they gave that title to another formal night while we were gone, but that didn’t matter; I was going to wear my black and gold Chinese jacket regardless. It’s one of my better buys, since I found it at the Hong Kong Night Market in 2014. The beginning price was $25, but I bargained it down to $15 and was very proud of myself. Later that evening, I found out that our friend Ian had felt bad for the lady from whom I had purchased it and went back to pay her the $10 difference. The Night Market is all about bargaining, but if it made Ian feel better then that’s good.

Many of the passengers wore Asian attire; in fact I was in the elevator with a man who was wearing a formal jacket made from the same fabric as my jacket. He was quite shocked when I told him where I bought it and how much I paid; he had had his jacket custom made and I’m sure paid a lot more money than I did. It was a nice jacket, though. The only problem with mine, however, is that I have so few opportunities to wear it - pretty much just Asian night on world cruises. I guess I should hunt for chances to wear it at home.

The show last night was the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers in a show called “Heat.” They were, as usual, outstanding. The show featured the dancers, and they are just so talented - and flexible. Tonight is a young man who plays what is called a “one of a kind” instrument. The illustration makes it look like a keyboard, but I have no idea what it is. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Since it was Sunday, it was morning interdenominational service time, and Pastor Al gave a sermon on forgiveness, a apt subject for all of us. Communion is served the first Sunday of the month, so today was the day. We have a choice of wine or grape juice, and the bread is truly exceptional. Last time it was sun-dried tomato focaccia, and today it was the big raisin buns - but without the raisins and cut into small cubes. The number of people who attend is surprisingly large, much more so than in 2014 and 2015 when we attended last. We’re finally in the Queen’s Lounge now, so there’s plenty of room for everyone.

This afternoon will be just plain relaxation. After lunch I’ll head out to the back deck for a couple of hours and then I might (or might not) have a nap. This evening we’re meeting the other eight friends with whom we’re traveling to India to talk about how to get to the airport and how much luggage to take. We want to be able to hit the ground running on the 10th so that our tour begins on the right foot. At least we don’t need a lot of heavy clothes, since the temperatures should be in the 90’s.

Now it’s time for Trivia, and when I mention that we won yesterday, I’m sure I’ll jinx today’s game. The saddest thing about Trivia now is that Barbara and Marty Schachter have gone home and we’ll miss them a great deal. If you’ve ever been on a WC with Barbara, you’d remember her from the passenger talent show. Since that event is at the end of the cruise, and because people love her stand up comedy so much, Gene scheduled a 7:30 show for her one evening. It wasn’t even in the Daily Navigator, but when the show opened there wasn’t an empty seat in the Queen’s Lounge - and she left her audience laughing. We missed it because of our trip home, but we’ve had a friend video it, so I’ll get to watch it, hopefully this afternoon.

 

Our new Trivia members are Donald and Margaret, Scottish-born and now living in Vancouver for above 20 years, but to listen to them you’d swear they had just arrived. They’re very sharp and we’re happy to have them on our team. Here they come, so I’d better put the computer away before I’m accused of cheating.

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Monday, March 6, 2017 - Day 61

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Good morning (from) Vietnam! At about 5:30 this morning we sailed through the lovely bay leading up to Nha Trang, a favorite R & R spot for soldiers during the Vietnam War. It truly is beautiful, with incredibly long, white and sandy beaches, tropical flowers everywhere, and friendly people waiting to greet us - some of them a bit too friendly (see below). Because the shuttle didn’t begin until 9:00, we had a fairly leisurely morning, with our usual stops of gym, breakfast, and shower.

When we noticed from our vantage point that shuttle busses were loading at about 8:30, we got ourselves down there post haste and jumped aboard. The drive into town was about 20 or 25 minutes, and when we stepped down from the bus, we were accosted by several of those “friendly” people who couldn’t wait to take us on tours, to their brother-in-law’s restaurant for lunch, or wherever. After we escaped that, however, the Vietnamese were very pleasant and as helpful as possible.

There was a temple complex we wanted to see, so instead of using a taxi or a bicycle-

rickshaw, we decided that if we walked the two miles we’d see a lot more, and boy was that true. We walked along the beach for part of the time and then crossed over until we crossed the river. The street that went up to the temple was apparently a series of fish markets, and when we saw a large, round basket of mini-squid, we stopped to look. What really caught our attention, however, was the space next to the basket where chopped squid was being dried on the sidewalk. I don’t think the FDA would approve.

