NOW SEVEN(7) cruises in 2019 and 2020 – Travel with me

 

I just added another SilverSea hosting assignment in 2020, because I have just sold two cabins on it.  So, please also consider:

2020

Summer: Aug 10 – 20 – SilverSea Silver Spirit – Copenhagen to Copenhagen – Norwegian Fjords
https://tinyurl.com/2020CopenhagenDV

Copenhagen

and you can add this for a song, when you are using SilverSea’s business air, which is a bargain to begin with,

Traditional Baltic, with St. Petersburg, ends Stockholm

CopenhagenAddOn  https://tinyurl.com/2020CopenhagenAddOn

SilverSea is great, but it’s high-end.  My 2019 August cruises, on Holland America, in Northern Europe are seriously inexpensive.  You can have an Ocean View Cabin for less than $2000 per person, double occupancy, or a suite for less than $4000 ppdo, and one of these is a 20 day cruise!

I am giving you links to the cruises and the respective cruise line’s sites, but please don’t click through to buy.  If you want to travel with me, and get my add-ons, you have to buy it from me.  It’s the same price and I chase all the sales and such that happen after you buy, so you always get the best deal.  Because these are all Distinctive Voyages, there’s a free cocktail party and a free shore excursion on each of them.  The Holland America cruises are very affordable, SilverSea and Seabourn more money, but great value, truly.  Read on.

I am coming to Montreal on July 24 and leaving for Amsterdam on July 31,

Here are my cruises and plans:

2019

August 4 – 18 – HAL Rotterdam – Scottish Highlands – they call it.  It’s quite a bit more territory:Aug4Scottish

Here’s the link – – http://tinyurl.com/2019HALRotterdamScotland  Traveling with me on Holland America is extra special, because I am a 5-star Mariner and have some perks I can share.  I’ll be flying into Amsterdam early, so we can play there, and parsing the Itinerary for shore excursions.  Ocean View:  $1632 ppdo, Vista Suite: $3662, Neptune Suite – $8513ppdo – Live like the swell that you are.

August 18 – Sept 7 – HAL Rotterdam – Icelandic Fjords and Greenland ExplorerAug18Iceland

Here’s the link – – http://tinyurl.com/HALRotterdamIceland  Traveling with me on Holland America is extra special, because I am a 5-star Mariner and have some perks I can share.  I’ll already be on the ship, and have been to two of the ports, by the time you get there.  I’ll know a lot about what to do ashore.  Ocean View:  $1880 ppdo, Vista Suite: $3959 Neptune Suite – $9503ppdo – Live like the swell that you are, for 20 days.

Following that, I’ll be in Montreal until September 15.  Then I‘ll stay put until mid-December, when I get the cherry on 2019’s sundae.  It might just be your cherry, too.

December 21 – Jan 4 – Seabourn Ovation – “Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong KongDec21eabournAsia

Here’s the link:   http://tinyurl.com/SeabournDV – “Holiday Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong Kong.  I don’t need A & K in either Singapore or Hong Kong.  I have friends, instead.  I lived in Hong Kong for 5 years and have been to Singapore multiple times.  I’ll be your tour guide.

The Ovation is Seabourn’s newest ship, launched in 2018.  It carries 604 passengers, about the same size, and price, as SilverSea.  It’s an all verandah ship.  Balcony categories are V1 to V6 in ascending order of location preference.  All cabins are 300 sq. Ft.  V2 gets you midships on Deck 5.  And it’s a premium, all-inclusive line.  It’s all here https://www.seabourn.com/en_US/seabourn-difference.html The only things you can pay for are shore excursions and shop purchases.   I’ll be teeing up three days before in Singapore and three days after in HongKong, just for my own clients.  I’ll get us in to some private clubs, the RHKYC for sure, probably the horse races, etc.

Attention Canadians: (with those sad dollars that I have too many of, myself.  Take heart but act fast.)

Sometimes the cruise lines sell cruises for fewer Canadian dollars than the going rate would suggest.  Sometimes it’s the other way around.  I’ll always check for you and we’ll choose the better price, together.

2020

May 4 – 21 – SilverSea Silver Muse – Tokyo to Vancouver – 18 days

Tokyo-VCRMapHere’s the link:  https://www.silversea.com/destinations/transoceanic-cruise/yokohama-to-vancouver-6009.html

It’s a SilverSea boondoggle that starts in one of the nicest cities in the world.  Tokyo is gearing up for its Olympics, starting in July, so there are a lot of new, wonderful places, good roads, English signs, and all.  It’s very easy to navigate.  I just came back from there, in April.  And when will you ever o to Petropavlosk, if not now.  Then it becomes an Alaska cruise, and ends in Vancouver, BC, where I have plenty of friends, and there’s plenty to do. I can’t wait to get on SilverSea.  I have so many friends who won’t sail anything else.

 

Aug 10 – 20 – SilverSea Silver Spirit – Copenhagen to Copenhagen – Norwegian FjordsCopenhagen
                   https://tinyurl.com/2020CopenhagenDV

and you can add this for a song, when you are using SilverSea’s business air, which is a bargain to begin with,

Traditional Baltic, with St. Petersburg, ends Stockholm    CopenhagenAddOnhttps://tinyurl.com/2020CopenhagenAddOn

 

October 27-November 9 – SilverSea Silver Whisper – Montreal to Fort Lauderdale – 14 daysMontreal-FLLMap

https://www.silversea.com/destinations/canada-new-england-cruise/montreal-to-fort-lauderdale-wh201027014.html

This is one way to get to Florida for the winter, if you’re Canadian.  It’s a way to show my city to my American friends, too.  I’ll be planning a super lead-in.  I am going to work on it when I am in Montreal next month.  I’d like to know who’s thinking of coming, for planning purposes.

Requested: and I think I have it:

December 1 to 18 – SilverSea Silver Spirit – Mumbai to Singapore – 18 daysMumbai-SINMap

https://www.silversea.com/destinations/africa-indian-ocean-cruise/mumbai-to-singapore-sl201201018.html

 

I’m thinking of flying over to Hong Kong to spend Christmas there, after the cruise, but that’s not firm.  Twist my arm.

Travel with me –in 2019 and 2020 – 6 cruises all over the world

Come sail with me in 2019 or 2020.  My Distinctive Voyages are getting very distinctive, indeed.  I now have a Seabourn and three SilverSeas in my future.  Come share one with me.  My August cruises in Northern Europe are seriously inexpensive.  You can have an Ocean View Cabin for less than $2000 per person, double occupancy, or a suite for less than $4000 ppdo, and one of these is a 20 day cruise!

I am giving you links to the cruises and the respective cruise line’s sites, but please don’t click through to buy.  If you want to travel with me, and get my add-ons, you have to buy it from me.  It’s the same price and I chase all the sales and such that happen after you buy, so you always get the best deal.  Because these are all Distinctive Voyages, there’s a free cocktail party and a free shore excursion on each of them.  The Holland America cruises are very affordable, SilverSea and Seabourn more money, but great value, truly.  Read on.

I am coming to Montreal on July 24 and leaving for Amsterdam on July 31,

Here are my cruises and plans:

2019

August 4 – 18 – HAL Rotterdam – Scottish Highlands – they call it.  It’s quite a bit more territory:Aug4Scottish

Here’s the link – – http://tinyurl.com/2019HALRotterdamScotland  Traveling with me on Holland America is extra special, because I am a 5-star Mariner and have some perks I can share.  I’ll be flying into Amsterdam early, so we can play there, and parsing the Itinerary for shore excursions.  Ocean View:  $1632 ppdo, Vista Suite: $3662, Neptune Suite – $8513ppdo – Live like the swell that you are.

August 18 – Sept 7 – HAL Rotterdam – Icelandic Fjords and Greenland Explorer

Aug18IcelandHere’s the link – – http://tinyurl.com/HALRotterdamIceland  Traveling with me on Holland America is extra special, because I am a 5-star Mariner and have some perks I can share.  I’ll already be on the ship, and have been to two of the ports, by the time you get there.  I’ll know a lot about what to do ashore.  Ocean View:  $1880 ppdo, Vista Suite: $3959 Neptune Suite – $9503ppdo – Live like the swell that you are, for 20 days.

Following that, I’ll be in Montreal until September 15.  Then I‘ll stay put until mid-December, when I get the cherry on 2019’s sundae.  It might just be your cherry, too.

December 21 – Jan 4 – Seabourn Ovation – “Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong KongDec21eabournAsia

Here’s the link:   http://tinyurl.com/SeabournDV – “Holiday Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong Kong.  I don’t need A & K in either Singapore or Hong Kong.  I have friends, instead.  I lived in Hong Kong for 5 years and have been to Singapore multiple times.  I’ll be your tour guide.

The Ovation is Seabourn’s newest ship, launched in 2018.  It carries 604 passengers, about the same size, and price, as SilverSea.  It’s an all verandah ship.  Balcony categories are V1 to V6 in ascending order of location preference.  All cabins are 300 sq. Ft.  V2 gets you midships on Deck 5.  And it’s a premium, all-inclusive line.  It’s all here https://www.seabourn.com/en_US/seabourn-difference.html The only things you can pay for are shore excursions and shop purchases.   I’ll be teeing up three days before in Singapore and three days after in HongKong, just for my own clients.  I’ll get us in to some private clubs, the RHKYC for sure, probably the horse races, etc.

