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John and Diane's 125-day Adventure at Sea


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If you don't mind, would you tell Rich and Ginny that Mike and Ruth, also from Texas, asked you to tell them Hello. We met then on the Voyage of the Vikings cruise several years ago. We both had anytime dining and we ate together several times and so thoroughly enjoyed their company. They may not remember us, but we were the couple that was raising our grandchildren and the kids were cruising with us, although they never joined us for dinner. I know how much we enjoyed their company, and when you mentioned they had joined your table, it really made you blog 'come alive' as i could picture them so clearly. I believe they had just moved to Austin from Dallas when we met them. Also, if its not too much trouble, would you see if they plan on going on the 2018 World, we are booked on that one. Thanks so much, and sorry for interrupting your blog

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Sunday, February 12, 2017 - Day 39

Osaka, Japan

 

Boy, do I love Japan! Our first visit here was in 2010 when we sailed eastbound on the WC so that we’d be here in April for good weather and cherry blossoms. It worked like a charm. In addition, we had the guiding skills of Yuya, a Japanese student whom we’d met at UC Davis and who attended the University of Kobe, right next to Osaka. On that trip, Yuya took us to Osaka one day and Kyoto the next. Then, when we docked in Yokohama (for Tokyo), he took the bullet train there, booked a hotel room (we can’t have overnight guests on the ship) and guided us through Tokyo for two days. We had a blast!

 

Since then, he’s been to visit us in California twice and his mother, Chikako, has even come over for a week. Now he’s a old man of 27, working in marketing for a publisher in Tokyo, and he took the train down to visit with us and be our local guide. When you can’t even figure out the letters on a sign, a translator is really handy. In addition to Yuya, Chikako came along, and when I introduced them, I had to mention that she was Yuya’s monther, because she really does look just about the same age as he does.

 

Since we’d never been there, we decided to go to Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, a beautiful city with the largest Buddha in Japan and more than a thousand sika deer, famous from the legend that one of the gods appeared on Mt. Mikasa (haven’t a clue where that is) riding a white deer. Because of that, the deer were considered divine and killing one of them was punishable by death until the 1600’s. Nowadays, they just hang out in Nara Park and around the temples. They only come up to my hip and have absolutely no fear of people - primarily because everyone likes to feed them. It was so cold today that it snowed, and I don’t know if my toes will ever regain feeling. We weather wimps from coastal California just can’t handle this kind of weather. More layers tomorrow, I guess.

 

Our first order of business in Nara was to have lunch, so we wandered down the narrow, old shopping street in the middle of town until Yuya and Chikako found a wonderful little restaurant behind a food market. We had tempura platters with sticky rice, pickled vegetables and miso soup - delicious.

 

After Nara Park, we taxied over to the site of Nara Palace, the home of the emperor while Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. It had been completely leveled for hundreds of years, but archeologists dug down and found the foundations and have completely rebuilt the Imperial Audience Hall. It truly is amazing how this could have happened, but the re-creation is superb.

 

By the time we’d finished going through Nara Palace, we were well and truly ready to head back to the ship, so instead of taking a train we grabbed a taxi for the 30-minute drive, and although it was more expensive, it was faster, more comfortable, and the heater was on. Well worth it!

 

Once we all returned to the ship we had only about an hour, so while John changed from jeans to slacks, I took our guests on a tour of the ship. Yuya remembered a lot of it from his visit in 2010, but Chikako just couldn’t get over what it was like and must have taken several dozen photos. We had reserved an “Anytime Dining” table for eight of us at 5:30, so we shepherded our guests to the dining room where dinner was, yet again,

great fun. Ginni hadn’t been listening carefully to the introductions, so she asked Yuya if Chikako was his wife! We all laughed, and when Chikako responded that she was 51 years old, Ginny couldn’t get her jaw off the table for about five minutes.

 

We had to get them off the ship by 7:15 so that they could board their bullet trains, Yuya to Tokyo and Chikako to Nagoya, but they really did take their time with the Chateaubriand, since it’s made with the tenderloin, and the price of beef in Japan is incredibly high. Dessert was a bit rushed, but we got them out the door in time to get to the station, for the end of a wonderful day and a long-overdue visit. Both have promised to come to California again soon, and Chikako insists that we must come and stay with her for a week or so (but hopefully not in mid-winter).

