Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thursday, 10/17/13 Day at Sea

Thursday, 10/17/13 Day at Sea

This morning, I went to the port lecture for Darwin, and learned that Darwin has a hop-on/hop-off bus, so I will turn in my ticket for the crocodile jumping tour and instead take the HO/HO bus around town.  The port lecturer said that one stop on the bus route is the Saturday market, and I will be sure to stop there for photos.

Today I also got a haircut.  That is a scary thing to do on a cruise ship because one’s hair can come out looking strange.  However, this time, I emphasized how important it was to me that the stylist cut only a small amount and I will have it cut again before the end of the cruise.  I think she did a good job, and it looks pretty much as it did before, but just a little shorter.  I’m hoping for the best.

Today I attended a seminar about online social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.  The seminar was too elementary for me, although I stayed until the end.

Today I edited many of my photos of the Great Barrier Reef, and some of them are okay.  I was concerned about the quality of the photos through the heavy glass windows of the semi-submersible boat; however, some of them seem to be acceptable, and they do remind me of being there.

In the evening, attended the production show, “Country Jam”, a show about country music and dancing.  After the show, the crew led line dancing.  It was all amusing.

Wednesday, 10/16/13 Great Barrier Reef

Wednesday, 10/16/13 Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the wonders of the world and a World Heritage Site.  Stretching half the length of eastern Australia, it is so large that it can be seen from outer space.  The ship arrived in Port Douglas, the nearest point to the Great Barrier Reef, and it had arranged to take passengers out to the reef through Quicksilver Reef Cruises, a tour company specializing in taking tourists out to the reef.  Quicksilver took passengers to Agincourt Reef, located on the outer edge of the reef where the reef runs parallel to the Continental Shelf.  The water is quite clear at this point, allowing good viewing of the reef.

Port Douglas is a tender port, as it has no pier.  The tour began at Port Douglas, which meant that passengers must first tender into the dock and then transfer to the large Quicksilver catamaran for the trip out to the reef.  A lot of time was wasted in this process, and the tour did not begin until 9:30 a.m.  Coffee, tea, and punch were available on the Quicksilver catamaran, and videos were shown regarding the reef system.  The trip out to the reef was approximately 90 minutes; the day was beautiful -- sunny and bright, with calm seas.  Sometimes the seas can be rough, and many passengers suffer sea-sickness; however, the calm seas left everyone feeling good.  The catamaran was quite large, with two inside air-conditioned cabins and an upper, open-air deck; approximately 250 passengers were on board.

Quicksilver operated a large pontoon platform at the reef, with several covered decks.  A very nice buffet lunch was set up just after arrival, and passengers separated into their various activities -- snorkeling, scuba diving, helicopter rides, or taking a semi-submersible boat to view the largest section of the reef.  I chose the semi-submersible because it offered the largest viewing section.  Snorkeling and scuba offered only a very small viewing space, and I wanted to see as much as possible.  The semi submersible boat offered viewing about six feet under the surface, with views down to more than 25 feet because of the clear water.  Each boat ride was approximately 30 minutes, and I took three of the boat rides, the most possible during the time we were at the pontoon.

The views were spectacular, with views of dozens of reef and fish species.  Some of the reef types were colorful, while others were more brown in color; fish were of many colors as well, some spectacular.  The tour guide said that fish viewing was not the best at this time because it was low tide, but still it was great.  He pointed out a very large moray eel, which he said he had seen only one other time in the past six years that he had been at the reef.  He was very good, pointing out the various types of reef and fish as the boat slowly made its way around in the reef, taking care not to touch the reef.  I took hundreds of photos, although they were taken through the glass window of the boat, and they may not turn out to be very good.  At the end of the time at the pontoon, I felt that I had truly experienced the reef.

The ride back to the port was uneventful.  At the port, I took a photo of several of the Princess staff, and one man ran to be included in my photo.  He noted my Nikon camera, and he joked that he would not have run to be included in the photo if I had a Canon.  On the way back out to the ship, we talked, and he was a member of the security staff on the ship.  He had been in police work for 30 years, and after he retired, he joined Princess as a security officer.  He had a Nikon D-800, and he said that he had previously had the D-700 like mine.  He said that his wife worked for British Air, and that next year, she would be able to spend up to 120 days on the ship with him.  Steve was his name, and he lived in the southwestern part of England.

In the evening, I read for a while and went to sleep early.