Attention Canadians: (with those sad dollars that I have too many of, myself.  Take heart but act fast.)

Sometimes the cruise lines sell cruises for fewer Canadian dollars than the going rate would suggest.  Sometimes it’s the other way around.  I’ll always check for you and we’ll choose the better price, together.

2020

May 4 – 21 – SilverSea Silver Muse – Tokyo to Vancouver – 18 days

Tokyo-VCRMapHere’s the link:  https://www.silversea.com/destinations/transoceanic-cruise/yokohama-to-vancouver-6009.html

It’s a SilverSea boondoggle that starts in one of the nicest cities in the world.  Tokyo is gearing up for its Olympics, starting in July, so there are a lot of new, wonderful places, good roads, English signs, and all.  It’s very easy to navigate.  I just came back from there, in April.  And when will you ever o to Petropavlosk, if not now.  Then it becomes an Alaska cruise, and ends in Vancouver, BC, where I have plenty of friends, and there’s plenty to do. I can’t wait to get on SilverSea.  I have so many friends who won’t sail anything else.

 

October 27-November 9 – SilverSea Silver Whisper – Montreal to Fort Lauderdale – 14 daysMontreal-FLLMap

https://www.silversea.com/destinations/canada-new-england-cruise/montreal-to-fort-lauderdale-wh201027014.html

This is one way to get to Florida for the winter, if you’re Canadian.  It’s a way to show my city to my American friends, too.  I’ll be planning a super lead-in.  I am going to work on it when I am in Montreal next month.  I’d like to know who’s thinking of coming, for planning purposes.

Requested: and I think I have it:

December 1 to 18 – SilverSea Silver Spirit – Mumbai to Singapore – 18 daysMumbai-SINMap

https://www.silversea.com/destinations/africa-indian-ocean-cruise/mumbai-to-singapore-sl201201018.html

 

I’m thinking of flying over to Hong Kong to spend Christmas there, after the cruise, but that’s not firm.  Twist my arm.

Sylvia Parker Harris

 

Head61014a

June 29, 2006 – June 7, 2019

She was a good cat. Oh, I hear you, she only bit six or eight people, sending a couple of them to the hospital. But she was very soft, and very loving, all the same.

Elvon and I had our first experience leading a cruise group, with the Blaufuss’ VintageTravel Agency, in 1997, Bangkok to Hong Kong. George Blaufuss was still alive when I was leash training Sylly P on Deer Hollow, in Silverado Oaks, in 2006.   George shrank back from my offering my new kitten for petting. Kathy had his care giver wait for me to get back, to find out who I was, and to tell me he had asked her “Who was the lady walking the skunk?” Kathy was my mentor in how to take care of an Alzheimers’ patient. You take him cruising. She did it with George and, when Elvon’s turn came around, I did the same. It’s why I am a Travel Advisor now, and a Concierge Host. We would be at sea for six months of the year, for six or eight years.

With her staff away so much, Sylly P had to hire alternates.  People came from all over the world to spend time at Silverado and the wineries of Napa and Sonoma.  They included the Potters from Southern California and Sharon Bobrow from San Francisco, all of whom now live in Napa, Kathy Stefano from San Francisco, who got to help when Elvon lost his passport on the way to Beijing, the Rands from Alberta, Glen Reid, who got the 2014 Napa Earthquake as a bonus, plus a trip to the vet with Sylly P, always a treat, Elvon’s Uncle Bob Doty from the Oakland Hills, John Ball from Hong Kong, Pat Harrold and Paul Hart from Vancouver, the Lajoys from Vancouver Island, the Vinograds from London, England, Lottie and Richard Nicholson from Arizona, André and Jo-Ann Dery and Yolaine St-Jacques from Montreal, Jane Collyer and Kirk Wandell from Ottawa, and, of course, Susan Harris, who took a four month stint and found a place to live in Larkspur, while she was at it.  Last came Steve and Trish Harrold from Florida, who ended up taking care of me, when I broke my pelvis, and now live at Fountaingrove Lodge.  Susan did a shift of that, too.  Then there were Margo Reilly, my very first friend, and Norma Griffin, from Ontario, who didn’t get Sylly P but came out of my network to mind the Doyles dogs, so I’ll count them, too.   Sylly P and I thank you all, and, I hope my grieving brain hasn’t forgotten anyone.

For the first five years or so, we used to tie her to a tree on a forty-foot leash. The lawn was inhabited by a colony of voles, so she would hunt. She’d sit over a vole hole for hours. When one of us went out to bring her in, she’d plunge a paw down the hole is a last, futile attempt. She caught exactly one mouse in her entire life, in the dining room after chasing him in from the garage. She wasn’t really good at it. When our Mexican cleaning lady found what my mother used to call “mouse dirt” under the kitchen sink. She somehow made me understand she wanted me to buy traps, I pointed to Sylly P. All she could say to that was “Gato no trabajo.” I didn’t know if she meant “The cat doesn’t work” or “The cat is broken”, but I got the mouse traps, and they got the mice.

Sylly P was a cuddly cat, made so by her early education, which consisted of a number of black and white parties, where our friends were encouraged to pick her up and cuddle with her. She liked to lie on our chests early in the morning or when we were watching TV. She was a great comfort to me convalescing from a broken pelvis, when I barely left the adjustable bed for weeks. She was the same with Elvon, and he always had a lot more bed and TV time than I did, and more and more as he neared the end of his life.

I am not sure she ever recovered from the loss of him. Her own decline began as he was dying, and, despite my best efforts and those of a holistic and a regular vet, her decline continued. I know a lot about cat food, now, and have a ton of the very best of it in my freezer. Huge thanks to Karen Novak, my neighbor’s daughter, and a kind, sensible vet who visited Sylly P, when she visited her mother, and tried a number of things that worked for a while. Thanks also to Steve and Trish Harrold, particularly Trish, who took care of Sylly P when I went cruising, except for the last time, when we three all went to Asia.

Sylly P died at home, assisted by Karen, with Geri Novak, and her grand-daughter Simona, and Steve and Trish in attendance. We gave her an Irish wake, and she’s now resting in Bubbling Well Memorial Park, overlooking the Silverado Country Club and the Napa Valley, with Henry. Rest in peace, dear furry friend.

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 5 – Japan

After my blog on JeJu Island, my Silverado Oaks friend, Sharon, wrote to tell me that Lisa See has a new book out called “The Island of Sea Women”, so I am reading that now.  Haven’t got far enough in to tell you if it’s any good, but it sure is the same island.

On April 9, we docked in Kobe All we did on the first day was go out to shop.  It was pretty good shopping, though, and a nice city to walk around.

Dinner at 7:00 at Qsine was a lot of fun.  In the end there were 21 of us.  We sat around a huge oval table, with an upside down chandelier emanating from the middle of it.  The rest of the chandeliers in the room were upside down table lamps, hanging from the ceiling.  We didn’t know what to expect.

For menus, we all got tablets, on which we were to tick off anything and everything that appealed at all.  There was quite a variety and we ended up with most of it.  It represented the best tidbits from all the cuisines of the world and ranged from healthy veggies, of which we ordered few, to the deepest of deep fries, of which we ordered plenty.  We all waddled out of there, very glad to have tried it, and glad to have had dinner together.  It’s a very good group.

The second day in Kobe, April 10, I had a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon delivered to my stateroom, because we had a 6:15 am call to meet our tour to Kyoto.  We met our tour guide, Mickey, and he led us to Kobe Station for the Skinkasen, the Bullet Train to Kyoto.  It had started to sprinkle but the rain didn’t really come into its own, until we were on the bus to the shrine.  We all got out and started climbing the hill.  Steve quit pretty quickly.  The weather was foul, cold and wet.  It was slippery underfoot and the roadway was angled straight up.  He announced that his plan was to go back to the bus.  I went another five minutes or so and chickened out, too.  I was starting to feel chilled and I didn’t see any point in getting the flu over this.  I shopped my way back to the bus, arriving with some mystery hard candies and a box of chocolate Daifuku.  They are rice balls, similar to the contents of sesame balls. These were filled with a chocolate cream and dusted with cocoa.  Steve and I had a couple on the bus.  They weren’t all that good for the price paid.  Next Trish, who was still coughing from the cold she had picked up in Beijing, got back on.  A few more people did the same.

It was raining even harder at the next stop, which was the Golden Pavilion. Steve and I didn’t even get off.  I wasn’t feeling any too great.  We were soon joined by a few more chickens, while the die-hards had some perfectly miserable touring.  I had been to these sites in 2007, under much better conditions and had decided that was how I was going to remember them.  The Golden Pavilion doesn’t shine in the sun when it’s pouring.

