ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 11

October 24/25, 2018 – Beijing, China

PART 2

The Great Wall!  “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” – Mao Zedong.  I am now a true man!

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China’s greatest engineering triumph is not one continuous entity but in reality, it exists in chunks interspersed with natural defenses (such as precipitous mountains) that need no additional fortifications.

We were very lucky that there were not as many people on the Great Wall as can be however, it was very smoggy that day and so pictures are not as clear as I had hoped they would be.

We had 1½ hours at the Great Wall and so I was determined to climb as far as I can.  As you can see from the picture above, there are no people in the photo but compare it to the photos below and you can see that I got above the “people” line.  Climbing all the stairs on the ship was good training for the hike up the wall.

There were some incredible views from the wall and being fall time, the colours were stunning, albeit muted by the smog.

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Our final stop in the Beijing area was the Ming Tombs.  This is the final resting place of 13 of the 16 Ming emperors.  The Ming Tombs follow a standard imperial layout.  In each tomb the plan consists of a main gate, leading to the first of a series of courtyards and the main hall.  Beyond this lie gates or archways leading to the Soul Tower, behind which rises the burial mound.  Three tombs have been opened to the public and we only saw one…Chang Ling.

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Our final stop before heading back to the ship was lunch at a jade factory.  While I was not initially impressed with the obligatory factory setting, it was much better than expected.  Firstly, the meal was excellent, again in a traditional Chinese family style setting where they just continue to bring out food, one dish at a time.

After the lunch, we had time to stroll around and look at the jade and yes, a salesperson followed you around happy to show you anything you were interested in.  It was all very expensive but what made it more interesting were all the larger piece costing thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars.  In fact, it was as much a museum to me as a sales opportunity for them and I enjoyed the artistry and precision that went into these pieces.

That’s it for Beijing!  It was an incredible 2 days in port with so much to see and do.  Next stop…Shanghai!  Stay tuned for more wonderful pictures!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 10

October 24/25, 2018 – Beijing, China

Our ship docked at Tianjin Port, the largest man-made sea port in mainland China.  The distance is 160 km to Beijing.  A short 1.5 hour drive right?  Wrong!  We have to plan for a 3 hour drive each way.  As a result, we opted for an overnight tour provided by the ship.  This includes return transfers from the port, the entrance fees for the sights, meals and overnight accommodation.  The cost is $900USD each.  Yikes!  We only decided to bite the bullet on this after our guide spoke on Beijing and the difficulties of going to Beijing on your own.  The bottom line was with the frightful traffic in Beijing, we did not want to risk the possibility of missing the ship on our second day.

The mistake we made was leaving this for the last minute and I would urge people to discuss an independent escorted shore excursion with your travel agent, which I know you can get for a lot less money and still have a great experience.  I should know better!

When someone says Beijing, what do you imagine?  A dirty, rundown city full of bicycles that is 50 years behind the times?  Not at all.  Beijing is a fully modernized city with beautiful new buildings and all the amenities.  Large shopping malls with all the high end stores.  The streets are clogged, not with bicycles, but with high end cars like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguars, etc.  The more common cars were VW, Buicks and Hyundai.  Not a lot of Japanese cars perhaps an indication of the relationship between the 2 countries.  This is Communist China? It is a dichotomy of the old and the new.

Beijing 2Our first stop is the Temple of Heaven.  It originally served as a vast stage for solemn rites performed by the Emperor of the time (known as the Son of Heaven) who prayed here for good harvests and sought divine clearance and atonement.  It’s really an altar rather than a temple.

Seen from above, the temple hall is round and the base square, in accordance with the notion “Heaven is Round, Earth is Square”.  The northern rim of the park is semicircular, while the southern end is square.

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The highlight of the park is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, an astonishing structure with a triple-eaved purplish-blue umbrella roof mounted on a three tiered marble terrace.  The wooden pillars (made with fir) support the ceiling without nails or cement.  For a building 38m high and 30m in diameter, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Embedded in the ceiling is a carved dragon, a symbol of the Emperor.  Built in 1420, the hall was struck by lightening and burned to the ground in 1889.  A faithful reproduction based on Ming architectural methods was erected the following year.

Stretching out runs a long corridor, where locals sit and deal cards or just hang out.

After a lovely lunch, Chinese of course, we headed off to the Forbidden City…a place I have always wanted to see.  I would highly recommend watching The Last Emperor to get a good idea of the enormity of the Forbidden City.

