Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Today was just a relaxing day at sea, when we could do as much or as little as we wanted.  We got up about 8.30am (a bit later due to the lost hour!!) and I decided not to go to breakfast, just eating the fruit that was provided in our stateroom; Trevor brought me back some coffee from the buffet.

Then we went along to the Cabaret Lounge for 10 o’clock to listen to another of film producer Dale Pollock’s interesting lectures; this one was called “Are the Movies still the Movies?” which discussed the point that so many people these days watch films by means other than the cinema and TV; for example Netflix, Amazon Prime and other movie-streaming services.  After all, you can sit on a train or flight and sit and watch a movie on your mobile phone these days, streamed via wi-fi or the 4G network.  As ever, it was very interesting.

Afterwards, we decided to go for a coffee and went up to Deck 9 to the coffee machines.  When we went outside, it was cold and windy once again, and no-one was out on deck or in the pool.

As I hadn’t had any breakfast, I was quite hungry when lunchtime came around, so I enjoyed some tasty home-made soup followed by some salad meats and fresh vegetables, washed down with cold water and some rosé wine.

Then we returned to our cabin for a post-luncheon nap, before making our way to the Discoveries Bar for Round 1 of the “Battle of the Sexes”, in which the men competed against the women.  In this, the women were given questions about sports and cars and typical ‘male’ topics, whilst the men were given questions about cosmetics and fashion and chick-flicks, so-called typical ‘female’ topics.  If a team got the answer wrong, it was passed to the other team for a chance to steal.

We were then both given the same set of questions and marked on our answers.  Finally, we were given a ‘picture round’ in which silhouettes of countries were given, and you had five minutes to list as many countries as you could.

It was all good fun, with lots of banter between the two teams.  Round 2 would take place tomorrow.  😊

We then went along to The Den for a couple of drinks before the first of the quizzes, the topic of which was “History”.  We joined up with Dale and Susie, who answered most of the questions; Trevor and I didn’t contribute much to them at all.  Oh well, everyone has their specialist subjects, and I would never say that history was mine.

The music quiz was set in the 1950s, and I didn’t expect to do very well because that was before my time, but it was surprising how many we managed to get between the four of us.  We didn’t win, but a score of 16/20 was respectable enough, and we enjoyed the company and the conversation in the meantime.  😊

We stayed in the bar for a drink afterwards, until Trevor reminded me that we had to get ready for the “Le Club Voyage” (LCV) cocktail party at 5.30pm, so we hotfooted it back to 6009 to get dressed up a little more.

Le Club Voyage is Azamara’s loyalty programme, and because Celebrity Cruises is a sister company any nights on a Celebrity cruise count as well.  So far, Trevor and I have done two Azamara cruises and two Celebrity cruises, so we are only in the first tier of the club (but we have another Celebrity cruise booked for October this year).

We therefore got ourselves spruced up and made our way to the Cabaret Lounge, where we were greeted by the Captain and his senior officers, as well as the cruise director.  The band was playing tasteful music in the background and, judging by the way the lounge filled up, it seemed that just about everyone had cruised with Azamara/Celebrity before.  We were offered the usual glasses of free fizz and canapés, and then Captain Magnus came out to the front and made an amusing speech and spoke to us about the International Date Line, which we were due to cross tomorrow.

The International Dateline is an imaginary line extending between the North Pole and the South Pole and arbitrarily demarcating each calendar day from the next.  It corresponds for most of its length to the 180th meridian (which is opposite the Greenwich Meridian at 0˚ longitude) but deviates eastward through the Bering Strait to avoid dividing Siberia; it then deviates westward to include the Aleutian Islands with Alaska.

South of the equator, another eastward deviation allows certain island groups to have the same day as New Zealand.  The Date Line occurs as a result of timekeeping around the world; every 15˚ of longitude is a new time zone, so starting at the Greenwich meridian and moving east, it is plus one hour for every 15 degrees (up to a maximum of +12 hours).  Going West, however, it a minus one hour for every 15 degrees (up to a maximum of -12 hours).  Therefore, at 180˚ of longitude, the difference of +12 hour and -12 hours give you 24 hours, therefore a new day.