Tuesday, 10/15/13 Day at Sea

Tuesday, 10/15/13 Day at Sea

Lecture day.  First, I attended a lecture on the Great Barrier Reef by the Pilot Guardian of the Reef .  Each ship that travels through the reef is required to have a pilot aboard, and this pilot gave a presentation of the history and functioning of the reef.  After that lecture, I attended the port lecture on Port Douglas, including not only the reef, but also the rain forest and other attractions in Port Douglas.  Then I attended a lecture on the biography of Captain James Cook, the British naval officer who discovered and mapped eastern Australia and many other South Pacific islands as well as other places.  The lecturerer described his death by natives in Hawaii.  After lunch, I attended a photography class, which turned out to be too simple for me.

Finally, after much effort, I found the Passenger Services Director on the ship, Cynthia, and asked how to get my prize.  She said that she would talk with the art director and ask him to contact me.  After dinner, when I returned to my room, the prize had been delivered to my room.  It was a lithograph of sound waves by Billy Dee Williams titled, “Jazz Chords.”  The prize was prepackaged, and a very small photo of the lithograph was attached.

I also talked with the Passenger Services Director at some length about the long delay in being transferred from the airport to the ship in Sydney.  She professed no knowledge of the situation, and told me that she would look into it.  She apologized for the long delay.  When I returned to my room after dinner, she had sent a message apologizing for the delay, refunding the transfer fee, and having a bottle of wine delivered to my room.

I was not interested in going to the entertainment, a comedian, so I stayed in my room.  Later, I noticed that “The Big Wedding” was showing on TV.  When I saw that Diane Keaton was in the movie, I turned it off.  I’m not a fan of Diane Keaton.

Monday, 10/14/13 Day at Sea, Winner!

Monday, 10/14/13  Day at Sea, Winner!

Early afternoon, the ship passed the Sun Princess one mile off the port side, on its way to Sydney.

About the ship, the Dawn Princess.  Talked with the Passenger Services director, Cynthia.  She said that Princess permits people to use the ship as local transportation between ports in Australia and New Zealand.  The ship has a very large number of inside cabins, which locals use for one or two night trips.  About 300 passengers who had come on board in Sydney disembarked in Brisbane, where another 300 passengers boarded.

Each cruise, as passengers board the ship, they are given a scavenger hunt card, and they are encouraged to find certain places on the ship and get the card stamped at each place -- the “revenue centers” on the ship, such as the spa, casino, boutiques, photo shop, internet cafĂ©, etc.  After a passenger gets all the stamps, the cards are placed into a box, from which some are drawn for prizes, such as a free spa treatment, $50 gift certificate for the shops, etc.  The final prize that is drawn is for a gift from the fine art shop.  This time, my name was drawn for the final prize -- artwork with an estimated retail value of $500.  “Artwork is prepackaged for your convenience.  No substitutions.”  I was not shown the prize, but was asked to find the art director on the ship for a description of the prize.

In the evening, I read rather than going to the entertainment, a comedian.

Sunday, 10/13/13 Brisbane

Sunday, 10/13/13 Brisbane

Took a taxi to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and walked around photographing all the Koalas, as well as kangaroos, and a few other animals.  It was great to see the koalas, almost all of them sleeping.  The ranger said that koalas sleep 20 out of 24 hours a day.  They wake to eat and then go back to sleep.  He also said that they are very fast runners over short distances and that they jump from limb to limb in trees.  Because they were sleeping, it would have been impossible to imagine them being fast or agile.  

After leaving Lone Pine, went downtown and took a walking tour that I found online.  Walked throughout the downtown area -- the “CBD” or Central Business District.  Passed through Queen Street Pedestrian Mall.  Walked past Brisbane City Hall and King George Square, the Anzac War Memorial and the Post Office Square, the Old Customs House, Story Bridge, St. John’s Cathedral, the casino, Government House (Parliament) and Old Government House, as well as the botanic gardens across from Government House.  Passed the Goodwill Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge and many other interesting sights.  Total steps on my pedometer -- 16,323.

The taxi driver from Lone Pine back to the downtown area was from the Delhi are in India, had lived in New York for 12 years, and then moved to Brisbane for the past 12 years.  He said that he really liked Brisbane because it was an easier lifestyle than India or New York.  He felt more comfortable in Brisbane than in the other places.

Watched the sail-away, taking some photos as the ship sailed under the bridge.

Dinner in the pizza parlor.

