Shanghai, China

Day 43 – Sunday, February 26, 2017

Due to some computer problems, it is doubtful if I will be posting again until we return home in a few days. In the meantime, I will share with you this one photo.

Nighttime skyline of Shanghai as seen from the ms Amsterdam – Absolutely Beautiful!

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Beijing, China Day 2

Day 40 – Thursday February 23, 2017

Beijing is the capital of the most populous country in the world, the People’s Republic of China. With a population of 21.5 million people (2013), it is the nation’s second-largest city after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural center of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions.

The city is marked by its flatness and arid climate. There are only three hills to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of Forbidden City) and mountains surround the capital on three sides. Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis and serve as good reference points as one attempts to move about the city. Beyond the ring roads are the most-visited portions of the Great Wall of China.

We were up early, had breakfast and were out of the hotel by 7:30 AM. It I difficult to imagine the size of the city, not just the population but the physical size. Our guide said to travel most places within the city to expect from 45 minutes to two hours, due to the combination of size and congestion. Below I include a few photos taken as we traveled through the city streets. These were taken through the bus windows, so please excuse the poor quality.

Traffic was actually not too bad this morning, but as usual there was an assortment of vehicles on the streets.

You could see avenue after avenue of high-rise apartments which stretched out of sight.

A typical congested street corner.

Our first stop this morning was the Temple of Heaven.

The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the 16th century. Jiajing also built three other prominent temples in Beijing, the Temple of Sun in the east, the Temple of Earth in the north, and the Temple of Moon in the west. The Temple of Heaven was renovated in the 18th century under the Qianlong Emperor. By then, the state budget was insufficient, so this was the last large-scale renovation of the temple complex in imperial times. The temple was occupied by the Anglo-French Alliance during the Second Opium War. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the Eight Nation Alliance occupied the temple complex and turned it into the force’s temporary command in Beijing, which lasted for one year. The occupation desecrated the temple and resulted in serious damage to the building complex and the garden. With the downfall of the Qing, the temple complex was left un-managed. The neglect of the temple complex led to the collapse of several halls in the following years. In 1914, Yuan Shikai, then President of the Republic of China, performed a Ming prayer ceremony at the temple, as part of an effort to have himself declared Emperor of China. In 1918 the temple was turned into a park and for the first time open to the public. The Temple of Heaven was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

After the Temple was opened to the public in 1918, it has become a center of daily activity, especially for the retired. The retired, by the way make up a large part of the population. Each district has strict rules about retirement. Once a certain age is reached, you must retire. The age ranges from approximately 55 to 60. The mandatory retirement is necessary to make room for younger persons to have a job. Retirement comes with a government pension which in recent years has increased to a comfortable level for most people.

As we strolled through the temple complex, older people could be seen playing cards, dominoes and Chinese Chess.

Chinese Chess

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The actual Temple of Heaven

100,000’s of thousands of Dragons are in the Temple. EVERY roof tile has a dragon.

Despite the cold weather, there were still a lot of people in the park.

These gentlemen were playing what they called “badminton” with a birdie. The object was to keep the birdie in the air by kicking it or batting it with your body. There were many groups of adults playing games and exercising.

This sign was located above the urinal in the men’s toilet.

Note the blanket-coat designed for cycles. It is totally opened in the back and comes all the way up to the neck to keep the rider warm. This lady was taking her pooch for a morning ride in the brisk weather.

An interesting vehicle.

Finally we reach Tian’an men Square

Taking photos of the army or police is prohibited, but through the miracle of a good camera and telephoto lens I manages to capture this shot from about 75 yards away.

The main entrance from the Square into the Forbidden City.

Constructed from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,886 bays of rooms and covers over 180 acres. The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Construction lasted 14 years and required more than a million workers. After being the home of 24 emperors – 14 of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty – the Forbidden City ceased being the political center of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China.

I believe a couple of days could be spent in the Forbidden City alone. The place is huge.

Tai He Hall

Architectural details of the Hall.

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Looking through the Gate of Devine Might (I believe). The tower seen in the background is outside the Forbidden City.

The Emperor’s chambers contained nice mythical animals in procession.

The Empress’s chambers only have seven animals.

This intricate construction with only five animals, I believe was for the Emperor’s concubines.

Northwest Corner Tower around The Forbidden City. Note the frozen moat.

All over the city could be seen workers sweeping the streets and sidewalks with these home-made brooms.

Stopping at a rest stop, I purchased this coffee. It was quite good and only cost about $1.40.

This photo is just to illustrate the density of apartment buildings. These were located miles from any apparent city. Please excuse the glare on the window.

We easily made it back to the ship with time to freshen up before dinner.

I haven’t spent a great deal of time in this blog talking about the ship and crew. That is partly because I have limited time to blog and partly because I have talked at length about the HAL ships and crew in my previous blogs. On Friday evening, we did have another “Gala” night. These have replaced the retired “Formal” nights. We currently have Orlando Ashford, the president of Holland America aboard ship. This evening he hosted an open bar cocktail party for everyone and the “Gala” theme was “Red Lanterns”.

