PREVIOUS DISPATCH: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Zhujiajiao Watertown
DAY NINE: Climbing the Wall & Cultivating Harmony
Time to check off a big bucket list item today as we head to The Great Wall of China about an hour outside the capital city of Beijing.
The section of the wall that we are visiting is actually only one piece in the series of several walls begun several centuries Before Christ and built over a span of nearly two thousand years by many different emperors. Combined these make up what is known as The Great Wall.
During The Ming Dynasty, in the mid 1300s until the late 1500s, this part of the fortification was built to protect the seat of power from the Mongols to the north. Then after the fall of the dynasty in 1644, the wall was deemed unnecessary and left to decay.
Over the next few centuries it had nearly fallen apart until restoration was undertaken in 1984. Because of those efforts we found this incredible landmark in condition to climb hundreds of feet up the incredibly steep side of the mountain, where we got amazing views of the world’s most famous wall on both sides of the valley.
From The Great Wall we head back into Beijing to the Summer Palace and the Garden of Cultivated Harmony. The palace and man-made lake it overlooks, were built around 1750 by the Emperor Qianlong during the Qing Dynasty, which was last of the dynasties, as a birthday gift for his mother.
It’s Always Nice to Have a Summer Home!
But 150 years later Empress Dowager Cixi made it home and proceeded to instigate all sorts of political skulduggery using her son, and later her nephew, as figureheads for her reign.
By walking about a mile around the shore of Kunming Lake and the amazingly ornate covered walkway, we got a great vantage point for looking up Longevity Hill at the palace. The landscape here is very flat, so the hill is actually made from the earth that was removed while digging out the lake.
Before heading back to the Volendam, we are treated to sunset above the Palace – just like royalty.
DAY TEN: Forbidden, No More
Day two in Beijing, formerly known as Peking because of a mispronunciation by early European visitors, begins in Tiananmen Square. The square is the third largest city square in the world and gets its name from the Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) on its north side, that separates it from the Forbidden City.
An interesting tidbit we learned from our guide… there is an artist who’s only job is to make sure that the iconic picture of Chairman Mao is always in perfect condition.
In the Forbidden City we are blown away immediately. The incredible architecture is mostly wooden, but the massive doors at each gate are made of solid stone.
As we pass through each successive gate it just gets more and more incredible. Covering some two hundred and fifty acres, the complex is truly enormous.
The name comes from the fact that everyone except the emperor’s wives, concubines, and eunuchs were forbidden from entering.
Finally we make it through to the emperor’s palace behind the ninth gate, it certainly looks like it was good to be emperor.
In the afternoon, we head over to the Temple of Heaven in the southern part of the capital city.
A Heavenly Temple
The most famous of the temples is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is said to be the largest wooden building in the world that is constructed without using any nails. Fantastic.
DAY ELEVEN: Dalian, Darlin’
Historically a part of Manchuria, we found many different and exciting foods. We came upon a downtown market place where boiling broth is used to cook noodles, vegetables and seafoods that are served into bowls while sitting at a tiny kiosk.
WATCH: The best street food we’ve ever had!
By pointing, nodding, and gesturing we managed to get all sorts of fantastic tidbits into our bowls.
When the bill for this absolutely unbelievable meal came we thought there must have been some mistake, twenty yuan, about three dollars for both of us, including drinks!
The old wooden Japanese trolleys, from over one hundred years ago, still make their way around the crowded streets.
The same area is also home to an antique market where vendors offer every sort of trinket imaginable.
DAY TWELEVE: At Sea – Our home away from home
After three glorious days of seeing the wonders of China, we are more than ready for a restful day at sea while heading to South Korea.
As comfy as our stateroom is, we’ve found some fantastic places on the ship to rest our tired feet, relax our awed minds or stay in touch with the world and loved ones.
The Explorations Cafe offers computers with free access to The New York Times, or connect to email and websites through the ship’s wifi. And like any good internet cafe, there is a complete coffee bar to keep us surfers properly caffeinated.