Even before we arrived at the temple, we knew it was time for a break, since two miles in 90-degree heat with 90% humidity really takes it out of you. Our stop was at a small cafe overlooking the river where two local beers cost us $1.00. That, of course, made us feel guilty, so when it was time to pay, we gave the girl $2.00. Such a deal!

The temple complex was fascinating. It was built over a century ago and actually is a series of small temples in a beautifully landscaped area. One particular temple was open for prayers, but it was first necessary to rent a light blue/gray robe to wear within.

We saw several local people going into and out of the temple, and they were all attired appropriately.

Then it was time to return to the shuttle stop, so we hired a taxi for the 10-minute ride which cost us the princely sum of $3.00. If nothing else, Vietnam is an amazing bargain. From the shuttle stop, we walked along the beach the other way, crossing the street to find a place for lunch. When we decided on a restaurant, we were pleased to see that we were the only westerners there, and the food was quite authentically Vietnamese. John had pho soup (pronounced, we were told, “fa”) and I had beef sate sticks which I shared with him. Overall, I’d give the place a “9” for excellent food, good service and free wifi.

Today was an early sailaway, leaving the port at 2:00, so the last shuttle was at 1:15. We made the next-to-last one at 1:00, even though the driver had to stop the bus and re-open the door for us.

Back at the ship, the market set up outside was still crawling with passengers hoping for last-minute bargains. We looked for a post card, but the only one we could find had a photo of a group of nomadic women sitting on a sand dune. I think I’ll look for another one tomorrow in Saigon.

This evening was great fun. Bill and Jane told us last evening that the two of them were going to celebrate Bill’s 70th birthday tonight in The Pinnacle, so we decided we’d surprise them. Everyone at our table (including Jane) agreed that that was a good idea, so we booked a table for eight and did indeed shock Bill. There are actually four at the table who have birthdays within a 3-week period, so we’re going to have a big birthday celebration after Mumbai, since 6 of the 8 of us will be on overland in India very soon.

 

It was a long, hot day, but we loved it and celebrating a special occasion with friends is always a good idea. Tomorrow the clock is set for 4:45 because we’re meeting at 5:45 to disembark at 6:00 for a full-day tour of Saigon, AKA Ho Chi Minh City. I think that sea day after Saigon is going to really be needed.

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During the Vietnam war, American soldiers used to come to the Gold Coast for R&R.

 

In addition, ships used to call in to Brisbane and they would call for volunteers to provide hospitality to those on board. I used to collect four sailors and give them a lift, in my car, to the Gold Coast. After a weekend at the Coast, they found their own way back to the ship.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - Day 62

Phu My, Vietnam (Port for Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon)

Our port today, Phu My, is at the mouth of the Mekong River and is the closest port to Ho Chi Minh City, which most of the locals still refer to as Saigon. Even though we’ve had a full day tour to Saigon in the past, it’s been a while, so we decided that it was time to do it again. Our friend Marianne put together a Cruise Critic tour of 20, and the only negative was that, since the ship docked at 6:00 AM, she asked us to meet in the Ocean Bar at 5:45 to be ready to disembark when we docked. Of course we were late, not in arriving at the dock but in having the local authorities clear us.

Gene made his “going ashore” announcement about 6:15, so we headed, as instructed, to A Deck Forward. Well, someone’s communication wasn’t in line, because there was a line heading up the stairs from Deck A to Deck 1, and the explanation making its way through the line was that ship security wasn’t ready. What? Didn’t someone tell them we’d dock at 6:00? I guess not. Anyway, in another ten minutes we were off the ship.

For our group of 20, we had a full-size bus that would have held 50, so anyone who wanted two seats could have them. It was a great bus, with reclining seats and wifi. We’re finding busses with internet capability more and more common. In addition, the 2-1/2 hour drive to Saigon now takes only 90 minutes, thanks to a slick new highway. We met our guide, Thi (pronounced “tea”) and we were on our way. I think it must be a sticky situation to be a Vietnamese guide on a bus full of Americans who are of an age to fully remember the war, but she handled it beautifully. She told us of her family’s history, having been born in Hue, site of some of the bloodiest battles of the war. After the war, her family, like many others, had little or nothing to eat, digging roots and finding leftover fruit in trees and vegetables on the ground. During this time between one to two million Vietnamese starved to death, a fate which her family avoided by moving south to Saigon.

