Monday, January 14, 2019

Photos from Hawaii

Bliss...pure relaxing bliss. We have finally recovered from jet lag and that 42-hour Sunday, and have settled into beach life, which revolves around long walks, swimming in the ocean (surprisingly warm) and pool, soaking in the hot tub and sunsets. We’ve already seen some great ones!

January 14

January 14
Life is so very good. :-)

A huge difference between cruising and Hawaii...SLEEP!
The hotel doesn’t bounce, the alarm stays OFF, and we fall asleep every night to the 
sound of an acoustic guitarist at the Barefoot Bar on the beach. 

January 13

January 13
The one year anniversary of Hawaii’s Emergency Alert. 
The rest of the world has forgotten, but this island definitely hasn’t. 

January 12

Waialae Country Club
2019 Sony Open

The iconic W palm trees of Waialae Golf Course

Friday night fireworks from our balcony 

January 11

Hospitality tent for US military at 2019 Sony Open courtesy of Pasha Hawaii
We enjoyed a few days of the tournament with this as our base. 

January 10

Daytime view

January 9, taken while sitting on the sand at the water’s edge

January 9, from our balcony

January 8

Daytime view

January 7

January 6

Monday, January 7, 2019

Season 9 cruising wrap up

Now that we’ve finally arrived in Hawaii, I thought I’d publish a wrap up post of our cruising season.. Though this will be my final blog post for awhile, I will continue to publish a few photos from Hawaii, especially if the sunsets are as spectacular as those we enjoyed last year. 

G asked me last week if I would consider doing extended cruising in Southeast Asia again, and I think he was taken aback when I quickly said “No!” (and I might have even added an “Oh hell” before the “no!”). ;-)  It isn’t that I haven’t enjoyed every day of this segment of our season, and, if we had not yet visited Southeast Asia, I absolutely would do exactly what we did this year.  It’s a “must-see” destination, for sure. But now that we have… 

We knew from the beginning that this would be a challenging season. Happily, Europe turned out to be easier than I expected. Sure, the pace was fast, but the beauty of most of the Mediterranean ports is that the tourist sites are located close to the port, and we could start each day on our own schedule. However, the Asian ports were every bit as challenging as I expected, and then some. The travel times to the cities, the early meeting times for the ship’s shore excursions, immigration requirements, currency issues, the size of the cities, the heat and the humidity and the humidity and the heat. It’s one thing to spend 10 or 15 days doing one big city after another; it’s quite another to do it 38 days in a row. 

We would love to return to Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore or Hong Kong for a land stay. We especially enjoyed those countries. We are counting on returning to China in the future; if we hadn’t already locked in dates for Hawaii, and if I hadn’t already traveled to China, we might have planned to spend more time there at the end of this cruise.  But spending five and a half weeks consecutive weeks cruising these ports again?  I don’t want to have to work that hard!

G has been humming Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” a lot lately, as in we traveled around the world this season and did it our way. It’s led me to think…well, yes, about strangling him occasionally, but also about the few regrets I have about how we handled our travels this year. Here are some things I wish I’d done differently:

Three quick dry short sleeve T-shirts were one too few. They are lightweight enough that I shouldn’t leave home without four. 
Three pairs of shorts were one too many. Since these were quick dry also, I could have gotten by with two pairs, or one pair and a skort. 
In addition to our new iPhones (with their new batteries), and one powerful external battery pack, we really needed piggyback cases with power. Battery management was a constant issue during our long days of sightseeing, taking photos and using the local cellular network for GPS. We made it work by having one of us keep his/her phone in Airplane Mode and saving the external battery for the other phone but we arrived back at the ship nearly every day with exhausted batteries.
If it weren’t for Hawaii sunsets, I could leave my Nikon camera at home. I haven’t used it yet; every photo has been taken with my iPhone Xs. But when it comes to sunsets, the Nikon is far superior. 
Although we improved over the season, we still try to squeeze too much into a day of sightseeing. Our most enjoyable days were those where we simply wandered around, people watching and taking in the vibe of the cities we visited. I think we’ve finally learned that it’s not about how much we see, but about how much we enjoy what we see that is most important. 
I brought a travel umbrella and used it just one day in Venice. It’s not worth the space, and it’s hard to have a free hand to hold it and take photos while sightseeing. A Tilley hat and waterproof jacket work even better. 
Regardless of how many pairs of reading glasses and reading sunglasses I bring, they won’t be enough. For some reason, these things are short-lived when we travel, and are nearly impossible to replace. 
I recommend using money changers instead of an ATM in Thailand. They assess a national ATM fee on all foreign transactions that results in a poor rate of exchange. While i had issues two times in different countries getting my ATM card to work, I was always able to find another machine where it did. 
However, if visiting only 5 or 6 countries, I would always recommend leaving home with a starter amount of local currency. Money changers and ATMs in the port terminals- if they exist at all- have long lines that cut into sightseeing time in port. 