This is China’s largest and best preserved collection of ancient buildings and the largest palace complex in the world.  This was the reclusive home to two dynasties of imperial rule, sharing 900+ buildings with retinue of eunuchs, servants and concubines, until the Republic overthrew the last Qing emperor in 1911.Beijing 17

In former ages, the penalty for uninvited admission was severe, although commoners wouldn’t have gotten even close.  Today, tourists enter through the Meridian Gate, which in former times was reserved for the use of the emperor.  Gongs and bells would sound imperial comings and goings, while lesser mortals used lesser gates.  The Emperor reviewed armies from here, passed judgement on prisoners, announced the new year’s calendar and oversaw the flogging of troublesome ministers.

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Through the Meridian Gate, you pass into a vast courtyard to the Gate of Supreme Harmony.  This space could hold an imperial audience of 100,000.  I’m glad there weren’t that many tourists there at the time.  As it was, there were enough!

Raised on a three-tier marble terrace are the Three Great Halls, the glorious heart of the Forbidden City.  The recently restored Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City.  Built in the 15th century and restored first in the 17th century, it was used for ceremonial occasions, such as the Emperor’s birthday.  Inside is a richly decorated Dragon Throne from which the Emperor would preside over trembling officials.  The entire court had to touch the floor nine times with their foreheads in the Emperor’s presence (kowtowing).

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the smaller Hall of Central Harmony which was used as the Emperor’s transit lounge.  Here he would make last-minute preparations, rehearse speeches and receive close ministers.

The third of the Great Halls is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, used for banquets and later imperial examinations.  A string of halls flanks the Three Great Halls not open to the public when we were there but can be used for exhibitions.

The area of where the concubines lived was interesting.  Apparently, the Emperor could have as many concubines as he wanted or needed.

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Finally, we exit the Forbidden City through a beautiful garden area.

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Our last stop before supper was supposed to be Tian’anmen Square.  Unfortunately, the Japanese Prime Minister was visiting Beijing and the Square was blocked off.  The closest we got was about ½ block away.  By that time too, it was already quite dark.  The traffic was horrendous and what was usually a 15 minute drive would take as much as an hour, so we were running late.  So, here are some rather poor pictures of Tian’anmen Square and I’m sad to say that we were not able to walk around the square at all.

Off to supper for a Peking Duck special meal.  Way too much food (very exceptional Chinese food) with the specialty being Peking Duck which the chef’s carved at the table.

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Finally, checked into the Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido Hotel which was exceptional.  After a very long and tiring day, it was an early night.  Tomorrow, the Great Wall of China and Ming Tombs!

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 9

October 21, 2018 – Fukuoka, Japan

Today we are on the island of Kyushu and Fukuoka (careful how you say it) is the island’s largest city.  Because of its closeness to the Asian mainland (closer to Seoul than to Tokyo), Fukuoka has been an important harbor city for many centuries and was chosen by the Mongol invasion forces as their landing point in the 13th century.

2Today’s Fukuoka is the product of the fusion of two cities in the year 1889, when the port city of Hakata and the former castle town of Fukuoka were united into one city called Fukuoka. Hakata remains the name of one of Fukuoka’s central districts and of the main railway station.

After several days of a variety of ports where we have seen fantastic castles and shrines, we decided that today, we just needed to go for a walk and find some green space to enjoy.  As a result, we jumped on the ship’s shuttle bus to downtown, then bypassed the local Fukuoka Castle and some shrines and walked about ½ hour to Ohori Park.  Great choice.

This area was once an inlet of Kakata Bay and when Fukuoka Castle was built, the north side was reclaimed and made into the outer moat around the castle.  Ohori Park was opened in 1929.

There was a lovely little lake where people could rent paddle boats in the shape of swans and row boats.  There was also a track for jogging or biking around the lake.

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The weather was perfect as we walked around the lake.  There was a bridge to an island which also connected to the other side of the lake.  After strolling and crossing the bridge, we headed to the Japanese Gardens.

The Japanese Gardens were created in 1984 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ohori Park. It has an area of 12,000 square meters and the main features of the garden are its large pond, artificial hills, waterfalls, a meandering stream, dry landscape garden and more!  I hope these pictures capture the zen feeling of the gardens.

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Really a beautiful day in Japan.  Next stop is Beijing, China which promises to be a completely different experience!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 8

1October 20, 2018 – Kochi, Japan

Kochi Castle, is probably the town’s biggest attraction and is a completely original castle, one of only twelve such in Japan. The complete inner citadel (honmaru) of the castle is still intact.

First constructed between 1601 and 1611 by Yamauchi Katsutoyo, the feudal lord (daimyo) of Tosa, the castle burnt down in 1727 and was rebuilt between 1729-1753. The buildings we see today date from that period.