This is our fantastic dinner stewards, Andy and Alex in their Oriental finery. These guys have taken care of our every need.

At the cocktail party, we were joined by Tom Mullins one of our Cruise Specialist Hosts. Tom has been sailing for 37 years. He lives in the U.K. and is absolutely fascinating to chat with.

Henk and Lucia Barnhoon, also Cruise Specialists Hosts who we have sailed with many times. Originally from the Nederland, they now make their home is Southern California.

I would like to thank Janet for the above three photos. I was too lazy to carry my camera…

So long until (probably) after Shanghai.

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Beijing China

Day 39 – Wednesday February 22, 2017

As previously posted, we arrived in Xinyang port last night but were unable to leave the ship until cleared by immigration officials this morning. It started snowing early yesterday evening and continued into the night. We didn’t know how this would affect our planned travels to Beijing and the Great Wall which is normally a three-plus hour trip.

View of the terminal from the ship as we were preparing to debark.

The terminal building was amazingly modern and beautiful. It certainly seemed under-utilized, we were the only ship in port. There was one other ship here when returned on Thursday.

We made it through immigration and eventually boarded our coach. It was very comfortable and there was plenty of room. This overnight trip was not with Holland America but with Cruise Specialist. It was a small group of 31 including our hosts Henk and Lucia Barnhoorn. Unfortunately, after only about 30 minutes of traveling, we found ourselves in a massive traffic backup trying to enter the toll road. Our driver and our guide exited the bus and found that these truck drivers had been stranded overnight. After a few calls, Eric, our guide said the road was expected to open in about 30 minutes (10:00 AM). It eventually did open at 11:00 and we were 1.5 hours behind schedule.

This is the convince center where we stopped for a bathroom break. Very modern, but by American standards the store was quite sparsely stocked with limited choices for purchase.

By unanimous consent, our group agreed that instead of stopping for lunch we would allow Eric to pick up some “snack” food to sustain us. We would certainly rather miss lunch than miss the Great Wall. This is one of the advantages of traveling with a private group, you have more flexibility. I believe everyone enjoyed the guilt foods – Snickers, Oreos, potato chips and a uniquely Chinese snack which Eric called a chicken sausage. It was more like a chicken flavored paste in a plastic tube. It was ok, but I think you would have to develop a taste for it. It did provide protein to get us through the day.

Lots of snow along the way.

One of our first views of the fabled Great Wall of China

There several section of the Great Wall which the government has opened for the public. We are visiting the Juyongguan Pass located in the 11 m long Guangou Valley. The pass is one of the three greatest mountain passes of the Great Wall of China. The other two are Jiayuguan and Shanhaiguan Passes.

This pass had many different names during former Chinese dynasties. However, the name "Juyongguan" was used by more than three dynasties. It was first used in the Qin Dynasty when Emperor Qinshihuang ordered the building of the Great Wall. Juyongguan pass was connected to the Great Wall in the Southern and Northern Dynasties era. The present pass route was built in the Ming Dynasty and received much renovation later. It was a very important strategic place connecting the inner land and the area near the northern border of China. It was also used to defend the ancient city of Beijing.

Not much commentary with the following photos. Just enjoy.

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If Kay looks cold, it’s because she was!

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We decided to brave the steps. They were steep and many, but the biggest challenge was the snow which covered them…

View from near the top of the mountain.

Carl is obviously enjoying himself.

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Close-up of some of the 10’s of thousands of roof tiles.

I feel we were fortunate to be able to see the Great Wall with snow, despite the lowered “comfort” level.

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The Changling Mausoleum, one of the Ming Tombs.. The tomb assumes the shape of a flat-topped square cone, with a bottom girth of 600 meters and a height of 31.94 meters. East of the stone archways on both sides of the mausoleum there are 63 satellite tombs of famous officials and imperial relatives, including Xiao He, Cao Shen and Zhou Bo. In recent years, many burial pits were also discovered around Changling Mausoleum and the satellite tomb area.

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After a very long day, we were all excited to reach our Hotel.

The beautiful lobby.

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A bed never looked so good! The Four Seasons is a few steps above my usual lodgings allotment. Embarrassingly, while attempting to turn on the room light when I entered, I instead pressed the button (one of about six by the door) which summoned an attendant. A couple of minutes later our doorbell, yes doorbell, rang with a smiling young lady wishing to know what we required.

The accommodations were beyond great.

Shortly after check-in we were treated to fresh fruits and sweet treats.

Our room was on the 21st floor. This is the view down to the atrium. Eric, our guide told us that the Four Seasons was currently the highest rated Hotel in the City. Our tour arrangements were made by Abercrombie & Kent who we have used before. They are a first-class tour company.

We arrived in time to freshen up before dinner which was at 7:30 PM. We were given a private room for the meal with a private bar. Included in the meal was unlimited mixed drinks plus wine or beer for the first hour. For the second and third hour, only unlimited wine and beer were provided (in addition to tea, soft drinks, sparkling water, etc.).

The above menu does not do justice to the feast we were served. The “Selection of Appetizers” alone were a meal. There were at least 10 different selections in huge quantities.