 

Tomorrow is a full day in Kyoto with Rich and Ginni who have booked a “Goodwill Guide.” This is a system throughout Japan in which volunteers meet groups of tourists and show them around any given city or area. The only restriction is that it’s necessary to set it up at least 3 weeks in advance, so if you’re going to be in Japan and want a local to show you around, this is the company for you. Just Google “Japan Goodwill Guides,” and you too can have your own private Japanese guide.

 

There’s a Japanese cultural show in the Queen’s Lounge at 9:30 this evening, but I just don’t know if we’ll make it. It was a very long but very satisfying day.

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Monday, February 13, 2017 - Day 40

Osaka, Japan

 

We spent today in Kyoto, a former capital of Japan and what a beautiful city it is! We had the advantage of having the company of Atsuko, a lovely young woman who volunteers for Goodwill Guides and had been booked by Rich and Ginni, who were our traveling companions for the day. Atsuko and her trainee Emiko met us by the ship at 9:00 this morning, and shepherded us through the Osaka subway system to the train station, where we took a 15-minute bullet train to Kyoto. Keep in mind here that the ship’s tour was by motorcoach and took 90 minutes to drive to Kyoto.

 

We spent time seeing some of the most beautiful and historic sites in all of Japan. We started at Nijo Castle, which the Shogun built and lived in from 1626 until Japan’s emperor took power and moved the capital to Edo (now Tokyo). The building itself is really impressive, looking like something out of the movie Shogun with room after room painted with beautiful murals and including such tricky little details as “nightingale floors” in the hallway. They were built with nails under the floor which rubbed against the wood in such a way as to cause little bird noises when someone walked on them. The purpose, of course, was to prevent anyone from sneaking in or sneaking up on the Shogun, and they still make those noises.

 

The most beautiful part of the castle, however, is the garden area which fills an entire city block behind the main buildings. Someone has gone absolutely crazy with creating dozens and dozens of bonsai-looking trees, koi ponds, and walkways placed so as to give the best views of these highlights. I’m not even a big garden fan, but this area was just wonderful.

 

Afterward, we took the subway to another part of the city which looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 1920’s, with cute little shops and buildings leading up to the “Moon Bridge,” which, we were told, is famous in this part of the country. Atsuko found us a nice restaurant upstairs from some shops, and the best part was that we were the only westerners there. We had a choice of a regular table or a tatami table, where you sit on the floor and eat from a table raised about six inches. We had some old knees in our group which made us choose the regular table. The noodle bowl, the tempura, and the chicken with rice were really tasty. John and Rich felt it was a cultural necessity to sample the local beer, and they liked it so much that they shared another one.

 

Then it was time to continue on, but we realized that we were waaay off our time schedule, so we had to cut out a temple and went instead to the bamboo grove, which had bamboo trees growing so thickly together over dozens of acres up a hill that we’d never seen anything like it. Rich said that, for him, it was the most memorable part of the day’s tour.

 

Our last stop was at the Golden Pavilion, perhaps my favorite place in Kyoto. It’s was a home for one of the Shoguns and is completely covered with gold foil. Our guide told us that it was burned down in the 1970’s by a crazed monk and then rebuilt in the 1990’s. The most beautiful part of the Pavilion, however, is that it is situated in the middle of a large lake, so it reflects its golden color in the water, and the lake contains several small islands which are covered with pine trees, beloved by the Japanese. We had been here with Yuya in 2010 and it was the one place in Kyoto that I remembered distinctly and really, really loved.

 

Then it was time for our two train, two subway ride back to the ship, where we arrived at 7:00 PM, ten hours after our morning departure. We were really, really tired but happy that we’d had such a memorable day. Dinner was fun, but I’m afraid the electrical cellist didn’t have our company at the show. For old folks like us, there IS a limit!

 

We have a sea day today (when I finally got around to posting this), but tomorrow is Kagoshima and the next day is Nagasaki. Since we’ve come to love Japan, we really can’t wait - but probably no more ten-hour tours.

