United States tourism is currently in an awkward position. The US is usually a highly sought after location for travelers abroad, offering obvious and iconic landmarks, parks, events and cities. But recently there has been an unexpected shift as a number of countries who are issuing travel advisories and warnings to people planning excursions to the US.
Gun violence is the obvious reason for these foreign country’s to be apprehensive about sending citizens’ to our country. The US is now being viewed by outsiders as a place where gun violence is a daily occurrence. Pair this with racial tensions, Zika and a very strange Presidential election and prospective visitors to the US are rightfully concerned that they may be singled out because of their religion, sexual orientation or ethnic background or possibly become sick or injured abroad.
As citizen’s of our proud country all we can do to help is express and pass along a welcoming vibe to all visitors regardless of any of the aforementioned factors. We do not have control over everything but we can assist in making our own neighborhoods a kind welcome mat to those who want to visit the greatest country in the world.
Blog #13 April 17th
Final blog today, is our third day at sea heading toward Dubai, in the Arab Emirates, sailing on the Arabian Sea. I thought today I would tell you what happens aboard the Queen Elizabeth in a typical afternoon. We usually have our midday meal in the Britannia Restaurant or on 9 deck at the rear of the ship either in the buffet line or outside at the hamburger/hotdog stand. At high noon the captain speaks to us over the public address system and the entire ship’s company with how far we have sailed from our last port or the past 24 hours.
Today, April 16th, he tells us that we have sailed since leaving Southampton a distance of 27,420 miles. At 12:30 p until 1:15 we have live Caribbean music on the back open deck as long as there is good weather. Today the temperature is 79 degrees, with the ocean water just one degree warmer. At noon the casino opens with low limits. At 12:15 begins the ballroom dance class for all ages and at 1:00p watercolor art class. At 2:00 there is a duplicate bridge class, also taking place at 2:00p is a classical concert as well as the showing of a movie, today it is “Suffragette“. With each passing hour there is at least 5 to 7 items we can participate in. Then at 3:30p is afternoon tea served in the Queens room for one hour.
Each and every day the events are different. As far as fitness, there is swimming in one of two pools or a walk around on deck 3, four times for a mile, or you could visit the royal fitness center up on deck 11. While at sea the days pass quickly and there never seems to be enough time to do all the things you would like to do, but there is always tomorrow.
April 17th. Today is the date we reach the port of Dubai in the Arab Emirates. We have made plans to take the Hop on Hop off double decker tour bus. We have a good breakfast and are on the pier just a couple minutes after 9:00am. We are one of the first people to board the bus and we decide to take the blue route first and when finished we will then take the red route thus we will see the entire city of Dubai. The weather is all blue skies and the day promises to be in the mid 70’s. We enjoy the entire day on the tour bus and when we purchased our ticket we also were given a free ticket to ride a large wooden dhow on the creek that flows through the city for 45 minutes. After our busy day we return to the ship. We really are tired after this full day tour.
At 11:30p the ship let go of the ropes and the ship heads back out to sea. We never see the ship leave port, because, you guessed it, we went to bed at 10:30pm. April 18th, we are at sea for one day before we reach our next port city of Muscat. April 19th, just before 8:00a, we arrive at the port entrance for Muscat, Oman. By 9:00a the ship has been cleared for all passengers to go ashore. We have a tour today but not until 12:30 pm. So we get on one of the early shuttle buses and head for the city center and a very large enclosed Souk. While at the Souk I purchase a pair of leather sandals. We arrive back at the pier just a few minutes before 11:00am. Oh yes, the temperature is 94 degrees! On our afternoon tour we board the coach and meet our local guide Joseph who is dressed in native custom garb. As we set out to start our 4 hour tour he gives us many details about this country. Present numbers are a follows, just over 4 million people with the capital being Muscat, while the country includes 6 provinces.
Over the years trade between east and west has flourished, while the country was ruled by various indigenous tribes as well as foreign powers such as the Portuguese empire and the Ottoman Empire at various points in its history. Today the country is growing at a fast rate while the present Sultan has been in power since the mid 1970’s Muscat has experience rapid expansion with forward thinking. We drive several miles into the interior of the country and new construction is evident as far as the eye can see. With good roads many automobiles and businesses of every description. One of the highlights of this tour is the stop at the Royal Palace for High Tea. Words alone cannot do justice to this Palace. We are told the Sultan is in, but we don’t see him on our tour. Shortly after 4:00p, we return to the pier and to the Queen Elizabeth. Today was a very interesting tour.
