Sitka, Alaska

After leaving the port in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, our cruise ship, the Celebrity MILLENNIUM headed up through the inside passage for our first port of call in Sitka, Alaska. It was in Sitka that the ship took on the fuel we would need for our eight straight sea days before reaching Japan. Half way through those eight days we are scheduled to cross the International Date Line where we will lost an entire day in a moment’s notice. Yes, this year the month of September has only 29 days in it while on the ship; there is no Friday the 15th!

One of the things that Sitka is known for is the strong Russian cultural heritage. Given that Alaska was actually “Russian America” until it was purchased in 1867, there was and still is quite a Russian presence in the town. Most of what you will want to see on a short visit to the town is on Lincoln Street that runs mostly parallel to the harbor line. You can visit the Sitka Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at sitka.org.

St. Michael's CathedralSt.Michael’s Cathedral sits right in the middle of the “fork in the road” along Lincoln Street as it makes it way down past the shops toward City Hall and Castle Hill. The original cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1966, but fortunately most of the relics, treasures, and paintings were saved by the locals. It took ten years to finance and rebuild and exact replica of the old cathedral, and today’s building is worth a short stop to look inside (and to take photos of the front of it.
Just to the right of St. Michael’s (as you face its front) is the Lutheran Church (of Finnish origin) and with its 1844 Kessler organ from Estonia. It has an interesting mix of glass treatments on the inside.

Totem Pole at Totem SquareContinuing down the street, and down the hill toward the water, on Lincoln Street, you’ll come to a nice grassy park area in front of Pioneer Home. This state home was built in 1934 for elderly Alaskans and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places (visitors are welcome). In the park area out in front of the Home is Totem Square, punctuated by a tall totem pole that displays the double-headed eagle of Sitka’s Russian heritage. The plaque gives the chronology and the history of the Baranov Totem Pole.

Russian Bishop's House Russian Bishop's HouseGoing back up Lincoln Street past the main stop light (the only one?) you’ll see the Russian Bishop’s House. This is a National Historic Landmark Site, and it’s the oldest intact Russian building in Sitka. It was built in 1842 by the Russian American Company (remember that what we now call Alaska was called Russian America before its 1867 purchase by the USA) as a residence for the bishop of the Orthodox Church. When you’re in Sitka, you’ll notice the proximity, about a quarter mile, of the Bishop’s House to St. Michael’s Cathedral back down Lincoln Street.

Our time in Sitka was short, but it was nice to be able to stretch our land legs as we would be using only sea legs for the next eight days!


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.




hit counter


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.




hit counter


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.




hit counter


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.




hit counter


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.




hit counter