 

P. S. to Mike and Ruth - Rich and Ginni send their greetings and, unfortunately, they’ll not be on the 2018.

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I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts from Osaka. I can't remember a world cruise encountering sleet and snow and it made me so cold I wanted to put on an extra sweater. How fun to spend the day with Yuya and his mom. Hopefully you will visit other former students in future ports. Even with the cold weather your reports made me want to visit this part of Japan. Thank you for including us, Cherie

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - Day 41

Happy Valentine’s Day - at sea

 

Ahhhhh! That’s a huge sigh you didn’t hear since it’s a sea day after two exciting and enlightening (but exhausting) days around Osaka. Unfortunately we spent very little time in Osaka but enough to want to come back and spend more. Right next to our dock (and we were on the “good” side) was a huge Ferris wheel, similar to the “Eye” in London. Some of our friends and crew members made use of it and thoroughly enjoyed it. At night it was lighted up with blue, green and purple neon in designs, and the nearby buildings were similarly decorated.

 

The first night in Osaka we didn’t think we’d have enough energy to attend the Japanese cultural show, but since 9:00 was just too early to go to bed, we stumbled into the Queen’s Lounge prepared to see kimonos, fans, and dancing, but that wasn’t at all what we saw. The group that performed was actually a circus, with the lovely young woman manager the only one dressed traditionally. The performance was a look at modern, rather than traditional Japan, and the dancing was incredibly well-executed.

It was well worth the viewing, even though I did have trouble keeping my eyes open at times.

 

We’ve decided that with the two Japanese ports of Kagoshima and Nagasaki coming up, we’re going to be a bit more judicious in our use of time. I think five or six hours of getting around will be quite sufficient for us, getting us back to the ship in time for a nap. Boy, could we have used one in the middle of Nara and Kyoto, but we are glad that we saw what we did - and plan to come back with more time to stay and visit. So far, the only negative about a cruise is the short amount of time we spend in a port. Overnight stays are just wonderful, but they’re just not long enough. While we spent two months hoofing it through Europe in the late summer and fall (before the Koningsdam), we spent at least three days in places, and often rented apartments for a week to explore a town in a more leisurely manner. Of course we can always come back for a longer stay, and we hope to with Japan, but often we just don’t do that. For example, right now I’m wearing a tee-shirt that says “Salalah” on the front and “Oman” on the back, purchased in that town’s souk. While this cruise calls at Muscat, Oman, I would be surprised if we ever returned to Salalah, but heck, I do have the tee-shirt (which I bought because I liked the lettering style.)

 

Fortunately, the seas are fairly calm today and none of our friends who tend to seasickness are distressed by high waves and winds. We sailed last evening at 11:00, but it was so smooth that, since I was asleep about 30 seconds after my head hit the pillow, I never even knew that we were at sea again. Today it’s only a little choppy and certainly cold outside, but we just sail along smoothly, headed to our next Japanese port.

 

Since today is Valentine’s Day, it is a formal night (whoops - gala) and there will be too many red dresses and bow ties to shake a stick at. I will be wearing a red evening gown that I wear only on cruises and exactly once each cruise - on Valentine’s Day of course. I also have a pair of 4” red stilettos which are covered with sequins, and they only come out on this special day. There will be a ball in the Queen’s Lounge after dinner, and although some late seating folks complain that such events are now at 9:30 instead of 10:00, many of those people never, ever attend such celebrations. I believe I’ve mentioned before that one of our friends nagged Gene on and on until he changed a 9:30 event to 10:00 and then she didn’t even attend. What’s a cruise director to do?

Since everyone at our table enjoys such events, we either eat faster or skip dessert in order to attend. A girl has to have priorities!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - Day 42

Kagoshima, Japan

Sailing into Kagoshima is made memorable by the sight of the huge volcano just across the harbor from the city. The last time we were here in 2010 there was steam escaping from the caldera of the volcano, but this time it was sound asleep, always good news when you’re near a volcano. On that visit, we took the ship shuttle downtown and wandered around but didn’t visit the volcano.

Again, we visited a really lovely Japanese city, where people are kind and friendly, there’s virtually no litter anywhere, and graffiti is non-existent. To repeat myself, I do love this country. Our friend Susie said she was standing on a corner, looking at a map and trying to figure out where she might find a second hand store that sold kimonos when she was approached by two different people offering to help her, one of whom walked her to a “thrift” store so she could find what she was looking for.