Shortly after 5:30pm. We head South on the Arabian Sea and on our way to our next port of call. For the second time in the last week the ship is visited by the British Navy, a new looking destroyer that also carries a Helicopter. They have done exercises during their approaches to our ship and fly-by’s from the helicopter as we are now heading into the pirate waters of the Arabian sea. Tomorrow we have a drill for pirate training, if we ever are attacked. The truth is, no ship has been attacked in the last 3 years, so the majority of the passengers think this is just a waste of time, and we agree. Then on April 22nd we visit Salalah, Oman, and then head into the Red Sea. We sail into Salalah, Oman early morning again the temp is near 90 degrees at 8:00am. There will not be a free shuttle today, so travel to the small city is 8 miles away. So the ship will transport all passengers from the ship to the port gates, then we have to hire a cab to take us into the city or to take a tour other than from the ships tour. We decide not to go ashore today. When some guests return to the ship they tell the story that the cabs were charging $80.00 to go into the city and then to return to the ship they were chagrin $150.00 each. “Wow” many people just take the shuttle back to the ship and spend the day resting on the deck. At 5:30p, we set sail for our next port at the top end of the Red Sea and the city of Aqaba, Jordan. To get there in 4 days, we have to travel at a speed of 23.7 knots, believe me that is really pushing it! You could water ski behind the ship at that speed. I think everyone has heard about the Red Sea just south of the Egypt and connecting to the Suez canal at the southern end. But here is some further information on this body of water. The Red sea is one of the most saline bodies of water in the world due to the effects of the water circulation pattern. It is roughly 1215 miles long and at it widest point & is 199 miles wide. It has a maximum depth of 7254 feet. On the west side it borders the coastlines of Sudan and Egypt, and on the east side it borders Jeddah and Mekkah, and it is not red in color!
April 27th, today we entered the Suez Canal at 6a in the morning heading north and after a full day being In the canal we entered the Mediterranean Sea just after 5:00 and now on our way to Istanbul, Turkey. I have taken video as we passed through the canal for you folks back home to see when we return home next month. We received an email notice from the Ensemble Home office in NYC stating that our scheduled Ensemble tour of Istanbul has been cancelled due to continued unrest in that city. Instead we will visit Athens Greece for our third shore excursions.
This is the last of my blogs!!!! As you most likely know my laptop shut down just before I had a chance to send this Blog #13. We have now returned home and arrived safely on May17th while I was able to restore my laptop to full function again.
Blog #12 April 6th.
Wednesday, ship arrives in Penang Bay, Malaysia. This to us is a nothing port, we have been here several times and the pier is a long walk and the city is quite a distance from the port, so we decide to do some clothes washing and sit on our deck and just take it easy. Besides it is very hot, 94 degrees on the 7th.We arrive in Phuket, Thailand. No pier at this island city, so the ship has to drop anchor in the harbor. We have no tour today but will go ashore to shop for some sun screen, the weather is going to be very hot today also; location wise, we are just 9 degrees above the equator. After breakfast we return to our room and collect the carry-on bag with a bottle of water, our passports a few other items and head down to the Queens Room to collect our tender tickets. When we arrive at the Queen Room it is full of people, come to find out tender service was to start just after 7:30am. And not one tender has left the ship. We are told the ocean swells are too high and are unsafe to use our tenders, so the ship has ordered some much larger boats from shore to take everyone ashore. Our tender boats hold about 100, but the shore boats will hold 200+ people each.
We have to sit around until our tender ticket # 8 is called and we finally board our tender at 10:30am. The ride to shore is at least 20 minutes. The main street runs right along the beach and there are about 20 taxi driver awaiting our arrival, everyone wants us to take a tour with them. We just keep telling them no taxi, no taxi. We cross the street and there are more taxi drivers are trying to sell tours of the island. On the main street is on one side beach front and on the other side is souvenir shops and restaurants and other convenience stores selling beach related items, We find a drug store and a 7/11 store combined. They have Sun Tan location in small tubes for 390 Baht. One US dollar is 30 Baht.
We cross over the street and immediately we are walking on fine sand. The beach stretches in both directions for at least 2 miles. Right in front of us is a team of 5 young men operating a pera-sail launching sight and people are standing in line to take a ride. You get one time around with the ride lasting about 4 minutes, I think the price is $20.00. As we look down the beach we see at least 2 other groups are offering rides as well. The weather is perfect, very little breeze full sunshine and temperatures in the low 80’s. As noon approaches we walk back to the pier and show our ship’s badges and board one of the large tenders and return to the ship.