Saturday, 10/12/13 Day at Sea

Saturday, 10/12/13 Day at Sea

After the long day and night getting to Sydney, spent much of the day sleeping.  Attended the port lecture on Brisbane, and then attended the Cruise Critic meeting.  In the evening, the production show was “Shimmy“, and it was good as always.

A day of sleeping and resting.

Thursday, 10/10/13 Fly to Sydney Friday, 10/11/13 Dawn Princess Boarding and Sail-Away

Thursday, 10/10/13 Fly to Sydney
Friday, 10/11/13 Dawn Princess Boarding and Sail-Away

Required to have bags outside door of hotel room by 9:00 a.m. for pick up and transfer to airport.  Then breakfast.  At 11:00 a.m. check out of hotel and go to Princess hospitality room for bus to airport.

Arrive at airport, and see again the largest airport terminal building in the world -- and most likely the most beautiful.  The Princess guide on the bus to the airport helped everyone get a luggage cart and then went inside with the group to help everyone find their check-in location.  Air China check-in, F-12.  After check-in, found a Haagen Dazs ice cream store and got some ice cream.  Noticed that the entire second floor area -- which overlooked the first floor -- was restaurants.  Then, through security into the International Departures part of the terminal building.  A few restaurants were in this section of the terminal, but I went first to find my gate.  Well, my gate was at least a mile distance, and when I finally got there, I found no restaurants or food, but only a machine for water and sodas.  Fortunately, I had some peanuts and candy from the ship.

Boarding was a stampede from the bus that led to the plane.  Seats were very narrow and with no leg room at all.  Could not stretch both legs at the same time.  Very hard, uncomfortable seats.  The plane going to Sydney was packed with Asians; I assume that most were Chinese and the announcements were in both Chinese and English.  I noticed that a large number of babies and small children were on board, and in my section -- Economy class.  I also noticed that many of the people seemed to know each other and were talking excitedly and happily -- and loudly.  After take-off, I fell asleep, having had little sleep the previous night.  However, I was awake again in a very short time because of the loud noise in the cabin from loud talking, laughing, and crying babies.  The loud talking and crying babies continued until dinner was served about 7:00 p.m., and then resumed immediately.  At 10:00 the captain turned off the lights, but the crying babies continued, and continued, and continued all through the night.  I slept for perhaps two hours all night.

At 2:30 a.m. the captain said we would be landing in two hours, so breakfast was served.  He also announced that watches should be turned forward by three hours, as Sydney was three hours ahead of Beijing.  Soon a pretty orange dawn appeared and then sunrise.  The plane landed on time at 4:15 a.m., or 7:15 Australia time.

Passing through customs was not difficult, but then getting the luggage was a nightmare.  The luggage situation seemed out of Africa or some other third-world country.  One bag appeared and then a wait of half an hour for the second bag, and then another wait of half an hour for the third bag.  Then the true horror began.  Thousands of people had to pass through two one-person doors to be checked by security.  One of the lines was for Australian “Fast Track” passengers, and there were few of them.  The line for the other door grew longer and longer as the wait continued, until there must have been at least a thousand people waiting.  People were growing more and more unruly, shouting at the poor young woman who was guarding the door, and eventually, she let passengers pass through the “Fast Track“ door as well.

After finally passing through the security check-point, I found the Princess representative, a young woman who told me that the bus would be in 45 minutes; the time then was about 8:00 a.m.; she suggested waiting at a coffee-shop next to her.  After a few minutes, I asked if I could wander down the hallway, and she said “yes” and that there was another coffee shop area down the hallway.  As I got to that area, I saw another Princess representative, who told me that I should not wander too far as the bus to the ship would be coming soon, and if I missed the bus, I would have to wait for another one later.  I got a cup of coffee at a McDonalds restaurant, but it turned out to be cold.  I sat in the coffee shop with other Princess passengers, and we waited and waited and waited.

Finally at 11:00 a.m. we were told that the bus had been called, and it would be arriving soon.  We were led to a bus area, and again we waited and waited.  Finally the bus came, and it was large enough for all the passengers, but not the luggage.  Some of the luggage was put onto the bus, and the bus had to return for the rest of the luggage.  The bus finally left the terminal building at 11:20 a.m.

Clearly, this situation was horrible.  Some of the people could have been taken to the ship sooner, as the bus had to make two trips anyway.  Instead we were all required to wait for more than three hours -- why?  So that Princess could save a few dollars making only one bus trip to the ship, rather than two.  The weather was beautiful -- sunny and warm -- and we could have gone for a walk and taken pictures, but instead we were required to wait for more than three hours at the airport.  If we had been told the truth by Princess, I would have taken a taxi to the airport for less than Princess charged for the transfer, and then I would have gone for a walk in the nice weather.  Instead Princess lied about the wait time, and we were all stuck in the airport for hours.  Just another example of horrible Princess passenger service.