Today we waited until the tours and the first couple of shuttles had left (to avoid the crowds) and headed into town, where we were dropped off not too far from the ferry terminal. Our goal was Sakurajima, the volcano island, to see what we had missed in 2010. For the princely sum of approximately $1.60 we took the 15-minute ferry ride across the bay, where we found a circle island bus tour for $5.00 - such a deal. We hopped on, took the circuit, stopping a couple of times to have a better view of the volcano, and then found ourselves back at the ferry terminal. Having decided that today was going to be a lot easier than Nara and Kyoto, we took the ferry back to the mainland and headed back to the shuttle stop. Since we had run into our friends Jane and Bill, and they thought it would be a good idea to stop for lunch, we found a Tully’s, where we had a “pizza sandwich,” which was a lot like a Panera flatbread sandwich. Then it was shuttle time to return to the ship for an after-lunch cookie and then a nap.

Sailaway from Kagoshima is something I remember very well from 2010. The Kagoshima Firefighter Band played American favorites for a half hour while almost a hundred people waved orange flags to tell us arigato (thank you) and sayonara (goodbye.) We ran into a bunch of our friends on the Promenade and then came across Jacques, the cellar master, so we all decided it would be a good idea to head up to the aft Lido Deck where we could actually have tables and chairs and order some adult beverages. Finally it was getting colder as we headed out into the channel, and another wonderful Japanese port was history.

As good as today was, last evening was even better. Valentine’s Day is always formal, and we not only had Dr. Dave as our officer, but he brought his friend Georgia, the third officer. We talked and laughed even more than usual, and then when dinner was over, we all headed to the Queen’s Lounge for the Valentine’s Ball. I do like the way they set up these dances: they begin at 9:30 and end promptly at 10:30. Then, those who still want to dance head up to the Crow’s Nest, which we did. The late night music is great for dancing, and we stayed there until about midnight, sitting between dances with Dr. Dave as well as Oliver and Maddie, our “singing” cast members who had performed earlier in the evening. They were, as usual, fantastic.

Tomorrow is Nagasaki, and we will be headed for the Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Museum. We are warned that a lot of the photos in the museum are rather graphic, but I think that is to be expected. Again, we’re going to try to make it a shorter day of sightseeing, not one of the ten-hour days out of Osaka. It will be our last Japanese port, and we are really looking forward to it.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017 - Day 43

Nagasaki, Japan

 

Of all the ports on this cruise, I think Nagasaki stood out as the one I most wanted to visit. I have always been equal parts fascinated and horrified by what happened here, and I wanted to see for myself what the city is like now. It was a most rewarding day, but there is so much information available to the visitor that is difficult to take in.

 

We began the morning by buying all-day tram passes, and then headed to the hypocenter of the bomb blast. On August 9, 1945, at 11:02 AM, an atomic bomb called “Fat Man” exploded above the city of Nagasaki with the equivalent of 21 kilotons of TNT. Everything within two kilometers of the blast was flattened, and even farther out metal twisted, wood was petrified, and people were burned beyond recognition. Out of a population of approximately 240,000, 73,884 died and 74,909 were injured, including the inhabitants of a prisoner of war camp. The park surrounding the hypocenter of the blast is, strangely enough, very quiet and peaceful, with a black obelisk marking the exact epicenter.

 

From there we crossed the street to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, the most difficult place I’ve visited since the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C. In the center of the floor is a model of the entire valley surrounding Nagasaki, and as a video explains the progression of the attack and the blast, the model lights up to illustrate what you’re hearing. The videos and photographs are incredibly explicit, and after about a half hour, we just couldn’t watch any more. By then the ship’s tour had come in and there were also dozens of Japanese school students, so we decided we needed to leave.

 

It was then time for a mental and emotional break, so we walked over to the Peace Park, a lovely place with monuments presented by many countries, a fountain made to look like wings of peace and a peace statue to represent the rejection of nuclear weapons and the search for peace. The down side of it is that it contains the foundations of the Nagasaki prison, the closest structure to ground zero, where every one of the prisoners and guards perished. Visitors were, for the most part, very quiet and respectful, and it was a good place to wind down from a difficult morning.

 

Some of you may be saying (like the extremely loud American in the museum) that the bombs saved tens of thousands of American soldiers’ lives, and I understand that, but the fact that this bomb killed indiscriminately, and 70% of the victims were women, people over 70 and children, convinces me that General Patton was right: war is hell.

 

After our historical experiences in the north end of the city, we hopped back onto the tram and got off at Nagasaki’s Chinatown. The decorations from Chinese New Year were still on display, so we took the necessary photos (Facebook: dianeandjohn st john) and wandered down a narrow street with cute little stores and lots and lots of restaurants. In addition, there were street vendors selling dim sum (Chinese dumplings), so we just had a try a couple. One was beef and the other pork, and they were just delicious.