In the afternoon we select a padded chair and just hang-out. Shortly after 6:30pm. The ships raises its anchor and we head back out to sea. Now we are heading for Chennai, India. We will be at sea for 2 days. Sunday, April 10th the ship arrives at the scheduled time of 8:00am. We have purchased a tour for Chennai, India. The city was formerly known as Madras the name change took place in 1996. Chennai, the fourth largest city in India is also the home of 7 large Hindu temples built in the Dravidian style. Our tour today is to see the highlights of the city. We board the coach at 12:45 pm and quickly blend in with the local city traffic with the coach driver using his horn several times every minute. The entire four hour tour is the constant sounding of a traffic horn blowing. We have a lady step on guide who speaks fairly good English, she is dressed in typical India style with a sari and flat sandals. We pass by the Madras high court, part of what is to believe to be the second largest judicial complex in the world. We then continue to the fort St. George to take photos of the statues. Following St. George we head to Marina Beach the countries longest urban beach with the beach extending at least a quarter mile before reaching the water’s edge. We also see the area’s fresh fish market with many different kinds of fresh seafood to be found.
We then head for the San Thome Cathedral Basilica, a huge white building with trees planted all around. We then continue to the Kapaleswarar Temple, believed to be one of the oldest and most revered holly places in the city containing inscriptions that date back to 1250 AD. We return to the pier with our ears ringing still from the traffic horns. Just after 6:00p, we set sail for our last port in India that being Cochin.
On April 11th we are invited to another cocktail party to be held in the Queens Room at 7:45p to honor those passengers who are World Club Cruise passengers. Much to our surprise Marilyn and I among others were recognized for our sailing day at sea, and even further to our surprise both of us were called to the front of the stage. We were then presented with a silver candy dish inscribed with ‘World Club Explorers’ in addition to a large fresh flower arrangement which was presented to Marilyn. All the while a ships person was reciting all of our cruise accomplishments. We also received a color picture of the event from the photo department. The Captain was there and personally offered his congratulations. We also have a video of this evenings events that was recorded by one of the ships officers. The event really turned out to be evening that we won’t forget.
On April 11th we arrive at the harbor entrance to Cochin, our last port in India, and again we purchased tours from the tour department. We board the coach just after 10:15am and set off. We leave the harbor area and head for Fort Cochin were we pass St. Francis Church, the oldest church in India, before stopping for a photo stop and viewing the Chinese fishing nets. We were then transferred to the Greenix Cultural Theater to enjoy the Kerola Cultural performance of Kathakail for a one hour and 30 minutes of specialty dance and Martial Arts demonstration all in costume. The coach ride back to the ships passed many small towns built very close to the narrow two lane road way, again with horns notifying our presents for the many pedestrians and street traffic on each side of the road. At just after 7:00pm we leave port and head for Dubai. We will be at sea 4 days.
Your Blog reporter,
Blog#11 April 6, 2016
Last night we had our full World Cruise Dinner, it was quite nice. We met in the lobby of the ship at 5:45pm, went a-shore and boarded the large buses that were provided. From the ship to the Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, the driving time was about 30 minutes. Upon arrival we went directly into the large lobby area where a glass of a delicious Singapore Sling was given to all attendees. Thereafter we were offered a large assortment of petites fours to enjoy. At the exact time for our evening meal (7:20 pm) the double doors were opened and we entered the ball room all set with tables for ten at each table and a large stage area.
We quickly found our place at table, #3, and much to our surprise we were seated at the Cunard’s presidents table with Mr. David Noyes. Marilyn was seated to his left and I was seated next to Marilyn. When we were seated he apparently had been talking to someone from the ship or at Cunard headquarters because he knew a lot about us. To my surprise he wanted me to speak frankly about what Cunard should or could do too better the World Cruise package. I started out by telling him we were aboard hosting 11 people representing Ensemble. To my surprise he was not familiar with Ensemble at all! I gave him a brief update about Ensemble Travel. All during the evening meal the wine glasses were never empty and we had to place our hand over the wine glass to stop the wine staff from pouring more.
The evening meal was as follows, Entree: Vine-ripe Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella with aged Balsamic and Escarole Salad. The main course: seared sea bass with green peas, roast potato & lemon cream sauce or seared beef strip loin with ginger shiitake mushrooms, green bean medley, potato puree and soya caramel sauce. Dessert: banana peach strudel served with vanilla and cherry Sauce. Dessert was then followed by petites fours, with coffee and or tea. After dining we were joined by several dancers and a lion train in colorful lion costume, as well as a small band offering dance music to conclude the evening festivities.
At 9:45pm. We re-boarded the coaches and returned to the ship. As we were about to leave David Noyes asked me to write a letter directly to him about Ensemble and he gave me this business card. We arrived back on board the ship just in time to see a local shore dance group performing in the Royal Court Theater. At 11:00pm, we headed to our room to enjoy a full night’s sleep.
