Where’s the Ship?

Boarding in Venice Trieste

Venice Grand Canal

Venice

Venice is Italy’s city of canals, built on a series of islands in a lagoon. The original lagoon dwellers were fishermen living on the then marshy islands. Others retreated there to avoid various armies after the fall of Rome. The lagoon protected them the way walls protected other cities of the era because people not local to the area did not know where to find the safe navigation channels to avoid running their ships aground if the invaders happened to  have any ships – which they generally didn’t, leaving the islands unreachable.

canal in Venice

This isolation from the political upheavals of the mainland eventually allowed the Venetians to thrive rather than just survive. Venetians were early explorers, traders, and sailors. San Giocomo, the first church, was built on the islet of Rialto in 421, and is considered as the traditional founding of the city. Architecture of the city is based on pilings driven into the ground supporting the stone slab foundations of the buildings. Between these pilings sinking and water levels rising over the centuries the original ground floors of some buildings are flooded and unusable. High tides and storms flood places like the famous San Marcos square frequently enough that they put portable raised sidewalks out so people have somewhere dry to walk. Raincoat-like boots that pull on over people’s shoes are a popular item sold by vendors around the area.

Venice is a city of canals, bridges, and narrow alleys

Cruise ships visiting Venice currently dock at Stazione Marittima at the western end of the city near Tronchetto, where many tour busses arrive. There’s a parking garage there where visitors who come to the city by car leave their vehicles, as there are no roads through the islands that make up the main part of the city. There is a movement to dock ships elsewhere or change their entry route to the port, but the alternate route requires dredging and the alternative ports need infrastructure before either of those things happen. Meanwhile the amount of ships visiting Venice has declined and the largest of cruise ships don’t go there.

Bridge of Sighs – where prisoners crossed between Doge’s Palace and the prison for trial or execution

Things to do in Venice

In this city with canals for roads, gondola rides are the quintessential experience. Architecture is the main attraction with places like St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. Piazza San Marco is the main square, and the Rialto Bridge and Bridge of sighs (named for the sighs of the condemned said to have been heard from the bridge as they crossed between old and new prisons or to execution) are also attractions. There are museums, and local cuisine featuring seafood from the lagoon is an attraction in itself. Seafood, pasta, and pizza restaurants are mainly what is found around Venice. Even the little place near where we stayed ran by Chinese people served pasta and pizza rather than Asian food.

Vaporetto public transport boat

Since there are no roads transportation is on foot or by water. Public boats called vaporettos function like a water bus transporting people across Venice. It’s not a big area, and walkable if you can find your way through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways and bridges. Here and there signs direct people to the major attractions and Google maps is quite useful if you don’t want to feel like a rat in a never ending maze.

Doge’s Palace

City passes are available for 24, 48, or 72 hours with entrance to museums and churches, Doge’s palace and the option to add on public transport. Besides the vaporettos, transportation is available by water taxi and from Alilaguna, which has both public transport boats and cruises to specific places.

Morano Island glass factory

Other highlights are a visit to Morano island to watch glass blowing or going to the beach on the island of Lido (so that’s where the Lido deck name comes from, which is the name of the pool deck on many cruise ships). More points of interest include visiting the mostly abandoned island of Torcello with ancient buildings and walking paths through a nature preserve or see the Jewish ghetto where all of the Jewish people of Venice lived during the time when they weren’t allowed elsewhere in the city.

a lot of the open squares in Venice have an old well

Boarding the MSC Lirica

We spent 3 nights at an Airbnb in Venice before the start of our cruise, which was supposed to begin there. On the night before boarding we got a call from our travel agent at Vacations To Go saying that our port of embarkation had been suddenly changed from Venice to Trieste, 98 miles away. Luckily we did not have to get there on our own, but rather were to go to the port in Venice as planned where MSC would have busses to take everyone to the new port from 10am to 3pm.

the entrance to our bnb in Venice was through this wooden door in a narrow alley

From our bnb in a residential area of the Santa Croce district, it was a short walk to the San Stae vaparetto station where we could catch a boat to the end of the line stop, one beyond the train station where we had first arrived. There were busses at that stop, but not the ones from the ship, which were at the port. To get to the cruise port you have to walk a bit to a building that says people mover. There you pay for a ticket to ride an elevated shuttle train out to the first stop, which is for the cruise port. The second stop is Tronchetto.

boats in Venice are long and narrow to fit through the many canals

The people mover doesn’t go straight to the port. You have to walk a bit from there. The gate guard looks at your ticket and says which terminal to go to. If the ship actually ports there it would be at the dock and you could probably see it, but there were no ships at the dock the day we were there. Since ours got transferred elsewhere we walked down to the end of the terminal we were directed to. They had an open entrance into the building and people to take the luggage at the farthest possible door. Then we went on through the terminal until we came to a place upstairs where they checked tickets and passports and assigned bus numbers according to the order people came in.

Rialto Bridge

We left our bnb at 8:30am figuring to get there early to try and get on the first bus. We arrived around 9ish and ended up on bus #3 so they obviously started far earlier than 10:00. We waited awhile until our bus was called, which was when enough people had arrived to fill it. The driver said it would take an hour and a half to get there, but it actually took a bit over 2. The scenery most of the way was road construction and a highway wall. When we finally got to the shore there would have been some nice views had it not been quite foggy and raining too hard to see much.

gondola in Venice

At the port we ended up in a long slow moving line because the people from the first 2 busses had been waiting in a room there and were just turned loose to head for the ship when our bus got there. The line at the scanners and passport check would move a little, then stop, move a bit again, and stop some more so it took quite awhile to get through even though we weren’t terribly far back in the line. Finally we got through and had a bit of a walk down the outside of this terminal until reaching the end where we had a short distance to go out from under the sheltered side of the building before reaching the stairway up to the ship. Luckily it had stopped raining by then because for awhile on the bus ride over it was such a downpour we’d have been soaked in just that short distance and our luggage didn’t get to our room for hours so we would have had nothing dry to change into. It did finally arrive long after all the rooms around ours got theirs, so at least it made it on the ship. First loaded in the truck, last off. It was probably well buried under the luggage of everyone who got to the port after us. If you have things you think you might need before your luggage gets delivered it’s a good idea to keep them in your carry-on, but it hadn’t started raining yet when we checked our bags.

Trieste

looking down from the ship to stuff getting loaded onboard in the port

We didn’t see anything of Trieste other than what we could see from the ship, but this is what MSC’s daily planner had to say about it:

view of Trieste from the deck of MSC Lirica

Trieste is in the heart of the gulf of the Friulian coast, rising to the boarder with Slovenia. Its ancient origins date back to human presence in prehistorical times. It is currently one of the greater harbors on the Adriatic. The city has many historical buildings, and the Castle of Miramare which is the symbol of Trieste. The castle was built in 1850 as a residence for Austrian Prince Maximillian of Augsburg. It is surrounded by a park and currently has a butterfly garden.

gondola

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Hakata Cruise Port in Fukuoka, Japan

Hakarta Port, Japan

view of the Port of Hakarta from the Westerdam

Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka sits on the northern shore of Kyushu island in Japan, with the sea to the north and mountains surrounding the other 3 sides of the city. Fukuoka has a major industrial area and is one of Japan’s ten most populous cities.

The area’s climate is humid subtropical with hot wet summers and fairly mild winters that rarely see snow or temperatures below freezing. Annual rainfall reaches about 63 inches with the wettest period from June to September. Typhoon season runs through August and September. Spring is generally warm and sunny and fall (beyond September) mild and dry. Japanese money is the yen, and it is over 100 yen to one US dollar.

Because of its proximity, Hakata was historically important for contacts with the mainland. Some unwanted – like Mongol invasions. In 1268 Kublai Khan of the Mongol Empire started sending envoys to Japan who continuously refused to accept Mongol rule. The mongol ruler’s invading force of 1274 was thwarted by severe storms and their own incompetence. Mongolian emissaries sent in 1279 as an envoy were not only refused, but beheaded, spurring another attack in 1281. Outnumbered by more than 3 times, the Japanese defenders were no match for the invading Mongols. The Mongol army made it 9 miles on land before severe weather again thwarted their efforts. This typhoon was later referred to as the Kamikaze (divine wind) and is the origin of the name of the World War II suicide attackers.

