Posted by: glenswatman | September 29, 2014

20140911-20 To the land of the rising sun for a very special birthday celebration

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THURSDAY 11 SEPTEMBER – We chat over breakfast at Mom and Dad’s before heading to Shipley to visit Pete. We first met him back in 1998 when he pulled up his campervan next to ours on a beach at Vera Playa. He still lives and travels in his campervan but is back at his factory. Rather than travel the coasts he now prefers being inland where he can do more flying and is presently having a glider built that he can tow behind his van. He gives us a couple of terrific aerial photos of El Cotillo on Fuerteventura where we spent a winter. Steve drops me in Keighley on the way back and I have a good walk and pick up a couple of things for our trip. The upside of a “chav” town is that there are plenty of cheapie shops. In the evening we visit Nancy and Jenny and she caters for my diet with chicken and chips and fruit and jelly. Daughter Michelle has IBS so she is familiar with the diet and problems it can cause. We all drive down to the ten pin bowling at Shipley where we stay for half an hour catching up with a few old mates from the leagues we used to be in.

FRIDAY 12 SEPTEMBER – I take another walk round town and pick up a few last minute bits and pieces. Spend a bit of time with Mom and Dad and deal with all the final organising of our bags so that we can just take carryon baggage. Now that the airlines have reduced the size of their liquids bags to 20cm x 20cm it is a bit of a challenge. Claire has invited us round for the evening and takes us for a drive out to the house they are going to be renting next month, much more like a conventional home. I fit in a game of Canasta with Daniel before we eat. Richard and Claire treat us to a Chinese take away for our upcoming anniversary then surprise Steve with an early birthday cake in the form of lots of individual fancy cup cakes on a special cake stand.

SATURDAY 13 SEPTEMBER – Do a last odd job for Mum by cleaning up a footstool that will match their new green carpet. It’s our 39th wedding anniversary so we’ve booked into a hotel for the night. En route we stop at the National Trust Gawthorpe Hall but it is nothing special. David is taking us to the hotel and we are leaving our car there. He joins us at the hotel and doesn’t enjoy watching the Liverpool match with Steve as they lose. The Devere Cheadle House is near a Sainsbury’s so I pop there to buy David a “meal deal” to have in the room whilst we enjoy our 3 course meal in the restaurant. They are very helpful in catering for my strange diet although I have to say the dessert of dandelion and burdock jelly with popping candy and lemon sorbet is a bit of an odd one. David’s working the night shift at a garage a couple of miles away so heads off around 9pm.

SUNDAY 14 SEPTEMBER – We linger over the buffet breakfast, where a gluten free blueberry muffin falls into my bag, and then check out at 11am. Taxi to the airport £8.50 gets us there well ahead of time even though check in is now 3 hours before flight departure due to new additional security checks. We have hand luggage only so can go in a different queue just to get the bags tagged but it’s still like being at Alton Towers as we zig zag our way in a huge line to security. Its years since we flew from Manchester T1 and it seems bigger than ever, almost like a mini shopping mall. I take up the offer of a free make up at Mac and the girl does a really good job. Our Turkish airline flight leaves on time 16.05 and we are soon enjoying a Turkish delight with almond centre. Service is excellent, the seats comfy and my gluten free meal is really tasty. Manage to watch a couple of movies before landing at Ataturk airport Istanbul TURKEY 3 ½ hours later.

MONDAY 15 SEPTEMBER – We always like to stretch our legs whilst in transit and this time get a good walk as the airport is massive. Eventually find the main area, much like Manchester with loads of shops and eateries. At 1am we are on the next flight having talked ourselves into the exit seats with loads of leg room. We receive slippers, socks, toothpaste and toothbrush, eye mask, ear plugs, blanket and pillow. During the 11 ½ hour flight we get 2 meals and find a couple of bottles of wine drop into my bag, lucky they give you individual bottles and just give the screw cap a twist so it is easy to re seal them. It’s a very quiet flight, no kids and mainly Japanese passengers who seem to be very quiet and courteous people. Even so we both struggle to get much sleep. We land at Narita airport near Tokyo JAPAN AT 18.30 local time. Customs involves a really long queue with signs telling you the waiting time each quarter of an hour. Luckily they are very efficient and well organised in processing everyone taking fingerprints and photos. In the arrivals hall I’m happy to withdraw cash from an ATM with an exchange rate around 170 yen = £1. There’s a sign with our name on at the coach counter where we are instructed to load our bags on a trolley and wait for the 19.25 bus to the city. From there we must hop in a taxi to the hotel. Everyone is extremely helpful and courteous. Team up with Karen & Tom who are on the same Travelbag tour as us and as fellow travellers and campervan owners we have a good chat on the bus. Notice the “limousine” bus ticket price is Yen3000 (£18) and our shared taxi to the hotel is a further Yen2000 (£12). The Shiba Park Hotel is really nice and room 1824 has 3 single beds. The bathroom is a novelty as the toilet has an optional botty washer, bidet and music to muffle the sound of your using the loo itself! There’s a great selection of toiletries too, toothbrush with paste, hair brush, head band, cotton buds, razor, gauze, face gel, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner. In the room there are slippers and gowns and everything is spotlessly clean. It’s almost 10pm by the time I have sorted our luggage and we freshen up in the shower before I do the washing. Although we settle to bed at 11.30pm I’m still away a couple of hours later so pop a sleeping tablet.

