Holidays and Other Excursions

Month: May 2023 (Page 2 of 3)

Day 10 Sea Day 12.5.2023

RSSC Explorer

RSSC Explorer

We continue on the same heading of 73 degrees so roughly north westerly as we have been on this heading since leaving Kushiro more or less continuously as we head in the general direction of Alaska.  After all the state is too big to miss!

At lunchtime we have a special meal in Pacific Rim restaurant and there are 5 accompanying matching wines.  All excellent and the inevitable follow up of a post prandial snooze which then means it is now time for dinner and a lighter option is consumed.  The bad news about cruises is the excellent food and wine.

Having received some emails which ought to be answered I decide to make use of a proper screen and keyboard in the business centre on deck 5.  I get connected and then seek to access office 365.  Multi-factor authorisation is in place on the account so Microsoft wants to send me a text message.  No hope.  I knew there was a good reason not to have MFA and here it is!  And it has also logged me out of the resources at home so I am cut off from Office 365.  We really are out of touch with the normal world.

Time is wasted watching television, in particular the news channels which are endlessly covering “Title 42” an expiring piece of US legislation which may or may not alter how refugees may enter the USA from Mexico.  No one actually seems to know what difference it will make!

We are going to lose two hours tonight making this a 22 hour day which is only one of the many confusing aspects in our Pacific transit.

Having had our sliding balcony door taped up with vast quantities of masking tape, the cold wind continues to breeze into our suite and so we turn up the heating system.  The hot air inlet is in the ceiling of the lounge area whilst the cold air is entering at floor level.  Thermodynamic theory says hot air rises so feet are permanently cold.

Day 9 Sea Day 11.5.2023

Seven Seas Explorer

Seven Seas Explorer

Post-breakfast this morning we head into the Constellation theatre to have most of our pre-conceptions about Alaska disabused. – or at least so the speaker claims, based on being resident there and experiencing some of the low winter temperatures.

It remains a large state with the long stretch of Aleutian Isles meaning that it stretches to touch the four boundaries of the main 48 states of the USA if overlaid on it.  Most of the limited population resides around Anchorage with huge unoccupied areas which was largely in accordance with our preconceptions!

Much else is not true.  No igloos, nose rubbing is not kissing and no one quite knows how many words might mean a form of snow as different wordsmiths have separate totals!  And most residents no longer and never did have dog sleds; the Iditarod being created to keep the tradition alive and has ensured the survival of the Alaskan husky which has thinner fur than the Siberian.  We will come back to huskies later on our journey.

We are unlikely to see the Northern Lights as the immediate forecast band is much further north.  Yes you read that right, they publish forecasts for the location of the Northern Lights and if we had come when originally planned the odds would be far better!

The ship is making steady progress across the north Pacific.  Today is a little less stable with some definite rock and roll overnight leading to us waking several times.  Walking is a little more complex as the floor does not seem to be where it should be when you put a foot down.  Outside it is pretty misty and visibility is very limited.

Another day passes.

Day 8 Sea Day 10.5.23

We are somewhere in the Pacific Ocean heading roughly North East.  Watches and phone needs manually updating as ship time has changed by one hour.  The cabin clock was changed last night by the service team who also left a note about the change.

The first inevitability is that the WiFi signal to the satellite is intermittent, overnight the system managed to deliver emails but answering them is an apparent impossibility!  Jackie departs to play bingo which is the second inevitability and I get a chance to listen to some of the recordings I have stacked up, but getting last night’s episode of the Archers to download is a lost battle.

In the afternoon we choose to watch “Eat, Pray, Love” but just when it starts getting interesting the sound track is completely distorted and it is unwatchable.  Men then arrive to try and reseal the sliding door to stop the drafts and whistling noise which is more obvious now we are in open sea.  So we abandon ship, sorry cabin, and head up to a bar for a drink!   On return the howling wind is actually worse!

We turn the heating up to counter the inflow of cold air but the bathroom remains cold.  Winding the film forward means we lose some of the plot exposition but reach a scene where the normal sound returns for most of the rest of film.   Jackie tells me that the film is a poor interpretation of the original book with some simplification of the events and characters which are far more complex in the book.

Never mind it helps pass the day!

Day 7 Kushiro 9.5.2023

We are again without WiFi, apparently due to interference with the satellite signal, quite why is not explained but we have a free morning as our trip today is in the afternoon.  We go up to the observation lounge and can watch activity around the port, Jackie is knitting and I am listening to some podcasts, downloaded when we did have some connectivity!

Whilst eating breakfast we note once again that there is a TV crew seeking to interview passengers going ashore, everywhere we have been in Japan has been covered in the local news as demonstration that tourists are back in town!  And I get the feeling that some of these places do not see much in the way of cruise ships normally anyway.

