Posted by: glenswatman | October 1, 2014

20140921-30 Japan continues to amaze us

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SUNDAY 21 SEPTEMBER – At 6am we are rudely awoken by an announcement saying we have docked at Kanazawa. The Japanese have kindly put on free shuttle buses from the port to the town centre and also set up information tables on the dock. Dropped off at the station we walk through the huge modern building to the bus station behind. Yen500 (£3) buys us an all day ticket for the 3 loop trams and we hop on the left loop for starters. The fish market is interesting with different types of fish that you can have cooked in the cafes to eat straight away. We wander around the “samurai” district bobbing in and out of quiet little gardens. Heading back to the bus we get our first taste of the Japanese diagonal pedestrian crossing. Basically all cars have to stop and you can cross over a road junction side to side or diagonally. We make an unscheduled stop at the contemporary art museum where we are amused by what looks like a swimming pool but with clothed people walking around under the water. It’s a trick with only 10cm of water over glass above a room that is painted blue. Heading into Kanazawa castle we walk along an avenue with amazing statues of nudes before crossing the moat to enter the castle ground. Japanese castles are really like enormous houses; this one has white walls with black paintwork. Across the road Kenrokuen gardens are our first taste of a real Japanese garden and stunning. The park has many small sections all with a water feature. The gardeners are bent down pulling out moss and tiny weeds using tweezers. In the “geisha district” the only ones we see are tourists dressed up like them. We hear classical music on entering the railway station and see a crowd gathered watching a violinist and harpist playing. Back at the ship we are lucky to be able to sit on our balcony and watch the send off. Many local school children have gathered to put on a display of dancing, acrobatics and flag waving – brings a whole new meaning to waving someone off. After our evening meal we spot a Japanese couple getting married in the atrium.

MONDAY 22 SEPTEMBER – Todays port of call is Maizuru. We make an early start taking the free shuttle to the railway station then our Yen 1600 (£10) pass covers everything else. First a single carriage train takes us along the coast where we alight to take a boat across the bay at Amanohashidate. In the waiting room Liv & Chris spot what look like prawn crackers for sale at Yen100 (60p) a packet. It’s not until we are on the boat that I remember reading that you could buy food and hand feed the gulls that swoop down and realise it is the bird food they have been eating. Having purchased another packet it is fun to find this works. At the other side of the lagoon we amble along past a nice temple to a pool with turtles, the symbol of longevity. Leaning over Steve manages to drop his sunglass in and has to climb over to retrieve them giving us all a chuckle. You can go up the mountain by funicular and chairlift, the chair lift being exactly what it says – individual plastic chairs hung from a cable. At the top you get spectacular views over the bay with a sand spit reaching out into the middle linked by 2 bridges to the far side. There are 2 things you must do here, first bend over to view the sand spit between your legs as it then looks like a bridge to heaven. The next thing is to purchase (or get free by hovering next to a tour group) 3 special flat stones and attempt to throw one through a distant hoop for luck. Returning to the village we take up the next part of the package and pick up bicycles for the 3km cycle across the sandbar. There’s a lovely track through the pine forest with access to the beach. We pull up at a picnic table and Steve goes in for a swim saying it is somewhat refreshing. It’s great fun cycling onwards as we pass shrines, school children having picnics and lots of fishermen. We get a window seat on the train going back and pass many nice beaches. In Maizuru we wander through the town and can’t resist a peek inside a Yen100 (60p) store. Big mistake as the place is packed with a wide variety of good quality items and we emerge with 9 things we didn’t know we wanted. Returning along the mountainside track we pass numerous different Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. In one a monk invites us in for green tea and shows us around including the area at the back where they hold the funerals. We are constantly amazed by just how friendly and welcoming everyone is. Back in the port we are greeted by a samurai who poses for a photo pretending to behead Steve. Today the send off includes people singing “Auld Lang syne”, quite bizarre. During the evening Steve gets roped in for playing “top middle or bottom” a version of “Strike it lucky” but like all the other contestants he doesn’t make it to the end.

