A Tale Of Four Cities

Discussion in 'UK Trip Reports Board' started by dolphingirl47, Aug 12, 2018.

  1. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Thanks. It is my favourite colour.

    We are kind of used to this by now.

    Thanks.

    I think this has little to do with what I am wearing and more with the colour of my skin and hair. I got just as many requests wearing leggings and a winter coat.

    I really love this, too. I got another one in red for our upcoming cruise.

    Corinna
     
  2. petals

    petals Irish Princess because Cinderella said so!

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    Catching up. Luvin the Disney pictures. I need a Gelatoni (and the rest of the new characters) he's so cute though. The blue dress you have on for the cruise is fab!
     
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  4. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    I only have a Gelatoni mini Tsum Tsum. I can't wait to meet Cookie and also would love to meet Stella Lou.

    Thanks.

    Corinna
     
  5. petals

    petals Irish Princess because Cinderella said so!

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    I have the Gelatoni TsumTsum as well, he’s so cute! I love all the new characters. Did you see they have a turtle especially for Hawaii as well!
     
  6. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Yes, I have seen him, but somehow he does not grab me. Now Cookie is a different matter entirely. She is cute as a button.

    Corinna
     
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  7. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Day 7

    We learned a very valuable lesson that morning: Do not choose a balcony cabin if you value peace and quiet in the morning and your ship is scheduled to do a maiden call to a port. We were woken up a few minutes past 6:00 by an absolute racket. I think the whole population of Subic Bay and the neighbouring towns had come out to welcome the ship. There were various dance troupes and bands and every group was playing or had their own music and all of this was competing with each other. If they had taken turns, it would have been delightful. As it was, to quote Mary Poppins, "the sound of it is something quite atrocious.” At least some of it was quite interesting to watch. Graham spent some time on the balcony, but I headed back to bed and read for a bit. Once Graham had enough, we got ready and then headed down to the Royal Esplanade for some coffee and pastries. We both had a raspberry pastry and vanilla pastry. We were in no rush to go anywhere so we headed for the Schooner Bar for morning trivia. This was a visual trivia about cities. We had been to most of them, which helped. We got a couple wrong, but still got enough to win the trivia. We got some keychains. We took those back to the cabin and picked up what we needed for the day.

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    Our plan had been to head to a beach that is a short walk from the port where we were supposed to dock for some snorkelling. However, the area did not look right, and it turned out that we were docked at a different port than the one we were listed for. The other port was only a short taxi ride away, but we had no local cash. So, we needed to find an ATM first. Just outside the port was a 7-Eleven and this is usually a good bet for an ATM. Unfortunately, not in the Philippines. There were shuttle busses advertised to various shopping malls and we figured that this would be a good starting point. We waited for a bit and eventually a shuttle appeared, but there were many more people waiting than the bus could take. We decided to get walking. Right by the port was a park area where the locals had set up a market and this was pretty nice. Once we were out of the immediate port area, we came to another park and this was very run down and seriously depressing. The majority of Subic Bay was like this. Eventually we came to an outlet mall, but this was essentially a run-down strip mall and there was no ATM there either. Just as we approached the mall, we got a heavy shower through and at least we were under cover. Once the rain started to ease off, we continued walking. We came across a historical fort and saw some interesting birds and that was about all the place had going for it. I was quite amused when I saw a sign stating that Subic Bay Freeport is the best in Asia. I have been to a number of free ports in Asia including Hong Kong, Shanghai, parts of Dubai, Nagasaki and Aqaba and I would put every one of them miles ahead of Subic Bay. Still, there is nothing wrong about a bit of healthy self-confidence.

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    We got to the outskirts of Subic Bay and still had not found an ATM. We decided to push on to Olongapo City. This sounds more impressive then it is. There is a footpath of about half a mile which divides Subic Bay from Olongapo City. Unfortunately, that footpath is lined with beggars. As soon as we entered Olongapo City, we found a shopping mall with ATMs. We got some cash and then we went exploring. There were some heavy clouds around and the beach somehow no longer appealed. We saw plenty of tuk tuks and were amused by just how many people could fit into them. They were tiny and even for a couple they would be “cosy”, but we saw as many as 8 people getting out of some. We also saw our first Jeepneys, which is the most common form of public transport in the Philippines. Even though Olongapo City did not exactly inspire us either, we decided to go exploring. I figured there must be something worth seeing. Well, if there is, we never found it. The whole area just looked run-down. We got caught out by another downpour and huddled underneath an archway. A security guard approached us, and I thought he had come to move us along, but he offered us shelter in the porch of the building that the archway was the entrance to and even found a bench somewhere that he carried into the porch so that we could sit down. The building turned out to be the local benefits office and there was a chart on the wall behind us, which gave us plenty of food for thought. Essentially this area of the Philippines is as poor as it gets. There is a staggering amount of people living in the area that do not have access to sanitation services or clean water.

