Blinded by the Light

Ten hours after boarding our Hong Kong bound flight in Vancouver at 3pm on Monday afternoon, I looked at my watch and it said 1am. I was surprised to discover that only a couple of hours had passed since I had finally fallen asleep.

We had successfully secured three seats for the two of us, I could tell you how we did this, but then I’d have to kill you. But even so, two airline seats are barely long enough for one horizontal human torso, even with the armrest in between raised, and the most comfortable sleeping position I found was with my head on one armrest and my posterior cantilevered precariously over the void between my seat and the back of the seat in front. In cattle class this equates to a distance of a good couple of inches.

Curious to see what the night sky looked like over the Pacific ocean and expecting to find a black void outside, I whipped open the window shade; big mistake, I was blinded by the light. It was still broad daylight outside and flying above a thick cloud cover the reflected sun light was brilliant. It felt like a mid-summer’s night in the Arctic circle.

As we headed west, we encountered an endless day. I tuned my in-flight entertainment system to the map of our flight path and found we were following the path we had taken by ship from Japan, what feels like months ago, along the Aleutian Islands, but in reverse, and 40,000 feet higher up. We eventually landed in Hong Kong as the sun finally set, after almost 26 hours of daylight.

It’s been nearly 43 years since we first visited Hong Kong, just a few months after our wedding in 1975. Unlike the skyline, the humidity is unchanged; it still feels like you could cut it with a knife. This morning, after and good night’s sleep, we decided to venture forth from the air conditioned comfort of our hotel; big mistake, instantaneously my specs fogged up, my hair frizzed and buckets of sweat seaped from every pore of my skin. Right now, rain has totally obliterated the view of Kowloon across the bay from our hotel on Hong Kong Island.

We are now in the home stretch. Another epic vacation is coming to an end. We had a great time cruising the inside passage of Alaska and the frontier towns of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, and were blessed with exceptional weather in Glacier Bay where we witnessed Margerie Glacier calving.

And we enjoyed spending five days in Vancouver. Canada is such a great country…in summer. I felt very much at home there, as another very big, sparsely populated, commonwealth country, our values are similar, and like Australia, many of the inhabitants are migrants, and originally from very diverse backgrounds.

In a tad over 48 hours time we will be back on home turf and a week after that we are anticipaing the safe arrival of the newest member to our tribe, a granddaughter; a daughter to our son, Guy and his wife, Mirna. Life is certainly sweet.

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The Sounds of Silence

Five days ago I awoke to the sounds of silence; I opened my mouth to speak and nothing came out – Laryngitis. We have been pushing ourselves fairly hard; in Alaska we drove out to Denali National Park and 13 days ago we joined a guided tour of the Canadian Rockies.

Most mornings we have had to get up around 6am, and some nights we don’t get into our hotel rooms until after 7pm, not that I’m complaining, we have seen such break-taking beauty,

snow capped mountains,

traipsed across immense glaciers,

rafted down swift white water rapids,

shot lots of wildlife including elk, moose, big-horned sheep and even a couple of bears, one young black bear

and a very large , male grizzly; don’t get your knickers in a twist, I mean with a camera, not a gun.

Suffice it to say when we saw the bears we did not leave the safety of our big tour bus, although we did witness one foolish man leave his vehicle with his giant, telephoto-lens camera complete with tripod, neither of which could be considered a suitable weapon against a 2 metre, 300kg grizzly, unless, like some James Bond contraption, he could convert his tripod into an AK47. We were all poised with our cameras and smart phones at the ready to film an award winning video to up load to YouTube. But luckily for the reckless photographer, he was not removed from the gene pool, at least not on that day.

We started our tour in Vancouver and have driven in a counter-clockwise direction through Banff, Jasper and Whistler before boarding a ferry yesterday for the quintessentially British town of Victoria, on Vancouver Island.

Except for the weather, generally speaking, Canada is very much like Australia, right down to even having a mug-shot of Lillibet on some of their currency. Hubby is forever trying to palm off Aussie dollars to unsuspecting shopkeepers, mistaking them for their Canadian counterparts, but the ever vigilant locals are obviously used to the thoundsands of Aussies who vacation here.

Tomorrow is our last day with the tour group, as a whole, which is made up of 46 Aussies and two poms before we disband. (Wow it pays to be alert; spell check just wanted to change “two poms” into “tampons”, mind you I do recall the future king of the poms proclaiming that is what he wanted to be. I almost granted him his wish with one tap of the keyboard).