Things that we got right:

Our packing in general was excellent. I learned how little I really can get by with…provided I bring the proper type of clothing. Quick dry items we can wash out at night and wear the next day are perfect. Sure, we’re tired of these clothes (sick to death of them, in fact),  but it’s the only way to move around, and unpack and repack as much as we did. 
It’s easy to get by with just three pairs of shoes/sandals for four months. 
The insulated 22 ounce aluminum water bottle and carrier with a cross-body strap I purchased for the trip saved me. It kept water cold for entire days in the Southeast Asia heat. And it greatly reduced my reliance on plastic water bottles, which is a good thing for the environment. 

A cross body day pack allowed me to keep valuables in front of me and not on my back in pickpocket prone areas (which is just about everywhere) when it was too hot to wear a travel vest or jacket. 

Not being a slave to hair coloring nor paying high prices to have it done on the ship was incredibly freeing. And I never saw a single box of Dark Golden Blonde hair color in Southeast Asia anyway. 
I left behind the valuable jewelry items I usually cruise with (diamond ring, good watch and tennis bracelet) because we’d be moving around so much. I purchased a dressy looking watch for $12 before I left home and wore it or my $9 plastic waterproof watch all the time. No one even noticed. 
I love Thai and Balinese silver jewelry designs. I thought I might buy a ring somewhere along the way, but ended up buying a ring handmade in Thailand before I even left home through It is a National Geographic project that offers a marketplace for genuine local handicrafts by artisans around the world. For $40 delivered to my home, I got a ring that I wear everyday in lieu of my diamond. In the end, I saw nothing even remotely as nice in the ports, just the same bags and T-shirts that are offered everywhere. 

Tilley hats. We wore them every day in Southeast Asia. For sun or rain protection, they’re the best.
We didn’t do the 28-night repositioning cruise from Rome to Singapore. Changing our plans at the last minute, as crazy as that was to go through, was the best thing we did. We are simply not repetitive sea days people. We loved the two cruises we did instead, and spending time in Dubai was a most memorable way to celebrate our 35th anniversary. 
Princess’ On Your Own excursions worked very well for us. We are extremely independent and don’t generally like doing tours with others, even independently arranged small group tours. We simply need the assurance that we can safely get to and from the distant large cities from the port, and then we enjoy exploring on our own. 

Thank you so much for again following along as we travel our way through life. I just looked at the statistics for my blog for the first time this season and I’m always amazed that so many people are traveling vicariously with us (I should keep an eye on those post views while I’m traveling to keep me motivated on those evenings when I’m typing in my sleep!). I appreciate your patience with my typing and grammatical errors. The amount of time I dedicate to editing while traveling is very short indeed; I use our time at home to re-read, be embarrassed by my most blatant goofs and make corrections. Thank you, too, to those people who email with encouraging words while during the season. You have no idea how much your emails mean!

When we get to Hawaii, we generally give each other much more space than we do when traveling internationally. It makes sense; we are frequently apart running errands and doing things at home, because we are so easily connected by technology, and Hawaii is much the same. People might think that traveling the world with your best friend is all hearts and flowers, and much of it is, of course, but let’s face it- we’ve been living in 160 square feet for nearly three months. We know by now how to make that work, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. When one of us goes into the bathroom to wash hands or brush teeth and the other one has forgotten he/she has socks or underwear soaking in the sink, “I’m so thrilled to be able to travel with you, my dearest!” are not the first words that spring to mind. In fact, these are the most commonly used phrases between us this year:

