A Travellerspoint blog

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PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO

sunny 80 °F
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With the pre- dawn lights of Puerto Vallarta coming closer we enjoyed an early morning walk, enjoying the beautiful design of the Serenity’s stern. We watched the almost full moon as it set over the city – thinking of our family and friends back home under the same big moon.
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Puerto Vallarta has a population of 350,000 and is now the premier resort city of the “Mexican Riviera”. Along the beautiful seaside promenade are graceful sculptures, inlaid stone designs in the boardwalk, and here – a truly Mexican Christmas ornament.

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The Seahorse is the symbol of the city.

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I gave this woman a tip and she posed with a big smile among the intriguing rock stalagmites that her partner builds using sand to help balance the stones.

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In very fortunate timing sunlight illuminates the glass cross atop the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadeloupe.

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Our guide told us that this is the only cathedral in the world that has a crown on the steeple.

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We drove out of the city to the area in which “Night of the Iguana” with Richard Burton and Ava Gardner was filmed (and the scandal with Elizabeth Taylor progressed). Our zoom lens picked out this iguana that seemed to be posing for special effects.

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The “Gold Coast” is lined with luxury resorts and condominiums overlooking the sparkling pacific. Traditional crafts frame this view.
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Our tour’s final stop was at a family owned and run tequila distillery. The agave plant is treated in several stages and the results were sampled by most of us in seven different tastings!

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A few folks bought bottles – we settled for a picture! After the tour and lunch on the ship we, believe it or not, went shopping in Walmart Puerto Vallarta to pick up some basics that we’ll use in the next 102 days that we will be on the Serenity! During the next two days we will be at sea on our way to Los Angles. There, on Saturday, the ship’s guest population will change, Ed and I will change cabins, and World Cruise 2014 will begin!!.

Posted by Swenigale 17:06 Archived in Mexico

LOS ANGELES

WORLD CRUISE 2014

sunny 60 °F

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Crystal serenity docked at the LA pier early in the morning on Saturday, with a view of the bridge and the harbor. The tireless crew worked immediately preparing the ship for the world cruise. It was moving day for us, as well, back to the cabin that will be our home until May.

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We pulled away from the LA pier after sunset, toasting the beginning of the World Cruise and the renewal of friendships. This first segment is 22 days long and it promises to be memorable! There are 12 enrichment lecturers onboard along with computer, Japanese language, music, bridge and art instructors – not to mention Pilates, yoga and golf instructors- and clergy! Crystal Cruisers have no shortage of options!
As our new captain, Birger Vorlund and Cruise Director Rick Spath aim our bow southwest to Hawaii we heard that the Captain was “connecting” the 4th engine so that we will be maintaining a speed of 21 mph and the sea depth at noon Sunday was 14,000 feet under our keel!
Our Sunday morning service with our newly formed congregation-at-sea held the promise of faithful attendance by new friends and old.
Our postings during sea days will be fewer – as much as we anticipate our own enjoyment of speakers and entertainment, pictures of speakers may not make a very entertaining blog!
We promise not to be too “wordy” – like now – in trying to describe some of our days at sea.

Posted by Swenigale 14:11 Archived in USA

SEA DAYS AND HILO, HAWAII

sunny 75 °F
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Most of our days from LA to the Big Island of Hawaii were blessed with brilliant sunshine and impressively rolling seas.

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I can’t believe we are actually here again, in beautiful Hawaii, after having been here in June celebrating Bess and Paul’s wedding! Today we were able to bring some of our new family (who actually live in Hilo) on to the ship for an afternoon visit. How exciting to share a place that is home to us for over 4 months this year!

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On the final night before arriving in Hilo our ship was tossed about with even bigger waves and swells. We saw some of the effects of that storm when we arrived in the port.

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Hilo, the largest city on the Big Island, is surrounded by lush rainforest and huge orchid farms. Obviously you have to leave the port area to enjoy them! Our stay in Hilo was brief, just one afternoon before we sailed on to Honolulu.
Here’s a list of the lecturers that are with us and filling our 14 sea days with excellent talks on this 22 day segment of the World Cruise.