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    Once the rain slowed down, we left and headed back to the shopping mall. About halfway there, another downpour started. We got pretty wet. We took shelter in the shopping mall when we got there. We were hoping that they were offering a shuttle back to the port, but this was not the case. We waited for a bit and then headed outside. There was a roof in this area, so we were still under cover. I spotted a taxi pulling up to the adjacent street corner and we flagged this down. We were only out in the open for a few feet, but we got soaked through. The taxi driver took us back to the port. A boat would have been a more sensible mode of transportation. We drove through some very deep water. When we had left the port about 2.5 hours earlier there was not as much as a puddle there and now in some areas, the water was knee-deep. Even where the water was shallow, it came about halfway up my calves. I have never seen anything like this.

    We were glad when we were back on the ship. We headed to the cabin to get showered and changed. The warm shower felt heavenly as did the dry clothes. We then headed up to the Windjammer for some lunch. Our server was on duty there and came over to say “hi”. I brought us some drinks. It was meatloaf day that day and I had some of this plus a hotdog, spaghetti Bolognese and fries. It was definitely a comfort food kind of day. Graham had salad with cold cuts and some fries. I tried a different kind of green tea cake for dessert, but again it was lacking the green tea flavour. However, the chocolate cake was very nice.

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    We went back to the cabin to pick up some odds and ends and then we headed up to the solarium. The weather was still foul. We decided that if it was as bad the next day, we would just stay on the ship. This nearly broke my heart as I really had looked forward to visiting Manila, but neither of us felt inclined to get this wet again. We spent most of the afternoon chilling out and I read for quite a bit of it. Just before 17:00, we headed down to the Schooner Bar for evening trivia. This was a general knowledge trivia and we managed to win again. Our price was a magnet.

    After trivia, we went back to the cabin to get changed. Graham had a little downtime and I went downstairs to get some photos. They were not quite ready yet, so I went to the Two70 to sit down. I really liked the projection mapping on the windows. A little while later, I did the round of the photo opportunities.

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    I then went back to the cabin to get Graham and we headed for dinner. Graham had a grilled prawn and arugula salad with pickled peppers, fennel, pears, crumbled feta cheese and a lemon oregano dressing. I went back to my favourite and had the crispy pork belly with parsnip puree, apple slaw and port wine reduction. Graham had the Sichuan style salmon with rice and vegetables for his main course. I had the grilled Sirloin steak with truffle potato purée, asparagus and Bordelaise sauce. For dessert, Graham had the Creme Brûlée. That is normally the real test for cruise line desserts and this passed muster. I had the Royal Signature Chocolate Cake with layers of dulce de leche and chocolate fudge. I was a little disappointed with this. Normally the chocolate desserts are a safe bet, but this was not particularly nice. It was just too sweet.

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    After dinner, we headed back to the cabin. We checked out the Daily Compass and I read for a while and then we had another early night.
     
  8. petals

    petals Irish Princess because Cinderella said so!

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    Sorry your day was a bit of a wash out hope the bad weather didn't continue
     
  9. Flossbolna

    Flossbolna Sea days are just so relaxing!

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    Wow! That rain sounds awful!! I am still here reading along, but am so crazy busy at work right now, that’s why I am commenting so little. Sorry!!

    I think you looked fantastic in your black dress and I really love the short hair!
     
  10. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    We did see some more rain, but fortunately we got lucky for most of the rest of the holiday.

    It was quite something.

    I absolutely understand. I am not making as much progress with this as I would like either as I am so busy at work. I am quietly optimistic that I get this finished by the time I am leaving for the next trip.

    Thanks.

    This was actually quite a bit longer than it had been the previous 12 months and is shorter again now. I do really like it this way.

    Corinna
     
  11. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Day 8

    We were awake quite early again and it did not look too promising outside. We decided to get up and get some breakfast and then make the decision whether or not we should venture out. I was not particularly hungry, but had some juice and milk. I also decided to give the steamed pork buns another go. It turned out that they were not mislabelled, but really were awful. I had the dough and left the filling. Graham had a cooked breakfast with scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and vegetable fried rice. After breakfast, we went up to deck 15 to check out the weather situation. It did not look particularly promising, but it was not raining at the time, so we decided to go back to the cabin to get what we needed to go exploring and then we headed out.

