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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To Tip or Not or How Much or Why . . . ?

As I travel to various parts of this wonderful world — whether it’s speaking on cruise ships or just enjoying the beauty of the area — there are activities and customs that can be downright confusing to some. One of those customs has to do with leaving a tip for someone who’s provided a service to you. That service could be the person cleaning your hotel room, serving you a meal, driving you somewhere, making your special morning latte, toting your luggage at the train station. There are lots of services being done every day as people move about in their own city or in some place far away.


One quick story. It was my first business trip to Japan, and I was staying at the Hyatt Hotel near the Shinjuku Station. I’d been given directions on how to use the train from the airport to the train station, so I was all set for getting to the area. Once at the station, I got in a taxi and told him the Hyatt Hotel. We were off in a jiffy, and we made it to the hotel in about six minutes (I didn’t know how close by it was; I walked from then on). As we got to the hotel, a man ran out to the taxi, grabbed my luggage and ushered me into the hotel after I paid the taxi driver. Once inside, the bellman stood by my luggage as I checked in, showed them my passport, etc. With key in hand I head to the elevator as the bellman dutifully and politely followed me. We ride up together, neither of us saying anything, until we reach my floor. Off to the room where he waits for me to invite him in with MY luggage. He brings it in and turns around to leave. I said something and he turned around. I had some money in my hand to give to him and he shook his head “No.” He bowed politely and left.
After I put my clothes away I looked at the hotel check-in form and there it was in bold letters: NO TIPPING. That was certainly different from what I was used to the the USA!

Many customs can cause confusion as there doesn’t always seem be rhyme or reason why “Yes” here, “No” there, “Maybe” or “Sometimes” in other places. As these are customs and not laws, there is no definitive source for what is actually the right thing to do, but Wikipedia does have a nice reference article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratuity. You might not want to print the article although you could jot down a few notes based on the countries you’re planning on visiting.

Many people say that you shouldn’t have to tip if the service people are paid “a decent wage.” That sounds good, but that’s not always the case. For some workers, particularly in restaurants, hotels and other customer-focused service industries, their base pay is pathetic, perhaps three dollars an hour with the expectation that they’ll make it up in tips. Our son worked six years in a restaurant where a very significant part of his pay was the tips he received. His experience helped us to be even more generous when we tip; it will be 20% at a minimum in a restaurant unless the service is sub-par.

One of my recent cruise ship speaking experiences was a six-week voyage from New York City through the Panama Canal to Sydney, NSW, Australia — what an awesome experience. It was the last segment of a 3+ month world cruise that sailed round trip from Sydney, so it was mostly Aussies and Kiwis on board. Because the ship was home ported in Australia, it was a requirement that there be no tipping on board. When you bought a drink, your room card was charged the menu price, and the bill was closed out. There wasn’t even an option to add a tip. That was strange for us (so we did personally tip some of the staff), but it was life as usual for the Australians. I came across an article on Cruise Critic about tipping, particularly on cruises, and I thought it was interesting — here it is.

Travel is a wonderful thing; whatever you do, wherever you go — remember there are people working to make a living so that you’re able to enjoy your travels. Even a few dollars from you — such a small amount for you — can make a big difference for the service staff.


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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How to be Treated Like a Local when Traveling Internationally

Would you rather be treated like a local or a tourist when you travel abroad? What I am referring to is whether you can get the good bargains, if you’re able to order off the locals’ menu, or be able to greet people in their own language. If you’re going to Canada, the U.K., or to Australia – then it’s not really a problem; they speak English, just with a different accent.

One of the travel secrets that I have found to be very successful when I travel to different places is that I am treated much better when the first words that come out of my mouth are spoken in the local language. There are some countries where the only local phrase I can say is “Thank you.” But that simple gesture generally brings a smile to their face. That alone is worth it, but then I also typically receive excellent service whether I am in a restaurant, a hotel, a taxi – it has never failed.

