Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: April 17, 2006
As most trips seem to transpire, this trip was initiated by my daughter who thought this cruise would be ‘too wonderful to pass up’. So, once the seed was planted, and the cabins bought, we started gathering as much information as possible on the 7 ports, and 3 countries we were to were visit with approximately 30 days before sailing from Hong Kong.
Woefully, there wasn’t much written in Cruise Reviews for these countries, however, I would like to kindly thank Nancy Zupancic, with her detailed Sapphire Princess April, 2005 sailing review. She gave us a beginning, and also the confidence to consider self-excursions, which we always achieve on other cruises, but were somewhat hesitant being this cruise/countries were so unknown to us.
Of course, before any cruise to China could be started, a Chinese Visa must be obtained. There are several regional Chinese Embassies around the U.S., which declare which states are in their jurisdiction, and with no exception can you go to another Consulate. This was a hardship since some of our party needed to go to New York City, and the other to Houston. I would have been glad to get everyone’s Visa in Houston, but nay, it can’t be done. However, any person and not just the applicant can submit another’s visa application, at the correct embassy. So I could have gone to NY, to apply for their Visas, and to Houston to get ours. Find your correct Embassy, and note that each Consulate has different rules, so be aware.
The ‘Tourist Visa’ cost $50/single entry, $75/double entry, with 4 days processing time. For an extra $30 Express fee, we could submit our visa by 11a, and return the same day by 2:30p to pick up our complete passport with China visa. We opted for a Double-Visa Express which can be an Important detail which I will describe later. Our Visa cost us $105 per person, which could have be less expensive if we did not choose the Express option. I personally found the Chinese Visa application, a much easier process than the Russian Visa I applied for last year.
After weighing the pros and cons of which of us 4 will be arriving to Hong Kong, by different airlines, by different transit cities, due to airfare prices, extra time at cities of interest, etc., we took 2 different routes, with the hope of arriving in Hong Kong 2 days before the cruise departed. It is always with a little trepidation, of ‘what if’ something happens…and although we thought we covered all our bases with internet & phone coverage, stuff still happens. Thankfully, we all arrived as planned. Daughter and friend flew from Pittsburgh, Chicago, to Shanghai, spent several days, and then flew China Eastern on to our destination of Hong Kong with the Grand Hyatt, our chosen hotel thanks to daughter #1 and ‘points’. We choose our overseas journey from Dallas to Narita, Japan, to Hong Kong in one day, arriving at the Grand Hyatt about 10pm local time.
The Grand Hyatt was a great beginning after long flights, and we were very comfortable there. Their beds were comfortable, and the constantly hot pot of water for tea and such was pleasant. (Remember, don’t drink the water, anywhere, unless it is boiled, or processed) We enjoyed their Dim Sum on Easter Sunday, our first full day there, at the No 1 Harbor Road Restaurant.
We toured the normal Hong Kong sites, starting with Peak Tram, double-decker buses, harbor ferries, and a visit with a HK tailor to make a fine suit for the young man in our party. Our weather was good, except for the overcast that was presumably pollution. We found many opportunities to pop into a small store to buy cold drinks. Cokes, Starbucks, and many ‘green teas’ drinks were refreshing. The next day we took the plentiful and inexpensive taxis to Aberdeen, the southern part of Hong Kong Island.
Taxis….they are very abundant, but be sure to have your hotel or destination written in Chinese, or on a Chinese map to eliminate any mix-up. We only had 1 problem with a taxi driver and it was in Hong Kong, he flat cheated us. I thought I had his taxi number, to report him but realized the number I had was not his cab number, alas he got away. I was prepared with the phone number to report taxi abuse, and I couldn’t get even with him. The Hotel could have been a great help, even to the extent of asking when we were delivered, I was thinking they could review cameras, but our driver was too savvy, he dropped us off down the block near the convention center.
In Aberdeen we stopped and took a junk boat ride…after astute negotiations, starting from 60HK per person to 100HK dollars for 4 people, we were on our way bobbing along in our own Junk boat in that floating city. Enjoyed seeing the Jumbo restaurants, but these appeared standing just for the nostalgic and tourist aspect of old Hong Kong.