My personal favorite menu items were the “Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish”, the ”King Prawns with Wasabi” and the “Braised Pork Belly with Black Truffles”, but I loved everything. The only problem was eating entirely too much!

I will try to post our second day in Beijing tomorrow,

Until then….

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Xingang, People’s Republic of China

Day 38 – Tuesday February 21, 2017

Well… here we are in Zingang, the port city for Beijing. We arrived a day early, really half a day early (since we missed Jeju). We docked approximately 7:00 PM but we have a curfew until we can appear before immigration in the morning, so we are confined to the ship. We attended an excellent performance of the Amsterdam singers and dancers this evening and our cruise director mentioned that it was snowing. I went astern on deck 8 after the show and took the following photos. This was about an hour ago, and the snow is still coming down hard. The current temperature is 28 degrees and the predicted high tomorrow is 32 so it isn’t going anywhere folks.

Stern pool.

The terminal building

Taken with a flash to show the snow fall.

Snow covered stern Lido deck.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

We have an overnight trip to Beijing planned for tomorrow. Two full days visiting the Great Wall at Mutianyu, the Changling Mausoleum, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven among other sites. We are to overnight at the Four Seasons Beijing. I certainly hope we haven’t come half way around the world for one of our bucket list items to be thwarted by snow…

Oh well,

Wan an (Mandarin for Good Night)

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Incheon, South Korea

Day 35 & 36 – Saturday & Sunday February 18 & 19, 2017

We learned at dinner on Friday that our stop at Jeju City had been cancelled. This cancellation was unlike the cancellation of the port of Saipan. In Saipan there were high winds and waves which made the entry into the bay dangerous as well as a very difficult docking. In Jeju the best we could understand from the ambitious report given, was that our docking pier had been changed and the newly assigned pier would involve a single gangway at a steep angle and then some concrete steps to negotiate. Basically, it was too difficult for the passengers of the Amsterdam. I have absolutely no doubt that it was too difficult for many of the passengers, but those of us who were perfectly capable of negotiating the exit must suffer as well. We only have 10 ports of call on this segment outside of the originating and destination ports. Missing 2 ports means we lost 20% of our ports of call! The consolation was that we get to spend two full days in Incheon with 20 to 30 degree temperatures instead of the supposedly beautiful Jeju Island with its more temperate climate. I am not a happy cruiser.

The first day we already had a trip planned to the DMZ to go into the 3rd tunnel beneath the zone which the North Koreans made in an attempt to invade South Korea. This was a 7+ hour tour with lunch. With nothing planned for the second day, we very briefly thought about making the one hour train trip into Seoul. This was quickly decided against. We learned from one of our dinning stewards who had made the trip on Saturday, that there were massive protests in the streets against the Prime Minister. Instead we took the provided shuttle into Incheon to the Senpo International Market (which we briefly visited on the first day). I have included a lot of photos but not much commentary.

Incheon was home to just 4,700 people when it became an international port in 1883. Today, about 3 million people live in the city, making it Korea’s third most populous city after Seoul and Busan. The city’s growth has been assured in modern times with the development of its port due to its natural advantages as a coastal city and its proximity to the South Korean capital. It is part of the Seoul Capital Area, along with Seoul itself and Gyeonggi Province, forming the world’s second largest metropolitan area by population.

Daybreak as we arrived in Incheon port.

Military checkpoint as we entered the DMZ. We had to show passports both on entry and exit.

We could not forget the dangers the people of South Korea live under.

An interesting exhibit at the area where we were to enter the tunnel.

The following description of the 3rd Tunnel is from Wikipedia.

Only 44 km (27 miles) from Seoul, the incomplete tunnel was discovered in October 1978 following the detection of an underground explosion in June 1978, apparently caused by the tunnellers who had progressed 435 meters (1,427 feet) under the south side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It took four months to locate the tunnel precisely and dig an intercept tunnel.

The incomplete tunnel is 1,635 meters (1.0 mile) long, of 1.95 m (6 ft 5 in) maximum high and 2.1 m (6 ft 11 in) wide. It runs through bedrock at a depth of about 73 m (240 ft) below ground. It was apparently designed for a surprise attack on Seoul from North Korea, and could accommodate 30,000 men per hour along with light weaponry. Upon discovery of the third tunnel, the United Nations Command accused North Korea of threatening the 1953 armistice agreement signed at the end of the Korean War. Its description as a "tunnel of aggression" was given by the South, who considered it an act of aggression on the part of the North.

Initially, North Korea denied building the tunnel. North Korea then declared it part of a coal mine, the tunnel having been blackened by construction explosions.[2] Signs in the tunnel claim that there is no geological likelihood of coal being in the area. The walls of the tunnel where tourists are taken are observably granite, a stone of igneous origin, whereas coal would be found in stone of sedimentary origin.

A total of four tunnels have been discovered so far, but there are believed to be up to twenty more. The South Korean military still devotes specialist resources to finding infiltration tunnels, though tunnels are much less significant now that North Korean long-range artillery and missiles have become more effective.