 

Jane had told us that there was a Confucian temple (the only one in Japan) at the end of the tram line, so we went to take a look. It really does look like a very traditional Chinese temple, but we were just about worn out, so we just took a couple of photos from the outside and wandered back to the “welcome hall” by the ship. There we were able to send some postcards to our granddaughter and buy a souvenir for a friend at home. Back on board, it was time for our weekly split Dive-In burger and fries, which really hit the spot.

 

This is the first port I can remember that requires a “reverse immigration” visit by all passengers before exiting the country. We had to show up with our passports and be cleared for departure by an immigration official. What a line there was! After going through that procedure, one cannot leave the ship again before sailing. As I said, it’s very unusual but the Japanese seem to know what they’re doing - and they do it efficiently and politely.

 

We have so enjoyed our ports in Japan. The people, to the last, are polite, helpful, and welcoming. They follow rules (there is NO jaywalking!), keep their cities spotlessly clean, and work very hard at whatever they do. I think I could live here - except for the raw fish.

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Thank you for your very descriptive posts from your WC. I've really enjoyed reading them.

 

By the way, Patton may have said war is hell but he was quoting General Sherman who said it first during the civil war. (maybe this will help you in trivia sometime :) )

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Friday, February 17, 2017 - Day 44

At Sea en route to Incheon, Korea

I guess I can tell that I’m getting old from how late I sleep on sea days sometimes until almost 8:00. This doesn’t happen at home, but after walking and walking to see as much as possible in a port and then staying up much later than at home to watch a show or dance or visit with friends - well, you get the picture. It is lovely to have a day to catch up.

Yesterday’s sailaway was another “sayonara” from our Japanese friends. There was a taiko drumming band which played from all aboard at 5:30 until we untied our ropes and began to sail away at about 5:50 (10 minutes early). We were again lucky enough to be facing the dock, so we only had to go out on our verandah to enjoy the show. The most interesting thing about this taiko group was that it was, with the exception of one adult and two children, all female. I don’t know how they can hit a drum that hard, but I do love the result. When I was teaching eighth grade, a taiko drumming group performed for our kids, and while eighth graders can have the attention span of a gnat, they were fascinated by the drummers and then several asked, “Can I join a group like that?”

Last night’s show was a reprise of Toni Warne, and the theatre was at least twice as full as it usually is for the 10:00 show. If you have a chance and the curiosity, check YouTube to watch her perform. She is really the whole package: beautiful voice, excellent stage presence, and ability to charm the audience. She began with some Barbara Streisand and then went to her favorite country western singer, Dolly Parton, with a medley of her songs. When she finished, the applause was long and loud and the standing ovation showed her how appreciated she had been. After the show she signed CD’s, but the line was long and we were tired, so it was off to bed.

The captain told us that there would be a bit of a problem in Jeju City, Korea on Monday. Apparently there are two docks, but one is really awful and almost requires acrobatics on the part of the passengers to disembark. Considering the average age on a world cruise, that just ain’t gonna happen. The captain of the cruise ship which has the main dock, however, has been extremely gracious and will let us dock there after he moves to the secondary dock. Unfortunately, the other ship won’t move until 10:00 AM, so we won’t dock until 11:00 instead of our scheduled 8:00. Because of that, however, we’ll sail three hours later, so everything will no doubt work out. In fact, since this is cold country, perhaps visiting later will keep my little fingers and toesies warmer.

Tomorrow is Incheon, which is the port for Korea’s capital, Seoul, where the forecast temperature is 21 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s awfully cold for us, being weather wimps as we are. The gale force winds today (Beaufort scale 9) are an additional trial and keep most passengers indoors. In Incheon there are ship tours of the port city as well as the capital, 80 minutes away by motorcoach, so we’re going to meet with Barbara, the port expert, to find out about getting to Seoul privately by train and then about how to get around the city. We know a couple of places we want to visit, but we’d better figure out how to find them. I think taxis will be part of our visit, and since it’s a city we’ve never visited, we’re really looking forward to it. Our friends Bill and Jane are taking the ship tour to the DMZ and going through the “third tunnel” (I have no idea what that is except for the obvious), and while that sounds really interesting, we thought we’d like to see the capital and largest city first. Maybe on another cruise - who knows?

