Sorry.

I’m not sure whether it’s some issue with WordPress or with the internet at the hotel here in Kyoto (most likely) but I’m not having good luck getting pictures uploaded so I’m afraid that I’m not going to be able to post about Japan for a whole.

We have had a great time in Japan, Kyoto especially and just got back there after a day (long) trip to Hiroshima. I hope we will Be able to come back to Japan someday and really explore it more slowly.

We leave tomorrow for Xi’an China followed by Beijing on Sunday and then board Viking Orion on Oct 4th. I don’t know what the gods of the innerwebs hold for us between now and when we get back to the USA on October 18th but I’ll try to post as I am able.

If you want to keep up on a more informal basis, follow our Instagram: claynmike so far I’ve been able to post pictures there.

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Transpacific Cruise

As expected the cruise was very relaxing and a lot of fun. We had a very active CruiseCritic rollcall. In addition to the usual sailaway gathering, meet and greet, slotpull and cabin crawl, a bar crawl and groups playing various card games (foot & mouth???) were arranged. I organized a cocktail hour of LRC, the $3 dice game. We had a group that ranged in size from 8-15 each day for that fun. I only won once, so I guess I made my $6 investment in the dice back!

The bar crawl/poker run was so popular that there ended up being three! The ships crew and officers were great to work with and they even provided a bartender who followed us from bar to bar and provide us unexpectedly with free drinks-of course most of us had a beverage package so probably was just easier for them.

It wasn’t all just drinking though. Our friend Elizabeth who we met while in Hamilton joined the passenger choir so it was fun to know one of the stars of the two performances. That’s her in blue and glasses smiling up at us in the 2nd picture. We hope to have dinner in Beijing with her next week. She is going to be in China visiting her daughter who is teaching English there

The big event during the crossing was the let’s celebrate not having a Friday the Thirteenth party on the day we crossed the international dateline and lost a day. Celebrity had a countdown and a balloon drop just like on New Years Eve…but it was at 11pm (maybe cuz most of us were having trouble staying up late since every day we lost an hour and therefore were waking up an hour earlier everyday?) and we actually crossed the line at 2:30 in the afternoon. But it was fun!

We enjoyed Celebrity, it was our first time sailing them in 15 years and like all they have changed with the times. They offer “select” dinner seatings (in addition to traditional fixes times) which means you got to dinner when you want which we like. And they no longer require formal dress on their formal nights. So we will definitely consider them for future cruises. We also really enjoyed the length of this cruise so highly recommend it if you have the time and need a slow boat to Japan.

Hakodate

Like Otaru, Hakodate is not the first city you think of visiting in Japan. But the ship stopped there so we did too. That’s Mount Hakodate with all the radio towers on top.

We are glad it was one of our ports-they pulled out all the stops to welcome us. From what appeared to be the retired postal workers greeting us with a big welcome banner and shouting “Haarow” to us as we walked onto the pier to the school kids places throughout the town to assist us. We understand the schools use this volunteer assistance as part of their English language courses.

Hakodate provided shuttle buses to run us the 15 minute drive from the ferry and industrial port into downtown dropping us off at the train station. This would prove advantageous later in the day.

We followed the crowds and the advice of the school girls whose answer to most questions was a big smile, a handpoint to the left and “Morning Market that way”.

What a market it was-inside, outside just everywhere for several blocks. Seafood, fruits and vegetables. But as in Otaru not inexpensive-the crabs below range in price from about $20 up to about $50 for the large one in the right.

The highlight of our market visit for me though was my non verbal interaction with one of the vendors. She and her boss were giggling and nodding my way, she smiled and came over to see how tall she was beside me. We both started laughing when we realized my walking stick was as tall as she was!

From the market we walked several blocks to the “Brick Warehouses”. These former warehouses have been renovated into shopping and restaurants. It’s a great use for these and I suspect what Otaru hopes to do with the buildings along their canal.

Thankfully Lois isn’t along on this trip as I am sure we would never have gotten her away from the shops!

We ran into some friends from aboard who were sightseeing with two of the activities director’s staff and they mentioned they were heading to have ramen in a place they knew about. Unfortunately Mike and I ate too big a breakfast and weren’t ready for lunch and later when we tried to go there the place was packed. Since the clouds were turning darker we decided we better head to Fort Goryokaku. We took the tram from downtown out to the park, about a 15 minute ride. The city sells a day pass for about $5.50 and the tourist map had great instructions including step by step how to buy the pass on the tram and which stop to get off and even pictures of each intersection on the 15 minute walk from tram to the park. The one think they didn’t explain was what a one day pass was called in Japanese. So before we got too far from all the helpful students, I asked how to say “one day pass” in Japanese. The response I got was a smile and “onedaypass”. I smiled and said yes, how do I ask for a one day pass. “Onedaypass” was again stated to me with a smile. Finally on the third try of what ended up seeming like a “whose on first” comedy act, I realized that the Japanese word for what I wanted was the English word for it’ 😂

This fort which was built to protect the port and the Magistrate’s House (Governor’s office?) in the late 1800s is one of a couple of handfuls built in this style.