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    When we had got off the ship, there was a shower passing through. We dodged this as best we could and made it to the terminal without getting too wet. We waited for a bit and once the rain was easing off, we left. There was a bit of light drizzle, but this did not bother us. It did not take long to walk from the port to the places we had mapped out. The first sign that we were where we wanted to be was a monument, which separates the port area from the Intramuros, the historical walled city. We ended up walking past Rizal park, which had been high on our to do list when we planned what we wanted to do in Manila. However, this was not very appealing in the wet.

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    Instead we pushed on to the Intramuros. The Intramuros dates back to the last quarter of the 16th century and is the oldest part of Manila. It is quite small covering only 0.26 sq. miles, but it is packed with historical buildings. This is definitely my kind of place with windy streets and interesting architecture. It did not take long until our wander took us to Plaza de Roma, which is considered to be the centre of the Intramuros. There are all manner of interesting buildings in this area, but the two that stand out are Palace of the Governor and Manila cathedral. The building that stands there now is actually fairly recent and was built in 1976. It is still impressive. It houses various government departments. The site of the present building was where the former residence of the Governor-General during the Spanish Colonial Era was located until an earthquake destroyed it in 1863. We took some photos and then we went inside the cathedral.

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    There has been a church in this location since 1571 and its status was elevated to a cathedral in 1579. I say a church has been in this location since 1571 as I don’t think there is any other church in the world that was destroyed and rebuilt quite so often. The first cathedral was made from wood, mangrove and bamboo. The second cathedral was made from stone in 1592 only to be destroyed by an earthquake 8 years later. This was also the fate of the 3rd and 4th cathedral. The 7th cathedral was severely damaged in an earthquake and lost its tower. However, it was ultimately destroyed in 1945 during the Second World War. The present incarnation was built between 1954 and 1958 and had major renovations between 2012 and 2014. Even though the church was built so recently, it is a very impressive building and looks much older. The chapels on the righthand side of the cathedral are taken up with an exhibition about the history of the cathedral, which is very interesting.

    However, it took a fair while after entering the cathedral until we could get there. We got tangled up with a wedding. Apparently, June is the most common month for weddings in the Philippines. It was something amazing to witness. This was a huge affair and the wedding party seemed to be colour-coded. The family of the groom seemed to be dressed in green and the family of the bride in peach. Apparently it is customary for the groom to arrive an hour ahead of the ceremony to receive the guests. When we got there, the groom and what was probably the immediate family were already there. Other guests arrived and took their seats, but the immediate family remained near the entrance. When I say immediate family, we are talking around 50 people. The poor groom seemed to be so nervous. There was a procession down the aisles of the groom and his family, the bride’s family, the bride’s maids and finally the bride appeared and finished off the procession. This was the most involved wedding I ever witnessed. Once the whole wedding party was in place, we were then allowed to explore the cathedral. We had a look around the exhibition and some of the chapels on the other side and then we left.

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    There is another church in the Intramuros that I really wanted to see. San Agustín Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church is about 400 years old and has survived the earthquakes that destroyed multiple incarnations of the nearby cathedral as well as heavy bombing during World War II. The entrances of the church are guarded by 4 Chinese guardian lions and legend has that they are the reason the church was never destroyed. I had seen photos of this church before we went, and it is absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, just as we got there, they were locking up for a break. We were told that they would reopen an hour later so we decided to come back then.

    Graham needed the bathroom and opposite was a building that looked like it may provide. Actually, it was not just a building, but a courtyard surrounded by various buildings housing a museum as well as restaurants and cafes and indeed, public restrooms. This is a real gem. The courtyard reminded me of the Court of Angels at Disneyland. If you were lucky enough to visit Disneyland prior to 2013 or have been even luckier to visit Club 33 since, you can probably see what I mean. I was in heaven. I loved this whole area. Unfortunately, it had started to rain again, and we still had plenty of time to kill. Fortunately, there was a Starbucks nearby that provided shelter and some welcome refreshments. I have a new favourite drink. They had a pistachio cream Frappuccino, which was absolutely delicious. Graham went with tried and tested and had a white mocha Frappuccino. Both of our drinks hit the spot.

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    Once we had finished our drinks, we walked back towards San Agustín Church. We got about halfway, when the heavens opened again. When we got there, quite a few people were already waiting. The staff had sympathy with us and let us into the foyer a little early. At that point we did not think anything was strange. However, soon cashiers appeared. Somebody asked about how to get into the church and was advised that this was the entrance for the museum, which was about to reopen. The church was not due to reopen until 17:00 by which time we had to be back on the ship. Graham asked if I wanted to have a look at the museum, but it was the church I wanted to see. We headed out to find a taxi back to the port. We crossed the road and huddled in an archway. We did not have long to wait until a taxi came past. The driver was very friendly and told us all kinds of things about Manila and landmarks we passed. The taxi ride was also an absolute bargain. I think we paid the equivalent of a couple of Pounds for a 15-minute taxi ride. We ended up giving all the Philippine Pesos we still had to the driver. This may well the biggest tip he has ever seen, but we had no use for the money and he did do a great job.

