Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Sunday, July 24, 2016 19:55:06|
Asia 2016: 1. Planning and getting underway
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
I am writing this high over the Pacific Ocean cozily settled into a spacious compartment four windows long in the business class section of a Korean Airlines 747. In another 10 hours we will be changing planes in Seoul, Korea to get to Tokyo, our destination today.
Just as I began to get into the story, it was lunch time. I tried for a white wine with the fresh shrimp, however they have none. Fortunately, being an experienced traveller and more or less accustomed to handling hardship and adversity, I minimize the disadvantage with a gin tonic and a refreshing rose-eh. (I added the Canadian "eh" as I couldn't find a key on the computer for an accent on the "e" of "rose" to correctly pronounce the wine). A quite acceptable red wine accompanied the very tender steak which they actually manage to produce medium rare as requested.
Another mentionable feature of this plane was the toilet. The room was twice the size as those on a standard airline, with a full length mirror. However, the main benefit to me was being able to stand upright when having a pee. On most planes the toilet fits under the curvature of the outer hull of the plane, so it is necessary to thrust hips full forward and move the head back at an angle that has me looking closely at the ceiling.
This trip was designed around a cruise to include a number of places I have not been in the north of Japan, including the island of Hokkaido and the Russian island of Sakhalin. The idea was then to visit all the areas of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan I had not been to. However, an email from Raakhe Kapila at Quark Expeditions informed me that the powerful icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnakov, a ship that has become a favourite for extreme travel in polar regions, was on its final cruise from Resolute Bay to northeastern Siberia. After the Northwest Passage it would no longer carry passengers, becoming part of the icebreaker fleet the Russians plan to use to keep the northeast passage open for Atlantic to Pacific crossings for freighters. I couldn't pass the chance to travel on this iconic ship, so after considerable thought Taiwan came off the list to visit.
At first I turned to the company Favourite Japan Guide to put together a Japan tour. An enthusiastic fellow, Anthony Manley from Seattle, did a great deal of work putting together an interesting tour, however while the tour was perfect, the price was triple previous tours, so was eventually declined. I made a settlement with Anthony for his hard work and then arranged the trip myself using their outline. His recommendation for Korea, Hab Korea, did a great job of a reasonably priced tour of Korea.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
The flight was late getting into Seoul, causing some concern as we had a one hour connection. It was a long fast paced, walk to security, then after security to the correct gate. They held the flight until Marilynn's one checked suitcase was transferred. Once it was aboard an employee came onto the plane to assure us that it had arrived. The flight was on a very lightly populated Boeing 777-300. There were some people in economy, but we were the only ones in the 50 or so seats in business class. The service was certainly good, keeping the good Korean beer flowing.
The formalities at Narita Airport were quick and painless, very short lines. We had missed the last train that would get us to our hotel due to the lateness of our flight, and the place that sold SIM cards for cell phones was also closed. I changed $US200 at the airport exchange rate, thinking that would pay for a taxi and have some left over. Wrong! The taxi to the Grand Prince Takinawa hotel was $US250, an amount I would usually pay for a full day's tour. Fortunately, the driver took credit cards.
Friday, July 22, 2016
Marilynn did better sleeping than I, so I moved out on the small balcony of our room where at 4:30 in the morning it was bright daylight, although the sun was not yet up. Rain showers forced me to move as close to the building as possible so the balcony above could supply shelter. Once we were both up and more or less organized we walked down the street to a restaurant called Royal Host, which had a great breakfast menu with pictures of all selection, making ordering easy.
Shinigawa Station is only a block from the hotel, and in spite of being large is reasonably easy to navigate. There was an information booth where instructions on using the ticket machines for the subway were shown on a computer, the number of the desired station is selected on a touch screen, the fare is displayed and the ticket printed. We made use of the "English" option!
One of Marilynn's objectives was a SIM card for her cell phone, so we went to a giant electronics shop adjacent to the station that was recommended by the hotel. It turned out that in Japan it is not possible to purchase prepaid SIM cards. Apparently there are only a couple of countries in the world that have this restriction, the other being South Korea, our next destination! Marilynn purchased a 2 GB data card so she can use Skype.
We then spent a couple of hours wandering around the Ginza shopping area, but no buying due to high prices, then stopped at a restaurant with a patio for drinks. A short train ride got us back to our station.
I had contacted Anthony Manley, the travel organizer who worked up the rejected Japan trip, and he agreed to meet us for dinner. We had noticed happy hour from 5 to 7 at the outback steak house, one of many good restaurants are the block between our hotel and the train station, so arranged to meet there. Anthony is from the US, and is here after 6 years in Korea to assist Favourite Japan Guide to organize and open new services.
After drinking Happy Hour, where I drank enough gin & tonics to earn a free litre of beer, we moved on to TGI
Friday's for ribs and more drinks. It was a fun night, which ended with Anthony and I enjoying a whisky nightcap in the hotel bar, and discussing the possibility of his company organizing ground transportation and tours, as I'd already booked hotels.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
After a walk to Royal Host and back for breakfast we spend the morning until the 11AM check out time getting caught up on the computer. At the station, after some difficulty, I managed to get the machine to spit out two tickets to Yokohama. We found the right gate, the train was just pulling in, so we hopped aboard, stowing our luggage behind an occupied seat just inside the door before making our way up the stairs of this double deck coach and finding comfortable seats. The comfort came to an abrupt halt when a female conductor came to tell us we were in first class, and our tickets were not, so we were required to get our luggage and stand by the door. There would be one minute for us to downgrade ourselves to the car ahead at the next stop.