After arriving at the cruise terminal, the check-in process was easy, and boarding was no problem.

The ship is older, and it is very different from other Princess ships.  Pretty, but cramped.  The cabin is a bit larger than cabins on newer ships, but there is much less closet and shelf space.

The sail-away was very beautiful.  The weather was perfect, and I took many photos of the downtown area of Sydney as the ship sailed out of the harbor, including the old bridge, the new bridge, and the opera house.

Wednesday, 10/09/13 Beijing Day 3


Tuesday, 10/08/13 Beijing Day 2


Monday, 10/07/13 Tianjing to Beijing

Monday, 10/07/13 Tianjin to Beijing

Transfer day to the hotel in Beijing -- the Marriott City Wall hotel.  The previous evening, all bags had to be packed and put outside the door by 10:00 p.m. except for carry-on bags, which included my camera and laptop.  After breakfast, the wait to board the bus was not long, and it seemed that the bus would leave early; however, after boarding, the tour guide announced that the bus would be holding at the ship because the freeway leading to Beijing had been closed due to heavy fog.  The bus would hold at the ship until the freeways had been reopened.  The morning was pleasant at the ship, and I waited outside the bus talking with a Canadian man for a while.  After about an hour, the announcement was made that the freeway had been reopened, and the bus proceeded.

The American name of the tour guide was Jason; he gave his Chinese name, which I did not understand.  He spoke with an American accent, and I asked him if he had spent time in America; he said that he had never been outside China, but had an American teacher.  He had studied English in school, and also at a special language school.  He had been a tour guide for eight years, and he said that his wife was also a tour guide.  He talked a lot about himself, his family, China, Chinese policies, and many other things; I thought he was a really great tour guide.  All passengers remained with the same bus and tour guide for the three days in Beijing.

Once on the freeway, new high rise buildings began to appear everywhere.  He said that Tianjin was a “mid-size” city of 14 million people, and it was the main port for Beijing.  He said that many of the new high rise buildings were condos, and that people in China purchased their condos, often taking mortgages for their entire lives, the prices were so high.  He said that the usual size of a condo was about 1000 square feet.  He also said that many new apartment buildings were empty because people could not afford to purchase the apartments.  He said that all land in China is owned by the state, and that land is leased for a period of 70 years.  After that, the lease must be renewed, or the building torn down and the land reclaimed by the state.

After the bus was on the freeway, traffic stopped for half an hour or so due to the back-up from the previous closure.  Eventually, the traffic moved, but slowly.  The terrain to Beijing from Tianjin was flat, as is often the case in coastal areas.  Much of the land was farmland, with sudden groups of high-rise apartment buildings rising out of the countryside; again, Jason said that many of these new buildings were empty.  The highway was beautiful and it seemed to be new, although I am sure that it was there when I last visited Beijing in 2008.

Once in Beijing, the bus went directly to Tiananmen Square for a visit.  Because of the late arrival, the tour stop in Tiananmen Square was brief, but it was sufficient to walk around and take a few photos.  Although the Golden Week holiday was still underway, there were not as many visitors as during my visit in 2008, and the opportunities for interesting photos were fewer.  The children were still cute.  Across the street from Tiananmen Square is the National Art Museum of China, a very large, beautiful building whose title board was inscribed by Mao in 1963.  The building spans an area of 18,000 square meters in five floors and has 17 exhibition halls.

After the visit to Tiananmen Square, the bus stopped for lunch at a nearby hotel -- the typical Chinese lunch with an unending line of dishes being placed on a large Lazy Susan in the center of the table.  I found the sweet and sour to be the most palatable of the dishes.  As the bus traveled through Beijing, it passed many beautiful buildings and important historical sights, such as the new China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters building; with 54 floors, the unique building reaches a height of 234 meters.  The bus also passed Zhengyangmen or Qianmen Gate House, a historic gate house on the city wall that was first constructed in 1419.  The gate was completely reconstructed in 1914, and it was occupied by the People‘s Liberation Army in 1949.  It has become a major tourist attraction.