Don’t stand between me and the toilet right now. 
Don’t go in there for awhile. (Just to be clear, that’s not one of mine.)
Can’t you do your thinking sitting on the bed instead of the middle of the room or in the bathroom? (That one is.)
Smell this T-shirt. Can I wear it another day?
But I got ready first last time. It’s your turn. 
I told you to close the door to keep the humidity in the bathroom!! I’m blow drying my hair out here. 
Cough. Cough. Sniffle. Sniffle. Sneeze. Sneeze. Where did you put the (insert one: Sudafed, Guafinisin, Dextramethorphan, Tylenol)?
Before you go in to shower, ask me if I have to use the bathroom. If I do, and I hear that water running…well, just ask me, ok?
Just once I’d like to have a few square inches of clear space on the vanity to set something. Just one damn time. 
Does that music really enhance our dining experience?   (Heard Every.Single.Day., in response to Princess’ truly horrific playlists in the dining rooms and buffet.)
Hurry up and finish eating so we can go to lunch. 
Do you have the (insert one: Ringgits, Dongs, Bhats, Rupiahs, Won, Yen, Dirhams, Euros, Pounds, Kunas, or Dollars (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, US)) we need today?
But I gave you the passport copies/ landing cards/ excursion tickets to hold on to. 
Turn the TV down a notch. Another notch. Another notch. Another notch. 
Turn the AC up a notch. Another notch. Another notch. Another notch. 
Haven’t we already watched that Alaskan Bush Wilderness Testosterone show ten times?  I don’t care if it’s a different episode; they’re all the same. Let’s watch a romantic comedy. Or football. ;-) 
I’m on hold with room service to change out minibar items. Still on hold. Still on hold. Still on hold. 
Who used my last clean washcloth?
Question: What excursion do you want to do tomorrow? Answer: Where are we tomorrow?
Just take a picture of it and we’ll figure out later what it is. 
I really don’t need to see another (insert one) cathedral, mosque, temple, shrine, monument, statue, market, museum.

But, lest I’ve painted too realistic a picture, every day also includes, as it has for years: I love you, I appreciate you, thank you for making today possible. 

We don’t often take time to really think about what we’ve done and seen since we left home nearly three months ago. We simply stay focused on the next day and maybe one day after that. But sitting on Chaweng Beach in Ko Samui earlier this cruise, we did spend some time reflecting. G thinks that time has passed in a blur; I feel quite the opposite, like we’ve been gone for a year. If told that our climbing the bell towers in Pisa and Messina occurred last season, I’d be in complete agreement.  

We talked about the diversity of our experiences this year, and they have been quite remarkable, from every perspective. We’ve seen huge wealth and poverty and everything in between. We’ve been bitterly cold and sweaty hot and had near-constant humidity at both extremes. We’ve visited the colonizers and the colonized and pondered the effects of colonization on both. We now realize that these Southeast Asia countries are not all the same. We’ve learned about several major religions and wondered at the way everyone thinks theirs is the “right” one (be honest…no one knows for sure). We’ve climbed the Parthenon and gone to the top of the world’s tallest building. 

And we’ve had the time of our lives.

Life is good. :-)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Days 80 and 81: Shanghai to Honolulu

We slept so well and so hard last night. The bed was wonderful, and it had just a comforter in the softest, smoothest duvet to cover up with. After the blanket we’ve been sleeping under on the Sapphire Princess, it felt heavenly. We awoke to a Shanghai just as foggy and dreary as the day before, but it didn’t change our plans for the morning.

First up was the included breakfast buffet, and I was instantly reminded of my trip to China in 2004. Our tour had promised us American breakfasts, and we had no idea how important they’d be to us. It was the only meal of the day where we had food we could really eat. Lunches and dinners were served family-style, meals not of our choosing, and these were all at high-end restaurants. Every table was round, seating about eight of us, and in the center was a lazy susan. Dish after dish was set on that turntable, and we’d spin it around and help ourselves. The food was so strange to us, and, frankly, somewhat repulsive, with fish heads and tails and eyes looking up at us. Those items, and anything indistinguishable, would go round and around untouched, but if something even remotely resembling American Chinese food was served, we each hoped it was set down in front of us, because otherwise it was gone by the time it got around. We lived on rice…and watermelon. When the watermelon was set down, we knew the meal was over. 

Today’s breakfast buffet had a Chinese side and an American side consisting largely of things I can’t eat (eggs, breakfast meats, caffeinated tea and coffee), so I had oatmeal and peach slices. While we ate, we quickly put together a plan that hinged on two things: a late check out and an ATM. G took care of the former and I the latter and we took a taxi to the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world after the Burj Khalifa. It was so foggy that we knew we wouldn’t see a thing from the top, but we were not deterred. 