I was in Paris a few years back on business, and my French host took me to a Japanese restaurant. It was an interesting sight to see all these Japanese waiters chatting with their customers – in French! When our waiter brought us our drinks, my host said “Thank you” in French and the Japanese waiter replied in French. He set my drink down and I said “Thank you very much” in Japanese – that’s about the extent of my Japanese vocabulary. The waiter beamed the biggest smile, nodded to us, said something in Japanese, and we had the best service and attentive waiter all night long.

When you greet someone in their own language, you are telling them that you value and respect them. It also tells them that you have taken the time to learn some of their words and phrases. You are not doing this just to get better service, but because it helps you become a part of their culture even if only for a few days, a week, or a month while you are there. I have also found that while I am learning new words that I am also able to learn a little more about the areas where I am going, so I am much more prepared when I arrive.

Did you know how to say these words and phrases in the local language in your last international travels: thank you; please; good morning; good afternoon; good evening; hello; nice to meet you; do you speak English? Speak slower please; how much is this? Those are just ten of the 25 essential words and phrases you should be able to use when you travel abroad. I admit that I don’t know them all in Chinese and Japanese, but then I don’t go to China or Japan as often as I go to Mexico or to Europe.

Some Americans feel that the locals should be able to speak English as it’s probably the most universal language. That is correct in a sense, but I think it’s a really bad attitude to expect someone to speak your language when you’re in their country. Using a few manners will not only help you, it’s also “the right thing to do.”


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.




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The Lady at the Sushi Restaurant

September 19, 2016
I’m sitting in an airline lounge at Narita International Airport outside Tokyo, and I was reflecting on my recent stops here in Japan. I just disembarked from a 15-day trans-Pacific cruise that started in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, and ten of those days were sea days. Our five days in port were in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, USA, and then our four ports in Japan — Otaru and Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido, and then Tokyo (proper) and Tokyo (Yokohama) where the cruise ended. I was one of the guest speakers on this cruise (you can visit my cruise speaking page by clicking here), and that is a pleasure that is still as exciting as the first time.

I’ve been to Japan many times, initially while I was working for a major Fortune 25 company, and then many times after taking the early retirement so I could travel and write and have fun! While I’ve been to many exciting places and seen so many wonderful sights in the 55 countries and over 125 cruise ports I’ve been to, it’s the people who are memorable and who make the trips so enjoyable.
There was the tour guide on our 21-day journey through six countries in Europe; we heard her speak the five languages (Dutch, German, Italian, French, English) fluently and with ease every place we went. And then on that tour we met many nice couples, including one with whom we’ve since cruised a couple times as well as vacationed together. There was the chap in the pub in Glasgow who told us about the “contest” with the Germans on who could make the strongest beer. (Who won? It wasn’t the Germans.) And there was a whole group of Australians that we had a great time with on a six-week cruise from New York to Sydney (they were finishing a 100+ day world cruise).
And there have been so many more.

And then on this recent trip, there was a lady at the sushi restaurant in Hakodate. I don’t know her name; I don’t know where she lives, or if she’s married or single, or if she has any children or grandchildren — I really know nothing about her. Except. Except I do know that she made such an impression on me because she wanted me to feel comfortable where I was in a situation that could have been very UNcomfortable.
You see, I purposely went in to a sushi place that didn’t cater to tourists. Why? I eat with tourists all the time; I wanted to eat with locals. And when you’re in another country and you’re not fluent in their language, it can get tricky. I was given a place at “the bar” right next to her; sushi plates were coming by on a conveyor belt, but there was also a menu from which you could order. I wrote down a couple items (the hostess gave me a menu with English), and then I sat there waiting for them to arrive. The lady had instincts (as do most women) and I’m sure she knew that I didn’t know what to do.
She took a new tea glass and gently pushed it my way. Then she opened a nearby container, scooped two small helpings of green tea powder into the glass (ceramic actually), and then showed me how to operate the hot water faucet to make tea. She handed me the tea and smiled. ‘Arigato,’ I said as I smiled back at her. I now had some hot tea (and it was HOT!) and I had something to do while waiting for my food to arrive.
I ate the sushi that I’d ordered, but I wanted more. Nothing on that conveyor belt appealed to me, nor did anything else in the menu. But I did see something that I thought I’d like that was on a banner hanging from the ceiling. One problem — it was only in Japanese. At least in France or Italy I can write down the words even if I don’t know what they mean. But there is no way that I can write Kanji without unintentionally insulting someone or ordering 50 pounds of broiled sea cucumber! I took a piece of paper and a pen; looked over at her, and pointed to the banner. “Ah,” she said as she smiled again. She took the pen and paper and wrote down the item that I wanted. She handed the paper to the waiter, and my new plate was soon on its way to me. Once again I said ‘Arigato’; one of the ten words (okay, maybe seven or eight) in Japanese that I know.
She smiled; finished her lunch, and left.

