The Eastern Dream / KoreaJune 29, 2017 in South Korea
Well it was time for me to go ‘From Russia with love’. The next part of my trip involved taking the once per week ferry from Vladivostock to Japan via South Korea - a journey that takes two days. The check-in at the Marine Terminal was chaotic - lots of Asian folk pushing and shoving to get on the boat first. A large group of Japanese were determined to get ahead, and their leader - I shall call her Hello Kitty - literally pushed folk out the way as she dragged great amounts of luggage into impossible spaces at the start of the queue. I tried to stand my ground but she pulled folk in front and frantically phoned others at the back of the queue to come up and join her.
It was a lengthy process going through security and passport control. Of course I ended up with Irritable Irena from Immigration - non-smiling, she went through my passport over and over and kept saying ‘you are not here, you are not here’ looking for some kind of stamp. At one point I thought we were going to get the whole panto routine - ‘well if I'm not in Moscow, and I'm not in Ykaterinburg, I must be somewhere else - and if I am somewhere else, I can't be here.’ Next thing I knew two solidly built officials came over (both female), one with a sniffer dog who took some interest in my bag. ‘Sorry, Fido, but the strongest drugs I have in there are paracetomol.’ There was a lot of chat and I thought I heard the word ‘Gulag’ being mentioned, but maybe my imagination was just working overtime. Anyway, apparently Irena had been looking at the Belarus visa and not the Russian one and I was eventually waved through - without a smile. The only consolation was that I had held up the queue for 20 minutes, and Hello Kitty was right behind me - I tell you she was not a happy pussy!
Eventually I got on board the DRS Cruise Ferry, Eastern Dream. All I can say is that it has seen better days. (Ken, I really don't think it is quite Celebrity Class!). Again I was booked 2nd class, which actually turned out to be a large room with 8 bunks with curtains, reading light and wash basin. When I saw the Economy class accommodation - dozens of Japanese and Koreans camped out on futons on the floor and enjoying picnics and card games, I was quite glad. Although the majority of the passengers were Asian, I noticed an American couple being shown to the Royal Suite. I had a peek in, and I could tell by their faces they were a little disappointed - no sign of canapés on the balcony! . Before we had left dock there was a big barney- two groups of middle aged Asian men and women screaming and pushing each other at the top of the main staircase - a true stairheed rammy! I was going to start clapping and shouting ‘fight, fight’, but I resisted.
Finally we set sail. There were lots of announcements in Japanese and Russian but I couldn't make out a word until I realised it was the safety briefing on deck, but no one else seemed to be paying attention anyway. The only thing I could understand was Rod Stewart singing ‘I am Sailing’ as we pulled out of Golden Horn Bay and into the Sea of Japan.
I tried to solicit some information in English at the Purser’s Desk. A drunk Japenese guy overheard me and said ‘Ah, England, England’. He was very animated and might have been on more than the vodka. I called him Super Mario. ‘Well, Scotland actually’ I said. ‘England’ he persisted ‘Manchester United, Liverpool’. I replied meekly ‘Queen of the South?’ and he looked bemused and returned to the bar.
I had booked dinner in the restaurant and looked forward to a candle lit affair with a glass of wine and friendly banter with the Maitre D’. Sadly you were given a half hour slot to eat as much as you could from the buffet - a sort of Supermarket Sweep type of idea. I found I could not work out what most of the food was, and did not like the taste of anything, so I ended up with some boiled rice, sweet corn and tomato.
The entertainment on board included a disco, a sauna and a karaoke (which was very popular). I sat on deck for a while watching the sun go down, as the ship sped towards Korea for our calling point at Donghae.
The crossing was smooth and the next morning the sea was calm as we sailed into Korea. For some reason we all had to vacate our rooms, even if we were travelling on to Japan, and move to a different berth - very confusing, and again no English explanation - the joys of travel!
Super Mario appeared looking the worse for wear and greeted me with a shout of ‘Chelsea!’ to which I replied ‘Patrick Thistle’ which seemed to shut him up.
We docked in the South Korean port of Donghae at 11.30. There was the usual scramble to get off, with Helllo Kitty barking orders to her group. Those traveling on to Japan could get off the ship for about 4 hours so I took the chance to see a bit of Korea. To be honest, there wasn't much to see. By the time we got off the ship and cleared passport control (Republic of Korea stamp in my passport - yipee!) we only had about 3.5 hours. When I asked the lady at the desk what there was to see in Donghae she said ‘the caves, the caves’. So off I went to the local underground caves and, while it was interesting, when you've seen 20 stalactites …
Donghae was a bit of a ghost town, but I thankfully found a brand new McDonalds with an interesting menu and wifi. Well, time to head back before I miss the boat for my next destination - Japan!Read more