Our first stop was a temple in Chinatown, and from there we each hopped into our own bicycle rickshaw, pedaled by a friendly Vietnamese man, for a one-hour ride down busy streets and quiet backstreets, one of which was the incredibly beautiful flower market. This was one of the most entertaining activities we’ve ever had on a tour, partly because of the fun of seeing a great deal of downtown Saigon, but also because of the adventure of riding on the front of a bicycle through the absolutely mad traffic of Saigon, with some cars and thousands of motorbikes hurtling through the streets, driving by laying on the horn more than any other skill. It was great fun - and we all survived.

Our destination on these wild rides was the Reunification Hall, formerly the residence of the presidents of South Vietnam. It’s now a museum of the war, and seeing the maps, the tactical planning rooms and the communications devices (which look a lot like the WWII devices in Churchill’s war rooms in London) gave everyone a very sober look at the operation of that war.

Next it was time to see the Notre Dame Cathedral and the old Post Office. If you’ve never been into the Saigon main post office, it’s a great place for sightseeing. It does all the regular post jobs (we bought stamps for a postcard) but it is huge with a beautiful barrel ceiling and the walls are lined with small shops selling all kinds of clever things.

By then we were very glad to board the bus and head to Pho 2000, a restaurant with a small front but which serves food on two floors and is jammed with mostly Vietnamese customers. Pho, their specialty, is a noodle soup, which can be ordered with chicken, beef, fish, or just vegetables. After lunch, it was only a walk across the street to the Ben Thanh market, a full city block of covered shops where it was possible to buy anything from tee-shirts to lacquer bowls to dried fish. The problem for us was the intense crowds and the heat, so we walked through the market and found another RuNam Bistro, the place we had lunch in Nha Trang. It was large, beautifully but sparsely furnished, and cool, so we decided that it would be a much better place to spend our remaining 90 minutes than the market. A local beer and a cappuccino helped us pass the time, along with free internet, of course.

Then it was time for the 90-minute drive back to the ship, and although I couldn’t quite get to sleep on the bus, it was a relaxing period of time to watch out the window for temples and rice fields, and it gave us a full hour and a half on board the ship before we headed down the Mekong River toward the sea for our 36-hour voyage to Singapore.

 

P. S. When I spoke of the Buddhist temple we visited yesterday, I said that it was a century old. Not even close! The temples which make up that group were built between the 7th and 12th centuries - a lot older.

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Loving your posts. We were in Saigon from a Volendam cruise in 2012 and your descriptions brought back memories. We ate at the very restaurant that you did. Good to know that the long journey to and from the port has been reduced by so much. The rickshaw rides sounded great fun.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - Day 63

At Sea en route to Singapore

After our long, exciting day in Saigon yesterday, coupled with the odd occasion of having to turn our clocks forward last night, today was a blessing, letting us sleep until 8:00, have a very leisurely breakfast and not doing too much during the day.

I guess the highlight of the day was the Joseph Ribkoff fashion show, held in the Queen’s Lounge at 1:00. There are two young women on board who represent the brand, and unlike many times when I like one or two pieces of a collection, with this line I really like almost everything. There are lots of things in black, some trimmed with rhinestones, and a few pieces in color. They make excellent cruise clothes, but there’s a bit above my budget. My friend Marianne had signed up to model and then came to me to say that she needed someone she knew to keep her company, so I was hijacked into volunteering.

After I signed up, I had to choose one or more pieces from the collection to wear for the fashion show. After trying on and rejecting a couple that were just not right, I chose a pretty black dress with chiffon-like panels front and back that swayed as I walked. We were to meet at 12:15 to do a run-through, but I waited until after Trivia (we lost - badly) and we all got together to “strut our stuff” across the stage. After the run-through, “liquid courage” in the form of Champagne for the models was passed around, and then came the show. It went off pretty well, but I am sad to report that I did not win the raffle that would have gifted me with any one piece from the collection. Oh well.

Because of the hour, most of the Lido was closed for lunch, so it was sandwich bar time, but then it was time to pack. We’ll have eight days in Kerala, southwestern India, with eight of our friends, and it’s going to be hot, hot, hot. Even after I packed everything I thought I needed, I still have room in the suitcase, so I guess that it’s telling me I need more. All of the women in the group have agreed that we’ll wear things more than once - possibly several times - and as long as we have clean underwear, we’re good to go.