TUESDAY 23 SEPTEMBER – Our busy days have caught up with Steve so he opts to stay on board. Again there is a complimentary bus to the train station where I rendezvous with Couchsurfing host Yuri. We begin with a walk down the main street which is lined with the quirky statues of spirit monsters known as “yokai”. There are literally dozens of them each depicting a story. Yuri and I get to know each other and I learn lots of things about life in Japan and her job as an English teacher and until recently an interpreter for the Police. She’s in her car so once we have done the street justice she drives us out to Yushien Garden. In Japan tourists often get half price admission to attractions so this ends up costing Yen400 (£2.40). This garden has many more intimate areas with waterfalls and pools and an indoor section with beautiful flowers. Yuri is a keen photographer and can point me to the most photogenic spots. At the end we stop in the cafe for a drink and sit in comfy sofas looking through vast picture windows with a view of the gardens. I spot Dutch couple Mark & Sylvia from the ship (we’ve been in the same quiz team) and Yuri invites them to join us. As we are leaving Yuri asks if I would mind if she invited them to join us for the rest of the day which is fine by me. Yuri drives us all over to Matsue where there is a beautiful lake and on the edge of it “Vogel Park”. Yen 1000 (£6) admission seems expensive until you get inside and find there is a sky tower with fabulous views, wildlife and Bird Park with free roaming birds and also some magnificent indoor flower displays. I’m talking about a huge hall where every surface seems to be covered in flowers. Time’s getting on so we decide to skip lunch and instead Yuri takes us to a small place on the other side of the lake where we can have traditional Japanese tea. She explains the formalities of the tea ceremony that involves eating a small bean filled delicacy along with powdered green tea. You must pick up the cup and turn it 3 times clockwise before taking sips after each piece of the sweet pastry. We each have a different pastry and cut them into quarters so we can try them all but although they look very different they all taste the same. After drinking the green tea we are served smaller cups of black tea which to foreigners tastes more like coffee. Throughout the day we are able to ask Yuri lots of questions about life in Japan and learn such a lot. She can be quite objective having lived in America and Dominican Republic as well. Re-boarding the ship we have to clear Japanese customs. We’re just in time for afternoon tea but it’s not a patch on the real English thing with small flat scones and a smidgeon of jam and cream.

WEDNESDAY 24 SEPTEMBER – There’s a typhoon heading our way so it comes as no surprise that when we dock in Busan SOUTH KOREA it is stormy and pouring with rain. Steve’s hardly sleeping and still not up to speed so I go it alone. The shuttle bus is interesting with disco style lights, fancy curtains and a bigger flat screen TV than we have at home. It drops of in the main street outside the Phoenix Hotel. The main shopping street is very modern looking and lined with major international stores but the minute you turn down a side street it is more like the South East Asia we know. Tiny shops, little cafes with low tables and plastic chairs, rubbish lying around and general clutter. Frustratingly each shop plays music loudly so you get constant noise whilst walking along. I discover a tiny alley with wall art and lots of sculptures. A number of linked escalators take me up to Yongdusan Park from where I have to imagine good views on a fine day. The stairs are like a waterfall so I give up trying to keep my feet dry and paddle through. One of the temple has the largest bell I have ever seen, would guess about 20’ high. The fence is full of padlocks, love tokens and wooden hearts with messages written on and to top that off is a love seat for photographs. Returning to the city below I discover the underground shopping centre which pretty much runs beside the subway and links the major streets. It is lined with small shops selling mainly electric goods, clothing and footwear. Most places don’t open until 10.30am. Outside Lotte department store I see a machine where you drop your brolly in then remove it wrapped in a bag (guess this indicates that rain is common here). It’s 10.15am and crowds gather in the entrance lobby where a hostess serves free drinks from a trolley. At about 10.25am she heads inside to be replaced by a man with a walkie talkie who constantly looks at his watch until he receives a message to open the doors. By this time smartly dressed staff is lined up either side of the doors. A local tells me this in an everyday occurrence and not the start of a special sale. Piling in to the store I see a huge water feature in front with fountains and a colour changing fancy wall behind. Realising this is much more than a regular store I pick up a store guide which prompts me to head to the roof. It’s amazing to find an open air roof garden, mini zoo, cafe and restaurant, observatory and many great viewing areas. It’s still raining but lighter so I am able to take a few photos and see more. Emerging from the store I walk through the fishing area with small shops selling tackle and men mending nets. The fishing market is huge and you can buy a fish then take it upstairs to a cafe and have it cooked. I decide to return to the ship and tempt Steve out so head back to the shuttle via the underground shopping area. Everything is now open so it is positively bustling but still feels strange being underground and only knowing where you are by the signs. Steve’s at the quiz when I get back and we talk through a plan beginning at the free Maritime Museum in the port. It’s well laid out with informative signs in English. In the city we Steve find the underground area claustrophobic and would rather get wet walking the streets. We time the Lotte store visit perfectly as there is a musical display at the fountains. I almost feel like a local as I guide Steve round the best points of interest that I’ve found. Overall he’s not thrilled but rarely likes busy cities. On the shuttle people are loading up with shopping as it seems that electrical goods and clothing are good buys in South Korea. We’re late leaving port as there is some problem on the starboard side but the announcement assures it will be fixed before we leave and we will make up time. Fortunately we are going to avoid the worst of the typhoon.

