Gardens — An Amazing Part of Travel

It’s no secret that I really do love to travel, and these days I’m doing a lot of it by speaking on cruise ships. Here it is the first day of June, and I’ve spoken on four cruises with seven more booked for the rest of this year. There’s no question that I’m visiting many amazing places and seeing lots of fabulous sights. Please read down to the end of this article for a link to 55 of the most amazing botanical gardens in the world!

Many of us spend our time in museums when we go places, and they’re a great place to revisit history, view awesome artwork, or even seek indoor shelter on a hot or a rainy day. Another venue to consider is a garden. On our recent set of cruises in Southeast Asia, we did visit the Glover Gardens in Nagasaki, Japan — a couple photos are below; the gardens are included in this posting from two months ago.

A year ago we went on a 19-day road trip, and one of our stops was in Palm Desert, California. While there, our host John took us to visit the Living Desert, a botanic garden where native animals and plants all co-exist in natural environments. The children we saw there really enjoyed feeding carrots to the giraffes. A couple photos are below, and here is the link to last year’s article.

For a great resource on some of the most amazing botanical gardens in the world — I’ve been to a few of them — I highly recommend that you check out this article from Sproutabl (www.sproutabl.com), a lawn and garden blog that aims to help people learn about all kinds of gardening, lawn care practices, and plant care. The article is 55 Stunning Botanical Gardens You Really Need to See Before You DieCLICK HERE for the link. If you like gardens, you’re sure to like this quick-and-easy reference to these amazing gardens — please let me know what you think!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Reflecting on Eight Weeks of Cruising

May 1, 2017
We’ve been back home in Boise, Idaho, for a little over a week, but these past nine days pale in comparison to the fifty-six days we were cruising in Southeast Asia. I’m not complaining; I consider it a blessing that Celebrity Cruise Lines likes the presentations that I give to its passengers and that they continue to invite me back to speak on their ships. These recent cruises, starting in Singapore and ending in Yokohama were on the Celebrity MILLENNIUM, a ship that I’ve now been on for seven cruises.


The typical reaction from other guests at dinner when they found out what I was doing, or they recognized me from coming to my presentations in the theater, was “That’s a pretty good gig.” And I agree; it is a good gig, and I don’t take it for granted. In case you’re curious, more information on my speaking on cruise ships can be found by clicking here.

One of the nice things about speaking on ships I’ve been on before is that I see many of the staff and crew that I’ve previously met. The Master of the Vessel, Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis, is a very warm and engaging leader. He always greets me by name, tells the other guests about me and my novels, and is widely liked by all. His wife and young daughter were also aboard, and we would typically see all of them at the evening show in the theater. Manuel, the Activity Manager, was always smiling even as he was rushing from one Celebrity Life event to another. There were a few of the wait staff that had been on last September’s Vancouver to Tokyo crossing that I was on who were just finishing their “contract” and looking forward to the trip home and a two-month break. I don’t blame them — everyone on the ship works very hard seven days a week.

Life on the ship is a little different for the speakers and the entertainers. Our schedules are fairly simple, and we’re not required to do anything extra. I typically let the Cruise Director and his staff know that I’m available to help with anything they need, or to give extra talks in case a “port day” turns into a “sea day.” This doesn’t happen very often, but we did have a day of total fog where we sat anchored outside Shanghai because the port pilot felt it was too dangerous to move — we could see over two dozen ships that spent the day there. Some of the guests were disappointed because we then had to skip our next scheduled stop in Nagasaki, Japan, after I had given a talk highlighting the wonderful sights and people there. Lucky for my wife and me was that we’d already been there twice in the past month so we’d already been able to visit the Peace Park, Glover Garden, etc.

The weather wasn’t always the best at times, including the day our small-group tour went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall; it was cloudy, rainy, windy, cold! But . . . we were at the Great Wall of China!

