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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