Hakarta Ferry Terminal

the ferry terminal is at a nearby wharf, visible from the cruise ship

The historic port remains busy in modern times. Besides the thriving container ship port, they have quite a lot of visits from cruise ships heading for Busan, South Korea which at 200 kilometers away is closer than Tokyo, or Shanghai, China 900 kilometers distant.

There’s a bit of everything in Fukuoka for tourists from beaches to modern shopping malls to ancient temples, a wooden Buddha, and even the ruins of a castle. None of it is right at the port.

Westerdam in Fukuoka

Port of Hakata

Hakata Cruise Port

Hakata and Fukuoka once were separate cities, but have joined into one city now. Though the city as a whole is called Fukuoka, the port district is still referred to as Hakata.

Ships visiting Fukuoka dock at either Fukuoka Chuo Wharf or Fukuoka Hakozki Wharf. Chuo has 2 berths for cruise ships and is where the majority of them dock. Hakozki has one berth where cruise ships can dock. It is the biggest wharf and mainly used for cargo ships. Freight from there can easily be moved by rail, air, or highway as all are nearby.

Bayside Place Fukuoka, Japan

Bayside Place (internet photo)

Passengers are not near town at either wharf. Chuo is 4 kilometers from the downtown area or railway station at Tenjin or Hakata Station which is a major transportation hub. Hakozki is even farther at 5 k away. The closest attraction to Chuo Wharf is Bayside Place, 2.1 kilometers away where the ferries dock. Besides ferries, Hakata Tower, a museum, a shrine, food, lots of shops, and an aquarium it has things to do like harbor cruises and a nightly laser show.

The Holland America Westerdam docked at Chuo Wharf. Other than a grocery type store there isn’t much but industrial buildings near the ship. We looked out onto a container port from the ship. The port provided free shuttle service to City Hall, which is in a downtown area with lots of shopping and just a few blocks from Tenjin subway station. People wishing to take the bullet train to Nagasaki or elsewhere were advised by the shore planning staff to take a taxi to Hakata station.

welcome to Fukuoka

welcome crew in the port building

The port had free wifi and a visitor’s information desk with maps and people to answer questions and give advice on how to get places. It also had a long above ground tunnel sort of thing to walk through before getting to the port building, which did provide a wind break for an otherwise windy walk between the ship and the building.

Ohori Park in Fukuoka, Japan

Ohori Park

Things to do in Fukuoka

If you take the shuttle to City Hall, the Tenjin area nearby has lots of shopping as well as food, a shrine, and a park. Fukuoka is famous for its ramen and has lots of places to eat it. With the subway station just a few blocks away people can also explore other areas on their own. Fukuoka has over 3000 shrines and plenty of museums. Ohori park is just a couple subway stops away and has gardens and a lake. The park is next to the castle ruins.

Japan subway

subway in Fukuoka

If you’re into robots you can interact with them in Robosquare at the city science museum near Ropponmatsu station, about 8k from Chuo wharf. You can get there by bus from Tenjin station. The museum is just a few blocks from Momochi Seaside Park, a kilometer long manmade beach near Fukuoka Tower.

Canal City is a popular large shopping mall complete with a canal and fountain shows.

Fukuoka

Fukuoka near the shuttle drop-off

Shore Excursions in Fukuoka

One of the shore excursions offered from our ship included a bullet train ride to Kokura Castle, and viewing of a tea ceremony plus a view of Yahata Imperial Steel Works and tech industry gallery. Another visited 2 shrines and Fukuoka Tower. One had a gondola boat ride, museum, and lunch. Others included sightseeing the town’s highlights by bus or a visit to a shrine.

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Skechers Boot Review

skechers boots

Being partial to Skechers, as they tend to fit me more comfortably than most brands, I was happy to find some boots made by Skechers when looking for something for a European vacation by train and cruise ship that would be warm enough to wear through the colder regions as we traveled through Switzerland and Austria, comfortable enough to walk around in all day, and stylish enough to wear as formal night shoes on the cruise ship as I was packing light and didn’t want to bring any more shoes than necessary. I actually wore them to dinner every night on the cruise ship, not just the formal ones. And around the ship other times as well since they were so comfortable.

wearing skechers boots in Vaduz, Liechtenstein

These ankle-high faux fur lined slip on boots called Skechers On-The-Go Joy filled the bill. I wore them the entire 10 days of our land trip from Zurich to Lucerne in Switzerland, through Liechtenstein, Austria, and Venice. My feet stayed warm and they were always comfortable to walk in, and for all the train rides from one place to another as well. They are also great airplane shoes because they are soft and comfortable as well as easy on and off, which comes in handy if you have to remove your shoes for security screening.

label from skechers boot box

We had some rainy days and though I stayed out of puddles as much as possible, sometimes you have to step in a bit of water. For the most part I never went deeper than the sole of the boot was tall and they kept my feet dry, though puddles deeper than the sole could pose a challenge for them as they are not rain boots.

skechers boots in the snow

They are also fine for walking through snow so long as you are just walking on the surface. Obviously they are not tall enough for deep snow, and not suitable for playing in the snow, but when we went up a mountain in Lucerne, Switzerland and walked around in the snow on a cold windy day my boots stayed dry inside.

top of Innsbruck in a blizzard in skechers boots

Only once on the entire trip did my feet get a bit wet in those boots. That was near the end of a snowy, rainy day up a mountain called Nordkette in Innsbruck, Austria. The top of the mountain was pretty much in a blizzard and I made it to the top of Innsbruck sign and back with dry feet. Which was a very long 20-30 feet from the door. It doesn’t sound far, but with the wind driving minute bits of ice and snow into the eyes of anyone who dared go outside any distance seemed far. The next level, which was down one of the two gondolas it took to get to the top, was sunny with lots of snow on the ground and we walked around there for awhile. The snow was deep, but we did not sink down below the tops of the boots so they kept my feet dry just fine there too. The next level at the bottom of the other gondola was rainy with slush everywhere. We stopped to check out a small Christmas market before taking the funicular down to the Alpenzoo at the next level, where we had a very long walk in the rain. Somewhere between the slush, rain, and deep puddles some water seeped through the boots, and though my feet weren’t cold, the boots did get wet inside by the end of the day. Of course that was after pushing them well beyond the limits of what they are intended for.

sole of the skechers boots

There were places in that zoo where my husband had issues with his shoes sliding on the slick ground, but the soles of these boots had no problems at all.

skechers on-the-go joy boots

After having put these boots to the test and then some they nearly always made it through with flying colors. I put a lot of miles on them walking around everywhere and they were still in perfect condition for the cruise – where they came in handy as easy on, easy off footwear for walking around on the ship anytime and not just for formal nights. The ship sailed to warmer areas so they were not the footwear of choice for port stops, but that was due to the boots being for colder weather than what we had at those ports, not because of any issues with the boots themselves. Inside cruise ships it’s generally always cold regardless of the temperature outside so for wandering around inside the ship boots always work.

crossing a covered bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland

My feet stayed comfortable in these boots wearing them all day every day and putting a lot of miles on them for many days in a row, which is saying a lot since wearing the same shoes for too long sometimes does sometimes lead to sore feet so I usually try to vary my shoes from day to day. Now that I’m back home they’re still my footwear of choice, and will continue to be until the weather gets too warm for boots.

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Flying to Zurich

riverside scenery in Zurich

Before our 20-day MSC Lirica cruise from Venice to Dubai, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring parts of Europe where we’ve never been. We left 10 days ahead of the cruise, but the flight didn’t arrive until the day after leaving so we had 9 nights to spend there. Googling the best price for the flight put us on British Airways flying through Heathrow in London, an airline and airport we had no experience with. We started with a night in Zurich, Switzerland, then took the train to Lucerne, Switzerland; Vaduz, Liechtenstein; Innsbruck, Austria, and Venice, Italy.