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    Even though things had not gone quite according to plan and the weather was less than ideal, we both enjoyed what we managed to see of Manila. If I never return to Subic Bay, I will have been there once too often. However, I definitely want to go back to Manila. I think I could happily spend two very full days at the Intramuros alone and there is so much more to see. This definitely somewhere we need to return to.
     
  12. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Once we were back on the ship, we went back to the cabin to drop off our raincoats and a few other odds and ends. There was a trivia coming up that I really wanted to do. However, we also needed to do something about lunch. In the end we decided grab a couple of slices of pizza to tied us over and then have lunch after the trivia. I head a slice of Margarita pizza and a slice of Hawaiian pizza. Graham had a slice of slice of Margarita pizza and a slice of Pepperoni pizza. When we had finished this, we went upstairs to the Schooner Bar for the trivia.

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    The trivia was listed in the Daily Compass as logo trivia. I am not necessarily any good at this as a rule, but I do enjoy this. However, I was absolutely delighted when the theme for the logo trivia was revealed. It was all about airline logos and this is something I am good at. We got a couple wrong, but still managed to win and got some highlighters for our troubles.


    After the trivia, we went to get some lunch at the Windjammer. Graham carried on his healthy trend and had salad and cold cuts. I had some soup noodles and some steak fries with a Mediterranean beef casserole. I had a slice of pound cake and a mini cupcake for dessert. After lunch we went to the solarium to relax for a bit. I got going again shortly after 16:00 as there were a couple of character meet and greets that I wanted to attend. Both Po and Tigress from Kung Fu Panda were due to be out. I had developed a bit of a soft spot for Tigress on our first cruise on Ovation and was quite disappointed when she was not on Quantum last year. I had an amazing interaction with Tigress. Meeting Po was fun, too, but not as amazing as meeting Tigress.

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    I had arranged to meet with Graham at the Schooner Bar for this afternoon’s trivia, which was Tri-Bond Trivia. I tried this once on one of the Disney ships, but did not do very well at this. However, this time I had reinforcements and it neatly fitted in the day. Graham was already waiting for me when I got there. We still had a little bit of time until the trivia was about to start and decided to get a drink. I had the drink of the day, which was again the blue Margarita and Graham had a glass of White Zinfandel. I am not sure if it was the fact that I had reinforcements, the drink, the fact that I have trained my brain plenty recently or that the trivia was easier, but we did OK and ended up winning this. This meant some more keychains for our collection.

    After the trivia, we went to check out the photos. I was happy with both the amount and the quality of the photos and decided that I would probably buy the package. Then we went off to spend some more money. We had gone to the Future Cruise desk earlier in the day, but they were closed. We wanted to book a Baltic cruise for next year. At the time they had an offer including the drinks package and gratuities for a really good price. This was also on the ship we did the Transpacific cruise on last year and we both loved it. We knew that we could get a better deal still by booking onboard. We went and booked this. We got a 20% discount and an on-board credit that had to be spent on this cruise. I would have preferred to have this for the cruise that we booked that day, but it worked out that this paid for the photo package.

    Once we had sorted out the booking, we went back to the cabin to get changed. I then headed out because there was a photo opportunity with King Julien from Madagascar and I wanted to catch this. I arranged to meet Graham outside the Two70 15 minutes later. On the way to see King Julien, I spotted Alex the lion out and about with his escort, so I stopped to say “hi” and his escort took a few photos. Then I pushed on for the professional photo opportunity with Big Julien.

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    When I arrived, Graham was already waiting. They were not quite ready for us yet. The event we were waiting for was the top tier event for Crown and Anchor Society members. Drinks were flowing quite liberally and we both had a couple of glasses of sparkling wine. The cruise director, Captain and hotel director all spoke. The presentation from the hotel director was the most interesting as he concentrated on what the future plans are for Royal Caribbean. Some of which I already knew like the make over their private island Coco Cay is currently getting and the new ships that join the fleet. What definitely interested me is that they are looking to add 6 more private islands to their portfolio and the ones that interest me the most are in Asia and the South Pacific. He also made an announcement that Royal Caribbean will be free of single use plastic by 2020. We then were treated to a special show about Leonardo Da Vinci featuring the robot screens and the projection mapping technology of the Two70. This was the first time Graham has seen this in action. The event was closed with a presentation to the couple with the most cruise points. They were a couple from the UK and it turned out that they came from a place just down the road from where we lived before moving to Manchester. We chatted with them for a while after the event.

