Alaska and Japan

September 2019
How a short Alaskan cruise turned into a trans-Pacific journey
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  • Happy Birthday

    September 6, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Since we settled in Vancouver, Brenda and I have talked about taking an Alaskan cruise. For whatever reason, we just never got around to it.

    For her birthday this year, I decided I would offer to take Brenda on that much discussed voyage.

    Although her birthday is in May, we had already been away from Vancouver for a good part of 2019, so we planned to set sail sometime in the late summer. We began scouring the travel websites for the best deals and most appealing offers, but we just couldn't seem to find anything that met our criteria. And then one day Brenda came to me with a "sorta" Alaskan cruise. On September 6 the ship sets sail for Sitka, Alaska, makes a brief stop there and then heads across the Bering sea to Japan. For a 15 day cruise with several perks thrown in, the price was unbeatable and we jumped on the offer.

    And that, folks, is how we ended up in Tokyo on an Alaskan cruise.
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  • Sailing, sailing...

    September 12, 2019, North Pacific Ocean ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Sorry, this one is a little longer read than I had wanted, but it does cover nine days of our travels.

    After leaving Sitka, the Celebrity Millenium set off for nine straight days at sea. That was, in fact, the main reason I didn't blog this trip until now. You see, once on board, one settles into a daily routine that varies only slightly based on the activities and entertainment offered. So rather than write a daily article that said essentially the very same thing, here's the Coles Notes version.

    With the clock being set back one hour each night as we traveled west across the Pacific, Brenda and I found ourselves wide awake at around 5:00AM every morning.

    First we'd hop out of bed and hit the gym for an hour or so. Unfortunately, after a couple of days the sea was so rough we couldn't use the treadmills, but there was plenty of other equipment available to provide a pretty good sweat.

    After that we'd shower and visit the breakfast buffet to fuel ourselves for the morning. Overall there were a lot of options for vegans and vegetarians as well as a selection of gluten free options for Brenda. Ee noticed that as the cruise wore on, our fruit options gradually diminished with the more perishable and fast ripening fruits lasting only three or four days.

    At 9:00 there was a thirty minute guided meditation session headed by a Buddhist monk which we attended almost every day

    Mid-morning offered a "Beyond The Podium" talk that was presented by a variety of speakers, all very interesting and engaging. One series on the brain was hosted by a neurologist, another was on adventure travel, the auto racing series was given by a driver/instructor who works at Silverstone and the Buddhist monk led a series various aspects of Buddhism. None of the entertainers, David Klinkenberg, a virtuoso violinist, have a one of presentation on THE REAL DaVinci code that Brenda and I both found captivating.

    For the rest of the morning we would do the daily Sudoku and crossword or participate in trivia competitions or instructional workshops. One morning I won an archery competition and on another Brenda learned how to make Origami flowers.

    Around noon it was back to the buffet for more food. There were so many options available it was hard not to overeat.

    Afternoons were two rounds of trivia, one musical, the other general knowledge. The latter was a cumulative game where the team of six with the most points at the end of the cruise wins. We had Formed a team with a young man from Calgary, a couple from just up the street from us in Vancouver and a woman from the States. We ended up in second place, only two points behind the winner.

    Dinners were usually back at the buffet because of the excellent choices for us, but we did eat in the main dining room a few times when the menu suited us and, of course, for the three "chic" nights.

    After dinner we'd check out either the 7:00 or 9:00 show, which provided pretty diverse entertainment, some of which was first rate. We saw a magician, a crooner, an acrobatic couple, aVegas songstress, a very funny and talented pianist, a virtuoso violinist and an excellent Stevie Wonder impersonator.

    We entered a couple of slots tournaments in the casino in which both Brenda and I won $50 US to play with. We turned it into $149 and cashed out, walking away with our winnings .

    We were usually so tired by 10:00, we'd head back to our rooms, turn the clocks back an hour and pass out.

    On our eighth sea day we caught a glimpse of land in the form of Russia off the starboard side.

    We saw pods of whales and orcas and schools of fish leaping out of the water to escape an unseen predator.

    Our sea days were filled with so many activities, we barely saw them pass by. And despite a couple of days of rocking and rolling with rough seas, we both thoroughly enjoyed the crossing.

    Next stop: Otaru, Japan.
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  • Otaru

    September 18, 2019 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Our first port of call in Japan was Otaru, a port city on the northwestern coast of the Sea of Japan. It's not as well known or populated as Sapporo, 25 kms to the east, but it is a charming place to visit.

    When we arrived, we had to go through Japanese immigration where we were photographed, fingerprinted and briefly interviewed by the local authorities. With some 2500 passengers to process, some people didn't disembark until almost 11:00AM. Fortunately, we only had to go through that exercise once on the trip. In any case, even the last person to leave the ship would have had plenty of time to visit all the highlights.

    After nine days at sea, it was nice to get back onto solid ground for a few hours. We wandered through the market and visited the music box museum, where they sell boxes ranging in price from about $25.00 CDN to over $10,000.00!!! For that kind of money, you'd best really like the tune it plays.

    Right in front of that museum is a steam clock very similar to the one located in Vancouver's Gastown district. In fact, Otaru's clock was a gift from the city of Vancouver in 1994.

    We strolled along the Otaru Canal, which was built in the first half of the 20th century. At the time, when entering the port, large vessels were unloaded by smaller ships, which then transported the goods to warehouses along the canal.

    The canal became obsolete when modern dock facilities allowed for direct unloading of larger vessels. A portion of the canal was restored in the 1980s instead of being landfilled, while the warehouses were transformed into museums, shops and restaurants.

    But what struck us most on our first day in Japan were the eye-poppingly high prices, particularly of produce. At the markets, one can purchase a slice of melon, similar to cantaloupe, for ¥500 or about $6.25. The entire melon was selling for ¥3,000 or almost $37.00 CDN!!! A handful sized bunch of grapes was ¥700 and a beautiful looking peach was ¥550. We vegans would have to come out of retirement to be able to afford to live there.

    We initially thought these prices were so high because the shops and markets are located in a touristy part of town. However, we learned later in our travels that those prices are pretty much the norm. Yikes!

    After seeing and visiting all we wanted to see, we made our way back to the ship and chilled for a while before dinner.

    Although Otaru was very pretty, I think if we pass this way again we'll probably hop on the train to Sapporo, which likely will have a little more to offer.
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