The following day we were at sea now heading north in the Malacca Straits between Indonesia and Malaysia, with our next port of call being Penang. We arrive just before 8:00am, the following morning and are tied up at the pier by 8:30am. We have been to this port several times before and decide not to go ashore today but to spend the day on deck 3 where they have lounge chairs with a good view of the city in the distance. Besides the temperature is expected to reach 92 degrees by 11:00am. We enjoy our day aboard the ship and several other guests also make the wise decision to stay. When all the tour coaches have returned to the pier we get under way shortly after 6:00pm for our next port of call tomorrow, that being Phuket, Thailand.
Your sea reporter,
Blog # 10 March 30, 2016
Today the ship made its second call back to Hong Kong and this time there was no rain and no fog. We are lucky to be able to again dock at city pier next to the Star Ferry that is just a 10 minute ride and will deposit you on Hong Kong Island. A lot of people think everything contained in the city is Hong Kong, not true. The city is a two part city, on the main land is China, known as “Kowloon.” If you cross the strip of water you are on Hong Kong Island. But collectively it is known as Hong Kong.
We go to breakfast just after 8:45am and sit at a table of 6. One of the couples at the breakfast table want to know if they can join us for the bus tour we are going to take later in the morning. We agree and at 9:30am we meet and head for the money exchange store on shore to get just enough H.K. dollars to take the public double decker bus to Stanley market. The price for seniors is $6.8 H.K. dollars per person one way. The exchange rate today is one U.S. dollar will get you 7.6 H.K. dollars, so we buy enough to pay the fee for a round trip ticket. We locate the closest bus stop and look for bus #973 to Stanley Market. The bus ride is for just a little over one hour. So we end up going for just under one U.S. dollar each way. On buses they do not make change so you have to have the correct amount of money. P.S. the ship also has a tour to the market for $32.00 per person.
We spend the remainder of the morning at the market. We also have lunch and we pay for lunch with our credit card. We don’t like to change money if we don’t have too. We get back to the ship just after 2:00pm and remain on the ship for the remainder of the day. The ship departs at 6:45pm and heads south toward our next port of Nha Twang, Vietnam. We arrive in the harbor for Nha Twang on April 1st. The harbor guide boat carrying the pilot meets us at sea, within one mile from the port harbor entrance. The harbor pilot comes aboard and assists the captain in heading into the harbor, this procedure is repeated in all ports of entry. The pilot then directs the ship either to its correct pier or to the designated anchorage. In Nha Trang, Vietnam we will be at anchor, the pier area is no way large enough for the ship to dock. About three quarters of the passengers have purchased tickets for all the tours offered today and we meet in either the Queens room or the Royal Court Theater, depending on what tour you have selected. We receive our tender assignment and tender boat numbers.
When we arrive at the Royal Court Theater it is full of folks awaiting to go ashore, but nobody is leaving. We find an empty seat and just as we are about to set down, the Captain comes on the public address system. We can tell by his voice that something is not going well. He informs everyone that the local authorities have not received the proper port clearance for any of the ship passenger to go ashore and that he has contacted South Hampton officials and is in contact with the local port authorities, but no clearance has been granted for any passenger or crew to go ashore at this time.
He asks all on board to be patient and he will get back to us just as soon as he has further news.
We have never had this happen before, an hour goes by and no further announcements are made. Finally about 11:30am the Captain comes on the loud speakers and informs us that the problem has been settled and we can now proceed to go ashore. All the full day tours in duration are starting to be called with each tender only holding 90 people each. We can see this is going to take a considerable amount of time. Yes it does! We board our tender at 12:15 pm. With our original departure time being 9:15 pm. Management aboard ship tells us this has never happened before.
When we do reach shore the coaches are all awaiting our arrival. We are assigned bus number 22 our coach driver informs us that this is a brand new coach and we are the first passengers. We won’t be back until 3:30 or later. That means no lunch today! We do have a few cookies that we had packed in our bag. The city tour was good with the first shop at a huge market selling everything you could think of. Our next stop was an original Catholic built in 1900, our third stop was a Buddhist Temple and last stop was an Embroidery store/work shop. We then went back to the pier and returned to the ship. Nha Ttrang city is quite clean with workers sweeping the side of the streets and sidewalks with home make brooms with no graffiti on any of the buildings in sight. The park areas are very clean with plenty of green area and trimmed shrubs with paths winding through the parks areas. But the big thing is the number of motor bikes and scooters, with a few cars, but in greater numbers is the size and diversity of trucks. I take quite a few movies as we explore the city.
