|NEXT DISPATCH: Beijing, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, South Korea & Japan|
We're taking you to Asia! Follow along LIVE with us as we discover Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Japan. We'll be visiting Shanghai, Zhujiajiao Watertown with its traditional wooden boat markets, the Great Wall and Forbidden City in Beijing, the culture and beauty of Dalian, the amazing port city of Busan, the Peace Garden and Atomic Museum in Nagasaki and much, much more!
On Our Way!
Getting ready to board our flight to Hong Kong - so excited! It's an almost sixteen hour flight, so when we see you next we'll be a bit jetlagged! We're really curious about crossing the International Date Line (we've never done it before - does it hurt?) and what happens to the sun. Is it daytime the whole way? How many lunches will be served? Planning on sleeping as much as possible!
DAY ONE: Hong Kong
At one hundred and twelve feet tall and at the top of two hundred and forty steps, the Tian Tan Buddha, AKA Big Buddha, looms high above us on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.
One of the Six Devas with an offering that symbolizes a virtue that is necessary to achieve Nirvana.
A traditional Chinese junk sets sail in Victoria Harbor amid Hong Kong's modern skyscrapers.DAY TWO: Hong Kong - Let's set sail!
The big day has arrived as we set sail from Hong Kong aboard the beautiful Volendam.
Our captain takes us through the heart of Hong Kong, a city that juts straight from the ocean to the sky.
With over 1200 skyscrapers, Hong Kong is our world's most vertical city. The blend of architecture and nature is truly mind-blowing, the mountainous backdrop seems to serve as a palette for the skyline.
Welcome to our stateroom
Spacious and comfortable, with more than enough room to stash all of our stuff out from under foot, this will be our home for the next two weeks while we take in the sights, history and traditions of The Orient.
WATCH: Our stateroom on the Volendam!
DAY THREE: Culture & pampering at sea
Volendam's food culture
Food is a big part of any cruise, it's everywhere, all of the time. Usually the consuming of mass quantities is as far as the relationship goes, but we discovered a big difference our first day at sea.
The Volendam strives for a more cozy relationship with food.
Already we've sampled dim sum and dragon fruit. Guests may be treated to a tour of the bustling kitchen where every morsal is prepared. Cocktail classes and wine tastings are standard fare.
The crown jewel is Volendam's Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine Magazine, is where the ship's master chefs take time to demonstrate their talents along with the ship's fabulous party planner, Beth. This is a state-of-the-art kitchen in a studio / theater setting.
While we are looking forward to the daily television-type cooking shows, we are most excited about the hands-on classes we signed up for later in the cruise where we will learn to prepare Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Better yet, when we've finished we get to eat it!
High tea on the high seas, and if that's not relaxing enough...
Our first ever high tea was not only experienced while sailing the South China Sea, but sharing a table in the Rotterdam Dining Room with REAL Brits who were more than happy to show us the proper ropes!
Then we made an attempt at removing some of our halfway-around-the-world jet lag by applying heated rocks. So that's why we've seen this in pictures so many times... hot stone massages rock.
DAY FOUR: Getting Ready for Shanghai
Time for the first of our hands-on cooking classes - Chinese Cuisine. We prepare Sichuan chicken, fried rice, and find out just what makes delicious soup both hot AND sour.
Under the skillful guidance of Chef David Serrano, our dishes come together beautifully and better yet, even while using razor sharp knives, no cooks are harmed in the production. To top it off, at the end of the class our creations become our lunch.
The day before each port of call our ship's travel guide, Ian Page, gives a briefing on what to look for, how to get around, and basically everything to expect when going ashore. Ian certainly has the experience to speak with authority after having visited over one hundred countries in his years since leaving London -- even experiencing a pirate attack off the coast of Somlia.
Showtime in the Frans Hall Lounge rounds out our day. With us all the way from the U. K., Scotty McLean manages to both amaze and amuse with an act full of magical humour.
We head back to our stateroom early to pour over the maps, guides and literature waiting for us. We fall asleep dreaming about our upcoming two days in Shanghai.
DAY FIVE: Shanghai and Zhujiajiao Watertown
Shanghai by day
Shanghai is the largest city in China and sometimes considered, depending on the criteria used for defining municipal populations, the biggest in the whole world. The Volendam docks right in the center of it on the Huangpu River. Directly across the river from our pier the skyline looms over us, dominated by some of tallest structures in the world. Perhaps the most striking is the Oriental Pearl Tower.