Trish felt awful and announced she wasn’t even coming to dinner.  Steve and I went, but I declined a large table, as I had started to cough and didn’t want to infect anyone else.  I figured Steve was immune, as he had been living with five days of Trish coughing, already.  I was running a fever by this time and barely had the energy to eat.  I had two cheese soufflés, as about the easiest thing on the menu.  They were good, too.  I didn’t even have the energy to go to the show.

I dosed myself up with Mucinex and Advil “Cold and Flu” and went to bed.  I didn’t sleep, though.  I just lay there waiting for the medical center to open at 8:00 am.  The fever broke and I started feeling a little better around 4:30 am, but not so well that I wasn’t the first person at the med center’s door.  It was April 11, and we were now docked in Shimizu, the port for Mt. Fuji. My preliminary check exposed the remains of the fever and I allowed that it had started at dinner and had been worse until early this morning.  They took a nasal swab, which is a nasty procedure, and it came out positive for flu.  Ships do not mess around with contagious diseases.  I got a double dose of nebulizer,

20190411-01IsolationSmallera dozen Tamiflus, a bottle of cough syrup and a mask.  I was told to put the mask on, go to my room, and stay there, except to come back at 5:30pm for more nebulizing.  I felt like crap, so I didn’t resist.

I called Trish and told her what I had, and that I would be in isolation for 48 hours.  She brought me a couple of croissants, and I ordered hot water, lemon and honey from room service.  Trish took herself to the Medical Center.  The good news for her was that by now, she had shaken off the bug, but the bad news was that she had bronchitis, which at least they treated.  We’ll both be claiming on our insurance this time.

I slept for a couple of hours, finished writing my Farewell Letters and got the Event Coordinator, to print them.  I signed them and collated them with the comments cards and called her again.  The Conrad hotel had given me a couple of Pandas, and I gave her one, with which she was well pleased.  The little bear had a little pink Chinese jacket on and really was cute.  The letters went out and I went to bed.

The next day we docked in Yokohama, Japan, but I wasn’t going anywhere.  Trish called to offer breakfast delivery, but I was happy enough with room service.  A few passengers called to thank me personally, while I was packing.  I had the drawing among those who had filled in their comment cards and had the money transferred to the winners’ cabin.  Then I called them and told them the good news.  They had more kind words for all of us.  I still wasn’t feeling great, so I went to bed early.

We got off in Yokohama, Japan on April 13.  Disembarkation was smooth and efficient.  So efficient that our Hotel Okura car wasn’t there waiting for us.  It showed up in about twenty minutes, but not before I had called the concierge to chase it for us.  We had a great view of Mt. Fuji, from the van on the way into Tokyo.

We dropped Scott, Roz and Donna off at The New Otani, and checked in to the Okura.  Our rooms weren’t ready, so I spent an hour and a half with the concierge, putting Metro stops to our plan.  I asked her about City Tours, HOHO buses, and any other suggestions she might have but she said our plan was excellent as it was.  She had never seen anyone come in with a better one.  Kudos to Linda and Bev and Oki.  Anyone visiting Tokyo is welcome to a copy of the plan.  Just ask.

We got our rooms around 12:30 pm, got settled, and went out around four.  By the time we found and negotiated the subway, and got to Shinjuku, they had closed the park for the night.  Who knew that would happen?

We walked along the edge of the park and could tell it was a really nice one.  It had been especially recommended for its abundance of cherry blossoms.  Alas, we had arrived at the very end of Cherry Blossom season for this year, so we didn’t miss much.

At the other end of the park, Shinjuku starts in earnest.  It reminded me a lot of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, around the Excelsior Hotel.  It is a warren of shopping streets, selling everything under the sun and moon.  It didn’t look like it was going to close anytime soon, so we thought we’d find a restaurant and shop after dinner.

There were restaurants in just about every building, on different floors, with pictures of the food down at street level.  It was soon obvious to us that every restaurant specialized.  Since cooked meat was our common denominator, we looked for a place that specialized in it and had an English menu.  We had seen just enough descriptions in English to know we needed one.  That is to say, Steve and Trish did.  Everyone who knows me knows I don’t care what part of the animal my food comes from, as long as it isn’t a plant.

The place we picked was very small, but it was spotlessly clean and was cooking everything right in front of us.  For our main meal, we picked the “Blucky Set” which was beef sirloin, along with miso soup and rice.  We added some chicken legs and one order of beef tongue, to try it.  No entrails.  The beef tongue was just fine, as was the rest of it.  We were very happy with our choice and it cost about $50 for the three of us.  We thought eating in Japan was going to be expensive and here we were nicely sated for under $20 apiece.

There was a Drug Store across the street and Trish needed something.  I found myself singing along with the Japanese words to Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Only I was singing “John Brown’s body” and “Jesus saves His money at the Bank of Montreal”.  I bought another watch, a real Casio, this time.  I showed them my $15 fake FitBit, which amazed them, but they were selling “real thing”.  I wish I had bought more of the $15 ones, but I had to try one first and by the time I knew I liked it, the ship had sailed from Beijing.

With only some difficulty, solved by the Okura’s free cell phone, we found a Metro station and got ourselves home.

The next day, April 14, was Sunday, the day Ginza St. is closed to traffic.  We had the hotel’s big breakfast to eat, or we might have been lining up at the best lunch places, with the rest of Tokyo.  But we can now say we have strolled The Ginza on a Sunday and we have some nice paper goods as souvenirs and presents.

Trish and I were still recovering, and Steve is Steve, so we were happy to go back to the hotel for a nap and an hour of exercise before dinner.  The concierge had told us about a dining building, just a five-minute walk down from the hotel.  We decided to explore it.  There we found a restaurant specializing in tempura.  Everybody’s a specialist.  This does not bode well for my getting sushi, as neither of the other two will touch it.  I like tempura a lot, though, so this was fine.

It was a strange new concept in restaurant dining.  You order from a vending machine and put your money in it.  The food doesn’t come out of it, thank God.  You get tickets, for shrimp tempura, set meals, beer, wine, etc.  The tickets, you take to your seat at the counter, from which you watch your food being prepared to order.  It was fresh, piping hot and delicious.  And it was another fifty bucks for three.  You can’t beat it.

Monday was our most ambitious day.  We took the Metro again, as we have every day, only this time we went all the way to Asakusa.  There we visited the shrine and its surrounding shopping streets.  When we were tired, we boarded a waterbus and took it back downtown to Hamarikyu Gardens.  The gardens are beautiful and there were a few cherry trees still hanging on to their blossoms.  That’s Trish on the far right.

20190415-17TokyoHamarikyuGardensTrishSmallerAfter the obligatory nap, we were back on the Metro, bound for Roppongi, just one stop from the Okura, where the local night life is.  The Hotel Okura, you see, is in amongst all the Embassies, and is quiet as can be.  We wanted a bit more action.  And we found it.  And we found a restaurant that advertised both sushi and iron fried meats.  We ended up in our own little tatami room, with a huge office party in the room next to us.  We didn’t mind the noise.  It was happy noise.  We ordered by pressing on a reverse pager.  Someone always came and got us what we wanted.

There was so little sushi on the menu, that I was afraid to touch it after all. We had a very nice meal, a little more upscale and it cost a whole hundred bucks for the three of us.  Who would have thunk it?

I should have gone to the bathroom before we got back into the metro.  By the time we got home, which involved a sprint straight up hill, I was desperate.  My back teeth were floating and so was my brain.  I sat down so fast I forgot to take my phone out of my back pocket.  When I got up, it did a back flip, right into the toilet, with my hand following it down, but not fast enough.

I took it apart immediately, as far as I could get it, wiped every minuscule drop I saw and plugged it in.  But it was dead.  I left it there and went to join Steve and Trish in our rooftop bar on 12.  Only they weren’t in the bar.  They were outside the bar, having been denied access, because they didn’t have a reservation.  Who ever heard of needing a reservation to have a drink in a bar?  I pulled my card key out and went back to the desk for another try.  When you lead with evidence that you are a resident, a hotel cannot really refuse you, and they didn’t.  It was very odd, though.  I was led though the Chinese restaurant, past the kitchen and bathrooms, and through the smoking bar, to an elevator which led to the non-smoking bar.  Then I went back, thorough all that to pick up Steve and Trish.  The non-smoking bar was very small, but it wasn’t full, and they had no problem serving us, or charging us, either.  It was as much as dinner.  But it was time for us to have a nightcap.

Tuesday, Steve figured he had dragged himself around Tokyo all he wanted to, so he sent us girls off on our own.  We hadn’t seen the Imperial Palace or the Meiji Shrine yet, so we were batting clean-up.  We spent a lot of time and about 10,000 steps trying to find the Imperial Palace.  When we did, we wished we hadn’t wasted the time.  Mind you we did walk through a beautiful and very large park, and we also did a lot of walking the streets around the government buildings.  We popped down the nearest Metro and found our way to the Meiji Shine.  That was at the end of another very beautiful park and by the time we had been there and back to the Metro station, I could barely walk.  There went the shopping trip.  Sorry, Trish, but from the twinges in my bad knee, after an hour’s rest, I know I was on the verge of causing myself some big trouble.  That rebuilt knee almost never hurts, but when it does, the pain is sudden and acute.  I got just enough to know I didn’t want any more.