We find our coach on the dockside and we had off to the marshlands to see the once believed extinct Japanese crane.  It was believed extinct until the 1920’s when a duck hunter came back from a hunt and complained that he could not shoot any ducks due to the large number of cranes.  A conservation programme is now in place and one of the oldest cranes (39) has in the last few days given birth and we were able to see mother and offspring.  Crane numbers are now being managed.  Brown bears are also growing numbers with spring hunting now banned as that is the time when they are most vulnerable – being half asleep from hibernation.

Returning to Kushiro town we go to the fish market.  Unlike the Tokyo market I visited many years ago this is a retail market although there is a huge variety of fish and molluscs with some still alive in tanks awaiting selection for someone’s dinner.  Also in the market are vegetables and one cheese stall.  Given all the food on board we cannot eat at the market although the guide shows us how it can be done!

Back aboard we are required to visit the Japanese immigration team and we are cleared to leave Japan.  A little later we are set free from our moorings and we head out into the Pacific Ocean and with our stop in Russia removed from the itinerary our next destination is Dutch Harbor on the very tip of Alaska.

For dinner we are booked into Chartreuse with recipes embedded in French cuisine but with some slight twists.  Four courses and too much wine!  Back in our suite we find the film “Belfast” which gave a child’s eye view of the start of the Troubles in 1969.  I will admit that I was distracted by the inconsistencies; the road block at the end of the street when it suited the story and then removed completely when it did not match the narrative.  And TVs young King Arthur from a few years ago is a baddie as a protestant enforcer!

We lose an hour tonight as we are on 23 hour days for a while!

Day 6 Muroran 8.5.2023

When we wake we are still waggling through the waves, passing a variety of islands as we head towards Muroran where we berth soon after breakfast.  Our excursion is not until lunchtime so we have a quiet morning, my hope was to be able to download a number of podcasts and listen to them and catch up.  However the Internet is unavailable and the TV system which is reliant on network services is also not working!

In the absence of the web I can listen to some of the stored recordings, eliminating the downloaded backlog of Archers episodes but my plan to listen to the weekend podcasts is scuppered.  Using Evernote can be annoying in that the notes written are locked away online and cannot be accessed either or updated from Wikipedia!

Our trip today is not connected to Japanese history but instead is to look more at the countryside with a visit to Chikyu to see the view over the lighthouse and often, we are told, to see dolphins but the latter are not in evidence today, perhaps off put by a chilling wind.

We then move onto Mount Usu which has a “ropeway” to the summit of the volcano.  It turns out that this is a cable car with a capacity of 96 passengers to take us to the higher level, a long way from a “ropeway”.  To reach the volcano crater is over 100 steps and my lungs struggle with taking the steps at a normal pace.

An additional point of interest is an adjacent hillside which during earlier volcanic activity had turned in two years from a flat wheatfield to a 400m mountain as evidenced above.  It is slowly cooling and is now slowly reducing in height as well as trees slowly growing up the hillsides as they cool and in a few years will be completely covered.  As it is a cool day we are able to see the escaping steam but that is not usually so obvious.

The main volcano erupts on average 4 times a century but looks quiet at present however as the last eruption was in 2000 it cannot be long!

We return to the ship.  Our sliding door has been secured with vast amounts of gaffer tape, which means that the balcony cannot be accessed, but then it is not really warm enough!

Day 5 Sendai 7.5.2023

We awake in another industrial port and our tour guide proudly announces that he has just been interviewed by the local tv news as we are the first cruise liner to use the port.  A quick passport check as the scanners are working today despite the rain!  Yes, rain.  Indeed not just rain but significantly lower temperatures as well, we have rapidly moved from a beautiful May day as per the guide in Tokyo to a dingy,  murky May day.

In Sendai we are retreating further into Japanese history with the visits in connection with a significant leader early in the 17th Century.  There is a statue of Date Masamune at the site of Sendai Castle, which along with most other castles in Japan was destroyed at the time of 19th Century revolution.  There have been three castles in the area of growing size and importance but little remains of any of them.

Date Masamune had lost an eye to smallpox plus he wore a crescent shape on his helmet marking him out as a huge warrior.  He was also aware of the external world sending a mission to the Pope and encouraging trade (no doubt much to his personal benefit).  His personal appearance no doubt being significant in later film and other representations!

Some excavations have identified the shape of the Great Hall of the castle which is marked out on the ground but only a map of the remainder of the layout exists.  Some of the walls remain but we arrive by an indirect route as one of the walls has collapsed following an earthquake.  Most of the surrounding area is now part of the local Tofuku university which is in the top three of Japanese universities.

Our second site visit is to shrine.  By now it is quite wet so we do not join the main group to walk down to the main entrance and back.  We retreat into a room and watch a video of various festivals held at the shrine.

Back on board a light lunch and then we retreat to our cabin.  Once we set sail there is a strong whistling noise around the sliding door and we report it to reception, this will be an ongoing saga!