MONDAY 15 SEPTEMBER – We’ve both slept well but are wide away at 6.30am (Japan is 8 hours ahead of England so our bodies are out of kilter). The bath tub is unusual in being short but very deep so you end up sitting up with water up to your neck. We take a walk around the block to get a feel for the area. Everything is really clean and it’s not particularly busy. Interestingly the manhole covers all have brightly coloured pictures on them. At 8.45am we gather for the start of the Tonichi Tour and meet up with fellow passengers. We’ve never known a group arrive on so many different airlines including Aeroflot, Virgin, Swiss, Emirates, Ethihad and Lufthansa. There’s is much talk about Travelbag’ sales strategy with nearly all of us having paid more than the advertised price for one reason or another. Our coach tour, with guide Kazuyo, heads through the electronic and appliance store district of Akihabara. Huge skyscrapers occasionally give way to tiny single story homes that have yet to be bought out. Advertising signs and neon abound and it is exactly like the Tokyo we have seen in movies however numerous canals were not expected. We all notice how hot it is as we walk into Asakusu Kannon Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. It’s in lovely tranquil gardens with lots of pools and streams but approached along a street lined with souvenir stalls. A short walk takes us to the Sumida River where we board a boat for a 40 minute cruise. It’s interesting to note how few people use the attractive riverside walks. We pass under loads of bridges and notice canal spurs going off with a system of tide control at the entrances. Alight near the delightful Hamarikyu Garden where we are lucky enough to see a bride in kimono posing for photos. She must feel really famous as we all crowd around like the paparazzi to get a shot. We are amazed by how many large garden areas there are within the sitting and it is a real oasis of calm. Again there are lots of water areas with bridges. Lunch is within a shopping centre at the Grand Buffet Toyosu. A few diners notice some slight juddering and when we bump into a New Zealand couple, who live in Tokyo, later they tell us there was an earthquake 5.6. The Imperial Palace is a little disappointing as there is not much you can see but again it is within beautiful gardens and surrounded by a moat with bridges. En route to our next stop we see many other areas of Tokyo and our guide tells us some of the history and customs. The Shinto shrine of Meiji is similar to many we have seen in other parts of Asia with lots of entry gates except in this case the main temple part is a bit of a non event. Final stop is the Tokyo tower which at 333m high gives us excellent views over the city. Arrive back at the hotel just before 6pm feeling weary but determined not to go to sleep before 9pm. We’ve both really enjoyed our introduction to Tokyo and agree it would be worth at least a weeks’ stay in the future.

WEDNESDAY 17 SEPTEMBER – We both slept initially then were awake for a few hours until 5.30am. Good job we set the alarm as we are both dead to the world when it goes off at 8am. To ease traffic congestion there are a number of elevated toll roads in Tokyo and this is what our coach uses. During the journey to Mount Fuji guide Kazuyo gives us lots more info about family life and customs in Japan. We speed along many elevated new roads into the countryside which is extremely green. We can see the trees are just starting to change colour and can imagine that in a few weeks time it will be really stunning. Many small village homes have a rice field as their front garden instead of grass. Again there is a complete absence of rubbish and graffiti. At the service area the toilet cubicles come in different types, bog standard Japanese style, ones with a special seat for the child to sit on the loo, others with a child seat built into the wall and some that you squat over. Mount Fuji lives up to its reputation of being shrouded in mist more often than not. The 5th station is 2400m of the 3776m up. We alight to take photos by a sign explaining where we are! The tour company have provided a box lunch which we were supposed to take with us up to a picnic area but all end up eating on the coach. Kazuyo shows us how to peel open the rice ball which is a triangle of cold rice filled with tuna and wrapped in seaweed. There’s also a sandwich, pastry, dried fruit, yoghurt and banana. Our journey takes us back down the mountain, across the valley the up the other side with stunning views. Entering Hakone National Park we alight to take the ropeway (cable car) which is a real surprise as we emerge at the top of the hill to swing over a valley containing sulphur mining. Owakudani means valley of great boiling and walking up the hill we find lots of fumaroles and pools of boiling water. To prove how hot it is they immerse crates of white eggs and shortly after pulls them out. At this point they have turned black. 500yen (£3) buys a bag of 5 with some salt to dip the hard boiled eggs into and they taste no different to normally boiled eggs. Another surprise is the toilet block by the information centre. This time the toilet has a thermostatically controlled warm seat, the usual washing options but also a blow drier which you set to front or back area! This valley contains the caldera filled Lake Ashi where we board a pirate ship for a 30 minute cruise across. It’s a pleasant lake that could easily be in Norway, Austria or a host of other countries but is certainly not our image of Japan. At Odawara we go to the station to catch the bullet train. Whilst waiting for ours we are all stunned by the speed at which they whizz through the station. Once on board it is really quiet and steady but the journey is too short for it to reach its full speed of around 200mph. In Tokyo our group is led to the local trains for the one stop journey to Hamamatsu-cho Station. Luckily we are going against the flow as other trains have people packed so tight their faces are pressed into the windows. The last stretch is a walk back to our hotel giving us chance to see the streets lit up at night and the coloured lights on the Tokyo Tower.