British Airways plane

Flying into London’s Heathrow Airport we had just an hour scheduled between flights and our plane came in 20 minutes late. We were at the back so more time ticked away waiting to get off. It came in at the B gates, with the next flight leaving from the A gates of the same terminal. Getting from one set of gates to the other involved a train ride, a lot of walking, and a trip through security. Why they make people go through security to get from one gate to another is beyond me. Obviously everyone already passed security before getting on the first plane. At some airports they give people with tight connections some sort of assistance in getting to the next plane, whether that comes in the form of a speed pass, an escort, or a bypass of lines. This airline and airport provided nothing but delays.

Heathrow Airport, London

There were long lines at security. They had no priority or speed lines for those with immediate flights so we were stuck behind all the people whose planes must have been several hours distant as it took them about 5 minutes each to put their belongings in the bin for screening, dawdling slowly as if they hadn’t a care in the world and had all day to wait for their next plane. When we asked if we could go ahead of people who had more time before their plane the screener just said everyone there had a plane to catch. He totally ignored the fact that it makes a huge difference if that plane is due to depart in 20 minutes like ours was at that point, or several hours distant as some people’s were.

swan in the river in Zurich

We finally got through the screening, with less than 10 minutes to get to our flight, which was of course at the farthest possible gate from security. We ran all the way to the gate and could see the plane still sitting there, but were told the doors had been shut and nobody else could get on. British Airways is not very helpful. Besides doing nothing to help speed the way for people with a long distance to go and not much time between planes, once you miss it they really don’t care. All the people at the gate would say was to go to the help counter, which was of course quite a long distance from the gate. There they said the next flight was 5 hours away. They gave us each a voucher worth 10 pounds towards the price of a meal, but did not put the gate number on our tickets and would not say what gate the plane would be at, just somewhere in the A gates and to wait until it was posted. The A gate complex was something like an expansive shopping mall spreading out over a large area with lots of shops, some eateries, and here and there a gate thrown in.

building in Zurich

There was one spot with lots of seats in front of a giant readerboard where they posted the gates – eventually. They didn’t post the one for our plane until it had already started boarding so in spite of being there 5 hours ahead of the plane it was still a mad scramble to get to the gate on time as it was of course nowhere near that readerboard. At least we were already within the A-gate complex so we didn’t have to pass through security or once again we would have missed the plane. We talked to someone who missed their plane while sitting at the airport waiting in an airport lounge because their gate wasn’t posted in time to get from the lounge to the gate before the plane left. It really makes no sense for an airport to keep where planes will be a secret for so long that passengers have no time to get there from wherever they are once the information is finally revealed. Heathrow is not an airport I’d pass through again given any other option. Nor is British Airways an airline I would choose again if anything else reasonably priced was available. Besides their lack of helpfulness and refusal to post gate information in a timely manner, all of our 4 flights this trip were at least 20-40 minutes late at landing.

building in Zurich

We had just one night in Zurich and had intended to get there in time to spend the afternoon sightseeing as well as the next morning before catching an afternoon train. With the delay in flights it was long past dark by the time we arrived. We stayed in an apartment found on Booking.com called Main Station Studios. It was conveniently located across the street from the train station, which was its best feature. It did also have a comfortable bed. The nightly price there was better than anything else available in that area of Zurich during our stay. That apartment also books through Airbnb. Even with the address printed out on the booking info, our taxi driver had a heck of a time finding it.

this is what they called a kitchen in the Zurich apartment

The apartment was in a building where some units are nightly rentals like the one we had, but others are where people actually live. The cost of living must be pretty high in Zurich for anyone to live in a place like that. Calling it an apartment was a stretch. It had less than some hotel rooms both in space and amenities. The total square footage was actually smaller than the average hotel room. The kitchen consisted of a small counter on one side of the entry hallway, which had a hot plate, a mini-fridge, a tiny sink, and a cupboard.

other than a small table between the wall and bed on the side not shown, this is it

There was no closet, just a rolling rack with a hanging bar and a shelf. The bathroom was spacious, but the main room had barely enough space for a bed and a small table with a couple little chairs. There was no other furniture other than a TV, and no room for any. The room had a window with a Juliette balcony. It was fine as a place to stay for a vacation, but I can’t imagine living there. Replacing the bed with a sofa bed or Murphy bed would make a little living space, but it still wouldn’t be much. At least with the hot plate we had somewhere to heat water for tea, and it did have a coffee maker, something none of the other places we stayed in Europe had. Most had nowhere to heat water at all. There was one towel each provided, but no wash cloths. Apparently Europeans don’t use wash cloths as they are rarely ever available there. Bedding consisted of 2 separate pods that were a combination of sheets and a comforter all together in a sleeping-bag like bundle, which is what we found at all the hotels that trip.

river in Zurich

The city of Zurich sits at the north end of Lake Zurich in northern Switzerland. The picturesque lanes of the central Altstadt (German for Old Town), on either side of the Limmat River reflect its history. The area has been continuously inhabited since the Roman empire, and there is archeological evidence of human habitation as early as the 5th century BC. Zurich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, but most of the population also speak English, which is very helpful for English speaking tourists. Everyone we came across in Switzerland spoke English very well. They learn it in school starting at the elementary level. Most Europeans speak multiple languages, as do crew on the cruise ships from a variety of countries. The USA is definitely lacking compared to much of the rest of the world when it comes to language education.

Grossmunster

Zurich’s Altstadt consists of Medieval houses, narrow lanes and buildings from the Renaissance period. The double towers of the Grossmünster (Great Minster) are Zurich’s major landmark. According to legend, Charlemagne built the towers at the location where the graves of the city saints Felix and Regula were discovered. Further sights worth seeing include the Peterskirche (Peter’s Church), which has Europe’s largest clock face, and the Fraumünster (Minster of Our Lady), which is known for its stained glass windows by Giacometti and Chagall.

Fraumunster church

Things available to do in Zurich depend on the time of year. Summertime activities include a Riverboat ride or lake cruise (ends October) and a funicular to Stoos-Fronalpstock. A stroll through Old Town works any time of year, and of course snow sports are seasonal to wintertime. Other options which may or may not be open depending on the time of year include Mount Titlis cable car, Rapperswil fairy tale town on Lake Zurich, Rhine falls, Flumserberg mountain, Einsiedeln Abby, Lindenhof fort/park, Mykugelhopf Zurich sweet tour (chocolate samplings), and museums.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge at Christmas

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge lit up at Christmastime

Capilano Suspension Bridge spans the Capilano River at Capilano Bridge Park in Vancouver BC, Canada. A free shuttle picks visitors up from 4 locations in Downtown Vancouver. In the wintertime the park is strung with lights for their Canyon Lights display.

Capilano Bridge Park

Daniel in a tree at Capilano Bridge Park

Besides the main bridge over a river and across a canyon, the park has some trails, a gift shop, food, and some smaller bridges suspended between trees.

Capilano Bridge Park

lights near the entrance at Capilano Bridge Park

There’s some trails on the entry side of the canyon, and more across the bridge. The main bridge is 140 meters long and suspended 70 meters above the river. In typical suspension bridge fashion, it does move some as people cross it.

sleigh at Capilano Bridge Park

photo op sleigh

A sleigh on the side of the pathway invited visitors to take photos. It may involve a bit of a wait as lots of people go there in the dark to see the Christmas lights.

Capilano Bridge Park

trees in different areas were strung with lights of different colors

Capilano Bridge Park

red tree lights

Capilano Bridge Park

bell light high in the trees

One area had a series of small bridges suspended between trees.

Capilano Bridge Park

bridge between trees

kid's weather station

weather station in the trees

A little weather station with activities for kids perched on a tree between bridges.

Capilano Bridge Park

bridge between trees

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MSC Lirica

Lirica in Limassol on the island country of Cypress

Lirica was MSC’s first new-build cruise ship and the last of the Lirica class to undergo a renovation adding a splash park, new child and teen areas, new lounge, enhanced buffet and extended restaurant.

MSC Lirica in Piraeus, Greece

The four Lirica class ships were built between 2003 and 2005 at the STX yards in Saint-Nazaire, France at 251 meters long, weighing 60,000 tons and carrying 2,069 travelers. After the renaissance programme where the ships were cut in half and had a pre-fab 79-foot section inserted they grew to 275 meters long, weighing 65,000 tons and carrying 2,680 travelers, with 194 additional passenger cabins plus 59 new crew cabins, among the other upgrades and enhancements.