Entrance to the visitor access tunnel

The tunnel, generally called the Third Infiltration Tunnel or 3rd Tunnel, is now a tourist site, though still well guarded. Visitors enter either by walking down a long steep incline that starts in a lobby with a gift shop or via a sled on rails that contains a driver at the front or the back (depending on the direction as there is only one set of rails) and padded seats facing forward and backwards for passengers in up to groups of three. Photos are forbidden within the tunnel. The South Koreans have blocked the actual Military Demarcation Line in the tunnel with three concrete barricades. Tourists can walk as far as the third barricade, and the second barricade is visible through a small window in the third.

We had to don hard hats to make the 300 meter ride to 75 meters underground through the access tunnel to reach Tunnel #3 of the Demilitarized Zone. Unfortunately, the army does not allow any photography inside the tunnel.

A view of North Korea from an observation point on the edge of the DMZ. Our guide noted that there were not any trees in North Korea because they had been cut for fire wood.

The start of the DMZ can easily be seen looking from the observation point.

Observation guard post were located all along the DMZ.

We had a “typical” Korean meal. Personally I preferred the Japanese food, but many liked the Korean better.

The middle dish is kimchi. The Korean people absolutely love this dish of fermented cabbage. I found it ok, but I really believe this is something you have to develop a taste for.

For miles and miles the razor wire fence could be seen. The river flows from South Korea into North Korea and then back into South Korea. The river is fenced and has guard houses every few hundred meters to ensure that no one uses the river. It is quite odd, anywhere else in the world a river this large would be alive with activity.

After lunch we returned to Incheon and visited the Sanpon International Market. It was quite fascinating. Here the locals come to pick up their dinner, purchase fresh fruits and fresh and dried fish as well as clothing.

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Here you could purchase live eels, fish and even turtles for you evening meal.

Spice anyone?

Beautiful flowers were also available. These were grown in local greenhouses.

More dried fish.

… or how about some candy.

A nice arrangement of fish.

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Fresh vegetables…

We found this 3-pak of soft drinks. I am not sure what a Pocari Sweat is.

A typical view down a street in Incheon.

We met this young man out for a Sunday stroll with his dog. When I asked if I could take his photo, he struck this very solemn pose.

We came back to the Sanpon Market on Sunday Morning and it was much quieter.

I can’t imagen a much worse job than cleaning fish in 35 degree weather, all day long…

At the local MacDonald’s, these Mac Delivery scooters were parked to distribute Big Mac’s all over the city.

We had to take a bathroom break and went into the subway to use the facilities. To our surprise the restrooms were spotless. Even a larger surprise was the underground mall which stretched for about a mile with booth which sold everything, but cell phone booths were about every 20 feet.

Need a pair of shoes?

Janet tried on a pair of “fashion” glasses. An entire store was full of these glasses which had clear lenses. Carl said Janet looked like Mrs. McGoo. Janet told me it was ok to post this on the blog…

We are leaving at midnight, sailing for China.

Until then,

Jal-jumuseo (good-night)

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Nagasaki

Day 33 – Thursday February 16, 2017

Nagasaki is the capital and the largest city of Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan. It became a center of Portuguese and Dutch influence in the 16th through 19th centuries, and the Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki have been proposed for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Part of Nagasaki was home to a major Imperial Japanese Navy base during the First Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War. Its name means "long cape". During World War II, the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Nagasaki the second and, to date, last city in the world to experience a nuclear attack.

Our tour today was with Cruise Specialists Group.

Our first stop was the Peace Park, very near the bomb hypercenter. This is a beautiful open area park with many monuments contributed by various entities.

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The remaining foundations of a prison which was located in what is now the park.

“The Seven Continents”, donated by Nagasaki’s sister city St. Paul Minneapolis.

A full scale model of “Fat Man” the A-bomb drop on Nagasaki which effectively ended WWII.

Nagasaki “Rope Way” incline to the top of Mt. Inasa for a view of Nagasaki and the bay.

We wanted to take the incline, but were too cheap so this was the best we could do…

(just kidding, admission included in tour price)

Nagasaki is known by the locals as the town of “slopes”. Many communities are built on the side of the mountains.

I never realized just how mountainous Nagasaki was.

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Henk, our Cruise Specialist Host at our restrurant.

Most traditional Japanese restaurants require you remove your street shoes and wear provided slippers to enter the restaurant proper.

Our restrurant was over 150 years old and consisted of many interconnected small rooms with open areas such as this inbetween.

One of the interconnecting hallways in the restaurant.

Again, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Like yesterday, the meal consisted of at least 10 courses. Unlike yesterday they were served individually. Since no one spoke English the exciting thing was you had no idea when the meal was over! You thought you were finished and suddenly someone appeared with another course. Soups, shichimi, pickled vegetables, sweet black beans and a delicious fatty pork were some of the treats.

Oura Catholic Church, over 150 years old, was establish immediately after the end of percussion of Christians in Japan. The first members were Christians who had maintained their faith in secret for centuries.

In Grover Park you would see couples like these dressed in traditional costume. The best we could tell, they just rented or purchased this dress for an outing. They were always gracious in allowing you to take photos.

A small fall in Grover Park.