Half of us will embark the Holland America Line cruise ship, The Volendam and partake in a 7 day cruise of the Alaskan Inner Passage. Having experience with the cost of medical attention on a ship I decided to see a local doctor here in Victoria. I must be getting old, the doctor looked about as old as a boy scout. When I told him my symptoms he proceeded to Google the best method to treat me. This did not instill me with much confidence in the kid. He wasn’t sure if it was viral or bacterial but prescribed a course of antibiotics anyway and a throat spray to relieve the pain. It hurts so much when I breath or try to speak or swallow that I was willing to try anything. The spray proclaims to have a pleasant honey-lemon flavour. Honey-lemon, my foot, it tastes more like “eau de benzene” and after spraying the back of my throat, brought back unfortunate memories of failing to remove the hose from my mouth in time while siphoning petrol. It should come with a warning to keep away from naked flames.

Anchored down in Anchorage

It’s been a day and a half since we disembarked the Golden Princess in Whittier, Alaska to a balmy 2°C and to tell you the truth, the earth is still moving for me. I’m hoping it’s not an earth tremor, for I’m told they’re very common here on the junction of two great tectonic plates.

The crossing of northern Pacific Ocean was not too bad especially as we were fortunate enough to be upgraded from an inside cabin to one with a window. There were only a couple of days when we felt the need to wear our “Sea-Bands” (wrist bands that apply pressure much like acupuncture to relieve motion sickness) and also pop a few “Kwells” as the movement of the ship mimicked my favourite ride at Luna Park called the “Turkey Trot“, where you walk along two planks simultaneously, as one rises up the other falls, so that with each step you take, either one comes up to meet you or falls away under your foot. So it was as we attempted to traverse the ship from bow to stern, never knowing where the next foot would fall.

At times the eight-day ocean crossing was long and tedious, and towards the end, cabin fever was setting in, never more so than on the 7th of May, as we were counting down the days till we once again set foot on terra firma only to discover that one 7th of May was to be followed by yet another one the very next day, as we crossed the international date line in an easterly direction. Shades of Ground Hog Day.

I must give the ships crew credit as they endeavoured to keep us, who still had our sea legs, well fed and entertained. There was all manner of games and shows to attend. From the obligatory ice carving and cooking demonstrations, to a take off of the popular reality show, ”The Voice“ complete with rotating chairs.

Some shows were almost full-scale theatre productions, with up to 14 singers and dancers appearing in well choreographed performances, complete with multiple elaborate stage designs and costume changes.

Some were exceptional but some missed the mark a little, like “Motor City”, the tribute show to Motown with the all white cast; Stevie Wonder would be rolling his eyes and Marvin Gaye, turning in his grave.

Some shows were great and very appropriate for the predominately “baby boomer” passengers, like “The British Invasion”, which was filled to capacity, and everyone knew the lyrics to all the old songs. But I think the irony was lost on most as the entire auditorium was belting out the words to “My Generation“, by The Who; when they got to the line, “Yeah, I hope I die before I get old”, I was the only one laughing as 90% of the audience were already living on borrowed time, being well past their three score years and ten.

After having spent a pleasant Mother’s Day in and around Anchorage today, (Happy Mother’s Day to all my lady friends out there) tomorrow we head for the hills and leave behind this mild weather (2°C to 11°C); destination, Denali National Park, with forecasted temperatures of between -2°C to 9°C, we may even get the odd snow squall. Good thing I packed my long-johns.

On the road to Matanuska Glacier today

North to Alaska

Okay, I know it’s actually north-east to Alaska from here but we won’t split hairs. Ahead of us lie 8 days of sailing across the North Pacific Ocean skirting the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea, next port of call, Whittier, Alaska. I’m praying for calm seas. 

Since 27 April we have called into 6 ports in Japan and one in South Korea. The highlight would have to be yesterday’s venture into Hakodate, on the island of Hokkaido. We decided to do it independently as opposed to taking one of the ship’s organised tours at enormous expense.

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After catching the free shuttle bus from the port into the main bus station in Hakodate we purchased an all day bus pass before making a bee line for the pentagonal fort at Goryokaku. In Japan people are always willing to help, though after asking three different sources we received three different answers as to which bus to take.

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Eventually we made it to our destination unscathed to discover the parkland a mass of cherry blossoms, thousands of trees all blooming simultaneously.

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Under the trees, tarpolins are spread and, before the crowds arrive, the fallen petals are diligently swept for the Japanese to sit and enjoy a picnic amid the cherry blossoms; shoes line the perimeter, food is cooked over portable gas cookers and beer bottles are opened and the annual “Hanami” (flower viewing) is celebrated with almost religious fervour.

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Standing under an umbrella of pale pink petals, it was hard not to smile and understand how the Japanese equate the Cherry Blossom time with happiness.