There are also seminars in The Digital Workshop with tips on everything from the latest version of Windows to making the most of the loads of photos and videos everyone is shooting.
In the afternoon on days when we aren’t in port, the showroom dancers and members of the crew team up with passengers for Dancing With The Stars on the high seas.
Our evenings are spent in the Crow’s Nest – the highest and most forward spot on the Volendam – the perfect place for watching the sunset in comfy chairs through the floor-to-ceiling windows. We’ve gathered a group of fantastic regulars here, sharing an evening cocktail and our day’s experiences, then matching wits against other groups in the surprisingly spirited ongoing trivia matches.
Ready for another formal night, we got a perfect spot in the elegant Rotterdam Dining Room for another fantastic meal.
After dinner, we make our escape to our stateroom.
This little guy was waiting to greet us when we got back to our cabin. Who knew there were elephants in these waters?
DAY THIRTEEN: Something’s Fishy in Busan
Busan is the busiest port in South Korea and fishing is a big part of all of this maritime activity. This has led to one of the biggest fish markets in all of Asia. We couldn’t think of a better place to start our day.
The enormous Jagalchi indoor market covers three floors but the fish selling spills out into the surrounding streets too.
WATCH: The incredible fish market of Busan!
Both inside and out are jam packed with every sort of sea creature imaginable, many that we not only had never seen before, but we couldn’t even begin to identify.
The second floor also houses a traditional restaurant – complete with no shoes allowed – that serves up freshly caught specialties. Where else could we dream of having lunch?
DAY FOURTEEN: A Day of Reflection
Nagasaki, Japan is no doubt best known as the site of the second atomic bombing on August 9, 1945. This is commemorated at The Peace Garden which is dominated by a large statue of a man pointing skyward, where the bomb came from, and the other arm extended in a sign of peace. His eyes are closed in prayer.
We walked through the park from the Fountain of Peace past the many artistic gifts sent from countries around the world proclaiming the hope that these horrible weapons will never be used again.
Water is used as a poignant part of the park because the casualties of the bombing suffered unbearable thirst.
This quote from a young victim really brought the suffering life for us, “I was thirsty beyond endurance. There was something oily on the surface of the water, but I wanted water so badly that I drank it just as it was.”
Near the epicenter stood the Urakami Cathedral, one of the biggest Catholic churches in Asia. Even though it was mostly reduced to rubble several of the statues survived and are on display.
After visiting the church we spent several hours in the Atomic Bomb Museum documenting the devastation and suffering in heart-wrenching detail that defies description.
Clocks forever stopped at 11:02 are a stark reminder of how time stood still for the people of Nagasaki on that fateful day.
A few kilometers south of ground zero, where the devastation was less severe, some of the older structures remain. Since we were getting a little hungry we headed to Shinchi Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in Japan, where street food is king.
Of the several dishes unique to Nagasaki, such as champon and saraudon, our favorite was kakuni-manju, a slice of barbecued pork on a folded steamed bun.
About a dozen old stone bridges span the Nakashimagawa River in the old part of the city a few blocks away from the Chinatown. The most famous of these, Spectacles Bridge, dates back to 1634. The unusual name comes from the way the arches reflect in the water which, from the right vantage point, looks like a pair of eyeglasses.
As we climbed back aboard the ship for our last time, a group from a local high school gave us quite a send off with traditional music, dancing and dragons.
WATCH: Beautiful Dragon Dance
As we head to our stateroom for our last night aboard, a bit sad that our time on the Volendam is over, we are giddily startled by the most elaborate towel art we’ve ever seen! Hanging from our ceiling is an orangutang!
Making us laugh like this when we’re a bit sad proves in a nutshell the kind of attention that Holland America has given us throughout our adventure. Somehow our fabulous attendant knows exactly what we need before we realize we need it.
Our new buddy Oscar the Orangutang hangs above us as we sail on to Kobe, and the word is that our timing is perfect for seeing one of Japan’s most iconic sights. Tonight we dream of cherry blossoms in Osaka.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com