Next we went to Stanley Market, and had a great time scouting for trinkets to bring home. I’m glad I bought some silk pillowcases, girl’s dresses and other finds here and not had to search for them later in Shanghai, or Beijing. Buy when you find something…and even if you find others cheaper or prettier…buy those also. We decided ‘hind sight’ we should have brought home more, and I’m not a big shopper. But when you can find some cute items $2-$4, get them while you’re standing there. I traveled light, and brought back a designated nylon bag with just our treasures. They took US. Dollars at Stanley and we all had a great time there, even the guys got into the swing of things.
Embarkment – Hong Kong
Well our departure morning arrived and since we had more people and luggage for one taxi, we planned to take two taxis to arrive at the Statendam pier which is very near the Star Ferry Kowloon/TST side. Our driver brought us directly to the check-in tarmac, whereas the other taxi driver dumped the ‘kids’ on the street, and had them drag their many bags down the quay. We were very encouraged that the luggage dispersal was very efficient, and they had a separate line for those passengers that registered by Internet. Photo taking and ID cards were promptly dispatched, all under a large canvas tent that kept the sun from our heads.
This is when the juggernaut began. They had many passengers ready to embark, but no one was able to board the ship. These many people herded to the ship’s gate, with nowhere to go, and nowhere to sit down. As we were standing there we were given papers with: Notice to Passengers boarding the Statendam Monday April 17, 2006 The Statendam is experiencing cases of gastrointestinal illnesses among passengers and crew, etc, etc, etc…… Oh, Oh!! We now knew what the delay was for…the extra measures needed to disinfect such a ‘sick’ ship. We were happy that this was an extra measure taken before we boarded. However, the length of standing in the heat, without drinks, became irritating, and some more vocal passengers tried to voice their discontent. If they could have staged several hundred chairs that when 50 were call onboard, the remaining passengers could have moved up in an orderly method, and sat down. This would have eased the crowding and jockeying into places when some were release. Then once we did get thru the ‘gate’ to the ship, we were literally snaked in and around inside the Shopping Mall for another hour. We sent the kids on forages for drinks & fries while we held our places, to sustain us until the time we could truly board. I don’t usually get too upset with getting onto a ship with 2 thousand other people, but this was the worse I’ve experienced.
Here is the qualifier for Single or Double entry Visa!! If you called Holland American or Zierer Visa Service, like I did, asking for clarification if a Double Visa was necessary if…..such and such a situation was present…the stock answer was…’Only a Single Visa’ is necessary. And if one was traveling to Hong Kong direct from any other country (except China) that would be correct. I had to speak to 3 people, and finally got them to understand that some of us would be entering HK from Shanghai…so this does account for a Double Visa, however, this wasn’t readily recognizable by those people who should have known best. This is when I decided to go directly the Chinese Embassy. Somehow, once you’re on the ship in HK…and traveling to 3 Chinese ports, all 3 ports can be covered under a Single Visa. We heard-tell that some people in HK, were denied boarding because of this predicament, and although they pulled out documentation from HAL showing that they only needed a Single Visa, their qualification for Single Visa was not sufficient. These people were then denied boarding, and since our ship was sailing on the Monday after Easter, apparently a Holiday for China/US embassies, they would have to be at the Consulates office Tuesday morning…to straighten up the problem. We then had two sea days, before Shanghai on Thursday. I’m not sure if they caught up, and continued on with our cruise or not.
Concerning the gastrointestinal problem - There were several announcements from the Captain, conveying his earnestness in taking extraordinary measures to ensure the comfort of his guests, and the implementing of several cleaning and sanitizing protocols. Also if any guest be adversely affected by illness, contact the ship’s medical center. There will be NO CHARGE for assistance rendered. If you are asked to be in isolation, they ask that you remain in your stateroom. We did see some cabins down our hall which were carefully attended because of this isolation. We spoke to a woman who declared themselves in isolation for 3 days because of her husband’s ‘discomforts’. As for ourselves, we were healthy as horses, ate as much, but also took care when in port to not drink the water, or those Starbuck’s frappa-somethings, made with ice from who-knows-where-local tap water? The ships water and ice is OK. Plus, we all got immunization for Hep A, Typhoid, & Tetanus before we left home. We also carried multiple supplies of Cipro, just in case.
