Tokyo Day 2

This post about our time in Tokyo several weeks ago is being written aboard Viking Orion somewhere in the South China Sea between Shanghai and Okinawa.

After disembarking Celebrity Millennium, we took the provided shuttle to the nearby station to ship our suitcases ahead to Kyoto. This is a common practice all over Japan. For a very reasonable price, your bags can be shipped same day from the train station or airport to your hotel or in two days to just about anywhere in Japan. That’s Mike filling out or more accurately having the agent fill out the paperwork. Total cost was under $35 which was much easier than dealing with them on the metro and trains we would be using to get to Kyoto the following day.

Those are our big bags over on the right. But wait longtime readers are saying, y’all went to Europe for seven months in just a rollaboard apiece, why the big suitcases for this trip. That is the same question we’ve been asking ourselves since we rolled the bags into the train station in Vancouver!

Previously we have been staying in Airbnbs with washing machines but there were 13 days between leaving the ship in Tokyo and boarding Viking (which has free washers and dryers) in Tianjin. So we had enough clothes for that length. (We planned well, we each had one pair of clean socks when we boarded Orion!) Anyway, we have learned our lesson (again). We have agreed that never (ever) will be travel with more than a rollaboard!

After shipping the luggage we took the train/metro to the Hyatt Regency in Shinjuku which Mike booked using points. The hotel was very close to the station and they provided a very nice shuttle bus back and forth to the station. The lobby had the biggest chandeliers I’ve ever seen hanging over more orchids than I’ve ever seen in one place outside of a greenhouse!

They let us check in early (around noon) and we had a great room, though the bed was very low. This was also our first experience with the electric Japanese toilets. We liked them, unfortunately neither this hotel nor the one in Kyoto had opted to install the drying option 😢 The Hotel also lived up to what we had learned (thanks YouTube) about amenities at Japanese hotels. In addition to the usual shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, the beautiful box included a comb (snagged), a nice folding brush (snagged), a sewing kit (snagged), nice toothbrushes, disposable wash cloths, hair bonnets (sorry Karen I didn’t snag one for you 😢) and other assorted necessities. Out in the closet were bathrobes and slippers and on the bed were nightshirts. Of course none of the last three fit us 😢

After a bit of a rest (finding our way out of the huge station had been a bit stressful), we decided to go explore the neighborhood and have lunch. We ended up at a ramen place highly recommended on TripAdvisor, Menya Musashi. Wow, so delicious. We had ramen and tsukemen which is ramen but rather than being served in broth, you get the noodles on the side and then dip them into a thicker version of the broth. When you’re done with the noddles, there are pitchers of chicken broth that you thin out what’s in your bowl and drink like soup.

The whole experience was a blast. There is a machine at the entrance with pictures (and sorta English descriptions) of the eight or so dishes you can order. You make your selections, feed cash into the machine, get a ticket and then go stand along the wall behind folks sitting at the counter until a seat is available when the nice lady behind the counter takes your ticket m, asks what size you want (all cost the same-we got medium) and waves you to a seat.

Then the fun really begins. There are pitchers of ice water along the counter, along with napkins and bibs! You can see the ordering machine behind the picture of us modeling the bibs.

It was great fun to watch the well oiled team, cook noodles, rinse them for the tsukemen, slice the pork belly, add it, egg , seaweed and deliver the bowls to the waiting customers.

We were really glad to have the bibs as we are still beginners with the chopsticks. I gave Mike a hard time as the six year sitting next to him didn’t use a bib and had nothing on his clothes when he was finished! The ramen were everything you’ve ever heard about them-just so so good. Certainly not Cup o’Noddles!

We explored the neighborhood a bit on our walk back towards the hotel. It’s an interesting area with the nearby train station, several shopping malls, new high rises and little side streets with tiny restaurants. And of course everywhere signs of the upcoming summer Olympics.