Bruce McGill (Los Angeles, CA)
Bruce McGill is one of America's busiest character actors and has no intention of slowing down. He is a native Texan, a UT alumnus (BFA ’73), and had his first professional acting job, in San Antonio, at the age of 15. You might recognize him from Animal House, MacGyver, My Cousin Vinny, Runaway Jury, Matchstick Men, or any of the other 140 plus films, television movies, or series he has done spanning the last five decades. Bruce is currently starring with Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander and Lorraine Bracco in TNT’s hit series Rizzoli & Isles. He was recently featured in the movie Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis (as Lincoln), Sally Field, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Richard Roth (New York, NY)
Richard Roth serves as CNN's senior U.N. correspondent and also covers international stories in New York City. Roth has covered the U.N.'s role and responses to the Arab Spring, the unfolding Syrian crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a variety of reports about American politics including the 2008 US presidential elections

General Anthony Zinni (Williamsburg, VA)
General Anthony Zinni is a retired four-star General in the United States Marine Corps and a former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

James Bradley (Rye, NY)
James Bradley is a New York Times number one best-selling author and a son of John Bradley, who raised the flag on Iwo Jima.

Ken Rees (Bristol, England)
Ken Rees brings to the role of destination lecturer over 25 years experience as a world-travelling foreign correspondent. During his career, he has reported extensively from Italy, Greece, and the Middle East. His many news credits include the Lebanese civil war, the first Gulf War, the loss of the space shuttle Challenger, and the sectarian troubles of Northern Ireland

Dr. Robert Freedman (Baltimore, MD)
A Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Robert Freedman lectures on the Middle East and on Russian foreign policy.

Charles Carlton (Atlanta, GA)
No one can explain the British royal family and its checkered history better than Charles Carlton. A native of England, who has lived in the United States for nearly forty years; he is a retired Professor of British History at North Carolina State University and has been a Visiting Professor of Military History at Duke.

Evelyn Evans (Somerset, England)
Although Evelyn was born in Shanghai, she was brought up in Hong Kong and educated in Ireland. The fourth generation of her family to be born in China, she enjoyed carefree trips on her father’s China coast tramp steamers from a very early age which gave her a great love of the sea, the region, and all things Asian. Evelyn is Chinese bi-lingual and speaks some Thai. Despite reading Colonial History and Anthropology at Trinity College, Dublin

Michael Freedland (Bournemouth, England)
Michael Freedland says he is more of a storyteller than a lecturer. His usual style is to sit on a stool and talk. Michael is a journalist, broadcaster and author, his most recent work being a new biography of Judy Garland.

Clint Van Zandt (Fredericksburg, VA)
Clint Van Zandt was with the FBI for 25 years where he was the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator as well as a "profiler" in the FBI's Behavioral Science or "Silence of the Lambs" Unit

Don Farrell (Tinian, Mariana Islands)
Don Farrell has a B.A. in Biological Science from California State College at Fullerton in 1973 and a degree in Secondary Education from California State College at San Bernardino in 1975. Don's writing career began on Guam with the 1981 publication of The Americanization of Guam: 1898-1918, which was followed by The Sacrifice of Guam: 1919-1943 and Liberation—1944.

Posted by Swenigale 20:46 Archived in USA

HONOLULU, HAWAII –CROSSING THE INTERNATIONAL DATE LINE

7 DAYS AT SEA

sunny 77 °F
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The distance from Honolulu to our next port, Guam, is 4,027 miles, meaning 7 days at sea. There was no Monday the 27th of January on the ship because of crossing the International Dateline.
We had two full days in Honolulu where we were excited to host more of our new family on the beautiful Crystal Serenity.
The weather was perfect for walking the beach at Waikiki. I guess I can’t complain that it was too cold to go swimming, given the cold and snow back home!

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In Honolulu the Chinese New Year, the year of the horse, was ushered in with an amazing parade through the streets of Chinatown.

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Before setting sail at midnight on Saturday the 25th, local performers created a “LuWow” for us complete with fire dancers, one of whom is 7 years old.
ITINERARY UPDATE: due to the unrest in Thailand we have just been informed that the ship will not be going to Bangkok. We will update our travelers point map soon.