About an hour outside of Shanghai, at Zhujiajiao, we discover a town that has lived a waterside lifestyle for over seventeen centuries.
Coming directly from the ultra modern mayhem of the city makes it seem like our bus might have doubled as a time machine.
The village is woven together by dozens of pedestrian bridges, so feet and small boats are the transportation of choice.
Meet an amazing street artist...
We were intrigued by a young man creating beautiful candy artwork of the symbols from the Chinese zodiac.
Using only a spoon and a slab of marble to cool the molten sugar, he made remarkable lollypops in just a few seconds. It seemed a shame to eat such fine work, but we justified it because they were too delicate to try to keep. Plus the carmelized sugar was much too tasty to ignore.
WATCH: The artist in action!
Shanghai by night
Shanghai is the commercial and financial center of China and the Bund is home to many of the main financial institutions operating in China, as well as some of the city's most exclusive shops and hotels. So we took the short walk from our docking point take a look.
In the past few decades the area has become the gathering center for the city. At night the impressive buildings are lit up in a stunning contrast to the neon skyscrapers across the river.
Tourists from all over the world take in the sights along the riverside walkway that gives the district its name or cruise on the myriad of party boats that make their way up and down the waterfront after dark.
Back on board The Volendam we finish our evening with the Shelong Acrobatic Show by a local troupe of young gymnasts presented in The Frans Hals showroom.
DAY SIX: Getting Shanghai'd
The Old City
We begin our second day in Shanghai's Old City. The area is an enclosed district of classic Chinese architecture, housing shops and restaurants.
While wandering the streets of the old town we stumble upon The Shanghai City God Temple dedicated to Cheng Huang Qin Yubo.
We notice several differences in this 600 year-old temple from the Buddist Po Lin Monastery we visited in Hong Kong a few days ago before discovering the obvious reason, this is a Taoist temple.
For lunch we duck into dim sum heaven. Two floors of non stop choices of every sort of Chinese delicacy imaginable.
We got the chance to sample a Shanghai specialty, soup dumpling. The steamed bread holds a surprise of boiling hot broth inside. The small versions can be bitten open and sipped, but the large ones, like ours, are served with a straw. Even with the precautionary tubing, David manages to sear a bit of toungue.
Veronica also opts for a whole fish on a stick, having chosen from a wide buffet of stick food -- including squids, tiny birds, or crabs.Let's go REALLY fast!
After lunch we make our way to the Maglev, short for magnetic levitation, train for a ride on the fastest train in the world.
Instead of rails the train floats, or levitates, on a magnetic field. China is a pioneer in this technology. While on our run out to the airport The Maglev *only* made it up to 301 kilometers per hour, just short of 200 miles per hour, but it has obtained a record speed of 501 km/h (311 mph) on a test run.
WATCH: The Maglev is CRAZY fast!
Pretty much beat by our two days of running around Shanghai we chose to spend a quite "movie night" for a change. We thought it seemed a little goofy that DVD deliveries were available to the staterooms when we first boarded the ship. Who wants to spend time on a cruise laying up with a movie? Well tonight our tired feet have the answer... we do.
DAYS SEVEN & EIGHT: At Sea - It's not THAT kind of a cruise
There is a very different vibe aboard The Volendam on this cruise than the tropical, Caribbean variety. Not only because of the early spring weather in this part of the world, which is chilly, but also because the ports of call are "bucket list" types of places.
Because of this, the focus of the onboard activities leans toward travel planning and sightseeing making the ship's travel guide, Ian, a rock star. His daily breifings in the showroom are packed and his Good Morning Volendam show each morning on our stateroom's television is packed with information about the upcoming cities we will be visiting.
That said, the ship has made adjustments that make possible continued use of outdoor amenities like the swimming pool. A retractable glass roof covers the deck area (including the hot tubs!) making it comfortable no matter what mother nature throws our way.
The second of the three formal nights finds us dressed up and ready for a visit to the Pinnacle Grill, one the ship's fine dining options. Billed as a steak house, seafood is also prominent because we are, after all, at sea.
The meal begins with a little unexpected treat, mushroom espresso with truffle oil, followed by lobster bisque and, one of the house specialties, crab cakes.
The main event features lobster tail for Veronica and a slightly different take on surf and turf, filet mignon and prawns for David.
Even though we can hardly hold another bite, we finish the meal with a triple crème brule, chocolate, vanilla, and coffee, along with a chocolate soufflé, piping hot, right out of the oven. Wow, maybe we should get all decked out more often!
|NEXT DISPATCH: Beijing, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, South Korea & Japan|