    Once we said goodbye to them, we headed up to Coastal Kitchen for dinner. Graham had the Slow Smoked Salmon with pumpernickel, horseradish crème fraÎche and caviar followed by the seared parsley and sesame tuna which came with bok choy and an unidentified vegetable. I had the I had Crispy Pork Belly with parsnip purée, apple slaw and port wine reduction followed by the grilled Sirloin steak with truffle potato purée, asparagus and Bordelaise sauce. We both passed on dessert that night.

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    After dinner we made the rounds of the photo opportunities and then we headed back to the cabin. We checked out the Daily Compass for the following day and then settled down for the night.

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  13. tiggrbaby

    tiggrbaby <font color=deeppink><marquee>We must work harder

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    Sorry you couldn't get into the church! The nice thing about cruises is finding out where you would like to return, and where you have no desire to return.

    Love the peach gown!
     
  14. petals

    petals Irish Princess because Cinderella said so!

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    Love the character photos especially the Kung Fu Panda characters
     
  15. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    I could not agree more. It also is a fantastic way to see interesting places that you would not go to on a land-based holiday like Colombia or Alaska.

    I had never even heart of Kung Fu Panda until our first cruise on Ovation in 2016, but now I have seen all three films and I have a soft spot for Tigress. My favourite Dreaworks character however is Puss in Boots. I love him nearly as much as I love Stitch.

    Corinna
     
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  16. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Day 9

    And just like that, the last day of the cruise had arrived. That is a drawback of short cruises. They are over way too quickly. We got up and started packing. This did not take too long as we had only unpacked what we needed for this part of the holiday. Then we went off in search of breakfast. The Windjammer Cafe was absolutely heaving so we gave up on this. We got some coffee and a couple of pastries at the Cafe Promenade and then headed to the Schooner Bar for morning trivia. This was fiendishly difficult this morning and we did not do too well.

    After trivia, we decided to get something more substantial for breakfast. We headed for the Cafe Two70. We both had some more coffee. Graham had a bacon muffin. I had a breakfast burrito and a bagel with Italian sausage and cheese. We also had a vanilla pastry and a fruit pastry each. While we had our breakfast, there was a Zumba class going on in the Two70. This was fascinating to watch. There were people of all ages and various nationalities exercising together. They may not have understood each other or even the instructor, but this did not matter. They were bonded by their enjoyment. There was an amazing energy in the room.

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    Once we had finished our breakfast, we decided to get some fresh air. This was the first time I really had a look at the promenade deck. We walked for a while and then we headed upstairs as I wanted to see the two pandas outside the Seaplex and also wanted to take some photos from around the ship. I then went to sort out the photo package. On the way I had a brief look at what the photo with the officers was all about, but this looked like a giant free for all, so I passed. Once I had purchased my photo package, I met with Graham at the Schooner Bar for the next trivia, which was a photo quiz about bridges around the world. We won some more highlighters for our troubles.

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    After the trivia, we decided to get some lunch. The Windjammer Cafe was yet again absolutely packed, and the Solarium Bistro was closed. I suggested that we go to the Seaplex Doghouse and Graham was up for this. We both had a hot dog with Bratwurst and grilled onions and a traditional beef hot dog. This hit the spot. We decided to get some coffee and headed for the Cafe Two70. I could not resist the chocolate cake and peanut butter cupcake. There was a towel folding class going on and we watched this. We then went upstairs to relax for a bit in the solarium.

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    Our next activity was another trivia. This was another photo quiz about cities from around the world. This was quite a big one with two sheets of photos. We only got one wrong and got some pens as our price. The next trivia was about 40 minutes away, so we decided to stay put. We both had a glass of wine. The final trivia of the cruise for us was Who In The World Am I? This was something a bit different. Our quiz host read out a total of three clues for each person and the points you got for a correct answer depended on how many clues you needed. We came second, but still got a prize, which is actually my favourite, a Royal Caribbean water bottle.

    We took our loot back to the cabin and then headed up to the Seaplex. There was another session of bumper cars and this time we had come early enough. When the session started, we were in the 5th group. It was fun just people watching while we waited. It was even more fun having a go at the bumper cars. By the time we had our go, the line was pretty much all around the Seaplex again, so we knew we would not be getting a second go. We left. I picked up my USB with the photos. This was the earliest I ever got this. We then went back to the cabin. We had a little downtime in the cabin before getting changed and heading for dinner. During this time, I filled out our landing cards for Hong Kong and the luggage tags.