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Thanks for the current postings on the Japanese and Korean ports. We'll be there in a month on the Volendam heading the other direction. For Kagoshima, I had planned the same shore trip as you did. Thanks for confirming my thinking was correct. If you know and see Gail & Marty, say "Hi" from Tim & Angela. We were on the Maasdam with them for a couple of months last fall.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017 - Day 45

Incheon, South Korea

We were to arrive in Incheon at 8:00 this morning, so why were we hearing people outside shouting and laughing at 6:00 AM? Fortunately, we were both able to go back to sleep, waking up at 7:30 for the dock approach. We had forgotten that the captain mentioned yesterday we had to go through a lock to enter the harbor, since the port keeps the water at the same level, regardless of tides.

When we must go through face-to-face immigration, usually in the dining room, we are each given numbers and are to show up as our number is called. They always begin with S (Special - President’s Club and suites), and then go to 5 and upward from there. At previous ports, we’ve had single digit numbers, but today we’re number 19, so here we sit in our cabin as most of the ship has already disembarked. Oh well - a chance to begin writing.

We met our friends Rich and Ginni and headed off to the shuttle, which took us to the middle of Incheon, where we could have gone down the steps to the largest underground shopping center I’ve ever heard of. It extended about five city blocks and ended at the rail terminal, where we bought our tickets to Seoul. The trains are warm and comfortable (necessary in 21 degree F. cold) and in 35 minutes or so, we were in Seoul, but in the wrong area for visiting the royal palace. We met a kind young man in the station who walked us to the correct subway and told us the train we needed. Soon enough we were going above ground to experience one of the most beautiful palace complexes we’ve ever seen. The most interesting part was that apparently there was some kind of a traditional festival, so dozens of young people wore traditional dress - and we took total photo advantage of them. There was a changing of the guard, who wore costumes that would have fit right in to the 15th century. One group of one young woman and two young men were trying to set up their camera for the “jump” shot, but failed. However, I had caught them in the air, so we air-dropped the picture from my I-Phone to theirs and they were very happy. Even though they spoke no English and we speak no Korean, we all understood “air drop.”

Like Japan, Seoul is very, very clean, with no litter anywhere to be seen. As we left the palace complex and walked down the main street, the open area between the two directions, a mall area, was absolutely jam-packed with people in small tent-like structures presenting a variety of social and political issues, most of which we didn’t understand. The one that we did understand, however, was regarding the sinking of the ferry on which almost 300 children were drowned a few years ago. According to the signs (translated into English), there are still nine children missing and not all of those responsible have been jailed. Ginni and I were given small Korean flags with yellow ribbons tied onto them to represent this tragedy. We’re going to “plant” them in the flower arrangement on our table in the dining room.

By now it was 2:30 and time to eat. We didn’t want much, so we just went into a Starbucks and ordered some warm sandwiches along with a cappuccino and a frapuccino and got very busy on our free wifi.

After another wander through the peaceful protest area, we realized it was 4:30, it was getting colder, and we needed to head back to the ship. It was time for another train/subway ride, and a kind young man was nice enough to show us the best way to do so.

Once we arrived back in Incheon, Rich decided it was time for a beer, so we found a cute little cafe that had a local brew on tap, and we not only had four of those but they brought us some really tasty rice-based snacks.

The shuttle brought us back to the ship, and I cannot express how wonderful it was to get into a warm elevator to take us up to our warm room. It was just toooo cold for me today, but it was a wonderful day and we saw some great things in Seoul, a city we were visiting for the first time but hope to return to.

 

Tomorrow we’ll probably stay in Incheon, with a population of only three million (compared to Seoul’s ten million). There are lots of interesting things here, and we intend to find as many as possible.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017 - Day 46

Incheon, Korea

In some ways, this was like a sea day. We slept in (until 7:00, anyway), worked out in the gym, had a relaxed breakfast, and then showered and dressed for the day. It was only then that we hopped the shuttle bus and headed into the middle of Incheon to see what we could see.

The shuttle drop-off spot is right next to one of the stairways (and there are several) which lead down to the Jinpo Shopping Center, which, as I said yesterday, is the longest such place I’ve ever entered. The main decision when entering is “left or right,” and either will take you to hundreds of little shops, almost in the style of a strip mall. You can buy almost anything from jewelry to cell phones to clothing to shoes to - you name it. The only thing we couldn’t buy was a postcard. Since we send our granddaughter a card from every port, that was one of our two goals for today. This “mall,” however, is not designed for tourists; it’s where local folks from Incheon shop and they certainly don’t need postcards. Fortunately, we ran into our friend Nancy on the return shuttle and she had one too many, so we lucked out.