Once we arrived, we were warned that visibility was negligible, but we could look up and see that was the case. The top of the building was in the clouds. Still, we weren’t the only crazy ones going up, there were several others that we could tell were from around the world doing the same. The display at the bottom was worth the price of admission (less than $20 each). There was an entire history of skyscrapers- well, the first one was a 55-story building, but due to its construction it qualified- and it pleased us to no end to see several that we’ve visited. The elevators in the Shanghai Tower were touted as the fastest in the world. Wait, wasn’t that what the Burj Khalifa claimed about theirs, too?

Looking up at the Shanghai Tower in the clouds

Looking up at the Oriental Pearl Tower, the iconic TV and radio tower that is the third tallest in the world 

At the base of the Shanghai Tower, a great exhibit with lots of familiar iconic landmarks

Dubai skyscrapers tower above the clouds

Been there, done that...

...and saw the building commonly called the Bullet...

...and The Shard...

...and Tower Bridge

Singapore’s Merlion statue...

...and the Marina Bay Sands
G remarked that we should go there one day ;-)

The Petronas Towers
(ditto) ;-)

Hong Kong’s skyline
More skyscrapers that any other city 

The International Commerce Center we visited during our 
Hong Kong stop is the building on the far left

The Shanghai Tower at sunset 
with Shanghai Wirld Financial Center on its right

We were on this double cloverleaf going back to the Longemont Hotel

The Pearl Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center and the Shanghai Tower

The Shanghai Tower records  

We stepped out on the 118th floor to the inside of a cloud. However, as we made our way around the building, we could see momentary clearing. In fact, the view of the Bund was clearer than what I had seen in 2004. I was shocked by the changes in Shanghai in the past 14 years. I’ve read that the 19th century belonged to the British, and the 20th to the US, but that the 21st century will be China’s turn. I believe it. 

A clearing in the clouds gave us a great view of the Shanghai World Financial Center,
118 stories tall

The Jin Mao Building, 93 stories tall

The Oriental Pearl Tower

Shanghai view from 119 floors high

We couldn’t dawdle; we went back down and took a taxi back to the Longemont Hotel, arriving just before our check out time of 1pm. We met in the lobby for our 1:30pm shuttle to the airport.  There were just three couples in a van, and again, thankfully, we had an English speaking escort. He told G and I that our flight would be leaving from Terminal 2 but we already knew that wasn’t correct and decided between us to get off at Terminal 1.  By the time we arrived (it took nearly an hour), he had corrected himself and we felt better not going rogue. 

I knew we were going to have issues with our flights, and the first one involved where to go for check in. Our flight numbers were Korean Airlines but it was a China Eastern codeshare flight to Seoul and a Hawaiian Airlines code share flight to Honolulu with only 75 minutes between flights. We went to the China Eastern counter and our bags could be checked through to Honolulu (yay), but we could not get the boarding passes for our connecting flight in Incheon/Seoul. This didn’t bode well. 

Still, there was no use in stressing over it. Instead, we each moved a pair of undies and clean socks from our large suitcases to our backpacks (in case we were spending another night in another city), checked our bags and, with exactly one hour to spare, headed to our next ‘shore excursion’ of the day: the world’s fastest train, called the Maglev. 

The world is just one big amusement park to us, isn’t it? ;-) Tallest, longest, fastest...we always were avid roller coaster fanatics. 

The Maglev (for Magnetic Levitation) is German technology that China wanted to install. The entire line is only 17 miles long, from between Terminals 1 and 2 at the Shanghai Pudong Airport, and takes exactly 8 minutes. The fallacy is that it doesn’t really go into the CBD, or anywhere that people might need to go, so from there some other form of transport is required for most people. But it was constructed as proof that the technology works. As soon as G heard about it in Destination Expert Narelle Froude’s lecture on Shanghai, it attracted him like a bee to honey. 

We walked to the station (all underground between the terminals, with McDonalds and Starbucks and other restaurants and shopping), bought round trip tickets for 70 Yuan each (about $10), went through security and waited just a few minutes for the train to arrive. It looked every bit like a bullet train, and seats inside were three on each side. At exactly the scheduled time, the doors closed and off we went. A display in each car showed the speed in kilometers per hour, and, sure enough, just as promised, we reached 431 kph, or 268 mph. The ride was smooth except for that half a second when we passed a Maglev going in the other direction and that was a quick bump. I have never gone that fast on land (our plane to Honolulu lifted off at 175 mph) and it is a little difficult to focus on individual things outside the windows. Cars on the expressway seemed to be standing still. 