I do believe the Statendam did everything they could to keep this virus from spreading, and we surely did our part in using the hand sanitizers at every opportunity. I also have a quirk, and thoroughly clean my cabin with a small amount of bleach which I bring from home. ‘Can’t be too germ free’, is my Motto.
OUR ROOM / OUR TABLE
Our ‘Home away from Home’ cabin was indeed an oasis from the rest of the world. The beds were very comfortable, and with my satin pillow from home, every night was restful…along with a few Tylenol PM’s perhaps. The Statendam in a smaller ship with 1,266 passenger, which is probably why we were able to port in some smaller areas closer to the city. The room had beside the two beds, a small couch, and dressing area. The nicest touch for the DH, was a flat screen TV, with DVD player! We knew about the DVD player in our research, and he had a whole selection of movies. We also had a room safe, which I really like to have in our staterooms, but the ‘Key’ was a long perforated plastic strip, which didn’t fit conveniently in a pocket or wallet. Our Cabin attendant was great…which I can honestly say about all the service employees on this ship. It is HAL greatest investment, the young people on the ship, who work so hard, so we can have an enjoyable time.
Our Table was the 8:30P/Lower dining, at a table for 10. We thoroughly enjoyed our table mates, a trio of young travelers, and a couple from Florida. Our meals were well presented by our two waiters…and we took the five wines program for approx. $100…Twice during this 14 day cruise. This gave us a bottle of wine to enjoy each night with dinner, beside the ones we ordered at the ($20 up-charge restaurant), Pinnacle Grill. We did enjoy the Pinnacle Grill, but maybe we even enjoyed their lunches more ($10 up-charge). We always were satisfied with dinner…sometime one or the other of us felt we out-ordered the next. But all in all, it was good, and a relief not to have to hunt for meals if we were in a foreign city somewhere. We found that we could supplement our drink cupboard with 45 cent beers and/or cokes with some Lays chips and bring them onboard for convenience.
“Ni hao!” (Knee How) Hello in Chinese, was our first word to learn, and like in any other foreign country it proves to move locals with a slight head bow, and a returned ‘ni hao’.
We awoke at our first port…Shanghai…and anchored in view of the famed ‘Oriental Pearl Tower’. We were unsure of where exactly our ship would put-in at Shanghai, and were very pleased to be berthed very close to the city center, on the Huangpu River to the north of the Bund, in what some maps call the International Passenger Terminal. I’ve read that this is where they want to develop a modern terminal to accommodate the growing tourist cruise travel. However, it is just a concrete quay to accommodate the 20-30 excursion buses that arrive for tours, yet we did not enter/depart through a building, just a paved alley to the closest road, Daming Road. This is where most taxis picked-up and dropped-off. My daughter got a great 2006 Shanghai Tourist Map from the hotel when they were there the days before the cruise and this map had both Chinese and English for every road and site. I truly believe having a good map is very important for anywhere, but I felt it was especially necessary for China and this trip. I was extremely surprised to find so much written in English. Most highway and street signs were in English, but most taxi drivers did not speak English, so having a destination or map written in Chinese was necessary. Sometimes the ship had note slips with both languages for some high tourist sights, but most times not. Shanghai is indeed a city of hundreds of tall buildings, and building new ones every day, quite amazing. However, I found the air pollution astounding!