THURSDAY 25 SEPTEMBER – Back in JAPAN we dock at Nagasaki, famous as the place where the Americans dropped the atom bomb. Unfortunately we have to go through immigration again meaning paperwork long lines, fingerprints and photographs. We buy the tourist yen500 (£3) all day tram pass and walk to the nearest stop then connect with another tram to get us to Peace Park. In memory of all the people killed in the 1945 bombing it is a quite a moving place. Many countries have sent sculptures (couldn’t see ours) but the centre piece is a 10 metre seated man with the right hand pointed skyward to the atomic bomb and the left hand pointed to peace. From there we head up the hill to Ukrami Cathedral which has been rebuilt on the site of the bombed one. Numerous bits of the original remain including a torture stone used back in the 1600’s when Christians were persecuted. Circling round to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum (Yen200 £1.20) we learn more about that fateful day and the ongoing consequences. It’s really crowded with tourists on tours from the ship and also many school children from both Japan and Korea. In the nearby Peace Hall the Museum of History and folklore is practically empty. Entering by circling a pool of cascading water we descend into the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall where a chamber of glass columns leads to a tall rack holding the names of all the victims. There’s also a 3D movie depicting the bomb and immediate after effects on the landscape. Just down the hill is “ground zero” with a large pillar indicating the Hypocenter. Japanese children are holding a ceremony here which is particularly moving. It’s a hot and humid day and Steve is wilting so I put him on a tram back to the ship whilst I take another to Suwa Shrine. Up over 250 steps it is a nice viewpoint but also has some interesting features including a path covered in arches, a special tree and rock plus a nice water garden area and patio. Back at street level I give the tram a miss and opt to walk along a shady riverside path. This is delightful and takes me past numerous interesting old stone bridges until finally I reach to tourist one known as “Spectacles Bridge” as the two arches reflected in the water produce that effect. I continue through China Town then up the Dutch Slope lined with European style houses. The Glover sky road is closed at this side and I’m too weary to walk all around the hill to get up the other side so head back to the ship being stopped en route by more students wanting a quick chat in English. We set sail mid afternoon and soon pass Hashima aka “Battleship Island” made famous in the recent James Bond Skyfall movie. With the camera zoom you can easily make out the abandoned mining town buildings and it looks quite eerie. It’s the last formal night and Steve gets stuck in with 2 servings of lobster whilst I have lobster tails for starters and a delicious steak dinner. We met Americans Teresa and Lenny at afternoon tea a couple of days ago and they suggest we sit together for a chat after our meals. Americans living in Yokohama they are really interesting and also interested in our lifestyle. We are getting along so well that they suggest we abandon our pre booked post cruise shuttle and overnight in Narita and stay with them instead. Piano entertainer Chris May talks about his time working at Disney and then does a Disney Movies Music quiz. This time we are on winning times of “Grandma’s” who have watched Disney with their grandchildren.

