Hakodate, Japan – Trying out a bargain tour guide

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I arranged a private guide in Hakodate through the Hakodate Goodwill Association. http://www.hakodategoodwill.com/indexeng.html The Association offers tours for up to 6 people on a pre-arranged basis for an unbelievable 3000 yen total ($29.41) plus any expenses of the guide which was explained to be a day-pass for the tram (600 yen or $5.88) and maybe some entrance fees, although those might be free for the guide. How could I resist?

A few weeks before our departure, I posted on our Cruise Critic roll call and 4 shipmates quickly jumped on this deal. In about a week, I got an email response to my online application to the Hakodate Goodwill Association from a local named Kensuke (“Ken”) who agreed to be our guide. He responded promptly to my few email questions about payment and again the day before we arrived in Hakodate to give me a weather forecast and assure me he would meet our shuttle bus from the ship. read more

Otaru, Japan – The Carmel of northern Japan?

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Rickshaw in passing mode, Otaru

I was totally charmed by Otaru. The old buildings of Sakaimachihondori Street, the main shopping area, are almost achingly picturesque…reminding me, in some ways, of a Japanese Carmel. We began our explore of the area at the Otaru Music Box Museum in a 3-story wooden building across from the towered post office. The “museum” is really more of a large souvenir shop selling every kind of music box imaginable. A tall clock outside the music box museum surprised us when it blew the half-hour on a train-like whistle, emitting a gray puff of smoke. read more

Norvegian Rat Saloon [Dutch Harbor, Alaska]

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Yes, the Norvegian Rat Saloon spells its name with a “v” rather than a “w.” Sometimes. The sign on the low-slung waterfront building uses a “v,” but their menu has both spellings on the cover and we saw an ad with the “w” spelling, so who knows? Sitting just across the road from the Safeway, a local landmark, the Norvegian Rat Saloon offers a casual setting: a walk-up bar, wooden tables for diners, 2 pool tables and shuffle board table, a scruffy outdoor seating area on the water, complete with a WWII bunker, crab pots fire pit and an uninviting little “smoking area” shack. read more

Dutch Harbor (Aleutian Islands), Alaska

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The first stop on our trans-Pacific Vancouver-to-Tokyo cruise was Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands. Dutch Harbor was a substitute stop, replacing the originally-scheduled Petropavlosk, Russia, on the Kamchatka Peninsula. I’d been really looking forward to the remote Russian stop and, while I was disappointed to miss the Kamchatka, Dutch Harbor was a happy surprise for me, personally. My grandfather (my father’s father) had been stationed there in WWII as a Navy dentist. My dad still has a scrapbook of his father’s from that time and I’d taken a photo of every page, eager to see if I could find anything recognizable in this remote port. read more