We did have some very good meals while we stayed in Beijing for the three days. One evening we went to a restaurant recommended by our guide, and the six of us had Peking Duck, vegetables, rice, beer, dessert — all for a grand total (for ALL six of us) of just under $60! On the way back to the hotel, we saw this bottle of wine and just couldn’t pass it up.
While in Beijing, we also went to Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, and we did a Hutong tour. It was interesting to hear first-hand from long-time hutong residents about the life in those small areas where the housing is somewhat communal. Four families might live in one building; they each have their own separate living and eating areas, but there is usually a central courtyard to be shared by all. The rooms are small and sparse, but they have what they need and seem quite content.

Overall we went to seven countries (Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, China — mainland and Hong Kong) on the four cruises. Besides our time in Beijing, I think the most interesting places were Halong Bay and Hoi An in Vietnam. The limestone caves in Halong Bay are amazing and colorfully lighted. Even the locals go to view them so you know they must be special! Hoi An looks like a sleepy little town but the life along the riverfront is amazing — full of shops and hotels. Our tour group ventured through the central market and took a cooking class before Darlene and I headed out on our own to wander the small streets.

Back to why we were on the cruises. I gave two types of presentations: on two of the cruises I gave a series of talks I call “Now That We’re There” — highlights of the locales we’re visiting; tips on getting around; where to get local information, free Wi-fi, etc. These talks are greatly appreciated by the independent travelers. “Music of the Masters” was the title of the classical music presentations (most of the time was music) that I gave on the other two cruises. There were many devoted music fans watching and listening and completely absorbing the beauty of the music from Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. On one of the sea days, I led a matinee presentation in the theater accompanied by the classical string duo. You can watch the videos from that presentation on my YouTube channel by clicking here. The videos are titled “SeaConcert part1” and “SeaConcert part2.” I hope you enjoy the great music from the duo.

Eight weeks — yes, it’s a long time (and some people take 100+ day round-the-world cruises), but it was a great opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, share some of my travel and music knowledge, and to visit some very interesting parts of Asia. What’s in the forecast for more travel?

    Leaving again soon:

  • May 6-13: leading a small-group tour in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico — details here
  • July 9-23 and July 25 – August 9: speaking on 80-passenger boat that tours Hudson River, Erie Canal, 4 Great Lakes with Blount Small Ship Adventures — details here
  • August 28 – October 9: speaking on 4 cruises in the Mediterranean aboard Celebrity CONSTELLATION — visiting such amazing places as Venice, the Greek Isles, Malta, Barcelona, and many more!

Speaking of tours, I am leading two small-group tours in 2018 during the summer months (June and July), making them ideal for teachers and others in the school system. Have you ever wanted to go to Cabo San Lucas (with someone who’s been there over 20 times), or what about Copenhagen and Norway? Click here to see the tours and what we’ll be doing. Remember, each tour group is only 8 to 12 guests!

If you’ve ever thought about cruising, do it! Don’t start with eight weeks, but start with a cruise to someplace fun, warm, and adventurous. If you want help in finding the right cruise, send me an email and I can send you the name of a travel agent I’ve used who can find the perfect trip for you!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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Beginning the Next Cruise

March 20, 2017
Our first cruise on the Celebrity MILLENNIUM ended in Hong Kong where we spent an overnight before starting out on cruise #2.


Hong Kong — March 10th
The weather was quite overcast and cool so we didn’t feel like taking any extended trips especially since we’d be back in port for three consecutive days at the end of cruise 3/beginning of cruise 4. We took the complimentary shuttle from the cruise terminal to Plaza Hollywood where we did find a nice place for lunch, and then out for a stroll. There is an amazing garden and nunnery right there in the middle of the city, and so we sent a couple hours walking around enjoying the sighs and serenity of the Nan Lian Garden.
Aerial photograph of garden layout
Highways pass directly overhead
A delightful pagoda
One of many interesting rock formations
The first “Rockery” I’ve ever visited!
More great rock formations
Sign over some rocks
What the sign says
Another amazing rock