MSC Lirica approaching Khasab, Oman

The MSC Lirica was built in 2003 for USD 270 million, and it cost just a bit more than that at 273 million to lengthen the 4 Lirica class ships. Lirica’s lengthening in 2015 completed the 4-ship renovations. Walking through the hallway in the passenger cabin area, there’s a slight rise where the new portion was inserted. You walk up a slight ramp in the hallway floor entering that section, and back down again at the end. However the public areas have a smooth transition with no noticeable differences between the new and old sections. MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company. They have container ships as well as cruise ships.

Lirica in Trieste, Italy

The ship’s theater is small, but nice. There is no separate balcony section. All seats are accessible from deck 6. Most of the theater’s seats offer a good view of the show, though there are a few undesireable seats in the back, especially those behind the person manning the lights, who blocks the view. Also the second row has no rise over the first row making the view from those seats easily obscured by anyone sitting in the first row. From the third row up each row is above the one ahead of it except at the very back.

back deck

MSC’s Website said shows were by reservation only on this ship, and there were screens outside the theater for reserving seats, but they were disabled for our cruise because for all the shows there we could actually just walk in like on any other ship. Getting to the theater early was always a good plan as the best seats always filled at least 15 minutes before the start of the show, with the ones everyone likes best at the ends of the aisles where escape is easy filling 30-45 minutes before the start of the show, and often all or most seats were full by the time the show started.

production show in the theater

Shows during our cruise were generally of high quality with talented performers. They had a large cast who performed a variety of production shows during our 20-day cruise, with just a few guest performances to give them a night off here and there. The cast included gymnasts, acrobats, an aerialist, and a juggler as well as singers and dancers. There were 2 performances of the same show each night. Besides generally being good shows, they were hugely popular because with no movies or secondary theater on this ship there’s not a lot of other alternatives.

the Beverly Hills lounge with bandstand and dance floor

Other evening entertainment on the ship came in the form of several music venues and frequent deck parties. A couple of the music venues have dance floors. One had a band playing music more likely to appeal to younger cruisers, while the other had a piano, a singer, and music more geared toward older folks. There’s also a piano bar with no dancing for people who just want to relax and listen to the music. For late night entertainment there’s a disco in a different lounge. The shops and casino were also open.

the pool deck on most cruise ships is called the Lido deck, but on the Lirica it is Vivaldi or just deck 11

There’s not a huge variety of daytime activities either. For self-entertainment the ship has a couple pools and a couple hot tubs, mini golf, ping-pong, foosball, shuffleboard, and for the little ones a splash park. Of course all those are outside and subject to weather. Anything requiring equipment like balls, clubs, paddles, etc was only available when the entertainment staff was on duty at the outdoor stage because all items had to be checked out with them, carried to the venue, and then returned rather than just being available at all times next to the place it would be used like on most ships. The outside portion of the promenade deck just runs along each side and not through the bow or stern so walking or jogging around the promenade deck isn’t an option.

the mini golf course looks a bit worn out, but it’s something to do

Because the newsletter goes out in multiple languages, and the events listed in each one take place in that language there’s not a whole lot of activities throughout the day as time has to be scheduled for each language so something like a 1 hour port talk will need that space for an hour for each and every language it is offered in. Other daytime activities include dance lessons, trivia, bingo (which of course costs money), exercise type activities,  and games. On port days it was mainly just dance lessons and a few exercise classes, but on sea days they had more things with deck games, trivia, and sometimes port talks. Overall there was not a lot to do on sea days, but our itinerary had a lot of ports.

side deck on deck 12

A lot of the people spend a good portion the day in a deck chair. And a lot more towels do. Some people put their towels in a deck chair first thing in the morning and the towels stay there all day long regardless of what the people are doing. Often there are a whole lot more towels in empty chairs than there are people actually using them. Some towels will sit in a chair for hours untouched in spite of the fact that there are signs saying if they are left longer than 30 minutes the crew will pick them up, something they never actually do on any ship even though all of them say they will. Not even if the towels sit there all day while the person who left them is off in port. Which of course rewards the rule-breakers with their reserved chair at the expense of those who follow the rules and aren’t likely to find one available. Same as any cruise line, but to a greater degree because there are more people doing it.

relaxing on the back balcony

We didn’t see anyone tossing the towels aside and using the chairs anyway as is sometimes done on some other lines when people get tired of the same people leaving towels on the prime chairs all day every day when they aren’t actually using them. Then again we didn’t hang out on the main deck, preferring a back balcony when we wanted to sit outside. Even there the chairs generally had towels on them, but there was always a stack of chairs available to set out a new one. The ship had public back balconies on several decks with stairways between them so we always found space to set up a deck chair somewhere.

watermelon carving in the dining room

MSC is behind the times as far as gluten free food goes, at least on the Lirica. There are no specific gluten free items in the buffet, and in the dining room what’s available for asking on the spot is just packaged breadstuffs that they thaw out. They did have gluten free croissants and muffins as well as breads, but if you asked for one thing like a muffin or croissant at breakfast you got a plate of 3 (a muffin, a croissant, and a roll) and they’re heated to thaw out so if you don’t eat them fairly soon they dry out and go to waste.

pistachio parfait

No gluten free pancakes or anything  else that would be made fresh on the ship are available anywhere, not even in the dining room. Anyone on a strict diet would need to make sure they gave advance notification and made meal arrangements with the dining room staff.

gelato stand

There’s not much for pay-extra restaurants, just a sushi place, a coffee bar that isn’t even open in the morning, a smoothie bar and a gelato place. The gelato place did have several sorbets so there was something dairy-free available there. The buffet is open for meals and late night snacks, and on the outskirts next to the pool area there is a grill on one side that has omelets at breakfast and burgers later (no gluten free buns), and on the other side waffles in the morning and pizza later. There’s always pasta at the buffet, and they had a pasta stand by the pizza with someone making it right there, but never offered any gluten free pastas in spite of the fact that chick pea and lentil pastas are readily available in grocery stores these days in the regular pasta section. At least in the USA they are. They did not have pizza with gluten free crust either. Tea and coffee are available 24 hours, as is room service, but room service comes with a price, nothing free.

table in the dining room

The dining room at breakfast and lunch has a little buffet set up, or you can order from the limited menu, or both. At dinner it is all from the menu and the service is far from speedy. They do not have pitchers of water to go around filling glasses with like on American lines. You have to get bottled water if you want any in the dining room. If you book through MSC USA you get the bottled water for free, but if you book through their European site you have to pay for it. The bottles they brought were big enough that we had plenty to share with our European table mates. Everyone can get tea or coffee free, and as usual on any ship beer, wine, or bar drinks cost extra. You are not allowed to bring any alcohol or bottled water with you at boarding time, but they rarely confiscate it if you bring it back with you from a port stop.

pork dinner in the dining room

Food portions in the dining room are smaller than on American lines, which is fine by us, less wasted food. Vegetables are kind of lacking in most of the dinners, but that is par for the course with cruise ships and there was always the option of ordering a side of vegetables, which we often did. The food was neither the best nor the worst in comparison to other ships we have sailed on.

desserts at the buffet

Their internet packages are outdated compared to American lines as you still have your internet limited to whatever amount of GB you paid for rather than having a package for the duration of the cruise. This could help keep the internet less congested as there would not be so many people on it at once assuming they log out when not using it, though not everyone did since it was by data usage rather than by minutes like cruise ship internet packages were originally. We had the premium package and did not use the full amount of data we had available, but did use more than half so a lesser package would have meant restricting our internet usage or running out before the cruise ended. Internet on ships is always slow, but there were times when it worked pretty well. There were also other times when it didn’t work at all or was so slow it may just as well have not been working.

women’s steam room

The thermal suite on this ship is cheap compared to thermal packages on other lines, but that’s because there’s not much there. Just a sauna and steam room, seperate ones for men and women because apparently European men like to go in naked, and a few of the women too in spite of the sign at the entrance to the women’s sauna and steam room that says appropriate swimwear must be worn. There’s also 2 relaxation areas with ocean view loungers, a larger forward facing one next to the gym and a smaller one by the men’s area with a view out the side. The smaller one has coffee. There’s no pool or heated ceramic chairs that are the prime places people want to go in most thermal suites.