We were alerted by the captain and cruise staff, that our official Chinese Immigration at this port was being delayed and for some reason difficult, and that we would probably be delayed in departing the ship. This cause us some consternation because our young man with us had a business meeting this morning to meet with some Chinese suppliers his company has used for several years, and a face to face meeting was planned at a local hotel for this morning. We would sure hate to be hour/s late, miss our appointed time, and ‘lose face’ by being so thoughtless. However, a quick e-mail alerted his party of our delay, and a successful meeting occurred. Our new Chinese hosts took us to lunch at an amazing ‘Seafood’ restaurant on the fourth floor of some shopping building. I have a card with a name, phone/fax numbers and map, but it is in Chinese only. The rough translation from our hosts to the name of this restaurant is ‘Shu You’. We had a private dining room with beautiful yellow silk and wood chairs, large round traditional Chinese table, with a middle turn-table where dishes are placed and with a spin of the inner table, every dish is accessible to everyone. The menu was conferred upon by the host and our young man, but a trip to the ‘fish tanks’ ultimately resulted our lunch choices. There were many, many, in fact, too many dishes, all very good, but that was probably the result in our young guests wanting to try some famous local dishes, along with suggested plates from our host. It was probably a $200 lunch for 6 people, and quite an experience we would not have had if we had been on our own. After lunch we strolled thru the old Shanghai area, and enjoyed this touristy area. We decided to retreat to the ship for a rest, and return to sample the nightlife after a dinner break. However, we couldn’t drag ourselves off the ship that night.
The next morning regrets spurred us to get up early in search for dumplings for breakfast, before our 1 p.m. Shanghai departure. Nanxiang Dumpling House, 85 Yuyuan Lu, adjacent to the lake and the Bridge of Nine Turning was our dumpling store of choice. As we walked in the Nanxiang Dumpling House, we were pleased to get there before it was crowded. The hostesses kept trying to shoo us upstairs, until I told my people, that it is more expensive upstairs because it is supposedly nicer décor and higher service and a ‘tourist trap’ for the unknowing. We found an empty table among the many open tables, and plopped ourselves down and made ourselves comfortable. Daughter Number One went to the hot table and ordered about 6 different choices using the ‘point and nod’ method. Since we were successful with this portion, Maybe-Son Number One went to the cooler, and pointed to several cold beverages, and we were in business. We would have liked to have the traditional hot tea with these dishes, but we make other choices so to ‘not drink’ the water. Several steamed baskets of Dumplings, cokes & beer, with a couple of chopsticks…the breakfast of champions! Everything was delicious, however, one pork dumpling dish seemed undercooked by my assessment, and we passed on this. We then bought tickets, 30 yuan, to enter the nearby Yuyuan Gardens, and we were glad we didn’t miss this very pretty Shanghai tourist spot. (Bathroom note: Yuyuan Gardens, Ladies Toilets has one western toilet. Squat toilets are the norm, although western styles are becoming more and more common. (There was a whole ‘Toilet Conference’ recently in Beijing addressing this detail in preparation for the 2008 Olympics)
Taxis are plentiful, and inexpensive with the going rate of approximately 10 yuan for the first 3 km, and another 2 yuan for each additional km. Drivers are nicely dressed, in neat later model vehicles, and use the meters instead of arbitrary quoting an inflated price. Some taxis had a TV on the passenger side sun-visor! However, the local driving method is to squeeze into any 6 inch opportunity, yet it works for them. We shopped again before leaving for the ship, and again at the street where taxi dropped us off near the ship, we bought several watches…Rolex no less, for $2! I always avoided these ‘salesmen’ until our table mates shown us their new Rolexes, and told us they always buy a couple, and they seem to run for a year…and when they return to China, they buy others. This prompted us to buy our own Rolexes. I can say that we only have 1 out of 4 still running…but this bargaining was part of the fun. Bargaining is the game for shopping, which for us becomes tiring very quickly.
Sail-Away was to be precisely at 1 p.m, because of the significant river traffic, and something about the time slot allotments per vessel. As we wait for the untying of ropes, and side thrusters pushing us from the pier, it became obvious by PA announcements that we are waiting for maybe 6-8 people. Although we saw some passengers finally board, we don’t think all of the prodigal passengers made it back to the ship before we finally shoved off. The Statendam then had to make a delicate 180 degree pivot in this highly congested river, to turn around and return to the sea. This was an awesome turn-around with nothing scrapped or bumped. But even more impressive was the Captain’s narration of our 2 hour, plus, passage along this river with such a mind-boggling amount of river traffic. His insight gave us a true understanding of how much growth, and the impact of so many millions and millions of people in this area. One sea day to rest, and on to Beijing.