I had worked with the concierge to find a better restaurant that would have sushi, tempura, seared meats and all.  She came up with Gonpatchi, a ten buck cab away.  We were ready to be spoiled a little.  We even dressed up.  Gonpatchi turned out to be what I used to call “an expat restaurant.”  There you’ll find every nation on the globe among both the patrons and the staff.  The sushi was good, because their 3rd floor was a sushi restaurant.  They did the frying on the ground floor and the second floor was a balcony overlooking it.  We were seated on the ground floor and our waiter was Gabriel.  I think he was from Spain, but it might have been Italy, or the USA.  The waiters hollered at each other, and the chefs, from all around the restaurant.  It wasn’t quiet and serene, but the food was great.  I had the best maguro I have ever had, in a restaurant, in my life, there.  Maguro is raw tuna.  It’s not even the fatty kind which is three times the price.  I prefer it lean.  I’m a cheap date, as far as sushi goes.

And we have been home for almost three weeks, and that’s how long it has taken me to get this out.

My next cruises are:

August:  August 4 – 18 –  HAL Rotterdam – Scottish Highlands http://tinyurl.com/2019HALRotterdamScotland

And its sequal August 18 – Sept 7 – HAL Rotterdam – Iceland, Greenland  http://tinyurl.com/HALRotterdamIceland

Christmas: December 21 – Jan 4 – Seabourn Ovation – “Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong Kong –  http://tinyurl.com/SeabournDV

Holland America just sent me an email that these cruises are now on sale.  Want to come?  Just call or email me.

I am also in the process of bidding for my 2020 assignments.  Call or email me if you want to influence my choices. 

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 4 – JeJu Island

I am remiss.  I forgot the commercial.  My next cruises are:

August:  August 4 – 18 –  HAL Rotterdam – Scottish Highlands http://tinyurl.com/2019HALRotterdamScotland

And its sequel August 18 – Sept 7 – HAL Rotterdam – Iceland, Greenland, Fjords  http://tinyurl.com/HALRotterdamIceland

Christmas: December 21 – Jan 4 – Seabourn Ovation – “Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong Kong –  http://tinyurl.com/SeabournDV

Holland America just sent me an email that these cruises are now on sale.  Want to come?  Just call or email me.

After my blog on Beijing, my HAL World Cruise friend, Dee, wrote to tell about Chinese potty training in 2010 when she was there.  I am happy to report that “split pants” are still in fashion and that, we, too, saw them in Tienanmen Square.  They are very ingenious.  They just separate down the middle when the child squats.  Most of the ones we saw, had diapers under them, which kind of defeats the purpose, though.

Back to where I left off.  The next day, April 6, was a much needed sea day.  I followed up with Igusti, the Specialty Restaurant Manager, re the half-priced meal Pedro had told me our group could get at Qsine.  We decided on 7:00 pm on April 9, first night in Kobe.  Then I went to the Internet for a weather report for tomorrow, our shore excursion day.  The forecast was partly cloudy with a high of 64, good enough.

I worked the desk in the morning and the ship had a ‘round the world wine tour at 2:00 pm.  I had floated it to the group at $5.- off, and only got one couple.  The three of us went.  They had set up tasting tables representing the wines of six countries, a red and a white from each.  The “countries” were, France, Italy, Australia-New Zealand, South America, the USA and Spain.  I liked the Italian Pinot Grigio and Washington State’s H3 Cabernet Sauvignon best.  I think I might be able to get H3 at home.  It stands for Horse Hills Haven, as I recall.  Six tastes are a good few, and I had to have a nap before dinner.

Not that there was much time for it.  There were a couple of calls to return when I got back and I printed name tags, and a couple of up-to-date manifests, and worked on a guest accommodation problem.

We had dinner in the dining room again, with some very nice people.  I have to learn to stop talking with my hands.  I managed to knock over a glass of red and it made quite the splash.  Sometimes I really get into my tales.   It was only my second glass of wine, and it was still full, which didn’t help.  The show was Elysium, a production show I had seen a few months before on the Eclipse.  It was totally different, and I didn’t understand either of them.

The next day, April 7, we docked on JeJu Island, South Korea. Everyone was in the Rendez-vous Lounge and tagged by 8:30 am, the meeting time for our Distinctive Voyages shore excursion.  Our number was called and I led the group through customs and out to meet our bus.  Our guide’s name was Jung A Kang, but luckily, she goes by “Stacy” which was a lot easier for us.  The first thing she said to enjoy was the last day of cherry blossoms.  The season was a bit early this year, and there was a storm coming, which would knock them all down for sure.

JeJu Island is now a province of South Korea.  It is famous for its women divers.  Stacy pointed some out to us.  They are a dying breed.  Some of them are over 80 and still diving for fish every morning.  The youngest ones are in their 70s.  The new generation just won’t do work that’s that hard.  It was a lovely drive over to the west side, where the Hallim lava tunnels are.

There’s more to Hallim Park than the lava caves.  It’s also home to a folk village, some beautiful gardens, a quaint stone children’s cemetery and a bird park.

20190407-01JeJuIslandKoreaHallimParkChildrenSmaller

The cherry blossoms made a spectacular exit and I got this great picture of one of my couples:

20190407-21JeJuIslandKoreaLenni&PaulRosenfeldSmaller

The Hallim caves are also known as Two Dragons caves.  So we got an education on Eastern and Western dragons.  Our western dragons are warriors.  They fly and fight and scare people.   Eastern dragons have no wings, but still can fly.  They’re helpful creatures and make wishes come true.  JeJu Island’s history goes back 5,000 years.  It was independent for 3,000 of them.  Before the Josan dynasty, it was used as a place of exile.  It’s only since the 1960s that it has become a place of tourism, which brings in 60% of its income. The rest is fishing and tangerines.  The tangerines are very good.  I bought a bag and distributed it on the bus.  They were sweet and juicy, and one bag was just the right amount.  Someone there must have figured that out.

The tourist attractions include teddy bear museums, Hello Kitty museums, coffee and tea places, karaoke bars, etc.  We went to a green tea museum and had some green tea ice cream.  It’s an acquired taste.  All in all, it was a very good tour.  I didn’t hear a single bad thing about it.

I liked having the shore excursion in the middle of the cruise.  It gave me a chance to use it to plug another event, dinner at Qsine.  Nineteen people signed up, which is a personal record for an event that had to be paid for.

We had dinner in Blu that night and went to the show at 7:00pm.  It was Empower, one of these three divas shows, and I didn’t like it much.  I must be getting old, when I don’t recognize the music, if rarely manages to engage me.

We had another sea day on April 8, and I was pleased to report to Igusti that I had 19 people for dinner in Qsine tomorrow.  A couple of people stopped the desk by to say they had a five-hour layover at Narita and wondered if they could do anything in Tokyo in that amount of time.  As it’s an hour and a half each way, I had to discourage him.

We had dinner at 7, and went to the 9PM show.  It was Nik Page, who had followed Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, in London’s West End.  He was very good.

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 3 – Beijing

On April 2, we were back at sea, on the way to Beijimg. Only one couple came to the desk, the Silversteins. They liked my idea of the “World Wine Tour” on board, for a discount for our group. I signed them up. Then I got out a letter about that and our Shore Excursion, emailed Claire the count and request for my not too handicapped guests to come along. I also picked up two more waivers that had been handed to the Front Desk, called the two cabins I hadn’t heard back from and got one of them. I went to the gym, had dinner with some new friends, saw the show, Andrew Derbyshire, just OK, packed for Beijing and called it a night.

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, we docked at Tienjen, port for Beijing. The Conrad Beijing picked us up in a 19-seated van. I have learned to ask for a big enough vehicle. We don’t look like swells, but we are very comfortable. We had a nice surprise waiting for us at the hotel, a lovely room upgrade. We got promoted to the 23rd floor and the view is outstanding.

By the time we were settled, it was time to meet our A & K guide, Juliet Yu. As expected in Beijing, she wasn’t as open as Mira and she made a point of telling us how much everyone still loves Mao. When his mausoleum is open, the lineup is hundreds of people. He’s preserved in a glass casket. You can still see his face. I’m glad it was closed. I wouldn’t line up for that. Tiananmen Square is the largest in the world. Juliet said we would hear “largest” from her a lot, and we did. You start at the South end of the square and walk through to and through The Forbidden City. We walked about four miles from one end to the other. Tiananmen Square is just a huge gathering place. It can hold a million people standing up. I’m glad they weren’t all there today. We could do it at a comfortable pace. We walked the length of it and Juliet took our picture with the enormous painting of Mao in the background. They change this picture every year, so it is always fresh.

20190403-05BeijingRozBurroughsScottCobbDonnaHolladayTrish&SteveHarroldHelenSmall

Then we crossed the street underground and came up in The Forbidden City, the largest palace in the world. The outer part is the worldly area, where people could come to do business with the Emperor, only male people, mind you. The middle part is home to family members and the inner part is off limits to all but the Emperor, his wives and concubines and the palace eunuchs. Of course, all of this is guarded by the largest bronze lions in China.