After visiting the gift shop where Darlene got a nice pair of earrings, we crossed the overpass to the Chi Lin Nunnery that is mostly closed to the public.
Louts flower lamp
Decorations on enormous doors
View along the roof edging



Keelung, Taiwan — March 13th
After a rather stormy 36 hours at sea, we pulled into the port of Keelung, gateway to Taipei. Because we’d be returning to this port on two other cruises (for one day and for t days, respectively), we opted to just walk off the ship and into town. Our first stop was in the Passenger Terminal where we exchanged some more for local currency.
They’ll take most Asian currencies

We then headed off for a walkabout.
Let’s go to the “park”
There were a lot of steps
The mist made for careful walking
Green was the color of the day!
Those leaves were huge!
We passed one small pagoda
Our destination — visible from ship
We took the steps DOWN from the Martyr’s Shrine

We did see some interesting plant formations along the way.
Just hanging there
Visible roots
Looks intriguing
Pansies were the popular flower

We crossed the river and noticed that each bridge had different animal symbols
Bridge 1 – Dog
Bridge 2 – Rooster?
Bridge 3 – I thought Monkey; Darlene thought Bear

We worked our way into the famous Miaokow Night Market; most night markets are also open during the day. All the local delicacies are there.
One of the main entry points
This did NOT interest us!!!
Our meal – crab soup and rice
Where we ate
There’s an ornate temple in the market area
Dedicated to ships and sea merchants
Even a dark-skinned statue



Nagasaki, Japan — March 15th
We began four consecutive port days with a stop in Nagasaki, Japan.
A temple, a shrine, and a church — all close by
We ordered way too much food!

We continued our walk up the street and entered Glover Garden.
There were escalators to take us to the top of the hill
The namesake Scot
Flowers in front of his house
More flowers
Inside the house
View from building at top of hill
Windows in the house
Puccini set “Madame Butterfly” in Nagasaki
Madame Butterfly


Our three next ports of call were in South Korea where we didn’t do much — we were saving energy and health for our upcoming 3-day/2-night stay in Beijing!

Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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In Central and Northern Vietnam

The final Vietnam ports for the season for Celebrity MILLENNIUM.
Hoi An
The Chan May port is an isolated commercial port that juts out into the South China Sea, making it subject to the vagaries of the weather. Such was the case a couple years ago when strong winds and high waves prevented us from docking. Nicer weather this time enabled us to dock and send most of the guests out to various tours in Hue, Danang, and Hoi An. We chose the cooking class in charming Hoi An, a 90-minute drive from the port.
Since we stayed along the coastline, we passed by many inlets and bays where our guide explained some of the methods used by local fishermen.

Once we got to Hoi An, we walked to the Central Market where fresh meats (only beef and pork, no chicken or other animals), herbs, and fruits are sold. We stopped at a couple stalls for detailed information first on the fruits, and then on the herbs.

We were pleasantly surprised as we walked along the river; we weren’t expecting to see such a vibrant area filled with locals and tourist. It reminded me of our stay along Canal St. Martin in Paris a few years ago.


The sign for Fresh Beer for 5,000 Dong (about 23 U.S. cents) was too tempting to pass up. It was a glass of beer that was pretty light in flavor – thus the price. We later on were able to pick up cans of Saigon Beer for 15,000 Dong (less than 75 cents) as we walked along – a much better taste.

There were shops for just about anything you’d want (that is that you’d want to figure out how to pack it up and take it home). One of the more interesting items was the selection of silk sleeping bags; a cute idea, but not sure of their practicality. It was definitely fascinating to see the stick and paper lanterns being made.

Our cooking class was a lot of fun; we made spring rolls, made a marinade for our chicken and beef kabob, and then sliced a mango for a delicious mango salad. Only one person cut a finger using the knives, but that didn’t slow her down at all.


One our way back to the ship we crossed over the Dragon Bridge in Danang; that was a nice view.