We intended to go the observation deck on one of the towers of the Tokyo Municipal Building, but between the long line (it’s free) and an impending rain cloud we decided to head back to the hotel.

After watching the National Sumo Wrestling Match on tv, we decided while not hungry enough to have a real meal (the medium bowls of ramen were large!) we did need a bite to eat. Luckily there was a 7-11 in the same building as our hotel! So we had the feast shown below, which included (clockwise from the lower left) a corn dog, a salad, egg salad sandwich, yogurts (for breakfast the next day), edemame, an egg roll, chicken on a skewer and in the center for dessert, a banana pancake. Everything was very fresh and tasty. The dessert was a pancake that most closely resembled the cake of a Little Debbie Swiss Roll, filled with a chocolate dipped banana and some whipped cream.

While we enjoyed our one extra night in Tokyo, if we had it to do over we would elect to stay In Yokohama. I didn’t expect it to have anything interesting to do. But between the Cup o’Noodles Museum where you can make your own custom cup, the other sights near the cruise port, the lower hotel costs and in general it being easy to get around, if we ever cruise back (and we hope we will) we would stay in Yokohama.

After finishing watching the wrestling and attempting to recreate their incredible forward facing manbun, it was time for bed as we had a morning train to Kyoto the next day.

Advertisements

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!

Sitka

Had a lovely day in Sitka. After a 10 minute shuttle from the pier where Millennium docked (last time here a tender was required) we arrived in “downtown” Sitka.

Our first stop was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Sitka was at one point the capital of the Russian colony in America. The ceiling of the church is made of sail cloth to memorialize lost fishermen. The inside is filled with beautiful Russian icons.

From there we walked along the waterfront, stopping to watch the fish jumping-differing opinions on why they were. Sea Lion chasing them? the fish trying to catch flies on the water? Whatever the reason, it was entertaining.

From this spot we could also see the nearby volcano. Mike overheard a local relating an April Fool’s day joke from the past. The townspeople were all in on it fooling the coastguard. Apparently fires were lit inside the crater and the coast guard called to come help with saving people from the eruption.

Next and last stop was the National Totem Pole Park. Great film about the native people, the Russians and the current fisherman.

Then it was a walk back to the center of town (about 3 miles today total), shuttle ride and onto the ship for a late (very) lunch.

Vanna Burton is pointing to where we were for the sailin this morning covered in my earlier post.

Off to Japan! Konichewa bitches! LOL

From Sitka

Good Morning! We just docked in Sitka after a beautiful morning sail in. We saw whale plumes while having breakfast and then made our way to the bow of the ship to the heliport which had been opened to passengers for a great viewing spot.

We are currently have a cup of coffee/tea on the promenade while they are preparing for us to go ashore. We don’t have big plans, we were here 16 years ago so will mostly be hoping to see that this little village hasn’t changed much…but we fear that it will have become another cruiseport town full of bad jewelry stores and Senõr Frog’s. Fingers crossed that won’t be the case.

So far we are enjoying the cruise. Despite the ship being full, it doesn’t seem overly crowded and most are generally well behaved.

We had our official Cruise Critic meet & greet yesterday morning with over 200 people in attendance. It had been a very active roll call! Our first informal gathering was at sailaway. It was a lovely afternoon as we went under the Lions gate bridge.

Yesterday while some of the group played card games, 30 or so of us went on a pub crawl/poker run. Good fun and a great way to chat with our new friends. Unfortunately, neither of us had very good poker hands so we didn’t win the $85 pot, nor were our hands bad enough to collect the $60 loser’s winnings. The ship was nice enough to provide us with our own bartender who led us to the various bars and made us a selection of Complimentary! drinks. We hadn’t expected to drink for free but since most had the beverage package I guess we really didn’t! LOL

Off to wander Sitka. I’ll post before we leave if able. If not, next time you hear from me “live” will be from Asia though there should be a couple of preschedule filler posts before then.