Even though we stopped to rest a number of times in the seats provided for the purpose, we were all pretty bushed at the end of the experiment. Steve and Trish went straight into the hotel restaurant, with the idea of eating and crashing. Scott decided to skip dinner and Roz, Donna and I opted for a bath and a cheap restaurant on the street. Juliet said there was one just around the corner, called Yu Yue, where I had had the best 2-minute pancake at the beginning of the tour.

We reconvened at 7:00 pm and went to talk to the concierge. After reconfirming Juliet’s directions, and discussing how we were going to order, Jack Bao, our fabulous concierge, walked us to the restaurant himself, and ordered for us. No one has ever served me that well before, and I travel a lot. Gold stars for Jack. What made it more remarkable is that he wouldn’t let us tip him, not when we made the plan, nor when he left us happy at the restaurant, nor later. And, believe me, I tried. I’ll make sure his manager finds out. Dinner, by the way was delicious. We ended up eating it alone in a back room, through the kitchen and washing up area. The restaurant itself was way too smoky for our tastes. We have been spoiled since smoking was outlawed in North American establishments, probably 40 years ago. We walked back to the hotel, thanked Jack again, tried to tip him, again, had a nightcap in the bar, and went to bed.

I decided to skip the Great Wall the next day, as I have seen it, and I wanted to write my blog. My room on the 23rd floor of the Conrad was spacious, had a large comfortable desk and chair, and a lovely view of the city. After a delicious breakfast of fresh orange juice and Eggs Benedict, I settled in to write. After about three hours, I broke and went to the gym. I had it to myself, with about three attendants. Workout done I went back to work for three more hours. You don’t think this thing writes itself, do you?

The rest of the group had a wonderful time at The Great Wall and in pedicabs through the Hutongs. Juliet, out A & K guide, still lives in one of these alley houses, just the way Mira described hers in Shanghai. Juliet and her husband, however, come from a small town outside Beijing and plan to go back there, after they have made enough money.

Steve, Trish and I had dinner at Da Dong Duck, the most famous Peking duck chain. It was all it should have been, just delicious. They took a credit card, but wouldn’t call a taxi for us, so I called the Conrad concierge and had him do it. On our way out, we met Harald, the General Manager of the Conrad. He’s absolutely charming and knows Thomas, the GM in Hong Kong, who treated us all so well in March. I took the opportunity to commend Jack, the concierge and his Front Desk and Guest Relations Managers, all of whom have been very wonderful to us. We had a nightcap in the Lobby Lounge and off to sleep.

On the morning of April 5, we checked out without incident and had the Conrad’s wonderful breakfast again. Harald stopped by our table and gave us a few pointers on bargaining at the Pearl Market. We were not to pay more than 20% of the asking price. Even I couldn’t go that low, so I probably paid 40% of asking, but we got cashmere shawls, black baroque pearls and I got a $15 FitBit knock-off that syncs to my phone, just like a real one. I should have bought more of those. I probably won’t see that price in Japan. It took about three hours again, to get to the ship. We had the same driver as on the way in. He never wants to take the tip, but then his eyes light up and he takes it happily. I guess we are ruining China, too, now.

We saw the show before dinner. It was Steve Carte and a bit silly.

 

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 2 – Shanghai and Seoul

On March 29, our last full day in Shanghai, five out of six of us had decided on staying in the city to do all we could with Mira, instead of 5 to 6 hours on the bus. Scott assured us he would be fine going to Suzhou on a train.

We met Mira around nine and were soon off to the Jewish ghetto. Shanghai is very special to the Jewish people. The Japanese occupation, which lasted 26 years, ending with Hiroshima, was good for them, if no one else. Hitler offered the Japanese money to cooperate with his final solution by rounding up the Jews for extermination, and they didn’t take it. The Jewish community in Shanghai was still intact in 1945. Then came the civil war, which Mao won in 1949. Most of the Jews left between 1945 and 1949, bound for the USA and Israel, mostly. There are a few businessmen left, and some nice preserved buildings in the Ghetto. Michael Blumenthal and Peter Max lived here as young men.

Right in the heart of it is Hounshan Park, where there is Tai Chi and ballroom dancing in the morning. Trish and Roz joined in. We also found the Museum and Ohel Moshe synagogue very interesting.20190329-03ShanghaiHounshanParkRozTrishSmaller

After that we visited the Jade Buddha Temple, and got an education on Buddhism from Mira, who is one. So, we now know about the hierarchy: Buddha, Bodhisattva, attvas, humans, animals, evil spirits. We saw the four guardians N, S, E and W, and it was interesting how the Northern guardian looked Caucasian, the Eastern, Oriental, etc. Hitler got the swastika here. He just turned the Buddhist symbol around. Not too creative, that.

Then we went to the Shanghai Museum for an hour. It’s excellent, too. We ended up in Tian Xi Fang, a local market, where there was street food and souvenirs. I could have spent more time there, but we were done.

 

We had dinner at Shanghai Grandmother, and it was great. It cost about $10 for five of us! The place was packed and you couldn’t reserve, but they found us a table and fed us royally, 70 Fuzhou Road, Huangpu District, near The Bund, walking distance from the Hyatt.

On March 30, boarding day, we had a free morning and I was planning on using it to blog, but I had to take care of our car arrangements. I had been charged for a car for 6 on the way in, which explains why the second car had never arrived. There were two problems with this. Scott, Roz and Donna might have fit in cozily, but they would have had to leave all their luggage at the airport, which I doubted they would have done. I managed to get the charge reduced to that of an ordinary car for the three of us, who actually used it. I had already asked for something larger to get us to the port and I reconfirmed and paid for that. It was a very long checkout.

The mini-van we got was fine, though. It got us to the port and we boarded the ship pretty seamlessly. It took me until after six to get my face-to-face with the Event Manager, but she was worth it when I got her. Gabriela Bevilaqua is wonderful. I love working with her. We sorted everything out, made the welcome broadcast, and got the letters printed by about 8:00pm. Trish and Steve helped me get them ready for distribution. Then we went to dinner and Trish ran them around the ship, while Steve and I had dessert. Good lass, herself.

The next day we were at sea and I was at the DV hospitality desk. It’s in a very busy area, with a Portuguese group and a Swedish group. There’s an Israeli group on the other side. Gabriela has her hands full. It was plenty busy, with guests coming in to meet me and hand in their waivers to take our tour. It’s very interesting. By the end of office hours, I had waivers from all but one of the staterooms on the highest floors. I think there’s a message there. I went to the gym and spent the rest of the day doing paperwork on the computer and getting ready for the cocktail party.

The cocktail party itself went very well, with 26 people attending, and most of them bringing in their waivers. I had time to get them all to introduce themselves and was rewarded when a few of them got up to join others with whom they had things in common. We had a late dinner in the dining room and fell into bed.

April 1, we docked in Incheon, port for Seoul, Korea. We had to do a face-to-face customs clearance before we could get out and meet our guide, but we were able to keep in WhatsApp contact while he collected some of the people and I waited outside customs. Rob is an outstanding guide. He was born in Korea but taken to the US as a child. He spent about 15 years there, before returning to North Korea in 2008. He was a bond trader for Merrill Lynch at the time. He only went as a tourist but got hired by the company that was guiding his group around, doubtless for his flawless English, curious mind, and outgoing personality. When it got too hot for comfort in the North, he moved to South Korea and started his tour business. He has a Korean wife and a couple of young kids, a boy and a girl. They are talking about moving to the States to educate them.

Like China, and Hong Kong, Korea was occupied by the Japanese for 36 years, ending with Hiroshima. Then the North and South Koreans had a civil war, ending in the early 50s, with an armistice. Nobody won, because the US stepped in on one side and China on the other. It’s sad, but South Korea is thriving, with companies like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, etc. bringing in big money. Koreans don’t buy Japanese cars. The Lexuses you see are American made. Speaking of cars, they are all black, white or grey, with very few exceptions. No one wants to express their individuality, if it might affect resale value.

Samsung is into everything here. You can go from birth to death, hardly dealing with anyone else. They have hospitals, food conglomerates, housing, cars, hotels, restaurants, clothing factories, undertakers and God knows what else.

South Korea is the second most homogenous country in the world, after North Korea.

We tried to go to the National Museum, which the Internet had told me was open, but it turned out that only the children’s museum was open, so we went to the Folk Museum instead and it was swell. We saw a lot of people there in traditional Korean costume. That started about five years ago and it will get you into the Palace Museum, where we are going next, for free. There are now rental shops near the major museums. I asked this one if I could take her picture and look at what I got.20190401-05SeoulTouristPosingPlayfulSmall

We learned about the Joseon dynasty, one of whose enlightened emperors simplified Chinese script so his people would not have to learn 26K characters. We had a terrific Korean lunch just off Insadon, where there was a bit of shopping, and on to the Gyeongbokgung Palace for the changing of the guard at 2:00 pm. There were a lot of traditional costumes there, on blonds and Muslims, as well as Chinese and Koreans. It was fun.

Then we went to the Kwang Jang Market, the kind of market I like, with street food and everything under the sun on sale, if you can find it. Rob thought we should try live octopus. It’s all about texture. It hangs on to your teeth. We were much happier with crullers, deep fried and served fresh out of the wok.

