Our Cruise is Nearly Over

Thursday, 1 Dec:  So sorry to see our cruise coming to an end.  (We say this every time!)

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Our last port will be Geraldton tomorrow and then we will disembark the following morning.  So time to start packing and say goodbye to our friends from the UK, Jane and Ian, who will be making their way back home.  Love you guys!  We have had a lot of fun.

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Smooth sailing (as usual) and we have had a very relaxing time.  The staff have been fantastic and the food has been amazing.   New mattresses and beds also added to our comfort.  It’s not easy to get back to reality!

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Home Away From Home

This was our home for 9 days recently when we flew to Yokohama to board the beautiful Diamond Princess for our Asian cruise.

Click here to see the amenities and features.  As this was a short cruise we decided not to go for an oceanview stateroom but for an interior stateroom instead, which was very comfortable and quite spacious enough for us.  We have found in the past that the expense of a balcony stateroom was wasted on us.  I guess it all depends on how much time you want to spend there;  for us it is not much.  There was so much going on around the ship, we didn’t want to miss a thing!

Our first time on a such a big ship and on this cruise there were 3,000 passengers plus crew.  We were off seeing the sights of Japan most days, so there were a few areas of the ship that we didn’t have time to explore, but we had a great time and look forward to travelling on her again sometime.

 

Tokyo, Japan

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The weather was very nice as we set out on Wednesday, 30 March for our last stop in Tokyo.  Into the coach and off to see the Imperial Palace Gardens (we thought!)  Driving through the city, I was a bit disappointed – nice but nothing spectacular or memorable really, except for the Tokyo Tower…..  I’m not sure what I was expecting.  Some motorbikes and bicycles, but mostly cars on the road.

A city of 12.5 million we were told – with a floating population of 2 million.  Hard to imagine!

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Anyway, once we got off the coach we noticed an unending line of people making their way to the Garden and found out that the Emperor only opens the Gardens to the public two days per year – and this was one of them!  One million people were invited.  So we were taken to the Imperial Palace Plaza and a short walk to a bridge near the East Gate – very pretty, but only a 10-minute photo stop in reality …. we had an hour!!!!

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Next stop was the Meiji Shrine, with twin 40 feet tall Torii gates, one of the country’s largest.  Lunch was western-style at a Tokyo Hotel.  Very nice.

We continued on to Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and we saw a Japanese bride and many girls in traditional dress.  Lastly we spent quite some time at Nakamise-dori, the “street of Inside Shops”, an alley lined with souvenirs and handmade crafts.  Very crowded but very interesting – plenty of time to explore.  So much to see.

We have taken so many photos – especially in Japan.  It was difficult to only choose a few.  Many great memories…. and we have met some lovely local people.

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Now we are on our way back home – currently somewhere in the Pacific Ocean!  So we say goodbye to Japan for now, but hope to see you again.

Aomori, Japan

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Monday, 28 March – The capital of the Amori Prefecture in northern Japan, Aomori is famous for its apple orchards (home of the Fuji apple) and the Nebuta Festival, an elaborate yearly event in which participants illuminate giant paper representations of samurai warriors, animals and popular cartoon characters and parade them through the streets.

Snow was still on the ground in places as we made our way to the Tsugaru Kanayama Kiln.  It is the end of winter but we have had great weather in Japan; today the temperature was about 8-11degC.  We were warm enough in just t-shirts and jackets, but of course, the coach and all the shops are heated.  It was a nice trip, through forests of beech, cedar and red pine.

Incidentally, we found out why so many people wear masks in Japan.  I thought it was to avoid germs or pollution – but no – it is because many people apparently suffer from hay fever caused by pollen from the red cedar trees.

 

Arriving at the kiln, we discovered that Aomori is also well known for unglazed copper-coloured pottery and we had an interesting tour and spoke to some apprentices as well as the owner.  Although this pottery was founded in 1985 it draws its inspiration from unglazed pottery made around 250 to 538AD.  I liked that they source the clay from the local reservoir and fire the kiln with local Japanese red pine wood.  We bought a small vase as a memento and enjoyed some of the local apple juice.

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Our next stop was to Tachineputa no Yakata –  “The Hall of the Standing Neputa” we took the elevator to view the 3 floats on display.  They stand as tall as a 6-storey building and weigh 19 tonnes.  We also visited the workshop and our tour guide interpreted for the owner to explain how the floats are made.

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From what I remember, they start with just a drawing – not plans – and fix a metal pole into a base.  32 modules are formed using timber framing and wires which are tied together and then screwed in around the pole.   Paper is pasted over the wires and waterproof paints are applied.  All this work is done by volunteers. They are absolutely amazing to see and the painting is a work of art from all angles.  They are lit internally powered by generators and when the huge doors open for the parade, 6 men pull them along with ropes.  They are quite a sight to see.

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Shanghai

 

This morning, Monday 21 March, we woke up early at 5.30am to have a quick breakfast before our tour was due to leave at 7.30am.  We were just about to put on our jackets, when an announcement came over with the news that there had been a mechanical issue at 1.30am.  The part had been repaired but it meant that we would now be seriously delayed getting into port.

Disappointing, as we had booked a full day tour, the highlights being a visit to a temple with a Buddha carved out of solid white jade and the Shanghai Museum.

Confusion followed, as you can imagine, with thousands of passengers wondering if we would get off the ship at all.  But the captain updated us as much as possible and the staff worked hard behinds the scenes, trying to reorganise tours and hand delivering flyers of changed times to our staterooms.  Of the 9 tours, only two were cancelled; ours was not, but there would be no time to visit the museum or the temple.

Fortunately, we decided to go anyway, as the only alternative was to get the free shuttle bus into town.  A large number of passengers did cancel and the queue for the shuttle was very, very long!

Once underway, about 3.15pm, it took us about an hour to get into the city.  The day was fine but the sun was having a losing battle trying to shine through all the pollution!  Excellent roads, sweeping overpasses on top of overpasses and 7 lane highways.  The number of apartment buildings was just amazing – I have never seen anything like it.  Thousands of them on both sides of the highway, as far as the eye could see.  Land is so expensive that most people want to live in an apartment; but now so many have been built, they are called “ghost buildings” because so many are empty.

Our first stop was to the Yu Gardens, which the people kept open late just for the Princess tours.  Dated from 1559, this garden covering 5 acres is lavish and so beautiful, with its pagodas, pavilions and winding paths and caves, leading to a lovely pond full of carp.

To reach the garden, we walked through a very historic part of Shanghai called The Bund, along the banks of the Huangpu River.  This was formerly the financial district and is now full of shops and eateries.  We were sorry that we did not have time to stop, as we could have spent hours exploring this fascinating area.

Because we left so late, what was supposed to be a lunch stop now became dinner.  This was enjoyed on the 4th floor of a floating restaurant with magnificent views of the city.  The food was excellent and the dishes just kept coming.

Next we went to the stunning Jin Mao Tower – a lift took us to the observation deck on the 88th floor in 45 seconds where we had the most breathtaking views of Shanghai by night.  The middle of the building is hollow and you can lean over and see right down to the ground.

The last stop was to the Local Silk Museum where we were given an interesting talk and demonstration.

Shanghai Local Silk Museum

Luckily the ship was not sailing until 11.00pm and we got back on board about 10.15pm.  It was an amazing day and Shanghai is, without doubt, the most vibrant and beautiful city I have ever seen.  The architecture is amazing, and nearly every building is lit up at night.  We had a wonderful tour guide and we both agreed that we would love to spend more time in this fascinating city.