couple’s massage tables

Massages at their spa are also a lower price than on a lot of other ships. It’s best to book spa treatments like massages pre-cruise because you get a 30% discount, and if you decide to book another onboard that discount carries over. Bring cash if you want to leave a tip because you can’t put it on your card when you have already paid for the massage before you have it.

towel swans in a massage room

The room is nice with relaxing peaceful music, unless the captain or cruise director decides to make an announcement, which breaks the mood and goes on forever as they repeat it in about 7 different languages. At the end when you’re nice and relaxed after enjoying your massage they try to upsell you with more treatments or get you to buy lotions, which quickly breaks the mood. You have the option for soft, medium, or hard pressure during the massage. The masseuse asked which was preferred. She also did my massage barefoot.

arcade

There were not many kids on our cruise, being a long one while school is in session, but they do have kid’s club areas, a teen hang-out, and a small arcade.

casino

Working in the casino would be a boring job on the Lirica, at least during our cruise anyway. It’s pretty small with just a few table games and slot machines, no poker or craps. Generally there was nobody at any of the table games other than late at night and maybe 2 or 3 people at the slots. The shops were often empty of customers as well.

While we did smell a bit of cigarette smoke in various places around the ship now and then, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it might be on a European ship. There was a very stinky pub that allowed smoking at the foot of the closest stairway to our room, from which smoke would waft up the stairs any time someone was smoking in there. Keeping the door to the pub closed would have helped a lot in keeping the smoke contained, but they never shut it. That was the worst place on board as far as smoke goes.

the fanciest stairway on the Lirica

Décor on the Lirica is not memorable. It’s neither overly fancy nor overly plain and there’s nothing that really stands out. The open stairway down to the front desk is probably the most memorable feature, which isn’t saying much.

oceanview cabin

Passenger cabins are pretty standard on the Lirica compared to other ships.

Lirica in Heraklion on the island of Crete in Greece

This is the sort of ship you book for the price and itinerary, not for the ship itself as there isn’t nearly as much to do onboard as some ships have, but it does go to some interesting places at an affordable price. Which is exactly why we booked this cruise.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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San Francisco Cruise Ship Port

as the ship heads toward the Golden Gate bridge it looks like there is no way it will fit under

Sailing into San Francisco is quite scenic. It’s like having harbor tour without ever leaving the ship. Besides all the scenery onshore, the ship sails under the Golden Gate Bridge. Quite a few people gathered on the upper outside decks of the Royal Princess on the way into the port in spite of the early hour with a 6am passage under the bridge, and a damp misty morning. As the ship approached the bridge it appeared as if the things on top the ship would surely hit, but of course that was an optical illusion and the ship passed underneath the bridge without colliding.

Alcatraz

On the way into its berth in the harbor the ship passes by Alcatraz Island offering passengers who got up early enough another photo op. The rest of the people can hope for clear weather on the way out and take their photos then. Alcatraz was shrouded in mist on the way in and in clear sunshine on the way out so the photos leaving town were definitely better than those on the way in on our trip.

view of the Maasdam from the top of Lombard Street

We docked about an hour late after waiting for the Maasdam to slip into their berth first and then for the port to get the gangways ready. Being so early odds are nothing much would be open anyway so unless people had somewhere to go that required travel time they probably didn’t miss much.

what do you know – the ship does fit under the bridge

San Francisco is a full-service cruise port. Ships sometimes embark or disembark cruises there. I boarded a ship there once when we took the Celebrity Infinity on a trip that went through the Panama canal. On our Royal Princess cruise it was only a port stop so we just walked through the terminal building to get outside. The port building had some information booths passengers could stop at on their way out if they had questions or needed information on things to see or do, but we already had plans and didn’t stop to see what they had.

pier 27 in San Francisco

Our ship docked at Pier 27, made obvious by the string of banners outside all saying pier 27 as well as the number being painted on a wall inside the port building. 27 is the main pier for cruise ships in San Francisco, but on days with more than one ship pier 35 is used as well, which is where the Holland America Maasdam docked the day we were there.

San Francisco’s Embarcadero is an area along the waterfront

San Francisco’s cruise docks are in an area called the Embarcadero. This 3-mile stretch of San Francisco’s eastern waterfront sits on reclaimed land with an engineered seawall and piers jutting out into the bay. People can walk along the waterfront, or take a ride on a streetcar. Fisherman’s Wharf at Pier 39 is the 3rd most visited tourist attraction in America. It has restaurants, attractions including a carousel, and a whole lot of sea lions.

ferry terminal building

Other things to see along the Embarcadero include an aquarium, museums, the ferry terminal building (which has a lot of shops), the popular Exploratorium science museum, historic ships, and Ghirardelli Square. There’s even an aquatic park pier and a Maritime National Historic Park.  All kinds of attractions are available along the Embarcadero including ferries out to Alcatraz, speedboat rides, sailing, and whale watching. Coit Tower overlooks the Embarcadero from a nearby hill.

view of Coit Tower from the port

Of course there is a lot to do in San Francisco beyond the waterfront as well, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz being the city’s best known tourist attractions. Other popular attractions include cable cars, Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Palace of Fine Arts, Chinatown, and quite a variety of museums.

one of San Francisco’s historic streetcars

You can catch a streetcar, city bus, or the hop on hop off bus fairly close to the ship. Uber and Lyft are also readily available for transportation around town.

almost to the dock

Ship’s excursions Princess offers in San Francisco include a number of tours to Alcatraz paired with a variety of other things, hop-on hop-off bus tour, city drive with Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Fisherman’s Wharf, and several other Sausalito tours paired with other things, city highlights with Chinatown, postcard landmarks tour, heart of San Francisco with cable car ride, and Sonoma wine country tour.

seagulls flock around the ship in hopes of an easy meal from all the bait fish that get disturbed when the ship sails into port

Overall there’s a lot more to do in San Francisco than any one person could do within the time allowed by a cruise ship port stop – even when the ship overnights there.

after the ship sails under the bridge it still looks like it never could have fit

Sailing out of San Francisco the next afternoon brought a much more vivid brightness to the scenery with sunshine bathing Alcatraz and the bridge in light rather than being shrouded in mist as they were on the way in. It still looked like the ship would surely take out the bridge on it’s way through rather than passing under up until it the time it actually passed underneath the bridge. The captain said it cleared by 10 meters (about 30 feet), but you would never guess it had so much space while standing on the deck as the ship goes under the bridge. Once out the other side it again looked as if there is no way it ever could have fit.

a helicopter flew under the Golden Gate Bridge next to us when we sailed out of San Francisco

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Sydney Australia Cruise Ship Ports

cruise ship in Sydney

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas at Circular Quay

Sydney, Australia has two cruise ship ports. Ships that are too big to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. Smaller ships may dock at White Bay Cruise Terminal in Balmain. White Bay Cruise Terminal is accessible by car, taxi, or shuttle and on cruise days Captain Cook Cruises often provides ferry service from there to Circular Quay and Darling Harbour.

Circular Quay ferries

ferries at Circular Quay

Circular Quay is a very convenient cruise ship port whether boarding or disembarking there or just stopping in for the day on a port stop. From the ship you can see both of Sydney’s two main landmarks, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, and both are within walking distance. Transportation is quite easy as there are both ferries and a train station about a couple hundred yards from where the ship docks. There are also day cruises and water taxis available there. It’s a short train ride to Central Station and from there trains go all over Sydney and its suburbs as well as to the airport or Blue Mountains. You just have to find the right line and the platform to catch it from. From Central Station you can also catch light rail for getting around popular areas of the city.

Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia

outdoor restaurant at Circular Quay

Circular Quay is right in the heart of the touristy area of Sydney. You can walk from there to the nearby Rocks historic area and other tourist attractions. Circular Quay itself has shops and restaurants on the side opposite where the ship docks. Walk past all that and you’re at the opera house. Just beyond the opera house there’s a free botanical garden.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Luna Park under the far side of Sydney Harbour Bridge

You can also walk across the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Luna Park sits under it on the far side if anyone is looking for an amusement park. Using trains, ferries, water taxis, or busses you can get all around the Sydney area. Hop on Hop Off Busses are another way to get to all the main tourist attractions or go farther out to places like the famous Bondi Beach. The Hop on Hop Off bus has a stop near the opera house.

Sydney, Australia

View of Sydney with Centrepoint Tower seen from the botanical garden

Tourists can spend a lot of money to do things like climb the harbour bridge or have a fancy lunch at Centre Point Tower‘s revolving restaurant or buffet, or spend nothing at all and do things like walk through the free botanical garden which is in easy walking distance from the cruise ship dock at Circular Quay.

botanical garden

pathway through the botanical garden

To get to the Royal Botanic Garden from the ship, walk toward the land end of Circular Quay where the train station and ferries are. Beyond those walk up the other side of the quay toward the opera house, passing by all the shops and restaurants along that side of the quay. Turn at the opera house and go past it. The Queen Elizabeth II Gate entrance to the free botanical garden is on the right at the waterfront near the edge of the bit of land where the opera house sits. It’s a big garden and there’s lots of other gates, but this one is quite convenient when walking over from the ship, train station, or ferries at Circular Quay.

garden pond

pond at the botanic garden

The botanical garden has paved pathways winding through a variety of different plantings and some ponds. It had a train tram parked near the entrance. There’s a variety of different gardens from native to exotic. You can explore on your own or take a free guided walking tour. Tours on the train tram are hop on hop off with 4 stops and a nominal fee.

Paddy's Market

Paddy’s Market at Haymarket in Sydney

Tourists on a budget can find other attractions that don’t cost much like a visit to Sydney’s Chinatown or the ever popular Paddy’s Market. Other than transportation these are both free to visit. They only cost money if you decide to buy something.

Emperor Puffs

Sheri waiting for the Emperor Puffs window to open

Near an entrance to Chinatown, people line up even before the window opens at lunchtime to buy cheap but tasty tiny cream puffs called Emperor’s Puffs that come hot and fresh right off the fryer. While waiting at the window you can watch the frying machine at work.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House from the botanical garden

No matter what your tastes or budget are, there is something to see, do, or eat in Sydney for everyone. If you come at the right time of the year (before Christmas) jacaranda trees liven up the city with their brilliant purple blooms. At any time of year it’s nice to see Sydney’s two most famous icons without even leaving the ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Australia, Explorer of the Seas, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Seven Hells of Beppu

Westerdam in Beppu

Westerdam in Beppu, Japan

Beppu, Japan, known as the city that steams, is home to numerous hot springs and other geothermal features. Steam rises from thermal pools, steam vents, and sometimes even storm drains. There are steam baths called Onsens (thermal spas) all throughout the city. Some of the thermal pools are far too hot to touch. These are known as the hells of Beppu or Jigoku in Japanese. Most of them sit very near each other high on a hill above the dock. The other 2 sit lower on the hill and down the coast a bit, roughly 3k away from the larger grouping.

Beppu 7 hells tour

pathway to Umi Jigoku

Holland America Westerdam docked in Beppu with more than the average amount of port time, giving us a chance to see more than one thing. We started off with a visit to Takasakiyama Monkey Park. Afterword we took a taxi from there with a drop-off point at the highest of the hells on the hill – the farthest one from the port. We figured we’d start at the top and work our way downhill to the ship and see all the hells along the way.

Beppu, Japan 7 hells tour

flower at Umi Jigoku

Both the monkey park and the hot springs have a fee to get in. The hot springs can be toured individually, or you can get a booklet of tickets to see 7 for the same price it would cost to see just 5 if you paid for them one by one at each place. We decided to get the 7-hotspring pass.

7 hells of Beppu tour

Umi Jigoku

We started at Umi Jigoku. Although there are trails all around, none of them lead directly to the steaming blue pool, known as the sea hell because it has the aqua color of some tropical seas. You have to walk through the gift shop to get to the main pool. Most of the Jigokus or hells have something to see besides the main pool, giving someone who went to just the one something more to do than just look at one pool and leave.

footbaths are popular at the hells of Beppu

footbath at Umi Jigoku

Umi had several smaller hot pools, some of them red. It had a foot-soaking area in a much less hot pool with clear water. Most of the hells on the tour had small shrines or pagodas of some sort and this one was no exception. It also has gardens, a greenhouse, and a clear water pond with lotus flowers.

7 hells of Beppu tour

Oniishibouzu Jigoku

Oniishi Bouzu Jigoku is pretty much in the same complex as Umi, though it has a separate entrance and ticket to get in to the pool. This one is a series of bubbling mud pools. The name means shaven head hell because it spouts giant round mud bubbles that are said to resemble the shaved head of a monk. We were told the mud pools had a strong sulfur smell, but it really wasn’t bad at all, at least not on the day we were there. Like some of the other hells, it also had a foot-soaking area in a not so hot it burns you pool.

cooking pot hell of Beppu

Kamodo Jigoku

Kamodo Jigoku is another steamy blue pool. This one is known as the cooking pot hell. It has the hot spring kitchen, a food shack selling an assortment of foods cooked in nature’s steam.

food stand selling food steamed in a hot spring

food steamed in the hot spring for sale in the Kamodo kitchen

They had foot-soaking pools near their tables and some vents where people who want to can inhale steam or steam their skin. The steam vents and soaking pools are free, but if you want to try hot spring cooked food you have to pay for it. This hell also had some steaming red lesser pools and a bubbly mud pond.

street food in Beppu Japan steamed by hot spring

Beppu naturally steamed street food – and one of Japan’s ever-present vending machines

On the road between hells where we had to cross a street we passed by a couple food stalls that also had hot-spring steamed foods including eggs, corn, and sweet potatoes. Prices were slightly better than those at the hot spring.

one of the 7 hells of Beppu

Oniyama Jigoku looked quite turbulent

Oniyama Jigoku had a very steamy pool and lots of small pens with crocodiles of various sizes.  The water in this pool was full of waves and quite rough in appearance compared to the others. A sign said their high pressure steam had the strength to pull one and a half train cars and its temperature made ideal conditions for crocodile breeding.

crocodile on 7 hells tour in Beppu, Japan

crocodile at Oniyama Jigoku

It did not say whether or not they eat any of those crocodiles or what they do with all the crocodiles they breed if they don’t. There’s a building with a stuffed (as in taxidermy, not toy) crocodile named Ichiro that was the first crocodile bred there and the biggest and longest lived of any they’ve had.

7 hells of Beppu

greetings near the entry at Kamodo Jigoku

There is a bit of signage between some of the hells, but you can find your way from one to another by just looking for the next giant steam plume. Some of them have their own hellish signs near the entry, but you’ve already found your way in by the time you see those.

7 hells of Beppu tour

Shiraike Jigoku

Shiraike Jigoku is known as the white pool or white pond hell, though it looked more pale blue than white the day we saw it. They have a little aquarium that consists of a few tanks with different fish each in a small building near the pool. While they add a little something extra to see on a hot spring tour, if it is an aquarium you’re interested in Umitamago Aquarium out by Takasakiyama Monkey Park is the place to go.

spider in the steam of a hotspring

spider at Chinoike Jigoku

It’s about 3k from there to the lower hells. A bus stop conveniently located nearby provides transportation for anyone who would rather not walk, but we went onward on foot. The bus station also had maps and people who could help direct anyone who wants to walk to the right road. Sidewalks aren’t necessarily their thing, with sometimes not much more than the grates over a drainage ditch providing somewhere to walk out of the road. One corner didn’t even have that, but did have a bit of a shoulder where brush had been mowed down to walk on when we crossed the road to get to it. Some parts of the walk had actual sidewalks, or at least a wide enough paved area that wasn’t part of the road to work as one. In one spot we found a viewpoint overlooking the steaming town.