It seems again the Immigration required everyone’s passport recorded in the ship’s office again, but we weren’t too delayed and off-loaded near 8:30 a.m. This part of our trip was considerably easy, because we had the great privilege of being hosted by our neighbor daughter Cathleen. She has been living in Beijing for nearly four years, and once we email her our intentions of cruising to China with a stop in Xingang (Beijing) China, Cathleen had the most difficult part for us, transportation, resolved by having a private car and driver at our disposal for the two days we were. We were very, very thankful for such a great worrisome detail totally removed. Not only did she make these arrangements for us, the cost 2,000rbm ($250.usd) was for 4 people, 2 days of driving…from the ‘Port’ which is very far, maybe 3 hrs, to the ‘Wall’, to the Hotel, and then again the next day to the Summer Palace, and back to the Port, including tolls. This was such an extraordinary price, considering the prices offered for 1 or 2 day excursion from the ship, or other private tour companies were $200-$800 pp.
The Port is a considerable distance about 2-l/2 hour drive, either near or a part of the city Tianjin. There is a gigantic jumbo of buildings, cranes, bridges, and roads, where most people would not be able to determine a feasible way from this port to Beijing. We understood there might be a train station nearby, but we are so grateful we didn’t have to look for it. There were Taxi/drivers waiting at the guarded gate, but we felt such relief to have our own reputable driver waiting for us. I have no idea what these Taxis offered off-loading passengers. Our driver, Mr. Wang did not speak English, but he did have a cell phone, and was in constant communication with our Cathleen. Several times we’d have to pass his phone back and forth for us to convey to Cathleen what we wished, whereby she would translate to our driver, and vice-versa. This was sure easy. Mr. Wang was a very professional driver, courteous, and patient, while he waited for us while we climbed the Great China Wall, and the next day, we took 4 hours at the Summer Palace, enjoying each without being rushed.
Our tablemates told tales of woe of their ship’s l-day excursion to the Wall, nearly 7 hours of driving both ways…and they, who were the youngest and fittest of this bus tour, barely topped the Wall since there was no cable car to the upper level. This was most everyone’s greatest dream, the opportunity to see and be ON the Great Wall of China, and for some it did not happen.
There are several locations along the wall that have tourist access, and the site our driver was directed to was ‘Mutianyu’. Mutianyu is about 70 km northeast of Beijing, in definitely Chinese countryside. The road was good, and being we were still in April the weather was not too hot, yet a little bit cool up on the Wall. There is a developed tourist area below, with parking and restrooms near by, and lots of kiosks for drink, food and souvenirs, with even more opportunity for souvenirs on the way down from the Cable Car platform to the parking area. We’ll never forget the national chant…’Lady, lady, You buy, One dollar!!’ Of course, it was not a dollar, but I should have bought some and not try to ‘run the gauntlet’ of sellers. Next time I’ll buy some, but I could hardly decide how to get it down the mountain with me unless they’d let me rent the camel staked to the ground there. The cable car was 50 rbm or a little over $6.00…and worth every penny. It was difficult for us seniors just to get to the cable car platform, and beyond…but we took our time and lingered where we must and once we got to the top, stood on the amazing Wall, soaking in such a sight, and to let our heartbeats even out. What an amazing sight. I’m convince, that the ‘mist’ in the hills…is pollution, such a shame. On the Tourist Map of Mutianyu near the parking lot, shows another way to come down from the mountain, they call it ‘sliding way’, and it looks like sleds, hopefully with brakes, or I believe in Germany, they call them Rodelbahn. This was the way our youngster wanted to come down, but I was uneasy of being in 2 groups, and not knowing how to find them. Maybe next time we’ll take the slide down.
Mr. Wang drove us into Beijing that Sunday night, and we met Cathleen at the Starbucks near Beihai Park, a pretty urban lake with many restaurants in this area. We had a delightful multi-coursed dinner and a night-time wander of old Beijing, Forbidden Palace, and Tiananmen Square. We spent the night at The Courtyard-Beijing, on some of the hardest mattress I’ve ever experienced, and no A/C…but no time to whine, we had a new day to explore.