We arrive back at the pier mid afternoon and take the ships tender back to the ship. Just after 6:45pm we get under way and sail out of the harbor and head for our next port in two days, the city of Singapore. The weather has warmed up considerably as we have been heading south again. Tomorrow it is going to be near 78 degrees that means back to swimming weather at the ships pools.
Your Blog reporter,
Blog # 9 March 23, 2016
We are at sea, just a quiet day but with 2 interesting speakers, the first one on the days event for the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Osaka Japan and the plane that carried the first Atomic Bomb. The second speaker was Felicity Aston the lady who crossed the South Pole on a personal expedition on skies pulling two sleds which she did it in 38 days. All of the speakers talk on their subject for 45 minutes.
The weather has been chilly for this time of the year as all of our recent stops should have had cherry blossoms in full blooms buy this date, but not this year. On the morning of the 24th of March we arrive in the port of Hiroshima for a full day of adventure. We have our breakfast aboard and gather our coats and head out to the shuttle buses.
We are offered one of 3 different destinations, we select the longest one, that being a trip to “Yahatagawa Sake Brewing Company“. Try to say that companies name three times fast. The drive takes us through a large portion of the city of Hiroshima. Our van is full of folks who want to see the same thing as we do. Upon arrival we leave the van and walk down several side street and shortly we arrive at the brewing house and meet our English speaking guide. She explains the process to us. We then enter a large storage area where the rice of three kinds are mixed with purified water and heated in large vats. When the grain and water reach the desired heat and cooking time, the bottom of the cooker is opened and the mash empties into the metal fermentation tanks.
After 30 days the sake is put through several layers of very fine cloth and bottled. In the tasting room we are offered one of 7 different varieties, we choose a Plum Sake. We then move to an open area outdoors where several different companies are displaying their goods for sale. At this site is also where they are making rice cakes. At this location is where a local television station film crew is taping the entire adventure we are seeing, and they ask both Marilyn and I if we would give them an interview! We most likely were on Osaka 6:00 news cast. Yes, I have video of the Sake experience.
Shortly thereafter we boarded the shuttle transport and returned to the ship. Upon our return we viewed many of the companies that set up booths in a very large building adjacent to the pier. It was so large we went back aboard ship had lunch and then returned to the pier and the large building. All afternoon we were entertained by many musical groups, mostly school children. At near 4:00pm we return to the ship. This we found out later was the ships initial visit to this city.
As we have visited several Cities in Japan in the past 10 days we now have a problem with many passengers with Nora virus and it is spreading. So far none of our group has been affected.
On March 26 the ship calls on Naha, Okinawa Japan this will the last call for the Japanese ports for this 2016 cruise. We arrive around 7:45 am. This will also be a maiden call port for the Queen Elizabeth. We have breakfast in the dining room, return to our room and get ready for our ships tour of the city and outskirts. We will be on coach number 16 for this 4 to 5 hour tour. We depart the ship and get one of the first 5 seats in the coach, our guide today is a short middle aged Japanese lady named ‘Cashee’. She speaks with a very strong Japanese accent, but if you listen intensely you can understand her quite well.
We leave the port area and immediately get onto an elevated highway and head toward the city center, we reach our destination in about 30 minutes. It is, I guess you would call it down-town, lots of stores on both sides of the street selling everything you can think-of. We are ushered onto an escalator and arrive at the second level. We then walk for a couple of 100 feet and are told we will be painting our very own canvas bags. Wow, this is certainly something different! We enter the store where each of us is seated at a table and on top of the table we select our flower design to be painted onto our canvas bag. Instructors show us just how to do it and we all get to painting our very own design on the bag.
When we get into a bind help is there to assist us. 30 minutes later and we all are finished with our art work. We return to the main street and it starts to rain, undeterred we head for the public market where all sorts of food and vegetables are available as well as trinkets of every description, the place is packed with people looking and some buying. We remember our pledge, if you buy it you must pack it in your suitcase to get it home. We clutch our canvas painted bag and leave. When we reach the main street it has stopped raining and we return to the bus at the designated location.
Our next and final stop is Okinawa Shurijo Castle park. The coach driver gets as close as possible and then we walk up the wide paved path to reach the upper developed temples. All of these temples have been restored following the war. This is a walled complex with 4 painted wood buildings and a center open parade grounds. This location has a great view of the city below.
On Sunday March 27th, Easter Sunday, we are at sea and we start the day by attending church services at 9:00am.