On the way back Rob talked about living in both the US and South Korea. He actually feels freer here. There’s no street crime. There are cameras everywhere, and all taxis and buses have black boxes, recording everything. The culture is all about saving face, so no one will disgrace his family by mugging someone, for example. Interesting theory. Think about it.

Before 1980, Koreans couldn’t leave the country, but now there is more outbound tourism than inbound. He got us back to the ship on time and we went to the show, which was the Sons of Soul, a Motown group. They were just fine, and so was dinner afterwards.

 

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 1 – Shanghai

March 25, 2019, here we go. This promises to be a lot of fun. The itinerary is exciting, I like the ship, and I have a little group of six of my own and a Distinctive Voyages Group of 47. We’re going on the Celebrity Millennium, freshly refurbished. It doesn’t sail until March 30, which gives the six of us three days in Shanghai to soak up the culture and the food before we join the ship, and the larger group.

I have Steve and Trish Harrold with me, old friends from Montreal, who now live in Fountaingrove Lodge, too. I used to work with Steve at IBM. That’s how long we go back. He and Trish spent a lot of years in Silicon Valley, Florida, and the U.K. but we always kept in touch and visited each other. They’re the people who came to sit Sylly P in 2015 and ended up with me occupying the guest bedroom, and its adjustable bed, healing my broken pelvis. This was a bad deal for them, but it worked for me, and they were good sports about it. We’ll be joined by Scott, whom I met on a cruise a dozen years ago, and who got me into the travel business. Scott’s bringing a couple of his old school friends, Roz and Donna, so it should be a good little group.

We crossed the international date line and got in a half-hour early, on March 26. It was a nice flight. Thank you United. Economy Plus helped a lot. Steve and Trish had 21 A & C and no one showed up to claim the middle seat. I love it when that works, and it does, about ¾ of the time in Economy Plus. I sat with a couple of nice Chinese businessmen, in the seat behind. We were all fine.

We got through customs and collected our baggage, without event. We were staying in the Hyatt on the Bund. Our hotel greeter was where he was supposed to be, and our Benz van was just fine. The three from Seattle came in around the same time, but to a different terminal. They queried the “World of Hyatt” sign holder like we did, but he didn’t have them down, and they ended up having to take a taxi. It was the hotel’s error, and at least they didn’t get charged.

Steve Trish and I had a lovely drink on the 32nd floor overlooking the old Bund, with its early 20th century “skyscrapers”. 20190326-01HyattBundVueSmallerThey look short now, especially from the 32nd floor, but they are still gorgeous, all lit up. I was worried about the others, so I went down to the lobby to check and met them. They had just checked in.

The morning of the 27th was free for our brains to catch up with our bodies. I went to the gym, then spent some time with Tyronne, the Concierge, sorting out a lot of things. You can’t beat a good hotel concierge, especially when you are town where you can’t speak the language, nor read the signs.

Our guide, Mira, was there well before one. First, she took us on a little Bund walk, to get us oriented. The Peace Hotel is now a Fairmont and has been beautifully refurbished. The old Jazz Club is still there, though, and Roz made a mental note that she’d like to see it in action. We also went into the HSBC headquarters, whose own make-over, revealed fabulous ceiling frescos. Someone had painted over them in the forties, and the Red Guard missed them, when they were purging all foreign culture. A painter discovered them when prepping the surface for a re-paint. It turned out to be a restoration, instead. They are beautiful and a piece of history.

On the way to the Old Town, Mira talked about life in Shanghai. She was brought up in one of the old alley houses, and showed us the last downtown ones, soon to be demolished. A family lived in one room, of course, there was only one child, but still. Everything else was communal. Water and fire for cooking were down on the street. Chamber pots got emptied there in the morning. When the government started building high rise condos, you got a free one in exchange for your alley house room. Mira was delighted. She was a teenager at the time and finally had her own space. They had a toilet and kitchen, too, all of this in 500 square feet. Eventually her parents sold it and moved to the suburbs.

Parents interfere heavily in matters of the heart, here. If you have a daughter, and those are rare, what matters is that she marries a man who has a condo. There’s a marriage market in a park on Saturdays, where the parents negotiate with each other. Mira has two sons and has already started to save for this.

Two sons, you ask? It’s a new rule. You can have two children, if both parents are only children. There was some high drama in her house, when she got pregnant for the second time, thinking she was an only child, and found out her father had another. He had been long divorced from her mother, but the paperwork found him. Lucky for her, the law changed, just in time, and all is well. It could have meant a fine of three years salary, from both her and her husband.

On to the Old Town and Yu Yuan garden, a 16th century Ming Dynasty private garden and residence. It’s an oasis of tranquility, with the essential elements of a Chinese garden – pavilions, water, vegetation, rock formations, and bridges. The Old Town refers to the original Chinese city that flourished in the Ming dynasty. We enjoyed a tea tasting at one of local teahouses in Old Town. During the Tea Ceremony, Mira told us that this was grave sweeping week, and there was more than the usual traffic on the roads. That meant our trip to Suzhou would take at least a half hour longer, each way, maybe an hour, and it was a two-hour drive at the best of times. Since we were going to a water town tomorrow, she thought she could give us a better day in we stayed in Shanghai. We said we would discuss and give her an answer tomorrow. I couldn’t resist this sign on the inside door of the loo. 20190327-11ShanghaiYuGardenTeaHouseLooSmaller
It’s the usual sensitive plumbing notice, but it took me a while to figure that out.

It had started to rain, but we pushed on to the French Concession, the district ceded to the French following the Sino-British Opium War in 1842. Many of Shanghai’s most beautiful residences were created in the French Concession when Shanghai was known as the “Venice of the East”. Alas, it’s very large and we were far away from my doctor’s school, St Jeanne d’Arc. I hear it’s still there, though. We did visit the Arts and Crafts Museum, housed in a Mansion in the French Concession, called The White House. It was very well done, with old and new exhibits, including a sculpture that really wasn’t there. It was all done with light and mirrors, and a tiny motor.

We finished off in Xaofandi, which is a new section filled with restaurant chains. The ones we had heard off, which started in China were Ye Shanghai, and Maxim’s, which I know from Hong Kong, and Din Tai Fong, which the Seattle contingent knew, because its first foray outside China was there.

We were still tired from the sleepless flight, so we just ate at Xindalu in the Hyatt. The food was great, but the ordering was a real process. Every so often someone brought in a concierge to help, as no one in the restaurant spoke English.

On the morning of the 28th, we had another fabulous breakfast at the Hyatt’s buffet of Western and Oriental delights. That sets us up, so we don’t waste touring time on lunch. We were off to the picturesque suburb of Zhujiajiao. located just 45 minutes west of central Shanghai, This ancient river town seems worlds apart. Stone bridges arch over bubbling, but filthy waterways flowing from the Dianshan Lake. Willow trees shade the riverbanks, flanked on either side by thousands of carefully preserved buildings, homes and courtyards, all constructed during the Qing and Ming Dynasties. A lot of them have been turned into Tea Rooms, as the whole thing is now a tourist town. Trish and I were delighted to find one of our favorites, a fish spa. We skipped the post office, soy sauce factory, rice commissary, and traditional Chinese herbal pharmacy, in favor of twenty minutes of tickly bliss as the fishies gave us a pedicure.

Then we took a nice ride through the town on a wobbly sampan that you would not have wanted to tip over. It was very interesting, lovely and peaceful, as long as you didn’t look at the filthy water itself and kept your imagination reined in. I particularly liked the wooden cages for the air conditioners.20190328-28ZhujiajiaoACboxesSmall

Mira’s patter on the way in and out was easily the best part. We learned about barber shops that don’t cut hair, but rather are whore houses, how the people view the Officials, how they view foreign official visitors and how those relate to the Chinese officials. The new face of Communism is turning right. The old joke is that if you put Clinton, Yeltsin and Deng Xiaoping in a car, Clinton would turn right, Yeltsin left, and Deng would turn on the left turn signal and turn right.

Chinese people do not vote. Only party officials vote. Her husband joined the party as a student, hoping for better jobs. You get them, but you also have to do a lot of homework to stay on top. You have apps to log in to, learn and be examined. It’s a lot of work. Her husband is a “Shanghai Boy”. Shanghai makes the best husbands and the worst wives. Shanghai Boys are easy going and let the women run the households. They do a lot of the housework and take care of the kids. The wives manage the money. They say the Shanghai Boy is the meat in the sandwich, between wife and mom. Many Shanghai girls are very choosy, looking for the perfect man. Trouble is, the perfect man won’t put up with them.

TV is censored. You never see a negative story about a Chinese party official. They shut down the factories when they have Foreign dignitaries visiting, so they never see the pollution. We do, though. They don’t get vacation, just extra days around festivals, so the traffic is always a mess when you are off work.

We had dinner at Imperial Treasure, 4/F in the YiFung Mall, just up the street from the Waldorf on the Bund. The prices were high, but it was exquisite, very elegant, perfectly prepared food, beautifully served. Including a bottle of Chinese Chandon Brut, it was cheaper than the hotel dining room.