It is currently a park open to the public and while pretty now is I am sure quite beautiful when flowers are in bloom.

The highlight of the park for us though was the Magistrate’s House.

This building is a reconstruction of the original main building. It was built using the exact same techniques as the original-hand made ceramic tiles which are tied with wire together, wooden decorative carvings with hand hammered metal at the gables, all the joints are notched and pegged so no nails or screws.

While I wish it had of been built to a larger scale (ole Frank Lloyd Wright would have felt right at home) it was just beautiful and the details incredible.

We were lucky enough to have one of the docents take us under her wing (I think she enjoyed showing off her great English skills and was obviously proud of the house). She told us it’s history, explained how they could only build the main portion as otherwise it would be too large for current building codes for wooden structures.

We loved the original wooden urinal and toilet-I wish we had some this beautiful today!

Below are some photographs of the exhibits relating to the rebuilding including a structural model and samples of some of the joints

By the time we finished in the park it was close to 2 and the skies were continuing to darken so we hurried back to the tram and to the train station.

We purchased (as one must) rail passes in the US before we left. In order to use the pass we had to turn the voucher we bought into the pass. We decided that might be easier at the smaller Hakodate station rather than one of the busier ones in Tokyo. So we spent our last 30 minutes or so in the city doing that paperwork and making seat reservations for the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto we will take on Monday after we get off the ship. We even got seats on the right side of the train so hopefully the weather will cooperate and we will be able to see Mount Fuji.

We made it back to the ship just before the skies opened up and unlike most nights when we laugh at the old folks who are in line at 5:30 when the dining room opens-we were with them. After nothing to eat we were hongry! And after walking 4.5 miles (on what I thought might be an easy day since there was a shuttle to town!) we also were in bed before some folks had even gone to dinner.

Unfortunately because of the early dinner, we didn’t get to completely enjoy the sendoff from Hakodate. Through the dining room window we got glimpses of all those students arriving in school buses and standing in the rain, jumping up and down and waving flashlights as we left port!

So if you get a chance to go to Hakodate, we suggest you go!

Otaru (with pictures)

I’m writing this on from our hotel in Toyko before we head to the Bullet train to Kyoto on Monday morning. This is the first time we’ve had strong enough WiFi to load pictures since we arrived in Japan.

We arrived in Otaru as noted previously on time last Wednesday after our crossing. A future post will cover the crossing and our time on the ship. The pier in Otaru is an industrial pier but was only a 15 minute walk into town.

There was a good information tent set up by the tourist board so for those that needed maps and such it was available. There were also some taxis waiting but not an abundance.

A group of us from the CruiseCritic rollcall had planned on riding the train to Sapporo. After seeing how cloudy it was and coming to the realization that all the two of us were likely to do was wander Sapporo, Mike and I elected to skip the train-though we did take advantage of the early group immigration number the Celebrity Special Events staff had provided.

As this was our first port in Japan, everyone had to go through immigration. Unlike some previous experiences (see Key West aboard NCL Sun with the endless 5 am line around the atrium) this was smooth. The Japanese folks were aboard by 7 am, and had at least 12 stations set up to take our fingerprints and welcome us to Japan.

Mike and I were soon walking towards town where I saw the chuckle inducing tsunami warning sign above.

We walked to the train station hoping to turn our voucher into a real rail pass. Alas the small station didn’t offer that service so we continued along to the restored canal. This along with a cable car to a nearby mountain and a streamclock donated by Vancouver are Otaru’s big attractions. The title picture of this post was taken of one of the vine covered warehouses along this canal.

It appears that Otaru hopes the former warehouses will become retail and restaurants but at the moment most are empty or serve as parking.

The older buildings through our town are quite beautiful I think. And we were intrigued by what we think were snow fences protecting some from the steep hillside.

We were also intrigued by some sort of tank we saw outside most residential buildings. Have yet to figure out what they are. Any ideas? water heater? Propane?