At 11:00am we have a special lecturer, Terry Waite, this is the second part of his three part lecture entitled “Survival in Solitude”. He packs the ships auditorium which holds just over 900 people. Then at noon we have a small lunch in anticipation of the evening’s meal being something special. Following lunch at 3:00pm, the entertainment dept. had an egg drop competition. All of the contestants were given a raw egg, you could use any material on board ship to wrap or protect your egg. The object of the contest was for each contestant to drop an egg from the 9th deck and it had to land on the 8th deck without breaking. The passengers gathered at the drop hour to witness the results. Very few, I think, just 3 eggs made the drop without breaking, everyone had scrambled egg for their efforts.
After a great evening meal, we got back to our room where we find two chocolate Easter Bunnies. The following morning we arrive in Keelung, Taiwan. The ship docks right at the pier in down town, we just walk off the ship then through the terminal and we are on a busy downtown street with taxi’s awaiting our arrival. In most ports we do not change our US dollars for the local money. Most taxis do not want US dollars, so we decide to just walk a few blocks into the city, and return the same way back to the terminal.
As we get just a block away a Yellow cab pulls up next to us and wants to know if we would like a tour. He speaks fairly good English. I tell him we just have US dollars, he says that is fine with him. So we pick a tour from his selection and we jump into the cab, we decide a tour for two hours. Off we go, he drives through the main section of Keelung and then take the shore side route and head for Yeliu Geological Park, a park where Mother Nature has carved some amazing rock formations.
We can’t believe how many sightseeing victors are here, numbers had to be in the thousands, and the parking lot was full of sight-seeing coaches, each one could carry 50 or more people. We return to the pier just in time for your noon time lunch. We spend the rest of the afternoon just soaking up the sunshine on our deck on board ship. We leave just after 7:00pm. And head back out to sea, after another day, we will make our second stop back in Hong Kong.
Your Blog reporter,
The Seabourn Quest is sailing on June 11 and visiting charming Baltic ports on its 7 day Baltic and St. Petersburg cruise! Contact Van Zile Travel for additional information on this amazing journey! Seating is limited. History and exclusive leisure combine on the decks of this special travel opportunity! In addition to the stellar itinerary, the sailing spotlights a stop at a World Heritage Site with the Tallinn experience in Estonia designed exclusively for Quest travelers which includes….
• Tour with Minister Velliste
• Estonian Parliament
• Upper Town cathedrals
• Lower Town walkabout
• Viimsi peninsula
• Villa Mary seaside lunch
1 Copenhagen, Denmark 4:00 PM
2 At Sea
3 Tallinn, Estonia 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
4 St. Petersburg, Russia 8:00 AM
5 St. Petersburg, Russia
6 St. Petersburg, Russia 6:00 PM
7 Helsinki, Finland 7:00 AM 2:00 PM
8 Stockholm, Sweden 7:00 AM
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Blog # 8 March 13, 2016
We arrive in Hong Kong, but to our displeasure it is foggy and raining lightly. We have a light breakfast and pack our rain gear and head out to find a drugstore for more toothpaste, so far no one has Crest toothpaste. At the conclusion of this outing we still don’t have any. When our present supply is gone I guess we will have to purchase some Colgate on the ship. Well that’s enough of our problems.
Now let me tell you what else we are doing on this Cruise. We have booked for this evening a 4 hour tour of the city of Hong Kong riding on a vintage 1904 double decker trolley tram. We board a large coach meet our tour guide and head for the trolley barn on Hong Kong Island. 21 of us will spend the evening hours together. After riding the coach for some 20 minute we arrive at the trolley station. As our trolley rounds the bend the tracks for the trolley are buried right in the concrete road, and we get our first view of our evening’s transportation. This restored trolley is constructed with wood for the upper part and with the undercarriage of steel. The wood is stained and beautifully finished like a fine piece of furniture, with small white light bulbs outlining the exterior of the trolley. We all climb aboard.
As the conductor adjusted his seat, he reaches over his head and pulls down on a tattered rope which produces the clang–clang sound. He then presses down on the accelerator and the trolley pulls smartly ahead and onto the main trolley line. There are other trolleys ahead of us and several behind us as well as other trolleys going in the opposite direction. As the trolleys pass one another there isn’t much clearance, maybe one foot that’s all. The trolley tracks are located in the middle of the street. The sidewalks and street are crowed with people and cars honking their horns most all the time. All the small shops are open with their lights shining as well as the car and bus traffic with their lights, if we had snow it would look just like Christmas time.
We ride our vintage trolley for just under 2 hours. At the end of the line we disembark and re-board our coach and return to Kowloon side of the river. We are driven to a restaurant where we enjoy our special 8 course Chinese dinner in a restaurant very near where the ship is docked. 2 hours later we again board the coach and are driven to the Hong Kong Night Market, and are given one hour to shop amongst the stalls offering all kinds of merchandise for sale. Then we are returned to the pier and rejoin the ship, it is now after 11 pm. This has been a very interesting evening and I think everyone had a great time, I know we did.