The reconstruction of Kochi Castle took place in the middle of a time of prolonged peace in Japan, so the feudal lord of the day had his living quarters (kaitokukan) situated on the ground floor looking out on to a pleasant garden planted with cherry trees and plum trees.

The 18.5m-tall castle tower (donjon) has three external levels on six floors. Being a clear day, there were good views over Kochi town stretching out below.

The famous landmark of Kochi’s downtown is Harimayabashi, a small red bridge on the west side of the main street. While it may not look particularly noteworthy at first glance, Harimayabashi is renowned for its role in a Kochi love story.

A common version of the story centers around a priest from Godaisan and a girl from Kochi. Because the priest’s temple forbade relationships, the couple hid their romance by meeting in secret and exchanging clandestine gifts. One day, the priest was seen buying a hair comb at Harimayabashi, and the couple’s secret romance was discovered. They were forced to flee the city to avoid punishment.

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In addition to Harimayabashi, downtown Kochi has pedestrian shopping arcades and attractive streets for walking.  “Hello Kitty” marks the entrance to the shopping street.

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At the end of the shopping arcade is the Hirome Market, a large building filled chockablock full of food vendors and shops.  Think of it as a huge Asian street food court.

We (read Ed) were in search of a local food specialty called Katsuo.  It is prepared by searing the Katsua (Bonita/Tuna) briefly.  In our case, it was seared over an open fire fueled by what looked like thin reeds.  It is then sliced and seasoned with salt and green onion.  Our order also came with rice and Miso soup.  The taste is somewhat smoky and I thought it was very good.

Karen enjoyed her chicken wing and something that tasted like deep fried kale.  We both enjoyed the ice cold beer!  That’s it from Kochi.  Until next time, thanks for following along.

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 7

October 19, 2018 – Kobe, Japan

Located between the sea and the Rokko mountain range, Kobe is also considered one of Japan’s most attractive cities.

4Kobe has been an important port city for many centuries. Its port was among the first to be opened to foreign trade in the 19th century alongside the ports of Yokohama, Nagasaki, Hakodate and Niigata.

In 1995, Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which killed over 5000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings. Today the city is completely rebuilt, and few signs of the terrible event remain.

Pulling into Kobe Port, we were saluted by a fireboat spraying fountains of water and then they released a large number of balloons in honour of our docking.

Where’s the beef?  Kobe is best known for the world famous and ultra expensive wagyu beef raised in the district around the city.  The cattle are fed grain fodder and raised according to strict protocols, resulting in beef that is marbled and said to be tastier than other varieties. 5 Having said that, there are many restaurants that feature Kobe beef but given we are from Saskatchewan where the beef is some of the world’s best, we were more interested in other foods.

First things first, we took the ship’s shuttle to downtown Kobe and from there walked up to the Ikuta Shrine which is possibly one of the oldest shrines in the country. It’s said to have been constructed by the Empress Jingu at the beginning of the 3rd century AD.

Today the shrine is more or less surrounded by modern constructions, as for example the department store Tokyu Hands, as well as sprawling cafes, and it’s hard to believe that the shrine used to be surrounded by forest until the 19th century.

Ikuta Shrine is worshiped as a guardian of health. This is also reflected in the shrine’s name, as the first Chinese character means “life”. For the people of Kobe Ikuta Shrine is also a symbol of resurrection, as it survived quite some challenges in the past: Wars were fought in and around the shrine grounds during the Genpei War (1180 – 1185​), heavy flooding from the nearby river occurred in 1938, there were air raids over Kobe during World War II and last but not least it suffered from the damage caused by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Ikuta Shrine withstood all the damage and is therefore a symbol of hope for the residents.

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Leaving the Shrine, we walked back to this massive covered shopping street where we had seen them making these steamed buns filled with a pork stuffing.  They looked fantastic and they only cost 110Yen each, about $1.50 CAD.  They were just as good as they looked!  The photo below through the glass isn’t great but you get the idea!

The shopping street was amazing and seemed to go on forever.  Thankfully, we got through it relatively unscathed (limited purchases), but well worth the experience!

Next stop is Kochi, Japan tomorrow.  We’ll be looking forward to a couple of sea days coming up to rest up for our China experiences, coming soon!  Thanks for following along!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 6

October 18, 2018 – Shimizu, Japan

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Shimizu’s rich cultural heritage is rooted in the surrounding Shizuoka area’s history as the home of Tokugawa leyasu, the founder of the Edo shogunate, following his retirement from government. A collection of historic buildings in the vicinity, such as Sumpu Castle Park, and Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, depict a fascinating portrait of the life and accomplishments of this major historical figure. So, that is where we headed!