Explore we did. Mr. Wang came at the appointed morning time, and after a quick coffee and muffin, we were off, to the Summer Palace. What an enjoyable few hours we had in perfect springtime weather, showing off the spring flowers of this lovely public park. There was a nominal entrance fee, and also a dollar fee for the pretty lake tour boat on Kunming Lake. We later even decided to rent an electric motor boat to putt-about on our own, to further enjoy this peaceful place. I enjoyed the Long Gallery, of covered walkways, beautifully painted. I found it interesting to see so many people here with their elderly mothers and/or fathers, taking their parents for an outing at this beautiful national treasure. Note the restrooms here were some of the most ‘over-used’ and definitely not 5-stars facilities. I did find a ‘pay phone’ and with my sheet of ‘access codes’ for my ATT prepaid phone card, I was able to call home and wake my daughter about ll:00pm to tell her we were all OK…and to find out they were well, also.
We found our trusty driver and headed for the ship, and after a conference call with our dear host we asked if a quick stop could be added to grab a quick late lunch before getting to the ship…we were taken to a KFC, and had a very delicious Chinese version of chicken wraps. Back to the ship to enjoy another dinner and bottle of wine, and toast to a great Beijing experience.
Again our Ship **Statendam** seemed to have problems with Chinese Immigration wanting all of our documents for their inspection. We heard that this was contrary to past arrivals where the first Chinese Port validated the ship and all other ports were included. I can surely understand each city wanting to check documents, though.
This port was the near the city, but since we berthed in a nearly deserted warehouse wharf district the only activity was the tour buses lining up to whisk passengers off for their excursion. However, there were buses waiting to exclusively take and return any/all passengers who were interested in going to the ‘Friendship Store’ for I believe $5pp. We decided to do this, instead of walking out into the unknown. It was really a very short bus ride, and there was nothing there that interested us because it seemed the prices were inflated significantly. We felt taken advantaged of for such a short ride, to their tourist trap.
We selected a vulture-ous taxi driver to take us somewhere else, and the picture I shown him was one I found from the internet of ‘Russian Street’. He understood our sign language, and off we went. However, he wouldn’t put his meter flag down, even after several of us tried to ‘tell’ him we wanted a metered ride. Taxis here are again very inexpensive, i.e. 8 yuan for the first 3 km, and then l.2 yuan per km. Blue over-head lights on a taxi is a State-run Taxi. White over-head lights are Collective or Joint Venture and Yellow lighted Taxi’s are Private. We selected a blue lighted taxi…hoping it would have more controls. He was a good man and only charged us 10 Yuan for 4 persons, without using his meter., which is about a normal fare. We wandered Russian Street, and found it less than slightly appealing, for again it was a tourist mecca, with each Russian style house, building or church a tourist store. From here we walked to Zhongshan Square.
We did receive a map from HAL as we left the ship and it was helpful for us to orient ourselves, plus I asked the girl tour-guide on the ‘Friendship’ bus to write in Chinese ‘ship port’ and ‘friendship store’, as an aid to any taxi driver to get us back to the correct part of town. One of the most fascinating adventures happened when we were walking to the Square. We found a cross street that was pedestrian only, and turned up this way to zig zag our way to the Square. Here we found a store front with many bottle of wine and liquor. The entrance was not like a normal door, but many 2-inch slats hanging vertical, like at a meat plant to keep the coolness from escaping. After watching several locals go in and out these slats, I told my crew, lets go though this ‘rabbit hole’ and see what’s inside. I offered to go first, and as I pushed thru…Zip- we were in a different world. It was like the equivalent of a Macy’s food court, but Chinese style. All kind of foods, but mostly sweets, dumplings of every description, crepe-type burrito made as you watched with your choice of fillings, noodle bowls cooked to your specification…and as we studied the pricing on paper sheets, most averaged l/2 yuan or 6 cents!! We gather up our bravery and ordered by the ‘point and nod’ method again, they took our yuans, and in 3 minutes we had a lunch to remember. Most of the locals stood off in a corner eating their purchases, and so did we, sharing bites of this and that. Mostly we nodded and smiled to our surrounding lunch-mates…and if I remember correctly only one items was a little too strange for me. We stumbled into a department store food court, and we were actually rubbing elbows with locals, enjoying a quick lunch. Too fun.