FRIDAY 26 SEPTEMBER – It’s a choppy day at sea but nowhere near as bad as other cruises we have been on. I arrange for a gluten free pizza base to be sent up to the poolside pizza bar so Steve and I can sit out and enjoy a snack lunch. We do all the quizzes (win none) and Steve comes close at Bingo being the first to stand up needing only one number but 6 numbers later someone else takes the large cash prize. Lenny & Teresa join us with Nadia and Ros for our last evening meal. The final send off includes the “baked Alaska parade” with a modern theme of gangnam style dancing. Round off the day with the cabaret show.

SATURDAY 27 SEPTEMBER – We meet up with Lenny & Teresa in the customs hall and Teresa hails a cab then loads up all the bags to take home whilst Lenny walks us around the bay. Yokohama is a delight, light, airy, lots of open spaces and waterfront walks. Their apartment is magnificent, on the 28th floor with views in 2 directions. It has 2 bedrooms but by Japanese standards it is bigger than a family home. They suggest an outing and we walk to catch a bus to Sankeien Gardens. Teresa points out a shop that makes excellent rice cakes and the black sesame seed ones are delicious. Admission to the garden is Yen 500 (£3) and as always this is a delightful and enhanced by the sight of 3 different weddings being photographed in the grounds plus a traditional thatched building from another area that you can go inside and explore. Lenny declined a car so his company give him a generous transport allowance which he uses to get us in a taxi to Chinatown. Even the taxi is an experience with an elderly female driver who, in typical Japanese style, controls the back doors by remote. Chinatown is bustling with lots of restaurants and also a beautiful colourful temple. Tempting to stop and eat but we make do with a special sesame seed coated rice ball as an appetiser. We walk and talk and learn lots more about life in Japan and Japanese customs and have to say the more we see and hear the more we like the country and people and appreciate the bonus of meeting our new friends. At a shopping centre we queue on chairs to get into “Din Tai Fung” restaurant where we are taught how to eat the soup dumplings. You scoop one up, puncture it in the spoon then sip the soup before eating the dumpling and filling with vinegar and soy infused ginger. All the food is absolutely delicious. A nice touch is that rack under the tables where you can store you bags. The top floor of this supermarket is for seasonal sales and we check out the locally made offerings. However the basement of nearby Sago store is more impressive. The first part is a “gift” section as Japanese custom often dictates gift giving with presentation being the key. Fruit so large and perfect it could be false is popular with a small bunch of grapes costing Yen1500 (£9). We continue to the general food department where there are many things to be sampled including the finale of beer and wine tasting. Walking back we pass the biggest Nissan display showroom in Japan with many futuristic designs. We’re all pretty whacked when we return after 5pm so happy to sit and chat for the rest of the evening and chuckle at “An idiot abroad” episode of Japan.