    It was even quieter in Coastal Kitchen that night if this is even possible. We ended up chatting quite a bit to our server. He shared that he was transferring to Quantum at the end of November after his vacation. This made me very happy as we had decided at this stage that we would return to Hong Kong and China later this year and would book the 1st December sailing on Quantum. Hopefully we will meet him again. Dinner was nice again. We still had not drunk the sparkling wine, so we took this to dinner that night. They switched our bottle out for a chilled one. Graham started with the Escargots À La Bourguignonne with shallots, garlic, parsley, Pernot, butter and crispy crostini. I had Crispy Pork Belly with parsnip purée, apple slaw and port wine reduction one last time. We both had the Grilled Sirloin Steak with truffle potato purée, asparagus and Bordelaise sauce. For dessert, Graham chose the Baked Alaska and they made him a special one with just vanilla and strawberry ice cream as he is allergic to chocolate. I had the Ivory Mousse with almond shortbread and peppermint gelato again as I really enjoyed this on our first night. Our server also Brough both of us a Creme Brûlée. This was absolutely amazing. However, after this meal I was so stuffed that I could have rolled back to the cabin.

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    Once we got back to the cabin, we packed the last odds and ends. I attached the luggage tags to our suitcases and put them out for collection. We put the TV on and I got treated to the Wash Your Hands video a couple of times. I read for a bit and then we settled down for the night.
     
    TCB in FLA and Flossbolna like this.
  17. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2007
    Messages:
    31,202
    Day 10

    The next part of our adventure was upon us. Our meeting time was 9:00 so we had set the alarm for 8:00. We got up and ready. We packed the last odds and ends, and I took the magnets down. Then it was time to leave our cabin for the final time. We went up to the Windjammer to get some breakfast, but this was absolutely packed, and we could not find anywhere to sit so we gave up on this idea.

    Our meeting point was the Two70, so we headed down to deck 5. We sat down at Vintages Wine Bar as it was still a while until our meeting time. I decided to check out how busy Cafe Two70 was and this was surprisingly quiet, so I came back with a couple of breakfast sandwiches and some pastries. Once we had those, I took back the empties and brought back some coffee. When I took the cups back, I saw that our group had just been called. I went back to Graham, we took our hand luggage and headed for the gangway.

    Getting off the ship was a lot easier here than it had been in Shanghai last year. They had this well-organized. It did not take us long at all to get off the ship. Once we were on dry land again, they held us outside the terminal building for a while. We had to wait again just in front of the escalators leading up to the immigration hall and there was a third holding area just outside the immigration hall. Once we were inside the immigration hall, things moved very quickly. We got our entry permit and we were on our way.

    The baggage hall was probably the most well organized one I have ever seen with numbered bays for each tag number. We spotted Graham’s suitcase straightaway, but mine was nowhere to be seen. We looked at adjacent bays, but my suitcase was not there either. I went to find a member of staff, which was easier said than done. Eventually I found somebody. I described my suitcase, which fortunately is quite distinctive, and he went off to look for it. He came back about 5 minutes later with my suitcase in tow. Somehow the luggage label had been torn off.

    We were just about to leave the terminal when we were intercepted with a lady with an iPad. We were asked if we would be willing to participate in a short survey. We did and were given a dim sum pin for our troubles. We then left the terminal building in search of a bus. We had read before the trip that there are various free shuttles to shopping malls with MTR stations. They also had paid for shuttles and they were closest to the building, but we did find a free shuttle going in the right direction quite quickly.

    We did not have to wait very long once we found the shuttle until we were on our way. We made pretty quick progress even though it was still morning rush hour. Once we arrived at the destination, we took to the MTR again. We had to change trains once, but everything worked very smoothly. We headed deep into the New Territories. Our destination was Lok Ma Chau, which is one of the border crossing points into mainland China. When we researched various ways of getting from Hong Kong to Guilin before the trip, this quickly turned out to be the best option. We did not regret this decision either. When we came off the MTR, we just had to go up a couple of levels and walked right up to Hong Kong immigration. We were sent to e-gates, which kind of surprised us as we thought you had to be a frequent visitor to Hong Kong and register to use the e-gates. Apparently, that only applies when arriving in the country. When leaving, anybody with a chipped passport can use the e-gates. The whole process only took a couple of minutes.

    Once we had cleared immigration in Hong Kong, we then crossed the river on a glass covered bridge. At the other side of the river was Shenzhen, which is in the Guangdong province of mainland China. Assoon as we got to the other side, there was Chinese immigration. We looked for landing cards, but they seemed to be in short supply. Eventually I found a couple and we filled them out. We then got into line for immigration. Most people in line were Hong Kong residents that had a special permit card and were processed quite quickly. Both of our passports were given a thorough inspection, but then we were given our entry stamps and were on our way. Leaving the border crossing was very easy, we just had to go downstairs, and we were in the ticket hall for the Shenzhen metro.