After lunch, the bus went to the Forbidden City.  As I followed the tour group through, I thought of the last time I was there, and this time, the place seemed more familiar, even though I had been there only once, and that was five years ago.  I took many of the same photos as before, and this time, I did not feel as much urgency.  I took far fewer photos this time, and the photos were of a more general nature than before.  The Forbidden City is unique and one of the great sights in the world -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  One still gets a feeling of awe walking through it.

After the Forbidden City, the bus went directly to the hotel for check-in -- the Marriott City Wall Hotel.  Everyone was given the keys to a room without having to go through the room registration process, and luggage was already in the room upon arrival.  The room was okay, although a bit small, but the bed turned out to be a foam mattress and difficult to sleep on.  Remembering the food illness I got the last time I visited Beijing, I wanted to be cautious this time; the pizza in the restaurant in the hotel turned out to be just fine.  Then early sleep for a full day tomorrow.

Sunday, 10/06/13 Dalian

Sunday, 10/06/13 Dalian

Took the “City Walking Tour”, a guided walking tour along Zhongshan Road, one of the main roads in Dalian.  The walking tour began at Zhongshan Square, with it’s huge soccer ball in the center.  The guide was a college student, studying to be an English teacher.  She was difficult to understand, and on the street, she was very hard to hear; however, she was pleasant and did manage to convey information about the squares and some of the buildings.  The tour was a walk straight up the main road from Zhongshan Square through Friendship Square to Victory Square, past a very upscale shopping area, and on up the street to People’s Square, with its very interesting fountains.  The walk was uphill, and one wondered why the tour did not start at the top of the hill and walk down.

At People’s Square, the tour stopped at a local restaurant for refreshments -- coke or beer -- and then we all boarded a coach for the ride back down the same street to Labor Park, the most interesting place on the tour.  The ship was in Dalian on a holiday, the sixth day of the national week, and many people were in the park to relax and enjoy the nice weather.  One of the interesting sights was a matchmaking scene at the entry to the park, where dozens of parents had posted one page descriptions of their son or daughter on trees, in the hope that some other parent would want their own child to meet them and form a match.  Rather than using a computer site to form matches, this ancient ceremony was an attempt for parents to find a match for their children.

As I took photos, a young woman came up to me and wanted her boyfriend to take a photo  of me with her, which I found amusing.  Later in the same park, I saw them again, and I asked him to use my camera to take a photo of her and me.  The entire scene in the park was very colorful, with people everywhere relaxing and enjoying the day.  The guide handed out paper kites for passengers to try to fly, but I did not attempt that.

Dalian is a very modern city, with skyscrapers everywhere, and like other Chinese cities, it was very clean and neat.

Saturday, 10/05/13 Qingdao

Saturday, 10/05/13 Qingdao

Took the ship tour, an all-day tour of the Badaguan historic district of Qingdao, including lunch.  In Chinese, the letter “Q” is pronounced “ch”, so the name of the city is pronounced “Chingdao”.  The ship was in Qingdao on a holiday, and the streets were filled with local people enjoying the beautiful weather on a day off work.  October 1 is the national holiday of China, like July 4th in America, and the entire first week of October is a national holiday, called “Golden?? Week”.

This was a very good tour that included many of the top historical sites in Qingdao.  The tour guide spoke very poor English, and it was very difficult to understand him; however, the tour was very good.  One of the first things that I noticed was that the streets were lined with large shade trees, and the tour guide explained that when the city was under German control, the streets were laid out and trees were imported from Germany to line the streets.  As the bus passed “Bathing Beach No. 1”, I noticed brides on the beach, where bridal photos were being taken.  The tour guide explained that brides often had bridal photos made on the beach prior to their wedding.  I was disappointed that the bus did not stop at the beach.  When the bus did stop, passengers were led past “Bathing Beach No. 2, which was not nearly as pretty as the No. 1 beach; however, some brides were also on this beach for wedding photos, and I was able to take a couple of photos of them.

The tour guide led the passengers to a beautiful park and on to

Friday, 10/04/13 Day at Sea

Friday, 10/04/13 Day at Sea


Thursday, October 03, 2013

Thursday, 10/03/13 Busan, Korea

Thursday, 10/03/13 Busan, Korea

As the ship slowly made its way into Busan harbor, the view for miles was of a forest of high rise apartment buildings. Busan (formerly Pusan) is South Korea’s second largest city. The population of Busan is now 3.5 million, and that is a decline from a former population of 5 million. It seems that the corporations and the jobs are moving north in
South Korea, to the area near Seoul, where labor is more plentiful and cheaper than in the Busan area. Still, the forest of high rise apartment buildings stretched for miles.