Another beautiful scene in the park.

I know, I have an obsession with the vending machines. It just amazes me by both the number of machines and the variety of products offered.

I believe I may have prematurely stated in yesterday’s post that we were heading for South Korea and the DMZ. Since I am usually writing a couple of days after the events take place, you must excuse my sometime lapses of time sequence! At this moment, we are in Incheon, South Korea waiting for immigration and custom clearance to leave the ship. It is 9:30 AM Saturday, Feb. 18at this moment, but It might be the afternoon before I can get internet to upload the post.

Got to go.

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Kagoshima

Day 32 – Wednesday, February 15, 2017

After a day at sea traveling from Kyoto (and celebrating Valentine’s Day aboard ship), we arrived in Kagoshima.

Kagoshima is the capital city of Kagoshima Prefecture at the south-western tip of the island of Kyushu in Japan, and the largest city in the prefecture by some margin. It has been nicknamed the "Naples of the Eastern world" for its bay location, hot climate, and emblematic stratovolcano, Sakurajima. For some reason, I have never pictured Japan as having palm trees. It just never occurred to me that the southern parts of the country were tropical.

The city was covered deep in ash after the 1914 eruption of the Sakurajima volcano. Even today the active volcano periodically spews ash over the city. Although I failed to get a photograph, cemeteries on Sakurajima island have individual small roofs over the graves to protect them from ash.

My very first impressions of Kagoshima were positive. I immediately knew this would, for me, be a more enjoyable port than our previous stops in Japan. The weather was beautiful, the temperature in the 50’s. The pier where we docked was lined with palm trees and as most places in Japan immaculately clean. Our tour today was with our travel service, Cruise Specialists. We quickly loaded the coaches and made about a 30 minute drive to the ferry for our trip to the volcanic island of Sakurajima.

Kay on the ferry.

I’m not sure if you would classify it as a sense of humor or a better way to get your attention, but public safety uses cute signs compared to what we normally see in the states.

Another example.

The Sakurajima radish holds the Guinness Book for the world record largest radish. Some are larger than basketballs!

Mount Sakurajima

Bay view from the observation platform on the volcano.

My bride and me.

This is one of several “volcano shelters” we saw along the highway.

Masako, our guide. She was born on Sakurajima island. The current population of the island is under 5000. It is very sparsely populated in relation to most of Japan.

We visited a volcano heated thermal foot bath. It was amazingly refreshing. Not only were there tourists, but locals could be seen getting a reviving foot soak.

One of the most amazing and admirable traits of the Japanese culture is their honesty. A speaker on the ship who has lived in Japan for several years and is married to a Japanese, said that if you lost anything it would eventually be returned to you if in any way it was possible to track you down. This is an example of the honesty. You would see these items for sale left unattended. You simply placed the money in the container and took your purchase. Sadly, in the States the entire basket with the money would not last long.

Looking back to Kagoshima from Sakurajima Island.

Three lovely ladies, Lucia (our Cruise Specialists Host), Kay and Janet.

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We had what Kay and I thought was a fabulous lunch of traditional Japanese fare. It consisted of soup and rice, fried fish, fish patties, an assortment of sashimi, a vegetable and pork soup which was individually cooked at your plate and an assortment of other delicious items. Dessert was also served along with Japanese beer.

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Kay not only ate her snail, but Janet’s as well.

For those of you who have visited Japan, you are familiar with the toilets. Like most things in Japan, they are hi-tech.

The control panel looks like something from Mission Control at NASA. If you don’t read Japanese, you better study the illustrations closely!

I was absolutely fascinated by the quantity and variety of vending machines. They are everywhere. One of our speakers said there is one vending machine for every 20 persons in Japan. In the US the ratio is about 1 for every 200 persons.

Something else surprising was the cost. Although most things in Japan are very expensive, the items available in vending machines were very reasonably priced. Here you can get a canned coffee (either hot or cold) for less than a dollar. Try that in the states. Notice the “Georgia” coffee. I had to try some (twice). It was amazingly good and is made by Coca-Cola, Atlanta GA. Thus, the name.

You will find vending machines everywhere. In remote places and even along the side of the road.

I speculate that one reason the costs are low is the lack of vandalism. Using a machine requires no expensive attendant and the vending companies do not have to worry about damage or stolen goods. It just doesn’t happen in Japan.

As we sailed away from Kagoshima, many citizens showed up to wish us farewell. The Fire department band performed and played a number of very American tunes.

This gentleman walked up and down the pier waving flags of several countries and continually wished us a good and safe trip. Kay made the statement that it was sad to leave, and she didn’t even know any of these people! I felt the same way. The friendliness was very genuine.

We will be in Nagasaki tomorrow.

Until then,

Sayonara

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Osaka – Day 2

Day 30 – Fushimi, Uji and Nara Japan – Monday February 13, 2017

In my previous post, I failed to give any information about our port.