    I got in line for the ticket machines and before I even had time to select the English language option, I was approached a member of staff who assisted me with getting my tickets. I did appreciate his assistance. I say tickets, but I actually ended up with a couple of plastic chips. They turned out to be RFID enabled and we just touched them against the ticket gate. A train pulled in pretty much as soon as we got to the platform. As this is the terminus station, the train was empty. Our destination, Shenzhen North Station is on the same metro line and made this really easy. It took about 15 minutes until we were at our destination and then it was just a question of following the signs, which were in Chinese and English. It really could not have been any easier.

    The next part was what I was nervous about. We had pre-purchased tickets from Guangzhou to Guilin, but as we did not know how long it would take us to get from the ship to Shenzhen North, we had not bought the tickets from Shenzhen to Guangzhou. There were two challenges waiting for us. We had to collect the tickets we had bought before leaving and also had to get the tickets to get us to Guangzhou. I learned how to buy tickets in my Mandarin class and probably would have coped, but I was mightily relieved when the ticket agent spoke English. She was a little confused why we I was picking up roundtrip tickets from Guangzhou to Guilin in Shenzhen, but I soon enough managed to communicate to her that I needed two tickets from Shenzhen to Guangzhou. The first train that was available was in 2.5 hours, but that still gave us plenty of time at the other end. Fortunately, I had some Yuan left from last year as they do not accept cards.

    With all the tickets in hand, we then faced the next challenge. It turns out that ticket offices in China are not directly attached to the train station. They are nearby, but we had to leave the ticket office and follow another set of sign posts to the entrance of the station itself. When we reached this, we first had our tickets and passports checked and then went through security where our luggage was x-rayed, and we went through a metal detector. Shenzhen North station is huge. Our cash was now depleted, and we were optimistic that we would find an ATM at the station. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Graham left me with the luggage and went back outside to find an ATM. He was gone for quite a while and have to admit I was starting to get a little nervous, but he came back with cash. Speaking of being nervous, he had a very nervous moment as well. He was trying to work out how to use the ATM as it required a six-digit PIN and the usual trick of adding two zeroes to the front did not work. He was approached by a police man with a machine gun who helped him with this. I think if I had been approached by a heavily armed police man, I probably would have fainted.

    While I was waiting for Graham, I learned two interesting facts. Delays on the Chinese railway system are very rare and a big deal. While I was standing near the departure board, there was a train leaving every few seconds. In all the time we were at the station, there were only two trains that were delayed, one by 4 minutes and one by 9 minutes. Where we live, this would be considered to be on time. I also spotted that there are trains between Shenzhen North and Guilin North. We were returning from Guilin North station and I had been under the impression that we had to change in Guangzhou to get from Guilin to Guangzhou, but this was not the case.

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    Once Graham came back, we headed to Starbucks for a snack. We both had a panini. We were not absolutely sure what we were eating, but it was tasty. I think it was probably some kind of ham and cheese. We also both had a caramel coffee Frappuccino. When we had finished our late lunch, we took turns using the bathroom and I got some water for the journey. We then made our way towards the platform from which our train was going to leave.

    At this stage, something got lost in translation. During our research prior to the trip, we learned about the red cap porters at the stations. The advantage of hiring a porter is that the passengers who pay for this service can follow the porters to get to the platform and get on board prior to other passengers. As our luggage was slightly bigger than what was recommended and as we were not quite sure what we were letting ourselves in for, the fee of 10 Yuan per piece of luggage (just over one Pound or around $1.4) seemed like a small price to pay for the convenience and took some stress out of this adventure. I had seen a few red cap porters milling around when I was waiting for Graham, but as is so often the case, once we needed one, there was none to be found. Eventually I saw a porter next to a desk near our gate. I figured that this was probably where one requested a porter and I went over. The lady at the desk appeared to speak English and I asked her if this was where one could request a porter. She confirmed this. She asked me how many and I assumed she referred to pieces of luggage and told her two and she charged me 20 Yuan, which is what I was expecting. She told me that there would be a short wait, which was no problem as we still had plenty of time. Eventually she called me over, which was strange as there was still no porter in sight. It turned out that I had not paid for a porter, but for a massage chair. Graham at the same time managed to flag down a porter and to her credit once she realized the misunderstanding, she refunded my money without any issues.

    In the meantime, the porter put our luggage on a cart and once I had my money back, he asked us to follow him. He escorted us to the gate, told us to get in line for check in and he headed off with our luggage. He waited for us on the platform, took us to our coach and stored the luggage for us. All that was left to do for us was to find our seats. Hiring a porter was definitely a good idea for our first trip on a bullet train as we did not know how everything worked and what to expect and this took some stress out of it. This was the only time we hired a porter and I probably would not do so again as we now understand how the trains work in China.