Otaru was also the scene of our first visit to a Seven Eleven. We had learned that they are very important here-in addition to most of the things once finds in the US version (except for slurpees and Bug Gulps) they also sail dress shirts, underwear, lots of prepared foods beyond the usual hot dogs we have and most importantly for us have their own bank and ATMs. So as you can see by Vanna’s finger, we were excited for our first visit.

And I love the tagline on their house premium brand. I may make it my own!

We visited the market in Otaru and were shocked by the prices of local vegetables and fruits. Apparently imported goods are cheaper but not as tasty. A cantaloupe was around $10 while the ears of corn below were about $7 am ear. And even an ear of presumably the poorer quality “grilld”at restaurants was much cheaper than fried chicken by about $2.50!

I loved running across this group doing their part to keep their city clean. Though given the Japanese tradition of not littering and taking their trash home with them (they don’t even have garbage cans on the street or in train stations) I’m not sure how hard a job these folks really have.

Before finishing our 6 mile death march by heading back to the ship, we stopped in one of the vendors at the market for our first taste of Japan.

We shared a grilled (grilld?) scallop (tastier than it looked), a shashmi scallop, and some tuna. All were so fresh and delicious…well the local Otaru beer may not have been fresh but it was tasty!

We got back to the ship after a lovely day in Otaru and were entertained by dancers and drummers as we left port. All in all a great first day in Japan!

Otaru!

We docked this morning, September 18th as planned in Otaru Japan. After a 7:30 am immigration call and our five mile death march around this seaside town, we got back on the ship about 1:30pm. It’s sunny and warm (71°) and I’m headed to the pool.

The crossing was uneventful and enjoyable. Unfortunately, using our T-Mobile data is slow to upload pictures so I will hopefully be able to do a real post once we have WiFi at the hotel in Tokyo on September 22. Until then, know we are safe and sound and enjoying Japan.

Or follow us on Instagram as the pictures are uploading on it much faster. We are claynmike on there.

Christmas Trees

This post was written during our month in Portland and should post while we are crossing the Pacific. We will be “live” again when we get back to having internet in Japan.

Those of you who actually know me have seen some of our Christmas trees over the years. I have always liked Christmas trees with lots of air in them (so you can see the ornaments better). When I was a child these were known in South Carolina as Balsam Firs.

The family I found on the innerwebs below is standing beside the tree I always wanted but my Mother said just wouldn’t do. She liked scotch pines as they were “full and pretty”. And they stuck your fingers and you couldn’t hang anything except little round ornaments.

When I was out on my own, I always got a NC fir tree but “full” trees were what Martha Stewart (the Joanna Gaines of her day) said everyone really wanted so I was know to sometimes trim branches off the tree to make it more airy. Actually Ms. Stewart gave me permission in one of her many television appearances to do this thing-why didn’t she just tell the folks to find trees without too many branches.

When Mike and I returned to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2006, we discovered that I wasn’t the only one who liked these trees. At the State Farmer’s Market each December, some of the tree growers would have “naturalized” trees like I wanted. Turns out that to make a tree full, they had to clip the tree every year. This would cause the branch to split into two and after a bunch of years you ended up with a “full” tree. But to get what Mike always refers to as “a happy free range tree” the grower basically leaves it alone.

So the title picture of this blog post is the 12′ tree we had the first year we were back in Raleigh. I had to stand on the 2nd floor balcony walkway to put the Star on and don’t even ask how many nights we spent on the lights! But it has enough air and will always be what I think a Christmas tree should be.

Of course that tall tree was natural and not popular so the growers charged more for it than for a “full” tree. Makes no sense except for supply and Damian’s I guess. Anyway, when we got to the Rockies I was flabbergasted by all the “Christmas” trees growing everywhere!

If I lived out west, we would never have to pay a grower, we would just be sure and have a saw in the trunk everyday after thanksgiving!

Just one more of our tree, the picture below was taken in 2009 and is of Niece Madison (she just started her senior year of high school) and Nephew Jack (he will be 14 in a couple of weeks) helping Uncle Clay light the candles on the tree. That’s right when you have a fresh tree (and a fire extinguisher nearby) you can on special occasions light it up with candles…at least for a few minutes.

Flowers

This post was written during our month in Portland but should be automatically posted while we are crossing the Pacific. Hopefully it will keep you entertained while we have no internet and can’t post.

I have been amazed by the flowers we have seen both natural and cultivated since we left. The most amazing have been the Queen Anne’s Lace along side of all the highways and the Hydrangeas which seem to be everywhere this side of the Rockies. Below are some snaps I took.

Hope everyone is well-will be back “live” when we get to land!