We got off the train, and were part way into the next car when the doors closed. Marilynn was still on the platform. I was in the doors. Two Japanese men immediately lept to our aid, grabbing the doors and pulling them open until we were both in, accompanied by the sound of alarm bells. It was standing room only.
Marilynn thought she hear an announcement that we had to change trains at the next station, so we got off the train and to another platform where we asked people which train we needed for Yokohama Station. There were a lot of confused looks until someone said, "You are at Yohohama Station". I hadn't recognized it, as it was not super crowded and was in the open air. This platform is on the top of the main station in open air.
It took some time once into the mass of humanity to find our way through the underground city to the Sheraton Hotel. The rooms weren't ready, as it was only noon, however Marilynn insisted they allowed us to check in and store our luggage until the rooms were ready. Back down in the underground city, which sprawls on not one but three stories underground, I popped into a restaurant with a bar where I ordered a beer and a dumpling snack.
We then went for a walk around the city - the hotel and stations are located in the centre of town. Marilynn wanted to purchase a back pack, for which hotel staff had recommended a huge department store near the bus station, also part of the train station complex. Once done we walked around the city until my bad knees were screaming for mercy. We sat for awhile outside at a Spanish themed tapa bar, drinking sangria and having small snacks before walking back to the hotel. Marilynn had explored the area and found an English pub, and many other interesting restaurants from many nations. Yokohama is a very international city, having been the first Japanese trading port opened to the rest of the world in the 1800s, and it shows in its wide variety of eating and drinking establishments.
Later we headed out to try to find the neat restaurants Marilynn located, but ended up walking in a huge circle ending back at the hotel. We set out again in a different direction, stopping in another Tapas bar for drinks and snacks. This time the menu was in Spanish, although the waiter couldn't understand a word of it. They did get on the internet and gave us directions to the place we were looking for, but again we got lost. We stopped at a restaurant that smelled very good, but the wait was over an hour to get in. Another attempt to find the area we were in this afternoon involved a stop at a real estate office, where one of the realtors not only looked it up on the computer but printed out a map of the area! Even that didn't work.
We ended back in a food area of the underground city we had not seen before and ate at a mozzarella restaurant.
It wasn't great, probably a food low point of the trip so far, but the booze was good! From there we found our way to the hotel elevator, which goes from the underground city directly to any selected floor of the hotel
Sunday, July 24, 2016
After a tasty breakfast at a specialty waffle shop in the underground city we made our way to the Japan Rail station to buy tickets to the island of Kyoto. We will go directly from the cruise ship to the train. There was a fair lineup, and I'd also wanted to buy the Kyoto to Hiroshima tickets but lost the paper with the information. Back at the hotel the assistant manager printed out everything I lost for me.
We then caught a subway to Yokohama's massive Chinatown. Marilynn shopped her way down various streets while I sat and waited on the many public benches and seats along the sidewalk. A number of streets were pedestrian only, and were teeming with people. I spotted a bar with happy hour starting at 11:30 AM so in we went - beer for me, wine for Marilynn. The next while was spent wandering the fascinating streets of this very Chinese area - even signs on the train coming here were in Chinese.
We stopped at the same happy hour restaurant, sitting at their one outside table. Across the street was a two story building with a couple of children 7 or 8 year old waving to us from the second story windows. We waved back, and soon there were about 10 kids there, all waving. People walking by would look to see what we were waving at and they would either start waving or just laugh. Finally the well dressed kids came out the front door, the boys in shirts and ties and nice dresses for the girls. We think it might have been a party of some sort. They were still waving and laughing, so Marilynn started taking photos until they moved off.
Once back at the main station I bought the ticket to Hiroshima, followed by a fabulous lamb dinner in a restaurant in yet another new area of the underground city. Back at the hotel we decided to try the hotel bar for a nightcap, but both Sheraton bars had a cover charge, and the one we were in reeked of stale tobacco smoke. We looked at the menu - prices were four times higher than outside, so back down to discover more unexplored areas. Apparently we were in the wrong area for a bar, but found a shop selling cold bottled wine and small bottles of whisky. One of the shop girls asked if she could help, so Marilynn said we had been looking for a bar to have a drink, but as we couldn't find one were going to take the wine and scotch to our room.
The girl said we didn't have to do that, put the liquor back and led us for some distance through passages we had not seen until we emerged on street level. She pointed and there it was, Pronto Bar. The people here never stop amazing me with their helpfulness. After a couple of drinks we found another section of the underground city with a huge two story underground casino, however we passed on the gambling and found our way back to the hotel.
Tomorrow morning we board the ship Diamond Princess for Hokkaido Island, and the Russian island of Sakhalin. We expect to be out of touch for about 10 days.