Day 4 Hitachinaka 6.5.2023


Having sailed overnight we dock at Hitachinaka this morning and we gather for our first shore excursion (the vast majority of which are included in the pricing) which is to some sights in Mito City where the Mito clan was based.   The Last Shogun leader married into the Imperial family and lived in Mito establishing an orchard of plum trees and cherry trees plus there is a bamboo growing area.  The garden has such a vibrant display that Kaikuronen station only opens seasonally to allow visitors easy access.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu also established a Samurai school where young warriors were trained but following the revolution, where he was the leader who capitulated to the revolution leaders, they held him prisoner in a single room of the school for some months.

No doubt given his familial links to the re-established Imperial family, his decision to convert to the Shinto religion (from Buddhism) and perhaps a wish for reconciliation the Emperor granted him special status and enjoyed a long life (also perhaps recognising that his actions prevented a bloody conflict), with a brief version of his timeline as follows:
28 October 1837 Born
29 August 1866 Becomes Shogun
3 January 1868 Resigns as Shogun
22 November 1912 Dies

We return to our ship and consume coffee and cakes as a very light lunch.  The main activity this afternoon is a presentation by three ladies demonstrating geisha dance, an art form which is being revived as the number of practicioners had reduced to very small numbers.

We dine well and then have a couple of drinks in the observation deck, although in the dark there is nothing to observe.

Tokyo Day 3 and Sail Away Friday 5.5.2023

Friday is a day of two halves.  The morning is our last two visits to Tokyo sites and then we journey on to Yokohama port to board our cruise ship.

As we were shown earlier in the week the Buddhists have temples, the Shinto religion has shrines and our first stop this morning is the Meiji shrine.  The shrine, located in Shibuya, honours Emperor Meiji, although his tomb is elsewhere.  He was notable for opening Japan to western influences and outside the shrine this is reflected in there not only being, as with most shrines, a range of sake barrels, but also a range of wine barrels with some of the historic wine brands of which the Emperor was an early Japanese consumer.  He ruled from 1867 until his death in 1912 and was responsible for the transformation of Japan during that period.

Our next stop takes us back to the warlord era at the Hamarikyu gardens adjacent to Tokyo Bay where the waters are a fresh / sea water mix and replica Japanese tea houses have been constructed.  In the 17th century the land was reclaimed from Edo bay and a warlord villa constructed along with gardens.  It has been a public space since 1946 and the teahouses have been reinstated in the current century.  It is warmer again today and I was extremely pleased to find a water fountain adjacent to the toilets before we depart.

Rejoining coach 1 we are therefore first to reach the Hammerhead pier where the Regent Seven Seas Explorer is berthed.  First however is a need for a health declaration, no coughs, no sneezes, no covid.  Boxes ticked and we are moved to a seried rank of seats to await being summoned onboard and check in.

Once through check in we head to deck 11 to get a first taste of the dining facilities (not found wanting in the slightest) before descending to our suite with the first bag already delivered awaiting our attention.    The other two soon arrive and we slowly unpack and get ourselves organised.

Between the bathroom and bedroom there is a walk in wardrobe and we manage to fill the hanging area with our clothes plus there are enough hooks for our coats!  And there is room under the bed for the three now empty suitcases.  Beyond the bedroom there is a lounge space and finally a balcony, although weather expectations are such that it may not see much use!

A welcome drink (and canapés) in the observation saloon are consumed as we sail away prior to descending to the main dining room for an excellent meal.

It is noticeable from the guides that we are some of the first travellers seen in Japan since restrictions have been lifted and they are glad to be closer to normal.

Tokyo Day 2 Thursday 4 May 2023


This image taken from without permission

Our trip today seemed more like ordered mayhem than a managed sightseeing trip.  Apparently Tokyo loves rules and the application of those rules meant that we could not partake in seeing the  bridges above on the edge of the Imperial Palace.  The time for arrival at the drop off point in Ginza is strictly regulated and we were nearly 5 minutes late.  The initial consequence was therefore insufficient time to walk from coach to the above viewpoint and return on the only stop between the hotel and Ginza.

In Ginza we were taken to the Kabuki-za theatre and shown the basement of market stalls and then taken upstairs to a little garden and a display in remembrance of a famous actor.

We return to the centre of Ginza where the Wako department store is now very obviously the oldest buildings visible in any direction.

In Ginza 6 we find a Starbucks for some coffee and something to eat.  The Starbucks seems to be inside a bookshop, yet on careful observation there is another branch of Starbucks within this branch of Starbucks!  Very strange.  And busy with all seats occupied, we grab two stools at the counter.

Regaining the coaches is similarly time limited but then I must admit to snoozing most of the way back to the hotel.  Time to repack our cases as tomorrow we board our cruise ship and sail away.

Before we do our dinner tonight is a Chinese meal, again in our hotel.  This is not as good as the meal the previous evening.  The cases are outside the room ready for collection.  Let us hope for better sleep or at least more of it.




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