One thing that we both noticed was that the sizes were certainly not for Americans. The jeans averaged around a 30 and the shoes around a 6. I found a $9.00 pair of soft red leather loafers that I liked, but the largest size they had was a 7-1/2 and I’m an 8-1/2. There was no way the jeans were going to fit me either, even if I needed a pair. One of the nice things about the underground shopping street was that it led to the train station, so a person could walk almost a mile underground, keeping warm while headed to a heated train. With today’s temperature at about 34 degrees F. and yesterday’s at 25, that is definitely a plus.

Our other goal today was to make a phone call to our daughter, granddaughter, and son-in-law. Since it’s 7 hours later yesterday (does that make sense?) we had to call at 11:00 AM to talk to them at 6:00 PM yesterday. Confused yet? We were. Because wifi is free and fast throughout the mall, it was easy to hook up, which also provided us a telephone server, so we talked to them for thirty minutes for free! If we had made that same call from the ship, it would have cost $240 at $8.00 a minute.

After leaving the shelter of underground to search for Chinatown (and failing to find it), we went down a little side street and found some delicious “spicy chicken” being prepared outside. It’s deep-fried chicken mixed in a wok with spicy sesame and honey sauce and it is delicious, even if it almost burned off my lips. When we went into the restaurant to find some seating, we ran into our friends Susan, Michael, Ellen, Aart, and Barbie, so we joined in and shared some chicken, since they had ordered the plain fried variety. Ours was like Colonel Sanders on steroids, but we got through the entire platter, mostly because we tried to avoid the super-spicy skin and sauce. It really was delicious, though. We washed it down with a local beer which was just the thing to cool our mouths.

After lunch we spent some time wandering side streets, running into other friends and crew members, and taking photos of things like small fish markets. We had quite a lot of Korean currency, so we decided to use it in the snack shop down in the bowels of the earth. We bought chips and cookies for our room stewards as well as candy, Tim-Tams, and chips for ourselves. We still didn’t spend all our money (everything is remarkably inexpensive here), but decided we’d just save the remaining bills to change into Chinese yuan.

By then it was getting even colder, so it was time to head back to the ship. Fortunately, the shuttle arrived just as we were lining up for it, and the 10-minute drive was even warm.

 

Now we have two days at sea to cover a distance that probably could be transited in 12 hours, but we aren’t due in the port for Beijing until February 22, so that’s the day we will arrive, probably after spending 48 hours sailing in circles in the Yellow Sea. I’m sure we’ll love all 48 of those hours.

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Monday, February 20, 2017 - Day 47

At Sea en route to Xingang (port for Beijing)

We’re back to high winds and rough seas, and as I sit here in the Ocean Bar (waiting for Trivia, not drinking), I can hear the elevators banging loudly against their walls. The seas were forecast to be about three meters, but as we look out they are clearly higher than that, and when we tried to open our verandah door, the Force 10 winds fought so much that it took two of us to succeed. As long as I hang on to the bars in the shower, I’m fine, but boy, is it getting exciting. Because of our change of itinerary and spending two days in Incheon, we’re going to be two full sea days en route to Xingang, so I imagine we’ll have lots more of this excitement.

For some people, this is the most exciting part of the cruise, because this is when the “bigwigs” come on board. We have Orlando Ashford, the president of HAL, along with his wife and two sons, as well as Arnold Donald, the CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, whose wife Hazel we’ve gotten to know since she’s on for the long haul. We spent some time chatting with Mr. Ashford on Ft. Lauderdale sailaway day, and after it was mentioned in this blog, we checked his video on YouTube and saw ourselves a couple of times. He really is a very personable fellow and we enjoyed his company. When I was introduced to Mr. Donald (yes, interesting name), I commented that to those of us on the ship, he was really “Hazel’s husband and dance partner.” He found that fairly amusing, I guess because he’s usually treated with far more deference. He seems like a very nice man, but I’ve only had one brief conversation with him.

The activities for the several days they’re on board are numerous. First, each President’s Club member is invited to a rather elegant dinner in the King’s Room, and since there are 35 of them on board, it takes three evenings to fit everyone in. Then today there’s a lovely lunch in the Crow’s Nest for anyone who had 800 sailing days (not including bonus days) before this cruise. We had exactly 700, so our 811 will only be at the end of the cruise, but that will earn us some platinum medals near the end.