Ha Long Bay
The next day we arrived in Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we dropped anchor. There are over 1,900 “islands” jutting out of the bay, and we went on a “junk” out to one of the more famous ones.

The story goes that a poor farmer was on this island about twenty years ago, and he accidentally discovered a cave that was covered by bush. As he pulled the bush aside, he discovered an entrance to the enormous limestone cave system of stalagmites and stalactites. He then became very rich by selling tickets to view the cave (nice story, huh?). As you can see by the number of boats, the cave is a very popular place.


The colored lights inside the cave create some interesting, although artificial, views.

There are some other fascinating rock formations, one of the more popular pairs being the “Kissing Rocks.”

Our short tour of “Halong Bay by Boat” ended and we came back aboard the ship for a restful evening. Then we have one more sea day until we pull into the port of Hong Kong where we’re actually in port for one full day before the last day of the cruise. Many will be leaving, but we’re staying on as this is just our first of four cruises in SE Asia.
It’s so long for now, but there’s more to come.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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A Nice Visit to Ho Chi Minh City, aka, Saigon

As we departed from our two-day stay in Laem Chabang, we sailed south in the calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand until we reached the open waters of the South China Sea. After another relaxing sea day we pulled into the industrial port of Phu My in the southern part of Vietnam. Our bus trip into Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, took only ninety minutes thanks to the newly constructed highway (previous trips had been over two hours).


Our first stop was at the Reunification Hall, the former Presidential Palace of South Vietnam.

Our guide took us quickly through the Hall where we did see the former present’s helicopter on the roof as well as some of the important rooms, both above ground and in the below-ground bunker.

I’ve been to the Hall on two previous trips, and I was hoping that we would also have time to visit the tanks out front and read about the defector who dropped a bomb on the Palace in April of 1975. The outside grounds were well maintained with ornamental plants and shrubbery.

We re-boarded our bus inside the gates and as we left, we exited via the famous area where on April 30, 1975, the North Vietnamese stormed the Place by driving a tank through the gate, bringing an end to the conflict


I’ve always wanted to visit the Saigon Zoo & Botanical Gardens, but previous trips would stop at the History Museum at the edge of the gardens, but never inside them. Established in 1864 along the Saigon River, the zoo is also a popular place for locals.


This was a treat for me and the other guests as we walked around and saw animals, both large and small – rhinoceros, elephant, bears, birds, monkeys, tigers, etc.




There are many types of trees and flowers around the gardens, including an orchid house. The orchids were not very colorful, so we opted for an outside location for the photo.


A delightful buffet lunch was served at the Lion Brewery & Restaurant. I wasn’t expecting that we would eat at a German Brewhouse, but the food was decidedly Vietnamese, and it was very good. They did have German beer available, but it was a cold bottle of the local Saigon Green beer that was served to us.



We had some time for souvenir shopping after lunch, and several of us bought a selection of beautiful greeting cards that have pop-up cuts when the card is opened. Some of the street vendors were also selling baseball-style caps at a very cheap price of three hats for five U.S. Dollars. I saw a few people buying them, but I don’t need any more hats.


The Ho Chi Minh City Museum has many items telling the history of the city.

I thought that the items outside the building were more interesting.


Our final stop was at a temple where incense was burning and Buddhist monks were chanting in several of the rooms.


We saw this dog in the last room, and he looked very content.


If you’ve ever wanted to be a millionaire, just come to Vietnam where it’s very easy to hold a million in your hand. This display that I have is worth about forty-five U.S. Dollars, and it was just some of the local currency (Vietnam Dong) that I had — I was “a millionaire for a day”!


It was an enjoyable day in Ho Chi Minh City, and we returned in time for dinner and to watch as our ship pulled out of the port of Phu My in the evening for another sea day before our final two ports in Vietnam. We’ve been enjoying learning about the culture of the country and tasting the food – very good! While there was some discussion of the Vietnam Conflict during our tours, there was nothing negative; it was given just as background facts.

Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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