Osaka is located on the main island of Honshu, roughly in the center of Japan. Osaka City, which was incorporated in 1889, has a population of 2.5 million and an area of 221 square kilometers. Osaka Prefecture, which includes Osaka City (its capital) and 42 other municipalities, has a population of 8.7 million and a total land mass of about 1,905 square kilometers. Although Osaka is Japan’s second smallest prefecture by size, its population represents 7% of the entire nation, making it the second most populous prefecture after Tokyo. Furthermore, 10% of all non-Japanese residents live in Osaka.

Osaka is a major metropolis and as such is not one of my favorite ports. As my regular readers know, I much prefer the smaller out of the way, non-tourist areas. Nevertheless, we did visit some interesting locations outside Osaka City.

Byodo-in Temple built in 1053. The Phoenix Hall which on the 10 yen coin.

Another view of the hall.

Our next stop was Gikkikan Okura Memorial House, the largest of Fushimi’s sake breweries. These large barrels are made of Cypress wood – it would never work for Jack Daniels! We were able to sample several varieties of sake. Some I liked, others not so much.

By tradition, a large ball made up of cypress needles is hung when a new batch of sake is started. As it turns from fresh green to darker brown, it is an indication that the brew is nearing completion.

An old advertising sign in the museum.

Space in the cities is scares. Freeways almost always go up rather than spread out. Sometimes it seemed there were layers upon layers of traffic. Even under the freeways, the space was used for storage and parking. In less urban areas, all the land right up to the freeway was under cultivation.

At the Todaiji Temple and the Hall of the Great Buddha is the bronze statue of the largest Buddha in Japan. It is a sitting Buddah which stands almost 50 feet tall.

Kay beside one of the 1500-year-old timbers supporting the structure. She really wasn’t that ill, she was just cold!

Over a thousand deer run freely on the grounds. Considered sacred, they have become completely tame to humans. They beg for food by doing like any polite Japanese they bow. Really!

The herd is maintained at about 1200 animals. The antlers are trimmed to reduce injuries to visitors.

The Buddha

An attendant of The Buddha

A huge wood carved gardian.

A few of the 3,000 stone lanterns which line the road east from the second tori gate to the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, a Shinto Shrine founded in 710.

Back at the ship, nightfall was arriving. This view is from the Amsterdam’s bow.

The view from the stern of the Kyoto Aquarium and surrounding area.

The Wheel was beautiful. It’s lighting was computerized and revealed many stories. I loved the smaller fishes being chased by a larage fish across the wheel. I did get a video of this, but it takes too much bandwidth to upload.

Although I enjoyed my first two days in Japan, they were quite tiring. I have seen enough temples and shrines for a while. I am looking forward to Kagoshima, where we will visit an active volcano.

We will have a Valentines Ball tomorrow night, a sea day and arrive at Kagoshima on the Wednesday the 14th.

Until then…

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Osaka, Japan

Day 29 – Sunday, February 12, 2017

It has been several days since my last post. Due to the cancellation of port call in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands on the 8th, we have had four consecutive sea days (but it seems much longer!). Since leaving Honolulu we have had 11 sea days out of a total of 13 days. We arrived in Osaka, Japan this morning at 8:00 AM. We did have to go through immigration and customs, but like everything else with the Japanese, it was very organized and timely.

We boarded our coach for the 1.5 hour trip to Kyoto City where we spent most of the day visiting numerous Buddha shrines and Shinto temples and Shogun castles. We did experience some snow today. It was a shock to our systems to go from mid 80 degree temperatures earlier in the week to mid 30 degree temps and snow today.

I apologize for not having much commentary, but after an almost 10-hour trip plus customs clearing this morning, I am quite fizzled! Our wonderful dining room manager assured us that he would hold our table as long as needed until we arrived and he did. Having someone like Presty to look after you is a blessing. It was so nice to sit down to a beautiful relaxing meal and a couple of glasses of wine.

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Snow on the roof at the Golden Pavilion

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The port of Osaka, a very inviting wheel!

The last few days have seen some strong winds. The captain reported winds in excess of 60 mph during the night with waves cresting over 20 feet. We were awoke several times during the night but went right back to sleep.

Our room attendants, Mos and Echo have provided us with lovely towel animals. This one reminded me of our wonder bullmastiff, Mack.

I will close now, our plans for tomorrow are even longer—we are doing a 10 + hour excursion to Nara for more temples, shrines and an active volcano!

I would like to wish our grandchildren, Polly and Camden Happy Birthday. They both turned four this week. We hate we weren’t there to celebrate with you, but will see you soon after our return.

Also, for my Soleil Weather watchers, as you have noticed, the weather site is not updating since the power outage last week. I have tried unsuccessfully to reset it from here, but with no luck. It might have to wait another couple of weeks till our return.

Goodnight!

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Guam and Saipan

Day 24 & 25 – February 7 & 8, 2017

After another four days at sea, we finally reached our second port, Guam. Our start wasn’t exactly smooth. Guam, officially being a part of the U.S., requires a full customs and immigration procedure. We were scheduled to be portside at 8:00 AM, which we were. Immigration clearance was supposed to begin at 7:45. The custom officials were here but It was after 9:00 AM before the immigration officials arrived. This resulted in over an hour of cooling our heels. I don’t mind the face to face immigration procedure, if fact I welcome it although it sometimes is a pain. The captain announced that due to the immigration processing delay, we would delay our sailing from Guam by two hours. This means a 7:00 PM departure.