Steve and Trish took a cab home, while Roz, Donna and I went to the Peace Hotel for the Jazz. We got there about nine and were treated to the warm up band, meaning the really old farts. 20190328-31ShanghaiPeaceHotelJazzSmallerThey were good, although sometimes it was “Guess this tune” or “Guess what language she’s singing in”. Around ten, they swapped these guys for a better lot and it really started to swing around eleven, by which time, the bar stools were killing us, and we had an early call in the morning. Not even I had drunk my way through the 300 Yuan ($45) minimum.

 

Travel with me – pick one of THREE

Come sail with me in 2019.  As I run for daylight to get on a plane to Shanghai a week from tomorrow, I have bid for and got, three lovely cruises to see out the rest of 2019.  I have kept as many of you in mind as I can, and I must have done it right, because I have a very firm nibble on my Christmas cruise, already.  Booking it prompted me to get this out in a hurry, today.  I am giving you links to Holland America and Seabourn’s sites, but please don’t click through to buy.  If you want to travel with me, you have to buy it from me.  It’s the same price and I chase all the sales and such that happen after you buy, so you always get the best deal.  Because these are all Distinctive Voyages, there’s a free cocktail party and a free shore excursion on each of them.  The Holland America cruises are very affordable, Seabourn, not so much, oh but what you get.  Read on.

What I have:

August 4 – 18 –  HAL Rotterdam – Scottish Highlands – they call it.  It’s quite a bit more:Aug4Scottish

Here’s the link – – http://tinyurl.com/2019HALRotterdamScotland  Traveling with me on Holland America is extra special, because I am a 5-star Mariner and have some perks I can share.  I’ll be flying into Amsterdam early, so we can play there, and parsing the Itinerary for shore excursions.  If I have 6 people coming, I’ll be getting us some A & K offerings, too.

August 18 – Sept 7 – HAL Rotterdam – Icelandic Fjords and Greenland ExplorerAug18Iceland

Here’s the link – – http://tinyurl.com/HALRotterdamIceland  Traveling with me on Holland America is extra special, because I am a 5-star Mariner and have some perks I can share.  I’ll already be on the ship, and have been to two of the ports, by the time you get there.  I’ll know a lot about what to do ashore.  If I have 6 people coming, I’ll be getting us some A & K shore excursions, too.

 

Following that, I’ll be in Montreal for a week or three, probably three.  Then I‘ll stay put until mid-December, when I get the cherry on the sundae.  It might just be your cherry, too.

December 21 – Jan 4 – Seabourn Ovation – “Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong Kong

Dec21eabournAsia

Here’s the link:   http://tinyurl.com/SeabournDV – “Holiday Thailand and Viet Nam – Singapore to Hong Kong.  I don’t need A & K in either Singapore or Hong Kong.  I have friends, instead.  I lived in Hong Kong for 5 years and have been to Singapore multiple times.  I’ll be your tour guide.

The Ovation is Seabourn’s newest ship, launched in 2018.  It carries 604 passengers, about the same size, and price, as SilverSea.  It’s an all verandah ship.  Balcony categories are V1 to V6 in ascending order of location preference.  All cabins are 300 sq. Ft.  V2 gets you midships on Deck 5.  And it’s a premium, all-inclusive line.  It’s all here https://www.seabourn.com/en_US/seabourn-difference.html The only things you can pay for are shore excursions and shop purchases.   I’ll be teeing up three days before in Singapore and three days after in Hong Kong, just for my own clients.  I’ll get us in to some private clubs, the RHKYC for sure, probably the horse races, etc.

Attention Canadians: (with those sad dollars that I have too many of, myself.  Take heart but act fast.)

I just booked the Seabourn for Canadian clients, in Canadian dollars, because the Canadian dollar price was better than the XE.com conversion to the tune of $1,561 CAD, for two people.  You just might want to grab that before Seabourn changes its mind. That, they can do at any moment.  Holland America and Seabourn are both owned by Carnival, so this currency play for Canadians likely applies to their cruises, too, just on a smaller scale.

 

And there you have it. If you’re coming, I’d appreciate a CALL this week, or email thereafter.  I can book you in from wherever I am in the world, but, of course, it’s easiest from right here in my office.  I’ll be back April 17, to finalize all the details, and do my taxes, sigh, before we’re off.

Christmas in Montevideo – Part 6 – The Chilean Wine Tour and a DEAL

It was an uneventful debark in San Antonio, Chile.  This cruise was unique in its composition, including so many family groups on holiday, but it was a lot of fun.  And we six are glad to be “just us” again.

I had put a lot of research into our Chilean wine tour, as it was the only part of the cruise that was new to me, and you all know I like wine and wine touring.  I started working on it, back in September, when I didn’t know who would be coming with me.  I sent requests for proposal to 6 or 7 tour suppliers, including A & K, whom I use a lot, HecTours, whom I have used before in Chile, UPSCAPE, whom I got both from the Internet and from Donna and Joe Aita, Napa Oenophile friends, who had done this in 2006, and two or three more tour companies, from the Internet.  The one who called me first, sounded very sincere and capable, but he wanted $295, just to propose to me.  The others did it for free.  More better. And we couldn’t have chosen better.

We picked UPSCAPE for the professionalism of one Gianina Lillo, their interface to me, and the recommendation of the Aitas.  Their bid was high, but it was unfailingly professional, and they were happy to adjust to suit our needs.  Even after I had signed on the dotted line, expressing doubts that our guide might not know enough about wine for this group, they switched him out.  I am sure he was a great guide, but I had not seen one word about wine experience in his background.  Gianina got me, and we got Fanor Velasco.  It was like having Dick Wallingford and Tony Kilgallin, rolled into one.  Fanor was retired after thirty years of representing Chilean wines to the rest of the world.  He had dealt with the SAQ in Quebec, and every other Liquor Board in Canada, most of the US importers, multiple countries in Europe and Asia.  Pretty much a dream career.  He had stories to fill in the long bus rides, and he wasn’t on the clock.  We ran over every day.  Thank God, our long suffering driver, Marcelo Pottstock, was up for that, too.  They both knew how to fill their days with their devices, and, in the case of Marcelo, some good naps.

They met us in the San Antonio Port on Sunday Jan 6, at 9:30 am.  God knows how long they had been waiting.  Cruise ships disgorge their load of passengers, as best they can.  Our first stop wasn’t far away.  It was Casa Marin, a family-owned winery in Chile’s San Antonio Valley.  It is Chile’s most coastal vineyard, located just four kilometers from the Pacific shoreline. Founded in 2000 by Chile’s first female vineyard owner, Maria Luz Marin, Casa Marin has been described as one of the “most daring and innovative” vineyards in the country. In addition to the more commonly found whites, they also grow Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Sauvignon Gris, in an area with a unique terroir, highly mineral and with very cool nighttime temperatures. Casa Marin’s outstanding wines have received many awards, and for many years it was one of the Top 100 Wineries in the World by Wine & Spirits magazine.  It’s a lot like Delia Viader’s story and I can’t wait to bring her the brochure and see if she knows Maria Luz.  She must.

We were blown away by the Sauvignon Gris, which none of us had even heard of before.  We were also blown away by the view, the art, and the lunch, which was substantial, soignée, and delicious.  It sure was starting well.  We were already falling behind, and Fanor was patiently waiting:20190106-10SanAntonioChileCasaMarinFanorVelasco

It was a longer drive to Matetic, in the Casablanca Valley, where we would have a Private Tour & Tasting, dinner, and stay the night at La Casona Matetic .  Matetic is a 27-year old winery, and very modern in concept.  It’s built into the side of the mountain and they take advantage of gravity to be kind to the grapes, during the process.  The vineyards are all biodynamic, too, of course.  Our tasting was wonderful, and view full. The views here are truly extraordinary.  We have some pretty nice ones in Napa and Sonoma, but Chile is far more spectacular, because of the mountains, which are a lot more so than ours.

Our lodgings were a treat, too.  La Casona Matetic, started as a typical Chilean colonial building, with ten suites around a quadrangle, filled with spectacular gardens.  Our rooms were old style luxurious.  Andrea even had a bath in our claw footed tub.  Our dinner was superb, and included, as was breakfast.  We could easily have stayed there another couple of days.

On Monday Jan 7, Fanor and Marcelo, picked us, and our luggage, up, after a full breakfast at the Casona.  On the way, Fanor asked us if we knew what a “symposium” was, and we gave the usual academic and corporate answers.  What it really meant, in the time of the ancient Greeks, was a “meeting to drink wine”. That suited us even better.  Our morning “Private Grand Vin Tour & Tasting” was exactly that.  The winery was Villard Wines, one of the Casablanca Valley’s premium boutique wineries. It was founded in 1989 by Thierry Villard, and is still run by this French-Chilean family, which prides itself on making traditional, elegant wines.  Thierry met his Chilean wife, Paulina, in Australia.  We met her, too, she was planting flowers in half-barrels on the terrace.  Their story is fun and it’s at http://www.villard.cl/about/ , where you can also see why Thierry knows Fanor, so well.  They were in the same business, at the same time. 20190107-05CasablancaVillardThierryVillardFanorSmallest

With mineral rich terroir cooled by Pacific breezes, Villard is known for its whites, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Both of its Pinot Noirs score high, too, including two 95-point scores from James Suckling.  This is another very modern winery, gravity fed and bio-dynamic. They planted Carménère because it was not sensitive to phylloxera, and then they had to learn how to vinify it.  One of the things they learned is that it needs a much longer hang time to make excellent wine.  While we were touring, founder Thierry Villard appeared from his coastal property and he sat down with us.