Korea was divided in 1945, after World War II, and the division was confirmed by the Korean War 1950-1953. After the Korean War, all of Korea was desperately poor, and many thousands of people died of starvation. The poverty continued until the early 1970s, when the United States pressed South Korea to support the Vietnam war. South Korea had no military, and no money to support the United States in the Vietnam War; however, the United States offered to give South Korea the rights to all construction projects in the war if they would support the war. For the first time, South Korea had an opportunity to improve its economic situation, and they took it. As the war went on, South Korea gained knowledge and experience in construction projects, and they are still now called upon for construction projects around the world. That was the beginning of the economic turnaround in South Korea, and the country has continued its economic growth since then. It is now one of the economic powerhouses in the world. Busan is one of the top five ports in the world as measured by the number of containers processed there, and the port is very impressive. A new bridge crosses the harbor, adding beauty to the port.

Because the Korean people suffered deep poverty for so long, they now want only new products. There are very few cars on the roads that are not new, as well as the roads, the apartment buildings, the appliances and everything else. In addition, they have kept few historic sites, although they now recognize the value of historic sites in tourism, and they now are reconstructing some historic sites.

The tour included several historic sites designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The first site was Tumuli Park, the home of 20 royal tombs dating back to the Silla Dynasty, including Chonmachong, or “Flying Horse” tomb, that was excavated in 1973. The tombs of Tumuli Park are located in Tumuli Village, which is part of the UNESCO designation, and is filled with historic houses and buildings that are occupied and in use. No external changes can be made in these buildings. This site is about 1.5 hour’s drive from the port. Although the tour stopped at the tombs, one sad aspect of the tour was it did not include a photo stop at the village, and there was no opportunity to take photos of the interesting buildings there.

After this visit, the tour stopped for a large buffet lunch at a local hotel. This lunch was not the greatest; it was definitely a “tourist” luncheon. One of the items at the buffet was Kimchi, the national dish of Korea; this is a cabbage dish that is fermented and very spicy. This dish is so important in Korea that many households have two refrigerators, one used solely for Kimchi. The luncheon included a very beautiful folk dance.

After lunch, the tour went to the Bulguska Temple, a very impressive Buddhist temple that was constructed about 750 AD, and also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tour guide discussed Buddhism, which has been the national religion of Korea since around 700 AD. Buddhism originated in India, traveled to China, and then on to Korea and Japan. The basic tenet of Buddhism is that desire is the cause of all pain in life, and the path to peace is letting of all desire.

One interesting tidbit that the tour guide pointed out concerns the appearance of Korean women. She said that it is often very difficult to tell the age of a Korean woman who is between the ages of 25 and 60. As an example, she asked the people on the bus to guess her age. She appeared to be 25-30, but she said that she was in fact 46. Everyone was shocked; she certainly did not appear to be 46. She was asked if she was married, and she said “no”, that she was never wanted by any man. She was very well educated, including graduate studies in America, and in Asia, many educated women are not wanted as wives because they outshine their husbands.

Busan is a very interesting city, and the tour barely touched on the interesting aspects of the city. It would be very interesting to return and spend some time there. Busan stretches for miles along a valley, and almost all of the city is in that long valley, with high rise apartment buildings rising up along the sides of the valley.


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Tuesday, 10/01/13 Vladivostok, Russia

Tuesday, 10/01/13 Vladivostok, Russia

The ship arrived in Vladivostok at 4:00 a.m. and it is scheduled to leave at 7:00 p.m. Evidently, the timing was intended to prevent passengers from taking lots of photos of the Russian navy that is based here. Only a couple of destroyers were docked near the ship; although I took photos, they were not very rewarding. The weather in Vladivostok was really great -- low 70s and sunny -- perfect for walking and sightseeing.

I had not registered for a ship tour, preferring to go for a walk on the main streets. However, when I woke and looked out at the city, it appeared to me that walking all the way to the farthest church that I wanted to visit was too far. Therefore, I did as I have done so many times in the past; I looked for a taxi. Taxis were lined up in front of the train station, just outside the cruise terminal, and I quickly found one that would take American money, and who could speak enough English that he could take me where I wanted to go. He took me to every site that I had planned to see, and a few more, and he charged only $50, only about one-third the cost of a ship tour that would visit only a few sites. He was a really nice guy, and I enjoyed seeing all the sights I had planned to see.

After the "tour" I walked for a while, visiting the Victory Arch and submarine museum.