The following 2 days we are at sea before reaching Shanghai, China, the largest city of any other city on this cruise. Our step on guide aboard the coach states this city and suburbs has a population of 117 million people! We have selected a city tour to last about 4 to 5 hours. You have to see all the high rise apartment dwellings! Most at least 20 or more stories high and many newer towers of at least 50 to 60 stories built in clusters of 6 to 10 units and all built alike, story after story. As we get closer to down town we ride on elevated highways.
We arrive in the immediate area of downtown we drop down to street level and tour many of the historic buildings we spend about one hour touring the older area of downtown on the coach. Our prize is a visit to one of the newer high-rise office buildings, we leave the coach and walk into the newest high-rise banking buildings, are ushered into the elevator and climb to the top in less than 40 seconds and are deposited on the 88 floor of shimmering glass and steel with a 360 degree viewing area, named Jinmao Hyatt building. The pearl tower, the other most recent high-rise building now is several stories below us and just a block away. But to our surprise the building next to us that is now under construction and is about 95 percent completed and is over 110 stories high! Returning to our coach we continue our city tour, and ride on elevated highways again we ride over huge modern arching bridges. We have nothing in the states that will equal this modern city in many ways.
After our tour has seen everything on the list we return to the ship for a 40 minute drive back to the pier. We really enjoy our next day at sea before reaching Busan, South Korea. Because we have been to South Korea before we do not take an organized tour in the next two ports Busan and Jeju-do Korea, but we elect to take the free shuttle bus into the cities and just walk around for an hour or so and then return to the ship. But we do take some video of the sights. The outstanding thing to see in Busan we are told, is to visit the fish market. We see so many kinds of fresh fish offered for sale with fish stalls laid out right on the streets ranging from eels to 20 pound tuna and squid of all sizes. Yes I have video.
The next morning we arrive in Jeju-do and again along with one of the couples of our table mates we just take the shuttle bus into the city and look around for a couple of hours. We get into the city by 9:45am and we quickly find out that most all stores don’t open until 10:00am. We quickly see and notice how clean the last two cities are, no trash in the streets or even on the sidewalks & absolutely no graffiti of any kind. Even the shuttle buses are in spotless condition. We return to the ship at lunch time but very few guests are back from morning tours, so the restaurant is nearly empty. The best thing about today is the sun appears for the first time since before Hong Kong and it starts to warm up and by mid-afternoon the temp is in the mid 60’s.
We leave port by 4:00pm. And head a little bit north and almost due east and sail all night on the China Sea, and by the following morning at 7:00am. We visit our first port in Japan the city of Nagasaki, one of the cities that the allies dropped the atom bomb onto in 1945. We have been to all the Japanese cities on our past cruises in 2014, so we decide to just rest-up do the washing and take it easy for the next few days as we only stay for 8 to 10 hours in each of the Japanese ports.
March 18th. The weather has turned cold and rained for two days straight with a 15 mile wind, some people took tours for the first two ports in Japan, but came back to the ship just soaking wet and didn’t see much at all, several didn’t even leave the tour buses.
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Blog # 7 March, 2016
Blog #7 Tuesday March 1st. We arrive in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, a small port that was the main Japanese port in the south near Australia mainland. We had been to this port on our 2014 world cruise. Thus we just walk off the ship and at the end of the pier is the main street. The ladies have spread out on the grass at each side of the road their handicraft of cloth items, we just look and after 30 minutes we return to the ship.
Several ship tours have taken people to see the battlefields, but not much else except rusting parts of airplanes and sheds of old war items. At 5:00 pm we tale in all lines and head out to sea and now we will be heading north for 5 days. Our next port of call will be Puerto Princesa, Philippines. This will be one of our new places that will be a first for us and the ship. We have selected a 4 or 5 hour tour for our visit. For the 5 days at sea we have had great lectures on board and several of the evening shows have been outstanding. Because we have crossed the equator again we are now cooling off from the oppressive heat. The weather is still nice and warm with very little wind, and we enjoy our veranda balcony.
I will give you a typical morning activities; 7:00 am Fitness stretch & relax class, 8:00am fitness cycling indoors, 9:00am Christian fellowship gathering, 9:30am Introduction to Skype class ,10:00am, our port presenter Mathew, port presentation on Busan, South Korea on the 15th of the month. In the royal court theatre deck 2, at 10:30am paddle tennis completion or intermediate bridge lesson, 11:00 am, ships galley tour, or another insights lecture from Eldon Ferguson.