Posted by Swenigale 19:21

AGAÑA, GUAM, USA

sunny 92 °F
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World War 2 was the focus of many of the lectures on the Serenity leading up to our own “landing” in Guam. Today Guam is the most developed island in all of Micronesia. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor they took possession of Guam from the USA for 3 years. In fierce battles in the summer of 1944 the USA regained control of the island. This is the view the Japanese had from the hills as Americans stormed Asan Beach.

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American landing vehicles had to come a long way from the outer reef.
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Today, the people of Guam are USA citizens and are protected by her.
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Guam is the westernmost unincorporated territory of the USA. It is bordered on the southwest by the Marianas Trench, the deepest known area of the ocean. Numerous memorials and monuments on the island are reminders of its important role in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
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We were welcomed by beauty queens.

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Hafa Adai is the Chamorro language greeting. The Chamorro were the earliest known inhabitants of the Marianas dating back to 1500 BC. This small cultural village displays their heritage and way of life. Some 40% of the people in Guam are Chamorro.

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A young interpreter describes the ancient process of harvesting sea salt.

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A popular Chamorro legend tells the story of two young lovers who leapt from this cliff (Two Lovers Point) rather than be separated by an arranged marriage.

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Definitely a long way down

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The cliff top is a popular place, especially for young Japanese lovers who come and leave their interlocked initials. Many are married here as well.

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A local fisherman watches for a fresh catch in a beautiful tidal pool.
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Local dancers brightened up the pier as they thanked us for coming to their island. Only 2 or 3 cruise ships a year visit Guam – it is a long trip by boat!

Potential Internet Problems coming: We plan to post an entry about Saipan tomorrow, but then we will be in the seas around Japan where internet traffic is restricted. So, from Feb 7-15 we may not be able to post. There are lots of ports coming up, so we may have to play catch-up with the blog for the next few weeks.

Posted by Swenigale 22:31 Archived in Guam

SAIPAN, MARIANA, USA (Commonwealth)

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Tomorrow we will be in the seas around Japan where internet traffic is restricted. So, from Feb 7-15 we will not be able to post. There are lots of ports coming up, so we will have to play catch-up with the blog after Feb. 15th.

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We sailed north to Saipan, the largest of the 15 islands in the Mariana archipelago, part of a Commonwealth of the United States.

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The Chamorro on Saipan still primarily speak Chamorro in their homes – and we received a traditional welcome upon our arrival.

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Banzai Cliff – hundreds of Japanese civilians threw themselves over these cliffs during the final days of the Battle of Saipan. They were following an Imperial order encouraging civilians to commit suicide rather than be captured.

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The last Command Post and cave hideout of the Japanese

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This old Japanese Jail was used by the Japanese during their occupation of Saipan.

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This is the American Memorial Park. A dedication on June 15, 1994, the 50th anniversary of the American landings on Saipan reads: “Here in this Memorial Park a grateful nation honors and mourns its fallen sons in the World War II battles for Saipan and Tinian and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Their supreme sacrifice in the bright morning of their lives far from home contributed to the victory won and the peace that followed. Their names are here forever inscribed. These park grounds, the Court of Honor and Flag Circle flying the service colors under which they bravely fought are dedicated in humble tribute to their lasting memory.”

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Remains of a Japanese tank stand on the beaches of the American Soldiers Landing Point.

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And – out on the reef – the rusting hulk of an American Sherman tank.
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These beaches are where the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions came ashore. Two days later, the USA army 27th Infantry Division landed in support of the invasion. By July 9th, Saipan was under USA control, putting their forces within B-29 range of the Japanese coast.

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The beauty of God’s creation cannot be changed by man’s inhumanity to man. Thank God!

Posted by Swenigale 22:06 Archived in Northern Mariana Islands

NAHA, OKINAWA, JAPAN

overcast 75 °F
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The Japanese island of Okinawa (think Miami Florida’s weather – it is at the same latitude) is a subtropical paradise. We had a lovely greeting as we arrived in Okinawa, which is located at the center of the Ryukyu Islands chain.