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Tokyo

Our accommodation in Ikebukuro was located 7 subway stops from Tokyo’s central railway station and within walking distance of the Shinto shrine in Zoshigaya dedicated to the goddess Kishimojin, protector of safe deliveries. Capricorns are naturally sceptical and as one I don’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo but sceptical shmeptical, I like to hedge an each way bet, so I said a silent prayer for the safe delivery of our granddaughter due in June, ב”ה , inshallah, G-d willing, touch wood, ptew ptew ptew!!!

Perhaps I should have prayed for my own safe delivery back to our hotel because an hour later I was spread eagle on the footpath having stumbled over a tiny step of less than 10cm, spraining my left ankle and skinning my right knee; talk about a klutz .

The next day we had arrange a guide through Tokyo Free Guides

It was free; was I going to let a sprained ankle stop me from taking advantage of a free offer? You gotta be kidding!

Our charming guide, Hiroshi, met us in the lobby of our hotel at 10am and then we proceeded to the Ikebukuro train station, just a hop, skip and a jump from our hotel, or in my case, a hobble, a hobble and a hobble. There we had a crash course in navigating the Tokyo metro. At first glance it appears daunting, but upon closer inspection it is quite logical. Each rail line is colour coordinated and numbered and has its own dedicated platform, so as long as you know which colour line runs to you destination and the number of the station it’s simple. Just remember to stand in queue and keep to the left. The Japanese have out done the British in making queuing an art form.

Taking into consideration the rain and a sprained ankle, the day was a success. We bought a 24hr pass ($10 AUD) for the metro and covered most of Tokyo’s highlights and iconic landmarks; Ginza, the Sensoji Temple, the Meiji shrine, the crazy scramble crossing at the 5 way intersection and the statue of Hachi the dog. The view from the Tokyo Government building was the only disappointment, the cloud cover was as low as the 45th floor lookout. It was like looking through cotton wool. But on a clear day you can see Mt Fuji, or so we’re told.

We stopped for an exceptionally delicious sushi lunch in Ginza, though hubby might beg to differ, not being a fan of raw fish.

The next day we thought we would give my ankle a rest and decided to spend the day on the Sky hop bus. So once again, braved the labyrinth that is the Tokyo metro, unfortunately during peak hour; we joined the queue at the appropriate platform before being packed into the carriage like sardines. It eventually spat us out at the right destination, and after a few false starts, we finally found the correct exit and it was only a short walk from there to the Sky bus terminal where a bus awaited. We spent the whole day traversing Tokyo via the three routes available.

One can’t travel to Japan and not mention their whimsical toilets, where upon sitting on the pleasantly warmed seat, a tune or sound of running water is played, I presumed to mask the sounds of bodily tunes and running water, then there are a plethora buttons that emit jets of water to every orifice, the only thing it doesn’t do is tie your shoe laces. But, give them time and I’m sure that they will come up with that option too.
Something I found here that we should adopt worldwide is a bottle with a lid that stays attached once opened. Now that would have been every handy on my last flight where I spent a good portion of it rummaging under the seat in front searching for my bottle cap.

So, after a few days in Tokyo my first impression are that it is a well old machine, public transport is cheap and very efficient, we never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a train, the people are extremely polite and well mannered, and the food is cheap and good, the public toilets are plentiful and spotless and whimsical, but with a population 10 times that of Brisbane, spread over a similar area, it is crowded but the city is clean and free of graffiti.

Today we depart Tokyo and board our cruise ship, sailing around the islands of Japan then arriving in Alaska 16 days later.

Segals take flight

Just yesterday, I bumped into an old friend who asked why it’s been so long since the Wandering Segals blogged. I had to admit that, of late, the Wandering Segals have been more like the Sedentary Segals. Since selling the Beast in October last year we have only made one trip to Sydney, one trip to Caloundra, one to Clear Mountain and two to Melbourne; we are clearly not up to scratch.

However that is all about to change as of next Sunday when we take flight again. This time we are embarking on an eight week exploration of the Northern Rim of the Pacific.

Below is our itinerary.

Itinerary

22-23 April 2018: Fly from Brisbane to Tokyo

23-27 April 2018: 4 Days in Tokyo

27 April 2018: Board cruise around Japan & South Korea to Alaska

12-14 May 2018: Anchorage, Alaska

14-15 May 2018: Denali National Park

16 May 2018: Anchorage, Alaska

17 May 2018: Fly to Vancouver

18/30 May 2018: Canadian Rockies Guided Tour

30 May – 6 June 2018: Inner Passage of Alaska Cruise

6-10 June 2018: Vancouver

11-12 June 2018: Fly to Hong Kong

15 June 2018: Return to Brisbane

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See you around the traps.