At 12:00 noon the Captain makes his daily announcements over the PA system. It is then time for lunch from 12:00 noon until 1:30 pm. We have 3 or 4 places to have our lunch; the main dining room on deck 2, or we can have lunch on deck 9 cafeteria style, or hot sandwiches on the open rear deck, you know hots, hamburgers, Italian sausages. We do eat well on this ship!
Sunday March 6th, another new port of call this day we stop for the full day in the city of Puerto Princesa, Philippines. We have booked a 4 hour tour to see the highlights of the city and surroundings. As the ship nears our dock the local school children give us a nice welcome with the playing of their school band and wavering of colorful flags all on the flat pier, there must be at least 50 school age children. When we depart the ship for our coach tour at the end of the gang plank each person is given a colored string of beads.
As our tour coach leaves the pier we are caught in the bus traffic jam and spend at least 20 minutes to clear the immediate docks area. As we finally are able to leave all the traffic behind we are shown some of the highlights of the city. Really nothing new, one island city after the other seems just about the same. Run down shacks, old cars, trucks, half-finished buildings and dogs everywhere. The one thing that we never get tired-of is the tropical foliage that seem to engulf everything else.
We are driven for at least 40 minutes out of the city proper and are told we will be visiting a penal colony where all the convicts are not keep behind bars. Upon our arrival we depart the coaches and are then seated on chairs in front of the administration building. Where a group of men serving time have established a 5 or 6 piece band while another group are performing a dance routine with several young men. The immediate area is all flat land with a sparse amount of trees offering some shade. We are told by our coach guide that the color of the clothing worn by the inmates determines the length of time they have been sentenced to serve. Brown clothes means 5 years, green clothes is 10 years and red clothes is 25 years. The convicts seem happy that they are not behind bars. All have to work in the fields during the weekdays. We spend at least an hour at this special prison camp before returning to the coaches.
We return to the city and visit a grass weaving factory, just a wood building most likely 25 year old or older, no windows or doors that we can see all old wooden looms with girls weaving colored strips of colored grass on flat looms. We are then driven next to a small museum with some early history of the area, we only spend 10 to 15 minutes reviewing the artifacts available for viewing and re-board the bus and within 10 minutes we are again on the pier, and shortly on the ship. Puerto Princesa is located in the lower part of the Philippine island chain. When we leave at 9:30pm. We will head north and sail all night and all the next day and the falling morning we will reach the port of Manila, Philippines. I never realized this Island Chain was that long.
We have been sailing in the South China Sea for several days now. On March 8th we arrive at the port of Manila our most northerly port in the Philippines. We arrive early morning and when we reach our dock we are greeted by a group of high school students all dressed in their parade colors and most likely with the school band and pennants waving in the early morning breeze. After receiving local custom clearance we are free to go ashore. Today our tour is for 7 or 8 hours in duration. So we board our coach and meet our guide and coach driver just after 8 am. We don’t leave the dock until all coaches going to the same tour, 7 coaches are loaded and ready to leave in caravan, only then do we find out that our trip will have a three cycle police escorts all the way until we return midafternoon. If you could see the traffic in this massive city you could appreciate the police escort. The last time we were here was in 2001 and it was nothing like it is today.
It has far more tall sky scrapers than NYC, modern elevated highways and tin slums everywhere mixed in with the sky scrapers. We drive for over an hour and we are still in the city proper. Our tour today takes us to see an active volcano in the hinder lands. On the way we stop to visit a massive citrus and fruit stand offering all kinds of strange fruit all sold along a 2 lane highway. We drive a little further and stop to see furniture being made in the open air shops, and ride a little distance further we are treated to flowers being sold by the local people at road side stands. All look fresh and a large assortment of kinds and types, stretching for 7 or 8 hundred feet in length at the road side. In due time we arrive at the fairly new hotel for our lunch. This hotel is just a few months old and is breathtaking in its location, overlooking a valley 2000 feet below and in the distance we see the white plume of the active volcano. The lunch is a huge buffet with many more dishes than anyone could possibility consume. The dining area is on the main floor of the hotel and open to the weather with all 7 coaches eating at the same time, again the vista is breathtaking from our tables set for 8. We end the meal with desert of 10 different choices. Many pictures are taken of this setting and is something not seen in everyday life.
At 2:00pm we start our return to Manila with our police escort. We are shown the sights of Manila and make one stop for souvenirs before returning to the ship. We reach the dock and find the ship is being entertained by not one but 2 school bands and they continue to play until we leave port at 6:00pm. Yes I have lots of video.
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