Tomorrow is Singapore, a city which we really enjoy. The first time we were here it was only to return from our overland to Angkor Wat, and all we had time for was a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel. On other cruises, however, we’ve explored the city and come to enjoy visiting a wonderful Chinatown, taking the Duck Tour, and having romantic dinners along Clark Quay. Our main task tomorrow, however, is to find some little girl baby clothes for Ram (pronounced Rom), our second favorite beverage server (after Manny), who’s going home from Mumbai to see his four-month-old daughter for the first time. He showed us photos of her at breakfast this morning and she really is quite adorable. There are so many crew members who are away from their families for such a long time that Facetime becomes a way of life. He told us that she had smiled at him on screen for the first time, and when he speaks of her he just lights up. We think that deserves a baby gift.

 

The other thing we’re looking forward to tomorrow is Debby Bacon on Deck. They set up a piano on Deck 8 aft at 7:00 PM and she plays for about 90 minutes or two hours while passengers sit out there enjoying both her music and the Marina Bay area. Debby does this a couple of times during the world cruise, but this one is special because our friend Jacques, the cellarmaster, is having his “Champagne on deck with Debby.” There will be several small tables set up on Deck 9, looking down at the piano, and we’ll be served excellent Champagne along with a whole raft of tasty hot and cold appetizers. It sounds like dinner to me. Can’t wait!

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As always, I am so enjoying "our" WC. The evening with Debby Bacon accompanied by champagne sounds like an unforgettable experience. I remember on one of your visits to Hong Kong she performed on deck in Hong Kong Harbor. I have never forgotten that visual. We have been to Hong Kong so I could easily imagine that evening. Too bad they didn't give you a 50% off for modeling in the fashion show!!!! Maybe it will be a surprise at the end of the cruise.

 

Looking forward to Kerala. A new destination for me. Thank you for taking us along and for your sense of adventure. Cherie

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I am loving your review. Spent hours the other night reading all your posts. Could not go to bed before reading all of them.

 

We have been to some of the same ports but not on a World Cruise. Thank you.

 

Wendy

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Thursday, March 9, 2017 - Day 64

Singapore

We did something today that I don’t remember every doing before in a port: just shopping. We do love Singapore and all that it has to offer and have wonderful memories of dinners along Clark Quay, but that was not to be. We had two goals: to buy little girl dresses for Ram and new Keen sandals for John.

The first goal was easily accomplished - or would have been if there weren’t so many choices to be had. The shuttle bus dropped us off at the Millenia Walk, a mall with fewer stores than we’re used to. When asked if they had a store with either of our desired items, the young lady said it did not, and then directed us upstairs, out the back door, across the open area and into the Marina Square Mall - a huge complex where one could find almost anything. Before we left, however, we wanted to take advantage of one of the two ATM’s next to the information area. It’s a long, sad story, but the punchline is that the ATM “ate” my Citibank credit card, and a half hour later, after finally getting a Citibank agent in the United States, the card was cancelled and a new one will be awaiting me at home. Fortunately, I have three others that will be of good use.

We found a “cul de sac” in the new mall where there were several children’s stores. After going through two of them and deciding we just had to buy at least 10 outfits, we settled on two cute little dresses, had them placed in a teddy-bear-covered gift bag, and we were off to find a pair of Keen sandals.

We had looked at a few stores that had sandals, but they weren’t the right ones, until a young man directed us to World Sports which had a two-sided, 20 foot long display of all kinds of men’s and women’s sandals. The Tevas seemed like a very good deal at about $50.00 US dollars, but John really wanted Keens and that’s what he bought. We thought that we were going to have to pay about $120 US, but we pointed to the “sale” signs, bargained a bit, and got them for $95.00 - an excellent price.

Then it was time for lunch, so we headed outside the new mall into a free-standing restaurant which described itself as Pan Asian. Some beef stir-fry and sweet and sour pork took care of the hunger pangs, and then we headed back to the ship to finish packing for tomorrow’s departure.

Last evening was the show-stopper, however, with Champagne and Debby Bacon - an unforgettable combination. Tables for two are set up on Deck 9, overlooking the aft pool, and excellent Champagne begins being poured at 6:30. We chose the Tattinger Brut Rose, and the beverage stewards just kept on pouring. I’ll have to ask Jacques how many bottles the 30 of us consumed. Debby began playing at 7:00, just at dusk, with the Marina Bay Hotel, the Singapore Flyer, and the Gardens by the Bay with their two domes and the amazing metal “trees.”

After Debby began, the hors d’oeuvres began, and continued and continued. There were Chinese dumplings, lobster chunks in a dip, and lots more. They came from the Pinnacle restaurant, so they had to be good.

 

Since we were at four tables with our tablemates, we sang along and occasionally danced to Debby’s music. It was one of those evenings that check all the boxes - and will remain in memory for a lifetime.

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