The biggest deal, however, is the party that is hosted while these gentlemen are on board. These over-the-top celebrations have included dinner in a dry Istanbul cistern (complete with the American ambassador and belly dancers), a beach party on the Lido deck, a “safari camp” on the lido deck, a visit from Desmond Tutu, and dinner and a classical orchestra in one of the ruins of Ephesus. These are great parties, but we’ve managed to miss at least three of them because of overland trips. My biggest disappointment was missing Desmond Tutu, as he is one of my heroes, but we had already arranged and paid for a safari into Zambia. You can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

This year’s party will be on board the ship the evening before we arrive in Shanghai, so my best guess is that it will have a Chinese theme. We had been hoping for the night before Beijing, but that isn’t going to happen. We’re flying home from Beijing and not rejoining until Hong Kong, so we’ll miss this year again. Until then, however, I’ll just enjoy the rocking and rolling.

 

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Monday, February 21, 2017 - Day 48

At Sea en route to Xingang

The seas have calmed, although the chances of the temperature getting above 0 C. or 32 F are fairly slim. No one with a lick of sense goes outside, and even with the roof closed, the midships Lido deck is cold enough to . . . (go ahead, fill in the blanks). Our friends who suffer from mal de mer are no longer in misery, but there seems to be, as there always is, a cold/cough going around the ship that we hear at all hours. We seem to just be a huge petri dish, and the germs go from one person to another to another, round and round. At least we haven’t had to go to Code Red, which we had for a full month in 2015. With that classification, we could no longer pick up our own food in the Lido, salt and pepper shakers were replaced by small paper packets, and crew members would stand there with Purell dispensers until every passenger was shamed into using them.

Last evening we had way too much fun at dinner (as usual), but we really didn’t want to go to the show (it was a “harmonicist”) so we headed up to the Crow’s Nest for some dancing. For the first month of the cruise there were so many complaints about the group that played in the Crow’s Nest that they finally were disembarked in Incheon, with a new group coming aboard. The problem was that the music the first group played sounded better in an elevator, and what most people want is dance music. This group is fantastic and the Crow’s Nest is more crowded both before and after dinner than it has been since January 4. The lead singer is outstanding and everyone is well pleased. The only problem is that they’re only available for two weeks, and then they’ll be replaced by a Filipino band, but we’ve heard that they’re good too.

It was especially fun last evening because many of our friends were there, and because it was Aart’s 70th birthday, he even went out onto the dance floor a few times. Ellen (whom some of you may remember from Cruise Specialists), his significant other, was his main dance partner, but he also paired up with a couple of other ladies, even though he will tell anyone who asks that he doesn’t like to dance.

The other addition to our late night party was Orlando Ashford, HAL’s president, who seems to be just an all-around nice guy. He loves talking about his wife and two sons, and he told us about their planned family outing to the museum in Beijing. His older son has been learning Mandarin Chinese for a few years and has done some “in country” visits to China to improve it. Since the museum in Beijing is one of the three largest in the world, young Mr. Ashford has been interested in going there, which I think is much to his credit. Most kids would head directly to the Great Wall, but he’s more interested in Chinese culture.

We finally headed home a little after midnight, and because we turned our clocks back an hour, it was actually only a little after 11:00, so sleeping until almost 7:00 this morning gave us almost the requisite eight hours.

 

So far this morning it’s been fairly quiet on board, due as much to the awful weather as much as anything. We’ll be spending some time this afternoon packing, since we have an overnight tour to Beijing beginning tomorrow morning at 8:00 and then, late on the next day, we head for what we jokingly call our “San Francisco overland,” flying from Beijing to San Francisco, driving home to San Luis Obispo, and spending a few days with our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. At the beginning of the cruise we were dreading it, but as we have continued along, we’ve realized that there are a lot of benefits to going home mid-cruise: getting rid of all this cold-weather clothing, renewing prescriptions, checking on our house (because of California storms), and so on. It will be great to spend time with the kids, of course, but there are also some attractive practical considerations. We’ll rejoin in Hong Kong, with newly exchanged tee-shirts and fewer gifts to haul home from Ft. Lauderdale. First, however, we have the magic of Beijing to anticipate. We’ve been here before, but it never hurts to go back and see it again.

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