Beppu, Japan

view of the steaming city of Beppu from the walk between upper and lower hells

Most people opt for the bus and several busses did pass by us along the way . We came across one couple from the ship walking up the hill. They had started with the hell at the bottom and were working their way up. While the more direct road to the upper 5 hells comes up from the dock area, this one winds over and down to the point where it probably comes out a mile or two from the ship by the time you get back to the waterfront. We walked to the ship from there, but the map does show a nearby train station in the opposite direction from the ship, and the next one just a short walk away from the pier.

7 hells of Beppu tour

Chinoike Jigoku

After going through a tunnel it’s not too much farther to Chinoike Jigoku, the red pool or blood pond hell. Direct translation is bloody hell pond. Iron oxide and other minerals give it the red color. It’s the oldest of the hells and ancient Buddhists believed the pool resembled a nightmarish underworld. Past uses of the pond are as garish as the name. This pool was previously used to torture people and boil them to death. Quite a difference from its current use. Besides being a tourist attraction, soothing skin products are now made from the mud of the pool.

fish

fish live in a stream near the red pool of Chinoike

This one also has a foot bath, and a pathway up above one side of the pool for photos from a different angle. There’s a creek with fish and it has a large souvenir shop too.

Beppu 7 hells tour

Tatsumaki Jigoku

The last one we saw, Tatsumaki Jigoka would just be a small unimpressive pool except for the fact that it’s a geyser. It blows with regular frequency, somebody said about every 20 minutes. Mostly there people just gather on the benches or on what looks like a large stone stairway, but may really be intended for use as bleachers to wait for the geyser to erupt. At the top of that stairway there is a trail through a forested garden, but I didn’t have time to hike around or investigate it.

7 hells of Beppu tour

the viewing area around Tatsumaki Jigoku is bigger than the geyser itself

The geyser took awhile to get going, but once it did it kept it up for quite awhile. It erupts into a little cave made of stone, which the sign next to it says was built to keep it from going too high. Which made me wonder what someone was thinking when they built something to make their attraction less impressive. Apparently they wanted to put a building closer to the geyser than otherwise would have been safe. There’s a little sweet shop you walk through to get to the geyser, and the people there know when it is due for the next eruption.

hot spring pool

small red hot spring pool at Umi Jigoku

Waking back to the ship, it’s a ways yet from the last hell to the railroad tracks that parallel the road running closest to the sea, and once you get there it’s still about 2 miles back to the ship. Our whole walk starting from the first hell down including walking around each of the hells was somewhere along the lines of 8k. I’d estimate walking the full loop rather than starting from the top would add another 5K when taking the more direct route from the port to the hells at the top of the hill.

Omiyama Jigoku

statue at Omiyama Jigoku

These hot springs are one of the main attractions of Beppu and though they are all done up in touristy fashion rather than left in their natural state it’s still interesting to see them. It’s not necessary to walk there, taxis are available at the port and busses can get you there too. From JR Beppu Station take bus 5 ,7, or 9 and get off at Kannawa bus terminal for the hells at the top of the hill. Bus 16/16A goes from Kannawa to Shibaseki for the two lower hells and bus 26/26A returns from Shibaseki back to Kannawa.

red hot spring pool

Chinoike Jigoku

There is an 8th hell called Yama Jigoku which is not included on the 7-hells ticket, but is located in the same general area as the group of 5 of the hells that are included. This hell has orange and green waters with great plumes of steam, and a zoo with animals like monkeys, mini horses, peacocks, flamingos, and hippos. We just did the 7-hells tour and did not look for that one. Beppu was my favorite of the Japanese ports we visited because there was so much to do and we got a lot of exercise doing the 7 hells tour.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019

 

Posted in Holland America, Japan, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hiking the Dungeness Spit

lighthouse on the Dungeness Spit

On the north coast of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, Dungeness Park near Sequim is divided into two sections. (Sequim is pronounced Squim – rhymes with swim.)The recreation area is a county park and has hiking trails and a campground where dogs are welcome and some trails are even open to horses. The wildlife refuge is federal and no dogs are allowed there.

view of the spit from the bluff trail

The recreation area comprises of woods and meadows. One of the trails follows along an eroding bluff. It’s about 4 kilometers to walk the perimeter of the park. The wildlife refuge mainly consists of one of the world’s longest sandspits. This sandspit grows about 10-13 feet in length each year from the sand that erodes off the bluffs and debris washed down the nearby Dungeness River. The New Dungeness Lighthouse was built in 1857 at the end of the spit. Now it sits half a mile from the spit’s current end.

view of the lighthouse on the Dungeness Spit from Royal Princess (photo taken while sailing by)

Cruise ships heading out of Seattle, or those heading into Seattle without stopping in Victoria pass by close enough to see the lighthouse on the spit. Those heading out from Seattle are near shore on the Washington side of the Straight of Juan de Fuca at that point because they duck in at Port Angeles (which is the next town past Sequim) for the pilot boat to pick up the pilot. When there is more than one ship leaving Seattle on the same day they all leave about the same time and travel relatively close together in a line so the same boat can pick up the pilots from all of them. You can’t visit Dungeness from a cruise ship, but taking a side trip to the peninsula before or after a cruise from Seattle or Vancouver BC is always an option.

fencepost hanging in midair after the edge of the trail dropped

It’s free to use the trails in the recreation area, but there is a fee to camp there. Trails through the woods stay pretty much the same from year to year, but the bluff trail is an ever-changing example of nature taking its course. The park gets a bit smaller while the spit grows longer each time sand drops off the bluff. Periodically the bluff trail moves inland and sooner or later where the trail used to be is nothing but air.

kiosk at the trailhead to the spit

The parking lot for spit access sits at the far end of the road into the park, which is called Voice of America Road. There’s a kiosk there with information about the area’s wildlife and history as well as about the spit. You can pass through the kiosk on your way around the perimeter trail for free, but entry to the trail in the wildlife refuge leading to the spit costs $3 per family group, which can include up to 4 adults, with no additional cost for children. Dogs are not allowed beyond the sign that says you have to pay to go any farther.

Sheri and the Aussie kids on the trail to the spit

A wooded trail from the trailhead down to the beach gives two options, the main trail and the primitive trail. The main trail is paved and has interpretive signs along the way with information about the area and its wildlife. The primitive trail is a narrower dirt trail through the woods, which rejoins the main trail near a lookout point above the beach. There are two lookouts, one with telescopes and the other with giant binoculars.

one of the lookouts on the trail to the spit

Some areas of the spit are open to the public year-round, some seasonally, and some never. People are allowed to hike the beach side out to the lighthouse year round, though there are times in the winter when tides combined with weather say otherwise. The estuary side by the calm sheltered waters between the spit and mainland is mostly off limits to people giving the wildlife a safe place to live. The section of the estuary side closest to the trail leading to the beach is open to people during the summer.

spit in summer with low tide – on our winter visit the water was at the row of little pilings

On low tides there is lots of beach to walk on, but when the tide is very high the open beach vanishes and hikers have to pick their way through the driftwood. Tides never cover the entire spit, but storms bring the waves up high enough to leave everything above the tideline covered in driftwood consisting mainly of very large logs and entire trees.

Aussies on a log – Monica, Chloe, Daniel, Lucy, & Hannah

We set out one sunny winter’s day with nine people, the youngest of which was 5. All of us made it out to the lighthouse and back, the only group to reach the lighthouse that day. In summer and during local school breaks more people will get there most days. The 5 kids in our group were all from Australia, off school for their summer break. Along with their mothers (which includes my daughter) they were some of the farthest away people ever to make the trek out to the lighthouse and sign the guest book there.

mile marker – 3 miles down, 2 to go on the way to the lighthouse

Round trip to the lighthouse on the beach is 10 miles with each direction right at 5 miles. Along the way there are mile markers, little brown signs with the number of miles traveled from where the wooded trail meets the beach to that point. The trail through the woods from the parking lot to the beach is about half a mile so the total round trip is around 11 miles. Along the beach it usually feels as if you are traveling in a straight line, but actually the beach bends around quite a large curve.

when you see this sign you have arrived – you may not see the lighthouse from the beach here

The lighthouse is sometimes in view and sometimes not on the way there. At first sight it is a distant speck, growing larger the closer you come. When you finally get there a sign points the way off the beach with the trail into the lighthouse area marked as serenity and the way back to the trailhead marked as reality. That’s about as far down the beach as people are allowed to go. The beach from beyond the lighthouse out to the end of the spit is off limits to the public.

marker where the inland trail joins the beach

There’s actually another marker to an inland trail to the lighthouse that you pass by first while walking along the beach, but it has no words so unless you know what it is and where to look it’s likely to get missed. My sister Linda and I took that trail on the way back when we hiked out to the lighthouse in the summer. It was probably originally the trail to the dock because it ends about even with the pilings that are all that remain of the old dock in the bay on the inland side of the spit. At that point you go back to the main beach.

lighthouse and keeper’s house taken from the farthest point people are allowed to go out the spit on a little trail that goes a short distance beyond the lighthouse and has some historic signs. Most of the spit beyond the lighthouse is wildlife reserve and off limits to people.

