I’m posting onboard ship in the port of Otaru using a Japanese data SIM card I bought on eBay before leaving the U.S. I bought 2 of these cards which are by the Japanese company, Docomo, which my research showed to have the best coverage in Japan. The cards are for 8 days each, so we plan to use them back-to-back during our stay in Japan, using my Galaxy S7 phone as a hotspot for David’s Galaxy S7s and our laptop. Each card is described as “4G LTE, 3GB/8 days, unlimited.” The cards cannot be used with HTC, Blackberry, dual SIM phones or any smartphones made in China.
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.
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.
So we leave tomorrow on the trip that inspired me to start this blog: a 77-night ramble through Asia. This trip runs the gamut of lodging, transportation methods, and weather. It’s been a challenge to plan (and a challenge to pack for). We’re excited!
In a (large) nutshell, this trip includes:
- Our first trans-Pacific cruise [the Aleutians, northern Japan, Yokohama/Tokyo]
- 2 weeks in Japan [Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima island (where we’ll stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn), Fukuoka]
- a ferry to South Korea [Busan, a Buddhist temple stay, Seoul, the DMZ]
- a cruise from Shanghai to Singapore [Okinawa, Hong Kong, Chan May/Hoi An and Phu My/Ho Chin Mihn City, Vietnam]
- Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
- Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see Angkor Wat
- Luang Prabang, Laos
- a 2-day open-boat trip up the Mekong with a stop at some to-be-determined-when-we-get-there guesthouse in tiny Pakbeng, Laos
- 2.5 weeks in Thailand: Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai (a day with elephants and a Thai cooking school), Krabi (scuba diving the Phi Phi islands), the Bridge on the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi, Bangkok
- a 1st class mega-flight on Korean Air from Bangkok to Seoul to Dallas (courtesy of airline miles and credit card points, a favorite game of ours)
I’ve tried to anticipate the trickier bits and done an incredible amount of research, but I know there will be things I overlooked or had no way of knowing. There are liable to be things that don’t pan out as we’d hoped (or maybe don’t even pan out at all). It’s the nature of travel, and also part of what makes it exciting and interesting. And besides, I don’t want to plan every moment anyway. I intend to focus on experiencing the trip rather than documenting it, but I’ll blog about it when I can. Hopefully, there will be fun as well as useful info to share…and, no doubt, our portion of clueless-fools-in-a-strange-land moments. Wish us luck!
I spent nearly two weeks in Croatia with my sons years ago and the place I’d always regretted missing was Plitvice National Park. As far as I was concerned, Plitvice was #1 on my list for this Croatian vacation with David and now, as our trip neared an end, we were finally going to be there…and it was storming. Not just light rain, but a downpour. Aaargh!
The weather in Zadar had been overcast with occasional drizzle, but cleared to sunny the morning we set out on the drive to Plitvice. It’s an easy 2-hour drive from Zadar to Plitvice and the scenery is beautiful as you head into the mountains and cross over impressive bridges spanning wide inlets of water.
The listing for our AirBnB apartment in Zadar billed the place as “Fifi apartment.” The name conjured images of a French poodle or maybe even a can-can dancer; definitely female, in any event. When I emailed and WhatsApp’ed with contact Andrej, however, he let me know, in passing, that Fifi was male. Oh. Andrej said “Fifi” spoke little English, hence Andrej’s role as spokesman, but that Fifi himself would meet us. The apartment included secure on-site parking, a big plus for an apartment inside the old town. Andrej told me that Fifi would be waiting for us by the city gate and lead us to the parking since. Despite the advance info, we were a still a little surprised the first time we saw “Fifi:” a big man of late middle age in a black leather jacket. As promised, he was waiting for us, on foot. When we offered to drive him with us, he declined and proceeded to walk ahead of our car, leading us into the old city, past the open-air market and to the electronic gate to our apartment.
On our way back from Krka to Split, we made a short detour to visit the ruins of a Roman amphitheater in Solin, a small town on the outskirts of Split. With no address to go by, I guessed at street names hinting at an amphitheater or forum…which resulted in quite a few wrong turns on narrow streets. For anyone preferring a more direct route (which should be everyone), the amphitheater is at the intersection of Put Salone and Paraci ulica (“ulica” being simply Croation for street). The path is neither well-marked nor straightforward due to the way streets are set up, dead ends and the like. The ruins do show up on Google Maps now, so go with that if you have access.
The waterfalls, lakes, rivers and pathways of Krka Park lure visitors from Croatia and beyond. We got up early to start our daytrip to Krka, hoping to avoid the crowds we’d heard could be a problem. The park lies an easy hour’s drive from Split. We drove the vast majority of the way on the excellent A1/E65 highway, then followed signs (and Google Maps) along the equally well-maintained E33 to the park’s main entrance at Lozovac. The enormous parking lot was mostly empty, but cars and tour buses were already beginning to arrive. We bought entrance tickets at the booth in the parking lot then realized we’d just missed the free shuttle bus that takes visitors into the park. [The free shuttle service runs from April to October.] Unwilling to wait for the bus to return, we opted to hike instead downhill through thick forests. The walk is pretty and not overly-difficult for the fit, but views of the lake below are blocked and we actually saw more of that particular vista by riding the bus back to the parking lot at the end of our visit. Our hike deposited us just up the road from the bus drop-off.
My foodie husband, David, read great things about a restaurant called Villa Spiza in Split, so we headed there our first night in town. We found a tiny little hole-in-the-wall, with no tables available, but two stools at a bar that faced a cooking range-top. I had to squeeze into the cornermost stool, my back practically against the side of the woman behind me. Learning they only accept cash, David headed out again leaving me to nurse a white wine while he searched for an ATM machine. The place was bustling, with only two cooks/servers, a man and a woman behind the L-shaped bar. People waited outside for larger tables to free up.
Our apartment wish list in Split presented some challenges: We needed parking, but we wanted to be near the pedestrian old town. As always, I wanted value for our money (plus wi-fi, a washing machine, charm, a quiet place to sleep, a good host…). We really lucked out on all fronts in Split and ended up with one of our favorite AirBnB apartments to date…with a tiny caveat I’ll get to below.
Our host Vlatko was very responsive from the moment we booked. As promised, he was waiting in the street for us with his little boy when we arrived from Dubrovnik to “hold a parking place for us.” This was the first inkling that the billed guaranteed parking might not be so guaranteed; that caveat I mentioned. The parking turns out to be sort of a first-come–first-served affair at the end of the dead-end street on which the apartment sits. David did his usual awesome job of maneuvering our bigger-than-expected rent car into the snug parking. Vlatko explained that there was “usually” parking and, if we happened to come back and there wasn’t any parking, we could just park in the paid lot next door and then look down from the apartment window until a free space opened up and move the car. Hmm. Not how I wanted to spend my time in Split. Despite this potential hitch, we actually didn’t have a problem getting free parking on our return from our one daytrip to Krka, Trogir and Solin.