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My excellent tour guide, Fumiko, liked my little Hästa.

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Ed’s guide (who came on the ship later in the day as a translator for a WW II Japanese survivor’s talk) highlighted the three stops on our tours.

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In June of 1945, after three months of one of the bloodiest battles in military history, Okinawa was seized by the USA. It was returned to Japanese jurisdiction in 1972. Most of the city of Naha was destroyed during the war, as was the 1188 AD Shuri Castle.

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Shuri Castle was a palace complex which was the royal court and administrative center of the Ryukyuan kingdom.

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The Ryukyuan kingdom ruled between the 15th and 19th centuries, In 1879 the royal family was displaced and the islands were fully incorporated into the Japanese Empire. Today the reconstructed castle and grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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We loved seeing the many school groups that were visiting today.

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This part of the complex had opened only a few weeks ago – the wood is just beautiful. Naturally, shoes are not permitted to be worn!

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The royal throne

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Our second stop – the Shikinaen Garden, a typical Ryukyuan landscape.
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The center pond is in the shape of the Chinese character kokoro, or “heart”.

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We visited Kokusai-Dōri Street, translated “International Road”. In the Heiwadōri shopping arcade and Makishi Public Market guests had time to explore on their own, while tour guides and escorts watched the clock and hoped everyone found their way back to the buses!

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My guide said that Japanese people love Aloha wear and, apparently they also love our favorite mice, Mickey and Minnie.

Posted by Swenigale 23:31 Archived in Japan

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN (DAY 1)

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Storm tossed seas brought us into Tokyo Bay, and our port in Yokohama, South of Tokyo. The storm we were in also caused the most snow to fall in the city in maybe 40 years. Not equipped for snow removal, the roads and trains had ground to a halt during the night.

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“Do you want to build a snowman?” That’s a song from Disney’s “Frozen”. We saw it twice in December – a must see!

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Can’t quite figure out why there is a Strawberry Festival here in the Winter!

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We made our way to the new Cup Noodle Museum, which honors Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the cup noodle, and his enormous success. The people in this picture are making their own noodles which they will put in cups that they decorated to take home.

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A picture of the inventor and a real Tuk Tuk (a small three wheel car) flank the entrance to the Noodle Bazaar, where we had a tasty lunch.
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Got to love these Japanese bathrooms – with warm seats, a choice of music, and a variety of, umm, directed water spray.

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Next up – and I mean up – the Cosmo Clock 21. Time to ride the Ferris Wheel!

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Looking over at the Landmark Tower and Landmark Plaza from atop the wheel

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And looking down

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This IS an amusement park!

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Side trip to a shopping mall – wait – that’s German! Ya, gut brot.

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Love those snappy uniforms

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Lot’s of walking and slipping and sliding today, but still their ice rink was closed.

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Looking out from our stateroom at the beautiful lights of Yokohama. This night is the end of the first, and longest segment, of the 2014 World Cruise. But – we still have two more days in Yokohama to start the next segment. Yay!

Posted by Swenigale 00:11 Archived in Japan

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN (DAY 2)

semi-overcast 40 °F
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This second segment of the World Cruise actually begins on our 2nd day in Yokohama. We were on our own ,and since the transit system in Japan is efficient and clean and most of the signs have some English, we decided we could manage to travel by train into Tokyo.

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Our goal today: Tokyo Sky Tree, a broadcasting tower that, at 634 meters was named by Guinness World Records in 2011 as “the tallest tower in the world”. We waited in line for tickets to go to the 350 meter “Tembo Deck”.

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We were not alone!

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The sky was not clear enough to see Mt Fuji, so we didn’t go any higher.
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Looking through the glass floor – I think we were high enough!

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Valentine’s Day (which was coming in three days) is really big in Japan – enough so that even the Sky Tree is decorated for the theme.

Posted by Swenigale 01:46 Archived in Japan

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN (DAY 3)

semi-overcast 39 °F

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On our 3rd day in Yokohama we again made good use of public transport. We took the 100 yen ($1.00 USA) Tourist bus to the Landmark Tower downtown. The outdoor moving sidewalks are great!