At the lighthouse several buildings sit within a fenced grassy area. There’s some picnic tables out on the lawn between buildings. One is near the entrance to a public restroom – the only one available beyond the trailhead as there are no facilities of any kind out on the open beach of the spit. The lighthouse keeper’s house is now open for people to book a week’s stay there. These people become lighthouse keepers for the week and while they are there one of their duties is to be tour guides for the folks who make the hike out the spit and want to see the lighthouse.

one room in the lighthouse museum

There is a small museum at the bottom where people can wander about and look at things, but you have to be accompanied by a lighthouse keeper to climb the steep winding stairs up its tower. The small landing at the top provides a 360-degree view. We saw seals swimming near the shore through the window when I went there in the winter. Going again in the summer with my sister we noticed a flat structure full of weeds, which the keeper said was a helipad in case anyone needed to be evacuated in an emergency. It’s nice to bring a few extra dollars to put into the donation jar at the museum. The fee for going out to the spit goes to the wildlife reserve, but money collected at the lighthouse helps with expenses there like upkeep of the buildings.

inside the lighthouse tower with a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca

The lighthouse tower stands at 63 feet high. It was 91 feet high when originally built in 1857, but was lowered to the current height in 1927 due to severe structural cracks that could have caused the top of the tower to fall. In 1993 it was added to the national register of historic places. It was one of the last lighthouses in the USA to have a full time keeper, with the last live-in keeper leaving in 1994.

lighthouse

That same year the United States Lighthouse Society started a New Dungeness chapter. Members of the New Dungeness Lighthouse Station Association have manned it ever since. Bookings to be a lighthouse keeper for a week are open to the public with a minimum age of 6 for families with children. You have to become a member of the lighthouse association to be a keeper. It’s quite popular so reservations usually need to be made well in advance unless you happen to luck into a cancellation. It seems a bit odd to have the word new in the name of a lighthouse that is over 150 years old, but a lot of places in the USA are called new something regardless of how long that place has been there because they were originally named after somewhere else. Captain Vancouver, an early explorer to the area, called the spit New Dungeness in 1792 because it reminded him of Dungeness in England. Both the wildlife refuge and recreation area are just called Dungeness now though, with new only being in the official name of the lighthouse. Dungeness crabs live in the area, but it’s not named for them. Vancouver Island, which is in Canada on the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is named after Captain Vancouver. On a clear day you can see Vancouver Island from Dungeness.

sign at the trailhead

There is a small boat landing on the beach on the estuary side so there are some visitors who come by sea on a small boat or kayak rather than by land, though they do have to arrange in advance to come in by boat. Lighthouse keepers are given transport in a 4×4 vehicle at low tide, which is good for them since they have to bring their own food with them as well as clothes and things since there are no stores on the spit. There is an artesian well next to the lighthouse which supplies both the keeper’s house and lighthouse building with water. In the early days before the well water had to be collected when it rained. Lighthouse keeping was hard work, especially on foggy days when keepers had to shovel coal to run a steam powered foghorn. The first light ran on lard oil. Electricity came by underwater cable across the bay in the 1930’s, but the light was not automated until 1976.

Aussies hiking to the lighthouse

The spit has no shade or shelter so a clear winter’s day is good for a hike out there since there are no worries about it getting too hot. Tides are generally lower in the summer though, so hikers usually have more beach to walk on then. In summertime cloudy days are a good choice for a spit hike. Time of day when the lowest tide occurs varies greatly so consulting a tide chart and planning ahead for a trek during low tide means more beach to walk on and less likelihood of having to scramble over logs.

Piper by the eroding bluff – this bit in the recreation area was once a viewpoint with parking spaces and the trail passing through along the edge. Most of the trail has dropped off the edge now so both trail and parking have moved farther inland. The photo was taken when it first started to fall. Where the dog is sitting in the photo is just air now and that fence is gone. (By the way Piper is not wearing a muzzle. It’s called a gentle leader and functions similar to a horse’s halter.)

While dogs are not allowed on the spit, coyotes are wildlife and go where they want so there are no restrictions against them. We did not see any actual coyotes, but we did see their tracks in the sand on the winter hike. Several different sizes so more than one had recently passed through leaving dog-like prints with definite claw marks at the ends of the toes. We also saw lots of ducks and seagulls, some diving birds, and some little shorebirds running in and out at the water’s edge to see what each wave brought them to eat. Stu the lighthouse guide said they sometimes see sea otters, but we did not see any during our hike. We didn’t see otters on the summer hike either, but there was a seal and lots of seagulls and other birds. We also heard a baby seal on the estuary side, probably alone on the beach while mom was off foraging for food, but it was not where it could be seen from the areas people are allowed to go.

Linda walking by the tire tracks on the beach

On the winter hike we had a bit of beach on the way there, but had to scramble over logs on the way back as the tide had covered what little beach there was below the driftwood by then. Summer tides are generally lower and even parts of the kelp beds were high and dry on the way out so we had lots of beach to walk on.

rangermobile

Vehicles are not normally allowed there (except for lighthouse keeper transport), but we followed tire tracks for quite some distance before a little vehicle that looked something like a cross between a quad and a pick-up went by with the park ranger and several people in hard hats that looked like they were a work party on the way back to the park. The tide was on the way in and by the time we went back most of the tire tracks were underwater, though there was still a lot more beach than there had been in the winter at the lowest point of the tide on our hike then.

young seagull begging for food – you can tell he’s young by the color of his feathers

On the winter’s hike our group of 9 were the only ones to make it out to the lighthouse that day, though we did see a few other people hanging out on the beach on our way back. The summer hike was quite different with several other groups at the lighthouse while we were there as well as seeing people along the way in both directions. On both trips we packed a picnic lunch to eat at the tables by the lighthouse, and visited the museum and went up into the lighthouse. On the winter trip a young seagull begged for our lunch, but perhaps by summer he had learned to find his own food since the lighthouse keepers didn’t want anyone to feed him.

view from the lighthouse of helipad and trail to the boat landing area

On the summer trip we also walked the extra little trails near the lighthouse. One goes down past the helipad to the boat landing. The other goes out as far as people are allowed to go on the spit, which is just a short distance beyond the lighthouse. Both trails have informative historical signs. On the summer trip we found the inland trail and took that one on the way out. It passed by the old pilings from a dock that was there when the keeper’s access was by boat, back in the days when it was a true lighthouse keeper who lived and worked there. The lighthouse is still in operation. The coast guard maintains the light, but the lighthouse association maintains everything else.

deer at the bottom of the trail just before it gets to the beach

On the trip out with my sister, my Garmin watch lied and said we made it to the lighthouse in under 2 hours when it really took 2 1/2. We were sightseeing, stopping for photos, and not caring about the time. Not wanting my PB (personal best) for that trek to be a lie, I jogged out there alone one October day with favorable tides and weather intending to be faster than the false time and made the trip in less than one hour, and just over an hour for the way back. Where the trail down from the trailhead meets the beach I saw 3 deer walking down the trail and 3 more on the beach on my way back that day. Most people hiking out to the lighthouse for fun would expect to take at least 2 hours each way for the full trip including the woods, but runners have made it there in slightly less than half an hour (beach time only, not counting the woods trail. The beach part of my jog took a hair under 45 minutes.)

view of the lighthouse from the inland trail

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