Her kindness was special; special to me. I’ve always felt comfortable in Asia, even when I can’t speak, read, or understand the language. The locals are such warm and caring people who want visitors to feel welcomed in a land where many might feel intimidated or scared. But I don’t feel that way.

The lady at the sushi restaurant didn’t go out of her way to make me feel comfortable; she offered me the assistance and kindness that I’m sure she shares with everyone, and it’s that kindness that I see in everyone in Asia. I can’t wait for my next trip — eight weeks of Southeast Asia in early 2017!

Syonara!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out a monthly 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/

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All information and images copyright © 2016 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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Otaru, Japan; in Sapporo’s Shadow

September 14, 2016 — Otaru, Japan
One of the [many] interesting benefits of being on a re-positioning cruise is that you will often stop in ports that most cruise ships never visit. The port of Otaru, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, is a lovely area that many people use just as a way to get to Sapporo — yes, they make the beer there! There’s nothing wrong with going to Sapporo, but Otaru deserves a visit all on its own. That’s what I did today, and here is my story.

It had been five days at sea since we’d left Dutch Harbor, Alaska (and that was our first port after four sea days out of Vancouver, B.C., Canada). We even crossed the International Date Line so the calendar looks as if we’ve been at sea for six, but it was only five nights and lots of changing our clocks and watches. The passengers were eager to step on solid ground, but we first had go through the mandatory immigration procedures as this was our first stop in Japan.


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I’d made my list of places I wanted to go and activities I wanted to do. This was my first time in Otaru so naturally I wanted to do some “tourist” things — visit the Otaru Canal; see the Music Box shops; visit the aquarium and museums; sample sushi at various places. The big question is, Will I have enough time to do it all and be back on the ship by 6:30 tonight?

Given that I did a lot of walking, went into a lot of shops and museums, I can’t list everything in this posting. If you want more detailed information on Otaru, contact me via the CONTACT page and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Below are some of the places and sights of Otaru on Japan’s northern Hokkaido Island.

100yenstore-1-compressed 100yenstore-2-compressed
Similar to the “Dollar stores” in parts of t world, Japan has its “100 Yen” stores, although the items actually 108 Yen. I found a pair of earbuds to replace the ones I brought with me — one of the wires must have come loose. But now I have a good set; perhaps I’ll stop in another store (Daiso is one of the big players) and pick up spares!



flowers-1-otaru-canal-compressed flowers-2-compressed flowers-3-compressed flowers-4-formertemiyarailway-compressed
It’s not the right time of year for cherry blossoms, but there were still some pretty flowers to enjoy.



musicboxmuseum-compressed musicboxstore-1-compressed musicboxstore-2-compressed
Music boxes are very popular in Otaru; the first picture is the Music Box Museum and the other two are one of the many music box stores in town along the famous Sakaimachi Shopping District Street.

steamclock-2-compressed steamclock-1-compressed
Steam powered clock in front of the Music Box Museum.



otarucanal-1-compressed otarucanal-2-compressed otarucanal-3-compressed otarucanal-4-compressed otarucanal-5-compressed otarucanal-6-compressed
Otaru Canal — an awesome place for a relaxing ride or just a place to stroll or sit and watch people.



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The Otaru Beer Hall on the Otaru Canal in Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan, is — of course — a German Beer Hall!!!



Yes; I have many more photos but I don’t want to bore you. I found Otaru to be a very vibrant city that was originally a fishing village in a protected bay. The people were friendly and we had great weather! If you have the chance to go on a cruise that has a stop in Otaru, I hope you’ll consider taking it.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out a monthly 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 © 2016 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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