Once outside, we found a kiosk selling drinks, and bought ourselves some water, green tea drinks and beer. When Dave tried to pay for his various purchases, there seem to be a polite disagreement with the woman shop keeper about the money she needed. We made it a practice for shopkeeper to write down the purchase amount…yet this shopkeeper didn’t like the money amount Dave was paying her. I stepped over to see what the problem was and realized that he was using a Wu (5) Jiao bill instead of a Wu (5)Yuan bill. A 5 Jiao is l/2 of a Yuan. Once we got that straighten ‘Lady of the Kiosk’ was very happy, almost relieved. I was explaining the nuances of the partial Yuans in bill-form to my party, when Dave realize that this Jiao was given to him earlier at Russian Street after a purchase…and passed off as a 5 Yuan. He was very much angered. Of course the smallness of the amount was inconsequential, but the thought of them ‘ripping him off’ was an insult. Tourist beware!! (Note: I was surprised and amazed that I was able to decipher the Jiao/Yuan dilemma only because I studied and even made copies of the Chinese Currency RMB/Renminbi at an internet site http://www.china.org.cn/english/travel/40380.htm . I also sent any/many website of interest to everyone in our party…but some might ‘not have got the memo’!) We continued on to Zhongshan Square took pictures crossed the crazy traffic circle to the Dalian Hotel, hoping we could use the restroom, (yes successful) and seek information in English (not successful). Hotels are the best places when wanting to find a taxi, and we took this opportunity to catch a taxi back to the ship for a rest.
Later the ‘Kids’ took off on their own while we rested. I finally decided I wanted to find the Victory Shopping Plaza for trinkets to take home, so I took my maps in Chinese and had a driver take me to the Shangri-la Hotel. From there I could find the underground shopping area. I was traveling alone and found a driver who again would not use his meter, but once we got near to the Hotel tried to price me 4X the normal amount. **I find a pattern of drivers stopping short of the hotels we ask to be delivered to, so they can pull a ‘fast-one’, and not have the Hotel Bellman come to our aid.** I literally threw him his proper fare, and jumped out of the cab to the refuge of the Hotel. He didn’t make a scene. Again beware. I did enjoy my time wandering around by myself, and found a few items…but the best was walking into a “Dollar/Yuan-type store” on street level and picked up many 25 cent trinkets like Chinese good luck figurines, tied and knotted with red rope, hair clips, chopstick hair pins, beaded coin purses, etc. I had a bag full, for about $5. I found a department store, and looked in the shoe department for possible shoes for myself, but was surprised how expensive these were. Found a tea set for Daughter #2, and a wine shop with local brews. My canvas bag was full so I had the Hotel Bellman (my new friend) find a taxi for me and had no problems getting back to the ship. Daughter and Dave enjoyed a Bar experience on top of one of the tall downtown Dalian buildings. All in all not one of most exciting ports, but we sure had stories to tell at the dinner table. On to South Korea.
Another nice day, neither too hot nor cold. April/May is a good time to travel weather-wise. Today’s self tour is a quick visit to the Jagalchi Fish Market then taking the Subway to the Marriott near Haeundae/Jung-dong area to discover the beach…then to find by taxi the Haedong Yonggung Temple 6 km further along the northern coast. We arrived at the Busan dock again near the middle of town and in fact we could see the “Busan Station” over the highway not to far from where we anchor, however, it was not quite in the right direction where we wanted to go. We walked out of the dock compound and sought a taxi to take us south to the Jagalchi Metro stop and the International Fish Market. What a sight. Fish and creatures not known to common man, yet all very clean and orderly. Inside the building was an interesting series of rubber hoses and water falls feeding fresh water to the highest tubs, to trickle down to the next level and the next.