The entrance to the Maglev Station at Shanghai Pudong International Airport

A model of the Maglev train

Reaching peak speed

The conductors salute the trains as they leave

Our train

We arrived at the end station and then immediately exited and went through security and the turnstiles and reboarded the same train to return to the airport. At just a few minutes after 4pm, the time we could first go through immigration and security, we were in line for that. When G had said at breakfast that he wanted to do both things before we left Shanghai, I was a bit incredulous that it was even possible, given our tight time schedule, but I should never have doubted his determination. 

Our flight to Incheon/Seoul was less than 2 hours and we were served a meal. A meal. It consisted of things we didn’t recognize, of course, but we ate the rice and the watermelon and a roll. Chinese food déjà vu! Korea landing forms were handed out, and we were told that all passengers needed to fill one out, but that there were none in English. Okaaayyy. Were we going to have to go through immigration just to change planes?  We’d never make it. We decided that we were simply going to try to go to the gate for our next flight, and see how that worked. As soon as we landed I turned on my phone and saw that we were landing in Terminal 1 and taking off from Terminal 1. That sounded hopeful. 

This was funny. My iPhone battery was at 8% when we boarded the flight to Incheon/Seoul because we hadn’t stopped running all day. The USB charger in my seat didn’t work, nor did the chargers of my two closest seat mates. I stretched my 10’ cord three seats away and plugged it in at these three friends’ suggestion (conveyed through sign language).
Relying on the kindness of strangers. People are so wonderful!

As proof that, at some point in our lives we must have done something good, as soon as we exited the jet bridge, there were two Korean Air reps holding a piece of paper with G’s name on it. Huge sighs of relief!  They told us to do exactly what we had planned to do- go directly to the gate- to get our boarding passes and that Hawaiian Air knew we were coming. We asked how they knew that we might have an issue and the check in agent in Shanghai had flagged our reservation. 

So while everyone else on their flight had to take their landing cards and go through immigration, we  took a train to another part of Terminal 1, went though transfer security (and had to leave behind the water on which I had just spent our last Yuans in Shanghai) and arrived at our gate when the plane was mostly boarded. We were given boarding passes with two seats together (amazing, on a totally full plane) and asked to see our baggage tags, which we hoped meant they were checking to make sure our luggage was on the plane. We were seated and the plane left the gate just minutes later. I had to take my contacts out at my seat (always scary…I can’t imagine trying to find a tiny piece of plastic on the dark floor of an airplane), but even that went well. 

The plane was full of Korean honeymoon couples going to Hawaii, and I felt (and surely looked) very old.  In fact, we may have been the oldest ones on that flight. It was a rather strange realization! Shortly after takeoff a dinner was served that was basically the same meal we had on the flight from Shanghai, but this time the mystery meat was chicken and we had a cookie instead of watermelon. We also had kimchi. I eat kimchi, I really do, but only occasionally, and in choosing between kimchi and a cookie, I prefer the cookie, so dinner #2 was white rice and a cookie. I obviously had not been able to special order vegan meals. G  fell asleep immediately and I, of course did not. 

I had downloaded the second season of Anne with an E on Netflix when we had WiFi at Taipei101 (I think) and started making my way through them. The flight was just under eight hours, and how far have we come with this travel thing when that doesn’t seem too long, but I did start to really drag about two hours before landing. Global Entry is worth every penny and then some we paid for it; we were through immigration in seconds but still had to wait quite a while to see if our luggage made it. I can’t tell you how relieved we were to see it appear on the carousel, although the wheel on my suitcase that had been fixed on the ship is now lost for good. Luckily, it’s a double wheel and the one that’s left still rolls...kind of. 

We got into our room by 12:30pm and I face planted on the bed and slept all afternoon. We had dinner on the beach and then walked along the beach afterward. Sunset #1 was absolutely beautiful, as so many here are, and we are in our room with our balcony door open right now, listening to the acoustic guitarist playing at a barefoot bar nearby.

And now we begin the third segment- the recovery segment- of our around the world adventure. 

Life is good. :-)