Afterward, I stopped in a nice Russian restaurant for borscht and an apple pastry. It was perfect, and I was able to pay with a card, so I didn't need to get Russian money.

After lunch I walked for another hour, and then went back to the ship, and on to the terminal building for free WiFi, so I could update my blog.

Several observations about Vladivostok will stay with me.  First, I have never before seen so many very tall, very thin, very pretty young women as in Vladivostok.  It seemed that every other young woman was very tall, very thin, and very pretty.  Virtually all of them wore very tight-fitting dark pants (I‘m sure with Spandex), and most of them wore very high heels, making them even taller.  They all had long hair; none had short hair.  The sight of these tall, thin, pretty women was truly striking. 

Second, I was struck that so many cars had steering wheels on the right, even though they drove on the right side of the street.  I was reminded of St. Thomas, where the same thing occurs.  I was told that the reason was that many of the cars in Vladivostok are imported from Japan, and the steering is not changed because it is less expensive to purchase Japanese cars with the steering on the right.  I noticed that almost all of the cars were Japanese. 

Third, the traffic was truly choking.  It was incredible.  It barely moved.  Making it worse was the lack of parking space.  There seemed to be no parking lots or garages, and cars parked everywhere.  On many streets, the cars parked two and three deep, leaving only one very narrow lane down the center of the street for traffic. 

Fourth, the people were very friendly.  So many people smiled and said hello, and even when they could not speak English, they tried to be helpful.  I really liked the people of Vladivostok, and I would like very much to return there someday.  


The ship was an hour late leaving the port because several passengers had not returned their passports to passenger services; the ship left the dock at 8:00 p.m., well after the scheduled time to depart, and in darkness.  However, as the ship sailed out of the port, I went up top to watch and take a few photos (in the dark), and I noticed that we passed no Russian navy vessels.  So the reason for the dark arrival and departure was not to prevent photos of Russian navy vessels, as there were none except for the few docked next to the ship. 

As we sailed out of the harbor, we passed under a huge new bridge that was very impressive.  I will have to look up that bridge when I get back home.

Monday, 09/30/13 At Sea

Monday, 09/30/13 At Sea

Another foggy, rainy day at sea between Sapporo and Vladivostok. A quiet day. Watched football games: Denver vs. Philadelphia, and then New England vs. Atlanta. Lecture on “Introduction to Buddhism.” Production show: “Piano Man,” which I saw on the Vancouver to Alaska leg of the trip; so I decided to stay in my room and watch the movie, "The Words", with Bradley Cooper.  It was an interesting movie -- "What is fact and what is fiction?" -- but probably not a money-maker for its investors.

Sunday, 09/29/13 Sapporo, Japan

Sunday, 09/29/13 Sapporo, Japan

Took the ship bus to Sapporo -- “On Your Own”. The seats in the bus were very small, a very tight fit for two people. Clearly, the seat width was made for Japanese people, who are smaller than average Americans. The drive to Sapporo was about two hours, and uneventful along an expressway. The scenery was mostly trees and rolling hills. Sapporo, a city of about 2 million, was the site of the 1972 Winter Olympics. Upon arriving in Sapporo, I was surprised that it was a very flat city that did not seem to have a population of 2 million; however, it is the fifth largest city in Japan. Although there were a number of high-rise buildings, there were not many, and most were not very high -- perhaps 20 floors or so for the tallest. To the west, the mountains were quite high, and it was easy to understand how the winter games could be held there.

The bus dropped passengers at the tallest structure in the city, the TV tower, which seemed to be modeled after the Eifel Tower, only it was bright red. The TV tower sits at the eastern end of Odori Park, a long, narrow park running east-west in the heart of the city. The park was originally put there as a fire break in case of fire in downtown. However, it is now a long green strip that is a very pretty park, with a pretty fountain. On this day, there was an Autumn Festival with music and food. The weather turned out to be glorious -- sunny and warm, and since it was a Sunday, many people were out enjoying the weather and the festival.

My first task was to walk to the large -- VERY large -- BIC camera store to purchase a replacement lens hood for my 24-70 Nikon lens. The previous one had been damaged when my camera strap came loose and the camera fell. Fortunately, the lens hood functioned as a cushion, breaking the fall of the camera, and the lens and camera were not damaged. However, I needed to replace the lens hood as well as the camera strap. Fortunately, a young associate spoke English, and he was very helpful in locating the items that I needed. After he learned that I was foreign, he said that I would qualify for a duty free purchase; he escorted me to a clearly marked “duty free“ cash register, and I was not required to pay taxes on my purchase.