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And the malls aren't bad, either.

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Gearing up for Spring

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We knew there was a Disney Store and we were really hoping for “Frozen” merchandise. Nope, not yet.

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We assuaged our disappointment with fancy-shmancy Krispy Kreme donuts. Today was Japan’s Foundation Day so we celebrated with them.

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More walking and public conveyance brought us to Yokohama’s Chinatown, one of the world’s largest.

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We happened upon a plaza where musicians and actors were performing.
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We couldn’t quite figure out the story of these dogs, but we did decide that they are dogs, not dragons.

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We wandered the streets as evening drew closer. Something different was around every corner – love the panda costume on “Hello Kitty”!

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The streets were crowded as everyone converges on Chinatown for the awesome food…

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…and the exotic Temples and Shrines.

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For a chilly but beautiful good-bye picture of Serenity in Yokohama Port before boarding our ship we climbed atop the Yokohama passenger terminal. Sayonara, Yokohama.

Posted by Swenigale 14:31 Archived in Japan

OSAKA, JAPAN (PART 1 OF OUR DAY IN KYOTO)

overcast 40 °F
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The Japanese people always provide a welcome as we sail into port.Today they even played “Stars and Stripes Forever” for us!

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We left Osaka with friends who had arranged for a local guide to meet us two subway trips and a train ride away. We were headed for Kyoto, formerly the imperial capital of Japan for more than one thousand years, a city rich in history and tradition.

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Foxes guard the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. Inari is Kyoto’s mountain and they believe that the god of Inari protects the city.

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Before entering a shrine ritual washing should be performed…

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…like so.

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The Turi arches are all donated by families or businesses wishing for health, wealth and happiness.

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The Arches go all the way up the mountain and down the other side.

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School children print wishes for their friends on these fox-shaped cards. It looks like Hästa is the correct color for good luck.

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The weather has been cold (family and friends in New England have no sympathy, I know!) so we warmed up here with coffee and hot chocolate.
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We toured the Sanjusangando Temple, a national treasure. It was established in 1164, but destroyed by fire. It was reconstructed in 1266 AD. The temple hall is the longest wooden building in Japan. Photos were not permitted so we can’t show you the 1,001 statues of the Buddhist deity, “Kannon”, with his multiple arms.

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The temple had no heat and we were not allowed to wear our shoes – so we needed to warm up with lunch. Not this yummy looking dish….

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….this was more to our liking!

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Our gracious guide, Ko Ko, taught and showed us so much about her city and Japanese traditions. Here is a store where you can select silk to have your kimono sewn for you.

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We passed a few small shops where expensive bamboo shades are made,

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Then wandered the streets of the former tea houses of the Geishas. Most are now Inns.

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The White, or Winter Plum tree is blossoming. We are too early for the wonderful cherry blossoms.

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A curious heron peers into the Inn to see what is going on.

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You can, actually, go to Geisha School.

Posted by Swenigale 07:26 Archived in Japan

OSAKA, JAPAN (PART 2 OF OUR DAY IN KYOTO)

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We were fascinated by all we were able to see in beautiful Kyoto. We decided to post in two parts to cover more of our day. This is the Yasaka Shrine, built to honor the god of Kyoto.

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This fruit is the Winter Mandarin.

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We peeked through a privacy fence at a traditional garden.

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Koi carp in the garden pond

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Koko referred to these pretty girls as “tourists”. “Real Geisha in training are too busy to waste their time out in the street.”

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The emblem at the bottom on the obi sash indicates the house or family of the girl.

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This is beautiful Kodai-ji Sho temple and museum in the Higashiyama Mountains of eastern Kyoto. It was established in 1605 by a noble woman in memory of her husband.

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Here is the Tea House, where guests would be welcomed and a meal served, never in the main house. We have so many more great pictures of this beautiful area, but we must move on…

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Here we are in some of old Kyoto’s side streets and our guide’s favorite areas. This is “Stone Street”. We were nearing the close of our day in Kyoto.

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An inviting tea room

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Citizens of Kyoto are encouraged to wear traditional garments.