THURSDAY 18 SEPTEMBER – There are few ATM’s in Japan that accept foreign cards, mainly the Post Office and 7/11 so we head off in search of one. Luckily our guide taught us the Japanese numbers yesterday so we are able to ask for directions to a 7/11 store (something like hitch, ju itchi!). We see abseiling window cleaners and a tree cutting gang with a young girl up the tree holding the chain saw. It’s about 10 minutes walk to the store and from there we circle round a return via Shiba Park itself. This is a fabulous area with many temple buildings where the interiors are more attractive than others we have already visited. Outside is a line of baby statues with coloured knitted caps, windmills and flowers and sadly this is a Japanese baby cemetery. Hotel Shiba staff wave us all off on our journey to Yokohama Port. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan and has a huge baseball stadium, China town and lots of shops. Leaving the coach our guide refuses tips which is unusual. As we only have hand luggage we are quickly through check in and checking out our lovely balcony cabin on the Baja deck (B607). We’ve a stunning view of Yokohama and fortunately are not overlooked whereas we look down on all the balconies below us. Exploring the ship we find many beautiful swimming pools and spa areas, an outdoor cinema, lots of lounges and bars, shops, casino, and of course different places to eat. The Horizon buffet is open for lunch so we get stuck in. Spend the rest of the day flitting between different activities. Along with Arizona couple Larry and Cathy we win the afternoon “country capitals” quiz – thought we were good but Cathy knows every single one. As the sun sets Yokohama begins to light up and looks magnificent with the centrepiece of a big wheel that keeps changing colours. Setting sail the Diamond Princess just squeezes under Yokohama Bridge to head out to sea. The evening show Kiwi comedian keeps us amused with his sketches on how people from different countries behave as he is spot on. In the Skylight bar we enjoy “our kind” of music played at the kind of volume where you can still hear yourself talk. I’m delighted to find Japanese super loos in the public areas and these excel as they have all the previous benefits plus pulse and massage options and different settings for male and female. Head back to bed just before midnight and Steve is amused to see that Mr Bean is in the cabin next to us.
9 night cruise, flights, Tokyo stay and tours £1500pp

FRIDAY 19 SEPTEMBER – Steve’s 60th birthday and to make the most of it he is up before 6am sat out on the balcony in the morning sun whilst opening his birthday cards. He really does appreciate every day when he wakes up but this one is an extra special. It’s his day so I’ve left it to him to decide what activities we do. This ends up being a mix of quizzes, Texas hold em tutorial, bingo and more. Tonight is formal night and he looks really dapper in his dinner suit, you’d honestly never know what trauma he has been through. The 7 course meal is a tribute to Audrey Hepburn who christened the Sea Princess and sailed on the maiden voyage. My special diet is well catered for. Nadia and Ros from Australia join us at our table and make good company. After dinner Steve is presented with a chocolate cake and candle whilst the crew join in singing Happy Birthday. Make a final toast with champagne at the Captain’s welcome meeting then go on to do another quiz before sitting in the Skywalkers lounge listening and occasionally dancing as it is Motown Night. You’d almost think the day had been planned around the things Steve likes.

SATURDAY 20 SEPTEMBER – We’ve another day at sea so plenty of time for activities but not enough stamina! Take up the option of the English style pub lunch and meet a delightful Australian couple from Perth. Around their 80’s they are still avid travellers and tell us all about the great places Islands to visit in Scotland and their meeting with the Queen Mother. It’s a little bizarre to watch the big screen with Tom Jones in concert at Cardiff Castle whilst swimming in the pool or wallowing in the hot tub. As usual our team comes second in the quizzes but finally manage a win in the Liars Club game where 3 crew members describe a word with only one definition being correct. Comedian Simon McKinney keeps us a amused with his show based on observations of people.



  1. So fun to read about the cruise from your perspective…and funny we were so close many times but not yet connected.

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