After stopping at the camera store, I walked back toward Odori Park to look at the Autumn Festival. I also wanted to visit the large underground shopping center under two of the large downtown streets. When I found my way into the underground shopping center, I was surprised to see how large it was. It was immense, running for blocks under two of the large downtown streets. It was very modern and clean and lighted in a colorful way to make shopping a happy experience. After walking for a while, I stopped at a tea room for some tea and pastries before returning to the TV tower for the bus to return to the ship. Once on the bus, I fell asleep for a while before the bus stopped for a break on the way back to the ship.

Japan is an aging society with a shrinking population, and I expected to see an older population, as in Florida. However, the people on the streets and in the stores were almost entirely younger people. I was there on Sunday, and kids were not in school, so there were a lot of kids out enjoying the nice weather. However, it was really noticeable that there were hardly any older people anywhere I went.

One of the most interesting sights in Sapporo was the way the young women dressed. They dressed in very short, frilly skirts, with adornments to show off their legs. It seemed that most of the young women wore very short skirts, with pretty, frilly shoes, and some type of adornment for their legs. Their skirts all had frilly bottoms -- lace or other adornment at the bottoms of the skirts. Some wore thigh high nylons, with their short skirts clearly showing the tops of their nylons. Others wore garter belts with frilly straps hooked to the tops of their nylons, and clearly displayed below the hems of their short skirts. Others wore nylons that were decorated in many ways, such as a wide seam up the back of the leg, or other pattern in the nylons. Such remarkable attention to detail in showing off their legs.

Saturday, 09/28/13 At Sea Day 6

Saturday, 09/28/13 At Sea Day 6

Sun and calm seas! At last! This morning was the first morning to see the sunrise since Vancouver. Seas were “Slight” with swells of 1-2 feet (0.5-1 meters), and the temperature was 52 degrees F. Later, the seas became “Moderate” with winds of 14 knots, or 16 mph. The ship has sailed 2700 miles since Whittier, with 400 miles to go to Muroran.

Attended the port lecture on Dalian, and it was okay today -- just okay.

At one point the port lecturer, Heather, talked about the customs procedures for Muroran tomorrow. She said that everyone would be required to give fingerprints (by touching a screen), but she did not warn people to clean their fingers with an antiseptic wipe afterwards. In 2009, when I was here on this same ship, 500 people got sick after the fingerprint process because they did not clean their fingers afterwards, and the entire ship was quarantined in Shanghai. After the lecture today, I went to the tour office and told them about the previous experience and asked them to warn people to clean their fingers after the fingerprint process; however, they were very nasty to me and told me that they didn’t need any advice from me because they know how to do things. I asked them if Princess would have wipes available for people to use after the fingerprint process, and they simply repeated to me that they know how to do their jobs and they don’t need any advice from me. What jerks.

Late afternoon, I went up to Skywalkers Lounge for the predinner drinks for Platinum and Elite members. Although I didn’t get a drink, I did sit and look out at the seas for a few minutes, and the view was worth the effort -- a large school of dolphins suddenly appeared swimming all along the ship from the bow to the stern. There must have been at least 50 of them, and they were jumping in groups of up to six at a time. They seemed to be everywhere jumping all over the place. The sight of all those dolphins jumping and playing was really incredible.

Friday, 09/27/13 At Sea Day 5

Friday, 09/27/13 At Sea Day 5

Another day of heavy overcast and light rain, as every day has been since Vancouver.

Attended the port lecture for Qingdao, which again was quite poor. The port lecturer, Heather, is such a nice, pleasant person, but her lectures are not good.

After the port lecture, I watched the football game between San Francisco and St. Louis, which I also found to be boring. I was just not interested in the teams.

Another day with no Internet service -- the second day in a row with no Internet service on the ship. Princess could pay for a better satellite connection, but chooses not to do that. As a result, passengers do not have Internet access on many of the days, particularly days at sea.

At dinner, something shocking happened -- SUN!! The clouds disappeared and the sun shined just at sunset. Although the sunset was not spectacular, at least there was a sunset. This was the first time we had seen the sun since Vancouver, and many people were out on the decks to see the sunset.

The evening was formal, and I attended the Captain’s reception, where he announced that of the 2700 passengers on board, about 350 were Elite. I was very surprised; usually it seems that almost half of the passengers are Elite.

The entertainment was a production show, “Words and Music”, featuring music from

American musicals. It was really excellent, as always.