Guam is an island in the western North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines. (Geographic coordinates: 13 28 N, 144 47 E)

It is the largest and southernmost island in the Mariana Islands archipelago. It lies about 5,800 miles (9,300 km) west of San Francisco and 1,600 miles (2,600 km) east of Manila.

Guam is a territory of the United States of America. It is considered to occupy a militarily strategic location, south of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Guam is one of many islands that make up Micronesia, which politically consists of Belau (Palau), the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati), the Marshall Islands, and several remote islands designated as the US-administered islands of the Central Pacific. All of Micronesia has close political ties to the US.

I have included additional information about Guam which I extracted from several sources. I realize most of my readers might not be interested in this “background” information so feel free to skip to the photos!

Inhabited for thousands of years archaeological evidence indicates that the Marianas Islands were one of the first places to be settled by seafaring peoples, possibly from Island Southeast Asia, over 4000 years ago. The Mariana Islands appear to have been continuously occupied by people who shared the same culture and language that eventually became known as Chamorro.

Guam’s history is also one of multi-colonialism, with the last 400 years of Guam’s history marked by administrations of three different colonial powers: Spain, the United States and Japan.

The ceding of Guam to the United States as an unincorporated territory after the Spanish-American War in 1898 introduced Chamorros to democratic principles of government and the modern American lifestyle.

Guam also had a unique position in World War II, when Japan invaded the island shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. For the next three years, Guam was the only US territory occupied by Japanese forces until the Americans returned in 1944 to reclaim the island.

The political maneuverings after World War II and the post war buildup led to even more expansion of US military interests in Guam and the rest of Micronesia, with Guam becoming a hub for economic and commercial development. The easing of military restrictions for entering Guam and the establishment of a local, civilian government, have made the island an ideal place for people from all over the world to visit, go to school, find jobs or pursue a variety of economic interests. Today, Guam has a diverse population that enjoys a rich, multicultural, modern and urban lifestyle, yet continues to carry the indigenous spirit, language and culture of its people.

Native Guamanians, ethnically called Chamorros, are of basically Malayo-Indonesian descent with a considerable admixture of Spanish, Filipino, Mexican, and other European and Asian ancestries. Chamorros and other Micronesians constitute about half the population. Nearly one-third of the people are Asians, notably Filipinos and Koreans, and there is a small minority of people of European ancestry. About three-fourths of the people are Roman Catholic, and one-eighth are Protestant.

The Chamorro language is an Austronesian language that has, over time, come to incorporate many Spanish words. The word Chamorro is derived from Chamorri, or Chamoli, meaning “noble.” English and Chamorro are the official languages; although Chamorro is still used in many homes, English is the language of education and commerce. Because of the number of tourists and investors from Japan, Japanese is increasingly also used.

The island’s rate of natural increase, although about average for the region, is high compared with that of the United States, partly because of a low death rate. There are large numbers of migrants from the Philippines and South Korea, as well as from neighboring states such as the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The development of Guam into an important U.S. military base brought about profound changes in the island’s agricultural patterns after World War II. Foodstuffs were imported in increasing amounts at the expense of local cultivation, and Guam now imports most of its food. The U.S. armed forces are represented at multiple military facilities on Guam. Andersen Air Force Base and its annexes are concentrated at the northern end of the island. U.S. Navy facilities, located around the island, include a naval air station, a naval base with a ship repair yard, communications centers, and a hospital. Work at the military facilities has drawn many islanders away from their former lives of subsistence agriculture and fishing. Tourism is the most prominent component of the economy, with more than a million visitors arriving per year. There are several luxury hotels along Tumon Bay, which has been highly developed as a tourist area. An international airport links Guam with other Pacific islands, Asia, and Hawaii and the continental United States. Poultry farming, garment-finishing plants, and oil refining are important earners. Guam is a duty-free port, and this status has attracted several small manufacturing companies from countries in Asia and has also prompted some immigration. Major imports—mostly from the United States and Japan—include food products, motor vehicles and parts, and shoes and other leather products. The leading exports are motor vehicles and parts, fish and other food products, scrap metal, and tobacco products. Finland, Japan, and the Federated States of Micronesia are the main export destinations.

Cultural Life

Guam is culturally diverse, with Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and other Asian communities of significant size in addition to its indigenous population and people from the mainland United States. As a center of transportation and communication for the region, it also attracts many islanders from various parts of Micronesia. A large American-style shopping mall in Dededo, the Micronesia Mall, is the largest shopping center on the island and also serves as a cultural and recreational venue, with movie theatres and an indoor amusement park.

Before World War II the villages were the main social and economic units, preserving customs and traditions similar to those of 19th-century Spain. Fiestas held in commemoration of patron saints were great social and religious events of the year for each village and brought together people from many parts of the island. Fiesta customs are still observed in Guam. However, changes in the social life and institutions of Guamanians have come about with economic development and increasing international contacts. The extended family is the main social unit for most groups on Guam, although many of the younger members travel and live in the United States.