We saw the Metro signs along the main road that took us to the fish market, so we backtracked to there, grabbing a drink and a package of gum. Wandered down stairs into the Metro ticket machines area and between 4 sharp minds, tried to determine our ticket purchase. Gave up and ask an elderly attendant to help us. For about a $1/900 Won we had a ticket to ride. We even changed from the Orange line to the Green line like pros on our way to the beach areas and the Marriott Busan. Very pretty beach. Hotel was rather pricy…but their restrooms were great.
We had an interesting cultural reprimand. As we were walking from the Jung-dong Station to the Hotel/Beach it was getting warm and my Blond and Buxomly Daughter removed her sweater and reduced to her summery camisole top. Within 3 minutes an elderly man taps her on the shoulder and makes sign language that she should cover herself. She did, and it was an insight to this different culture. We also noted that there were no one really at the beach in an unclothed state. We’re glad he clued us in, for we would not want to offend. Done with the beach area we took a taxi to the Buddhist Temple ‘Haedong Yonggung’ on the rocky cliff overlooking the Southeast Sea. It was being decorated with many colorful lanterns for a festival to come and we enjoyed this pretty site with many local people milling about and taking pictures like we were of this pretty ocean site. There were many rock steps up and down, and my poorly knees were in great need of Motrin. Our young man was very sweet, and lent me his arm to aid my step progress. Reverse the Taxi/Metro modes of transportation back to the ship. Interesting day. www.yongkungsa.or.kr
NAGASAKI AND OSAKA
We did have 5 Sea Days interspersed with the Port Days and our last two ports were in Japan. We enjoyed Japan more than we thought we would. Even though it is an Eastern Country and we could not speak nor read Japanese, it is so Westernized, we felt very comfortable, especially after coming from China.
Nagasaki demanded that we visit the Atomic Bomb Museum. Although, I wasn’t looking forward to a depressing visit, it surprisingly was more informative than depressing. I’m glad we went and it was a part of History that our children know very little about. Since we bought a one day Streetcar pass 3,000 yen at the Nagasaki View Hotel across from where we docked, we used this for most of our travel. I don’t think the bus accepted this pass, when we went to Mt.Inasa-yama, but we had small change for bus fare. Enjoyed lunch at the restaurant at the top of the observation tower, and the Ropeway was 1,200 Yen to go up and down. Then we searched for the Bridges (Spectacles Bridge) along the River, found some ice cream and had a pleasant walk to Chinatown, then Home Sweet Statendam. Loved the hot coffee/cold coke dispensers all over the city on the street. As we were told...there is no thief, and most Japanese would not even think of jay-walking across streets, they patiently wait for the walk sign.
Osaka – We docked at the Tempozan Park & Pier near the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan almost directly under the gigantic Ferris Wheel. It was a two-day Port with the next morning departure. We were not sure how we were going to get to KIX airport but hoped the Kansai Airport Transportation bus would pick-up near by…and they sure did, right directly in front of our ship. For 1,300 Yen per person we were able to get to Kansai Airport and their schedule was nearly every hour on the :23 minute. Flew American Airlines from KIX direct to DFW.
The Osakako Metro stop was just a couple blocks from the ship and we spent our one full day in Osaka, at Kyoto. We took the Metro to the Bentencho station (2 stops) where we picked up the JR (Japanese Railroad)Osaka train to Osaka Station where we switched to the Kyoto train. Kyoto was a larger city than I expected. Here we bought the all day Bus pass and went to the Nijo Castle, Rokuon-Ji Temple (Golden Pavilion) and the Higashiyama area. All very cool. One note, we were leaving Kyoto, and missed buses because they were so full going to Kyoto Station where we wanted to catch the train back to Osaka. Once we squeezed on, and I mean squeeeezed on, and middle aged man and his wife gave up their seat to us. I heard quietly--‘americans’, and with lots of head bowing, and insisting we take their seats we squeezed over and plopped into the sweetest seats I can remember. Wow, that was amazing and we were so tired. These Americans thank you, again.
We are thoroughly tired, but what a trip. Thought 14 days on a ship would be ‘too much’, but I was pleasantly surprised. We saw so much and it was a great trip. There was no place better to come home to than the Statendam. They fed us, wined us, rested us then brought us back safely from a trip you could not imagine.