The ship provided shuttle service to the Shin Shimizu Station where we caught the train to take us to Shin Shizuaka, home to our two main sights today.  The train took us about 20 minutes but again, people have been amazing in helping us purchase the right tickets, get to the right platform and explain where we need to get off.

Sumpu Castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1586 and later served as his retirement home. Shizuoka City, at that time called Sumpu, developed around the castle, which remains at the center of the city and a ten minute walk from Shizuoka Station. None of the original castle buildings remain, and the grounds now mostly consist of park space.

Throughout its history, Sumpu Castle was destroyed and rebuilt many times. In 1949, the innermost courtyards of the former castle grounds were converted into a public park, Sumpu Park, which remains surrounded by a moat.

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An English adio guide helped immensely in trying to figure out everything we were looking at.  We were required to take off our shoes before entering the restored section of the castle and don slippers.  Inside was a fascinating display of what life was like back in that era.   Judging by the size of the armour Karen is standing beside, the samurai were small but mighty.

In recent decades, efforts have been made to restore parts of the former castle.  The East Gate (above) and an adjoining guard tower were reconstructed according to original construction plans.

The next stop at the castle were the impressive and compact Momijiyama Gardens.  It is made up of 4 sections, based on Japan’s 4 seasons. Called Garden of the Village, Garden of the Sea, Garden of the Mountain Village and Garden of the Mountain, the grounds are meticulously cared for and a path leads you through the various parts.

The Castle Park is quite large and it seems very popular with the locals.  We loved seeing some of the kids from a daycare.

Shizuoka Sengen Shrine is the name for a collective group of three shrines, the Kambe Shrine, Sengen Shrine, and Ohtoshimioya Shrine. The grand and brilliant main buildings are richly colored in urushi coating. 26 buildings have been designated as a national important cultural property with over 2000 years of history.  The shrines are frequented by the locals, many of whom write good wishes on paper or wooden ornaments that are hung around the shrines for good fortune.

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To end the day, back on the ship, we were treated to a Geisha show where 2 Geisha performed a couple of wonderful dances extremely well-choreographed and timed to perfection.

We had a wonderful send off from Shimizu with a performance by 5-6 years who danced and sang to a variety of tunes including YMCA!  So cute and touching to see the community come out to bid us farewell.  They even had fireworks as we sailed away!

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 5

October 16/17, 2018 – Yokohama/Tokyo, Japan

Yokohama (横浜) is Japan’s second largest city with a population of over three million. Yokohama is located less than half an hour south of Tokyo by train, and so that is what we did on the first day…took the train.

Using the train was relatively easy once you figured out how to buy the tickets and people are so accommodating with giving directions and help.  We decided to go to the Shibuya area of Tokyo as we’ve seen many of the main tourist sights the last time we were in Japan.

Shibuya is a shopping and entertainment area but perhaps best known for the Shibuya Crossing, a multi-street crosswalk that as many as 1,000 people cross at any given time.  But first we have to get out of the train station and find it.  There are many exits from the underground train station and even with map in hand, it was quite confusing.  So, we headed out through one of the exits and with some luck, found the crossing.  It is quite a sight to see…looks like chaos but yet, everything goes very smoothly.

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We did some shopping in the area and decided to stop at a Ramen Noodle Restaurant for lunch.  Again, quite a system to figure out.  There are menus posted outside the restaurant and an ordering machine.  You put in your money, choose the items you wish to order and it gives you your change and a coupon which you take into the restaurant.  They seated us at the bar around the kitchen and based on the coupon, the cooks provide your order.  It was a very slick system!

We ordered the traditional Ramen Noodle dish, some dumplings and some chicken.  Delicious!

From there, off to do some more sightseeing, coffee at Starbucks (best place to view the Crossing and great Wi-Fi connection as this has been a huge problem on the ship) before catching the train back to Yokohama.

That evening, we walked into Chinatown, Japan’s largest, for a quick look around. The views of the harbor from the ship were spectacular too!

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October 17 – we decided to stay in Yokohama today and took the complimentary shuttle into town.  It was really just a relaxing day at a fabulous shopping mall until lunch time.  25.jpgAfter lunch we walked around a lovely park close to the ship to enjoy the beautiful weather and get some extra exercise.  We have been attending a stretch class and an abs class almost every morning and try to supplement that with only using the stairs on board (no elevators for us) and some additional walking.  So far it seems working as we are maintaining our weight pretty well.  Can you imagine 82 days of fine dining without some extra exercise?

Tonight, they had a sake ceremony and tasting before supper…several different types of sake to taste!