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We said a quick goodbye to Koko as our train arrived for our return to Osaka. These girls look like they could be on the T in Boston.

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We arrived safely back at the port after a truly memorable day. Look – even the manhole covers are beautiful in Japan!

Posted by Swenigale 00:56 Archived in Japan

NAGASAKI, JAPAN

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We arrived in Nagasaki on a beautiful, sunny morning. After buying all day passes for the trams and buses we headed to the Mt. Inasa Ropeway, planning to enjoy the “ten million dollar view of Nagasaki”.

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At the ticket office we were told that the Ropeway was closed due to high winds. The ticket agents felt so bad for us coming all that way that they gave us each a bag of chocolates!

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Cat on a cold tin roof

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Here’s a cool example of Japanese thoughtfulness and engineering – the outdoor escalator/walkway up to Peace Park. In 2009 we had been able to spend time here, admiring the statues, monuments and sentiments. Today we briefly visited the park, which was created in the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter.

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Politeness is a way of life for the Japanese – here is an apology for inconvenience caused by construction.

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The Peace Statue’s raised right hand points to the sky, symbolizing the threat of nuclear weapons. His flat, outstretched left hand represents eternal peace, and his eyes are closed in prayer asking that the souls of those who perished may find rest.

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We wandered farther down from the Peace Park to the Urakami Cathedral which was built by Christians after enduring a long period of oppression. Demolished in the nuclear blast, it was rebuilt in honor of those who perished.

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During Japan’s 200 years of isolation, Dejima, a man-made island, was home to the Dutch East India Company – the only window open to overseas trade.

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Oura Catholic Church is dedicated to the 26 “Saints of Japan” who were martyred on Nishizaka Hill.

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Shoppers headed back to the tram lines in the early evening and we headed back to our Serenity home.

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Our farewell treat – you might say we were “drummed” out of the harbor. 

Posted by Swenigale 22:46 Archived in Japan

SHANGHAI (SUZHOU), CHINA – DAY 1

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Shanghai was our only stop in mainland China. We were in port for two full days. The costly visa, tight security and legendary bureaucracy we experienced were worth going through in order to visit this amazing country of over 1.3 billion people!
On our first day we traveled 1 ½ hours south of Shanghai on a tour to the Garden City of Suzhou. The city is called the “Venice of the East” and is located on the Grand Canal. Built over 1,300 years ago between Beijing and Hangzhou, it is the largest man-made waterway on earth!
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We had an hour long narrated cruise on the canal.

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These are just a few of our pictures taken as we sailed along the “Little Canal”. For the homes along the water these were the front entrances.

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After the boat trip we were bused to a nearby hotel for “lunch”.

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Suzhou is known for expert embroidery, two-sided embroidery being the specialty. Beautiful landscaping surrounds the institute – no pictures were allowed inside…

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….except for this one.

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Our final stop was at the Humble Administrator’s Garden. Created circa 1509 by a Ming Dynasty administrator, it is prized as one of China’s foremost famous gardens.

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A special treat that evening – a local acrobatic and balancing troupe entertained onboard the ship. Fans, glass of water – all unattached and perfectly balanced! Just one of their many amazing displays.

Posted by Swenigale 00:06 Archived in China

SHANGHAI, CHINA – DAY 2

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Here is the Pundong section of the city with its unforgettable skyline- (Sorry to be so brief. We are still playing catch-up in our posts after so many ports and the limitations on the internet when we were in Japanese waters.)

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They call Shanghai “The City That Never Sleeps”. However – a cold, rainy day seems to keep them off the streets!

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Aha – so “Frozen” has made it to China!

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We stopped a few times to warm up during our blustery walk on the pedestrian street. Spring is around the corner!

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The Bund Promenade, along the banks of the Huangpu River

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Clouds were closing in and chased us back to the ship, docked an hour away on the Yangtze River.

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Coming to the close of this second segment a specialty act, the Beatles Celebration, ( four lads really from Liverpool), were enthusiastically received at two performances. Crystal flew them to the ship to mark the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ coming to America. These guys were really good!

Posted by Swenigale 00:46 Archived in China

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