The folk arts and handicrafts of Guam have enjoyed a revival since the late 20th century. Various public and private groups have been created to promote music, dance, and other traditional cultural arts for the benefit of both the local community and tourists. The Guam Museum, in Hagåtña, features works by visual artists from around the Pacific Islands. The University of Guam also promotes regional arts and culture.

U.S. national holidays are celebrated on the island, as are several significant local dates such as Discovery Day, March 6, which commemorates the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.

There are daily and semiweekly newspapers and quarterly and monthly magazines published on Guam, and several radio and television stations broadcast local and international news and features daily.

History

Guam, like the other Mariana Islands, was settled by the second quarter of the 2nd millennium BCE by an Indonesian-Filipino people. Archaeological research shows that by 800 CE they had developed a complex society that erected elaborate stone pillars (halege), which served as supports for communal houses (latte).

Ferdinand Magellan probably landed on Guam in 1521. Spain officially claimed the island in 1565 but did not attempt to conquer it until the latter part of the 17th century. After an uprising in 1670 and 25 years of intermittent warfare, the Spanish subdued the population with considerable bloodshed. Diseases introduced by the Europeans, particularly smallpox and influenza, also played an important role in the decimation of the population. Typhoons in 1671 and 1693 caused further destruction and loss of life. Guam remained a Spanish possession until 1898, when, in the course of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. warship Charleston steamed into Apra Harbor and bombarded the old fort. Guam was ceded to the United States, and Spain sold the other islands of the Marianas to Germany in 1899. From that time until 1950 (except for the period of its occupation by the Japanese during World War II) the governor of the island was a naval officer appointed by the president of the United States.

During World War II the Japanese landed on Guam just after the Pearl Harbor attack and occupied the island by Dec. 12, 1941. Allied forces retook Guam by Aug. 10, 1944. It was a major air and naval base for the squadrons of bombers that attacked Japan near the end of the war. Under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy, it was made a territory (1950) that was administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Various offices within that department have administered Guam; the Office of Insular Affairs has had responsibility since 1995. Guam remains the site of major U.S. naval and air bases; about one-third of the land in Guam is owned by the U.S. armed forces.

In the 1970s Guam gradually began to move toward representative self-government. The first popularly elected governor ran for office in 1970, and in 1972 Guam was given the right to send one nonvoting delegate (entitled to vote in committees, however) to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1978 the U.S. Senate accorded Guam the right to adopt a territorial constitution. In 1982, in a referendum offering six options, the option of commonwealth status won a plurality of votes. A draft Commonwealth Act was approved in 1987, and continuing negotiations with the United States took place through the late 20th century. Anderson Air Force Base was expanded in the 1990s, and in 2000 it became the first U.S. Air Force installation outside the continental United States to store conventional air-launched cruise missiles. In 2002 another typhoon struck Guam; it caused devastation across the island and left thousands homeless.

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The War in the Pacific National Historical Park visitor’s center. The visitors center had several excellent exhibits and a book store, but the highlight was a film “The Battle for Gaum” which had been edited to 10 minutes from its full 30 minutes. I plan to locate the film when I return home to watch it in its entirety.

A Japanese two-man submarine. Although Japan produced over 2000 of these subs, they are credited with only sinking a single ship. The submarine is over 80 feet in length, but the crew quarters were quite limited.

A view of the commercial port where the Amsterdam is docked (she is on the left next to the crane).

A panoramic view.

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Asan Bay overlook.

If you have followed my blogs in the past, you might have noticed that I like to photograph the local vehicle tags. They often say a lot about the country.

Latte stones. These stones were the foundation pillows of buildings. These date to approximately 600 years ago.

A sign at an eatery in the Chamorro market.

Monument at the Asan Beach Park.

Asan Beach. The below description came directly from an information plaque.

“Mortar shells geysered the water as thousands of U.S. Marines rode amphtraks and wade ashore here on July 21, 1944. Japanese guns swept the beach from camouflaged pillboxes at Asan Point. Landing craft continually shuttled the dead and wounded back to the ships.

Though hard-won, the beachhead was not a final objective. As heavy fire continued to rain down from surrounding ridges, the Americans used Asan as a staging area for assaults on Japanese strongholds at Adelup Point, Chorito Cliff, Bundschu Ridge and Fonte Plateau.”

Sea containers were used to cordon off our area from the general port operations.

Our delayed departure did allow for a beautiful sunset photograph as we literally sailed into the sunset.

As I am getting ready to post this blog entry it is early Wednesday morning, February 8. The captain has just announced that we will not be able to dock at Saipan. We have been outside the channel for the past 2 hours and the wind and surf has only increased. The port master reported that the waves on the pier are 11 feet. So… we are sailing on toward Japan. I do hate that we missed Saipan because I understand it is a beautiful port. On the otherhand, the weather is truly miserable with rain and 35-40 mph winds. I am not sure that we could have enjoyed our day in Saipan. Captain Mercer also warned us to be careful onboard, he expects the seas to continue to be rough for the remainder of the day at least.

Until next time, probably in Osaka.

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