Thierry was a wealth of information.  We learned how they started, how they make wine, and how they deal with the rabbit population, which is their biggest problem.  Like the deer in Napa, they often make it to the farmworkers’ dinner tables.  Speaking of which, we had a nice table set with bottles and glasses, but Andrea found something even more comfortable:

20190107-03CasablancaVillardAndreaSmallest

That mood lasted until she realized she couldn’t take a picture, because she didn’t have her cell phone.  She had left it at Casa Matetic.  Too many phone calls later, we had to give up on it, and she’s still in Mexico with Elvon’s flip phone.

Even that couldn’t spoil this perfect day.  Our next stop was Kingston Family Vineyards, still in the Casablanca Valley and even more spectacular, as to view.  We were scheduled for a Premium Tour & Tasting with a 4-course lunch.  Our guide was Tommy, a sweet, very preppy, guy, who was probably a family member, or the son of a very close friend.  He had just graduated from an Ivy League University, Princeton, I think, and was going to be an engineer.  But, meanwhile, he was seeing the world and learning the wine business.

The reason I suspect him of being a relative, is that in the early 1900s, Carl John Kingston left his home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan looking for gold in Chile.  He ended up with this property, a cattle ranch.  Tommy grew up in Grosse Pointe, MI, and I know where that is, because my Uncle Joe raised his family there.  Tommy knew their address well.  The cattle ranch spans 8,000 acres, only 350 of which are planted in grapes.  They need the rest for water rights.  That is an even bigger problem that Bugs’ relatives.

Since its first vintage in 2003, Kingston has been turning heads with its small production of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc. While coastal Casablanca is known for its white wines, Kingston is pioneering the production of cool-climate, artisan-style reds. Wines from the 350-acre family ranch are handcrafted and bottled on site. Wine Spectator commended Kingston for “bringing diversity and excitement to Chile” and Wine Enthusiast heralded the vineyard as the “Sommelier’s’ New Chilean Favorite.”

Kingston’s winery and view are even more spectacular than the other three we had visited.  Wow.  Their story is interesting, too.  Check out https://www.kingstonvineyards.com/About/History

20190107-11CasablancaKingstonEllenJPRosiePatrickHelenAndreaSmallest

Our tasting table again took advantage of the fine view and weather.  The view is reflected in the windows behind us, and we’re showing a lot of smiles. There were little nibbles to go with the wines.  My favorite was Lafête’s Chocolate Truffle.  I vowed to find them in Santiago, and I did.  I have four left a month later.  I took another note during the tasting that said “Share the Fly” and I have no idea why I took it.  To quote a Frog’s Leap bottle “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”  Lunch was fabulous and served at the same table with a view.  I took pictures of the food, but there are four in this blog, already, which is quite enough.  It was a four course lunch, too.

It must have been after seven when we got to our hotel in Santiago.  It was Cumbres Lastarria.  Nothing too fancy, but not shabby either, and beautifully situated right smack in the center of downtown.  It didn’t make the traffic easy for Marcelo, but the walking was nice for us. There were restaurants everywhere, not that we were hungry, after Kingston’s spectacular lunch.  We had a short nap and Rosie, Patrick and I had a few terrible greasy tapas at the hotel bar.  Live and learn.  It didn’t matter.

Tuesday, Jan 8, breakfast was a much nicer affair, and was even nicer the next day, after we discovered the eggs to order station.  Never mind.  It was enough and we were meeting Fanor and Marcelo at 9:30 am, again.  This time we were having a Full Day in the Maipo Valley.  A gentleman(?!) relieving himself on the side of the highway, with five lanes of traffic at a crawl got us going and the next thing you knew, we were all sharing pissing stories.  No, I am not going to share.  I don’t know all of you as well as I know these people.

It was a much different day than the day before, which was fine with us.  – PEREZ CRUZ is the contraction of the names Pablo Perez and Marian Cruz.  The couple bought the winery in 1968.

The first thing visitors notice about this family-owned winery in the Maipo Alto valley, is the swooping wooden architecture of the 3-million liter capacity bodega. The structure was designed by the local architect José Cruz Ovalle and uses its openness to promote good air circulation in this breezy part of the valley, so to keep ideal winemaking temperatures. Pérez Cruz has a large estate of 140 hectares of vines, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and they produce and barrel their award-winning wines onsite.

It started with a tasting in a cramped, crowded tasting room.  Maybe that was because we were late.  Our guide was Clement Espinoza, son of the famous Chilean winemaker, Alvaro Espinoza, the father of bio-dynamics, as applied to winemaking.  He googles well.  His son is still young, but, once he got over himself, we got some good information from him, and a nice winery tour.  It’s very modern, including its vineyard management.  They use drones to monitor the health of the vines.  Again, the facility was extraordinary, and the wines were good.  We have seen a lot of cement eggs this trip.  For many wines, they can effectively replace wooden barrels.  The world is running out of barrel oak, now.  First it was corks…

Again, we were late for Lunch at Doña Paula Restaurant, at the Santa Rita Winery.  Founded in 1880, Santa Rita is one of the Maipo Valley’s oldest wineries and one of the most popular Chilean wineries in the international market. We weren’t here for the wine, though.  We were here for the historical building and its restaurant.  In this case, the restaurant was right in the colonial mansion, and served in the colonial style.  It was excellent and we loved the old-fashioned service.  It was just perfect.

Our afternoon tour was to Alvaro Espinoza’s own winery, ANTIYAL. And our guide was Clement, again.  This is his family’s winery.  One of Chile’s best boutique wineries, Antiyal, which means in the indigenous language “children of the sun,” is the private vineyard of Chile’s most celebrated oenologist and leader in organic viniculture, Álvaro Espinoza. Together with his wife, Mariana Ashton, Espinoza makes two different wines, Antiyal (7,000 bottles) and Kuyen (12,000 bottles). They cultivate the land according to biodynamic principles which they believe imbues the wine with a better sense of place, and with the hopes of leaving the land in better condition than when they started farming it. They use little irrigation, hands-on canopy management, and lots of care to manage their harvests by hand. Espinoza was proclaimed one of the world’s best winemakers in 2015 by Decanter magazine. Their wines are exported to multiple international markets.

This is much more modest winery.  Clement shared that the reason Perez Cruz is so spectacular, is because its owners also own Chile’s Energy Company.  Alvaro just makes his wine out there in the vineyards.  We sat talking about viticulture, on the roof of the winery, on plastic chairs that had seen better days.  The sun went down over the mountains, and we were very happy.

We got back to Cumbres Lastarria late again, and the Morneaus retired.  Patrick, Rosie, Andrea and I drank the welcome Piso Sour, provided by the hotel, and went out to walk the streets for some simple fare.  Once again, we were stuffed from lunch.  We found Il Fournil, a block away, and had Onion Soup and salad, and I vaguely remember some nice dessert, like profiteroles.  Then it was off to pack and to bed.

By the time Andrea and I got up for breakfast on the 9th, the others were at the airport for an early flight to Toronto, and on to Montreal.  Breakfast was better, as we had figured out how to get eggs to order, and they were very nice.  I finally got to work out at the gym, while Andrea collected her copious belongings into her ample baggage and got ready for her afternoon flight to Mexico, where she will be until Valentine’s Day.

I spent the afternoon walking the streets.  The artisan market was disappointing, as is now the way.  I got some Japanese souvenirs and quite a lot of Lafête’s Chocolate Truffles and dark chocolate squares.  I stopped at a sidewalk café for an empanada and some people watching.  The people are mostly in shape, and simply dressed, except for the ones who work the financial occupations.  There are street dogs and purebreds.  It’s just another big city, but it felt good.

I flew all night, and I was tired when I started, which is why you’re just getting this diary now.  Eric met me at SFO and brought me home at last, where “We’re all here, because we’re not all there”, to quote Nubar Shabazian, Inmate.

NEWS FLASH – This is close to half-price.  A DEAL!!

Lookee, lookee – My next cruise just went on sale, today (Saturday, February 9).  I have been watching for this.  Get away from April!  Here’s the itinerary:  https://tinyurl.com/ShanghaiTokyoOnSale2019   California residents are looking at $1999ppdo for a verandah.  I’m scripting a pretty good land itinerary, too:  3 days in each of Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo, private tour in Seoul, etc. Steve and Trish Harrold are coming.  How about you?

Don’t click and buy at Celebrity’s site, though.  You have to buy it from ME, to be in my group and get all of the above, plus the free cocktail party and free shore excursion in one of the ports, still TBD.  Call or text me to get my attention.  I’ll be out in Napa on Sunday.