SUNDAY 28 SEPTEMBER – After a leisurely breakfast it’s nice to take a proper look at Teresa’s artwork. She has a folder with some of her earlier work trying out different styles and mediums. She’s very talented and has some amazing pictures. Steve’s feeling weary so opts to rest up whilst the rest of us go on a Geocaching adventure. Lenny wants to pass on a Geocache Travel bug to me and in order to start the ball rolling I need to log it somewhere in Japan. With Lenny’s help I soon catch on to how it works and we enjoy finding 5 different caches during our stroll around the area. It’s a short walk to the station and we are really lucky to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji between 2 buildings. Lenny & Teresa wave us off on the Nartia airport express train. Normally we would have been taking the cheap local bus but Lenny used his travel allowance to treat us to the trip. The train is amazing with huge comfy seats and an onboard toilet that is bigger than our bathroom at home. The luggage rack has chains that you can use and set your own code for security. In true Japanese style they seem to have thought of everything. At Narita airport we check in then settle down for a bite to eat. Unusually our flight is scheduled to depart ½ hour early – maybe to avoid the volcano that erupted on Saturday. About 3 hours into the flight the lights come on and an announcement asks for a Doctor on board. The crew scurry around with oxygen to someone in the section behind us. Everything settles down but I notice Steve is looking really hot and flushed so I try to get the overhead blower directed more towards him. As it sit down to ask if he feels better I notice a vacant look on his face and his eyes just staring at me. I can’t get any response from him and he is a horrible ashen colour so I alert the crew. Within seconds they are all around and have him on oxygen. As soon as they can they move Steve up front and lie him down on a duvet whilst calling for any Doctor on board. There isn’t one but a scrub nurse offers help. Steve’s regained consciousness but half a dozen crew hover with 2 holding his legs up and massaging them, one holding oxygen over his mouth others bringing iced face cloths. After a time Steve’s colour comes back and he feels well enough to get up and go to the bathroom. I ask if the cabin temperature can be turned down and am told it is only 24C but they will drop it to 22C. The rest of the flight is uneventful for us however a few others need medical assistance which is unusual. After 12 hours we land in Istanbul where our plane goes to the maintenance area and then we are bussed to the terminal – maybe there was a problem with the climate control.

MONDAY 29 SEPTEMBER – At 8am we board our 3 hour flight to Manchester and this one goes really smoothly, helped by us having the exit seats. Steve now seems to be battling with a cold so we pick up some medication at the chemists in Manchester airport. David arrives and takes us to his home to pick up our car. We’re both pretty weary so don’t stay long as I want to get Steve to bed. We let ourselves in at Claire’s and get comfy before the family come home from work. A nice soak in the bath makes us both feel better and we opt to try and stay awake to get over our jet lag. We catch up with all the family news and enjoy a lovely meal Claire has prepared for us – steak and vegetables that we cook ourselves on a hot stone, or should do but this time the stone isn’t sizzling so she improvises and finishes it off in a pan. Try to stay awake as long as we can but are both in bed by 9pm.

TUESDAY 30 SEPTEMBER – At St James hospital Leeds Steve has his 2 year post transplant consultation with Suzanne. She suspects the incident on the plane was a faint due to the heat and a bit of stress. Steve talks through a few minor concerns and asks if he still has leukaemia. He’s pleased to be told that he doesn’t have it now but has had it however she hastens to add that there is a slight chance it could come back. It’s now up to Steve how often he wants to have blood tests and check up so we will probably fit that in around our travels. Steve mentions his cold and Suzanne listens to his chest and pronounces it clear so nothing to worry about. Our next stop is in Sheffield for my consultation with nutritionist Sophie. She’s already gathered a lot of info by Email and prepared a folder for me. The consultation is for about 2 ½ hours (£120) and the brief upshot is that Sophie thinks I may have celiac disease as the blood test I had was not performed after 6 weeks of gluten loading whereas the biopsy is normally accurate. Rather than follow this up with my Doctor we talk through the option of me going on a totally gluten free diet to see if that helps and then gradually add things from the FODMAP diet. Not terribly clinical but the bottom line is that I just need to find a diet that works regardless of what is wrong! Sophie is really helpful with suggestions of tweaking the diet I am on and also a few extra tips to help Steve. Its 4pm by the time we leave and Steve soon asks me to take over driving. By Kings Lynn we are both hungry so stop at the Brewers for a meal. They have a special allergy booklet about all their meals which is very helpful. We call Greig and Corinna who pop in for a drink and chat, good job we caught them as they are heading to Spain in their motorhome next week. 9pm and we arrive back at our cosy caravan. Everything seems fine other than a few moles that have had fun on the lawn at the front. We both comment that the Japan trip was outstanding but it’s nice to be home. 10.30pm and we are both tucked up in bed with Steve covered in Vick and dosed up.


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