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    I was absolutely in awe of the bullet trains. They are modern and comfortable. They are also incredibly quick. Our train covered the distance of 63 miles in just under half an hour and that included a couple of stops. When we got off the train, we did look out for a red cap porter, but did not see any. However, we did not need one and the process was very easy. We followed signs for connections and this bypassed security and took us straight to the departure hall. We still had about an hour before check in for our next train began. We both took turns using the bathroom and I stocked up on water as we had gone through the water, we bought in Shenzhen very quickly. The trains are air-conditioned, but the stations are not, and it was about 35 degrees that day. We dehydrated quite quickly. When I stocked up on water, I came across a very interesting crisp flavour. They had cucumber flavoured crisps and curiosity got the better of me. I bought a bag.

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    Not long after check in for our train started and we had no issues finding the right coach and somewhere to store our luggage. We found our seats and settled down. At some stage during the trip, we tried the crisps and I absolutely loved them. I had every intention to get some more, but this did not happen. Getting some more of them is high on the list for our upcoming trip. The distance from Guangzhou to Guilin is about 270 miles and takes around 2 hours 45 minutes. I spent the trip alternating between catching up online, reading and watching the scenery. Initially we went through large urban areas, but soon we went through quite rural areas. Once we crossed into Guangxi province, there was some really spectacular landscapes. Unfortunately, around this time it started to turn dark.

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    Time definitely flew, and we were soon approaching Guilin. Guilin station is easy to navigate. There were red cap porters meeting the train, but we declined the offer of help. We headed for the exit, where we were met by a driver. Our hotel offered a pick-up service from either one of the stations in Guilin or the airport for a small charge. This was only 40 Yuan and for the convenience, I decided to go with this. It worked really well. Our driver did not speak English, but he had a translation app on the phone that translated Mandarin into English and vice versa. He was interested in what brought us to Guilin and what our plans were for our stay. We both where under the impression that Guilin is a small provincial town, but it is actually a sprawling city and we were staying at the outskirt of town. The main industry in Guilin is tourism, but mainly domestic tourism although I did get the impression that the secret is out. There were definitely quite a few international tourists at our hotel.

    The drive to the hotel took about 20 minutes and although it was dark, I fell in love with the area where we were staying straightaway. The hotel was located in Lujia Village, which is about 2.5 miles from the centre of Guilin. There are a number of hotels there as well as restaurants, shops and a couple of museums. This is strictly for tourists, but is very picturesque. I had looked for a hotel with a bit of character and our hotel definitely had this. It was located in a traditional Chinese building that is built around a courtyard. The name reflects this as the hotel is called Secret Courtyard Hotel. We were checked in by Amy, who speaks fluent English. We were each given a welcome drink. I had a glass of Coke and Graham had a glass of orange juice. She checked if we needed dinner and suggested that we have dinner first before going up to our room. This sounded like a good plan. Graham had a local noodle dish and I had some noodles with pork. The food was delicious and an absolute bargain.

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    Once we had finished dinner, Amy asked if we were hoping to do any excursions while we were there. She brought us a folder and there were a couple of interesting options. Top of our list was a Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. We had extensively researched this before leaving as we had originally planned to book this before we left. However, either the pricing was crazy, or the reviews were bad, so we decided to rely on local guidance. This did pay off. We had planned to do the river cruise on our middle day in Guilin. The weather forecast for the next day looked awful and it also had been a pretty long and tiring day. We just wanted to decompress the next day. However, this particular boat does not operate daily and there was no availability for the rest of the week. We decided to just go for it.

    A few phone calls later and Amy came back to advised that we were all set for the next day. We were due to be picked up at 7:30 the next morning. We were still pondering other excursions, but Amy suggested that we should see how we like this one first. We took her advice. We paid for our meal and the excursion. We were given some extra bottled water and then we were escorted to our room. Our luggage had already been taken up while we had dinner. We were on the top floor. I absolutely loved our room, even before I was able to assess the view. The room had plenty of character. There was even a traditional seating area in the bay window with a tea set and proper Chinese tea. Unfortunately, I never got around to using this tea set. We took turns getting ready for bed. While I was in the bathroom, the phone rang. There had been a slight change of plan. We would be collected half an hour earlier and taken to a hotel in town where we would be collected by our tour guide. This was fine by us. I set the alarm for 6:30 and we settled down for the night.

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    Dizzy4DL likes this.
  18. tiggrbaby

    tiggrbaby <font color=deeppink><marquee>We must work harder

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2004
    Messages:
    4,547
    What an absolutely adorable hotel room!
     

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