A traveller going completely around the world and carrying a clock that he advanced or retarded by one hour for every time zone crossed would find, if he did not change the calendar date, that he would be one full day out on returning to his starting point.  When you cross the Date Line on a westerly course (as we did in September 2009) you completely miss out a day, and when crossing on an easterly course (as we are doing now) you experience the same day twice.  😊

Trevor and I find it all fascinating stuff, and it has certainly been strange (and quite tiring) not being in the same time zone twice since leaving Japan!

After the cocktail party we remained in the lounge for a short while, chatting with another British couple, before making our way to the Discoveries Restaurant, where we told the receptionist we would be happy to share our table.

We therefore found ourselves on a table for four with the charming Belgian couple, François and Marliese, with whom we’d shared our table during our first night on board.  We enjoyed a delicious meal and good conversation, washed down with rosé wine and finished off with amaretto and coffee.

Then it was along to the Cabaret Lounge where, once again, the comedy magician Greg Moreland was performing.  He was as hilarious as ever, and his tricks and sleight of hand are really good.  It was an excellent show.

Afterwards we returned to the Den, where the large TV screen proclaimed in a huge font over the background picture of a clock:

“PLEASE TURN YOUR CLOCKS ONE DAY BACK AND ONE HOUR FORWARD THIS EVENING”

I’d already given up trying to keep tabs on the time here compared to back home in Blighty, but now we were going to go 23 hours backwards as we headed towards the western hemisphere.  😊

We enjoyed a nightcap, and then we returned to 6009, where I made the necessary adjustments to the time and date on my phone, messing up the dates on my calendar entries and photos in the process.

After reading for a short while, we settled down and sleep came very quickly in the darkness of our cabin, lulled by the gentle sound of the waves on the vast Pacific Ocean.

Woke up at 6.00am to go to the loo, and saw that we were already docked in Petropavlovsk.  I could see snow-capped peaks in the background, and some other vessels and cranes docked nearby.  As our excursion was not until 9.45am, I went back to bed for another couple of hours’ sleep, getting up at eight o’clock.

We went out on our balcony to see what the weather was going to be like, as I thought it would be cold and I was beginning to think I hadn’t brought enough warm clothing.  I therefore dressed in my sweatshirt and fleece-lined denim jacket, and packed a cagoule and woolly hat if needed, as well as wearing trainers instead of my usual holiday footwear of flip-flops.

Before disembarking the Quest we had to go to the Cabaret Lounge with our passports and excursion tickets to get a one-day visitor’s tour visa.  With a small ship like the Quest the queues were not a problem, and we wondered how it would be on these behemoths of 6000+ passengers; no doubt, by the time they’d have everyone processed, it would almost be time for the ship to leave again.  One of the many reasons we prefer smaller, ‘proper’ ships.  😊

Once we’d been ‘done’ we had to disembark the ship and make our way to our tour group.  As we reached the bottom of the gang-plank another couple of security guys in uniforms and peaked caps inspected our passports and scrutinised our faces to make sure they matched the photos.

We were allocated bus number 2 and had to go through immigration and passport control yet again.  They take it seriously, do these Russians.  They checked our passports and our shipboard passes, put an official stamp on our passports, and finally we were through, where we made our way to our bus.  Our driver was called Yuri and our guide Sergei, and our first stop was to the local museum, which gave a fascinating insight into the history and lore of the people of the Kamchatka peninsula, showing the original indigenous peoples and their hunting and fishing and how they lived, as well as the animals that are native to the peninsula.  The museum tour took rather longer than expected, because the museum staff, who were dressed in traditional costumes, spoke in Russian, and our guide Sergei had to translate everything.

After the museum we got back on the bus and had a scenic ride along the coastline, with its snow-capped rugged mountains in the background. The landscape was stark against a flawless blue sky; yes, I’m pleased to say the weather, why still being crisp was sunny and fresh and much warmer than we’d anticipated.

Presently the bus pulled up at a fantastic three-spired Russian Orthodox church which had a white façade decorated in blue and gold, and had a pair of towers and spires, one off to each side of the church.

Inside, the decoration was breath-taking.  The walls were adorned with paintings containing gold leaf and, above a tremendous chandelier, the ceiling was painted with scenes of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  It really was something to see.

Back on the bus, our next stop was to a market and shopping centre.  We walked through a vegetable and fruit market then into an amazing fish market; a lot of the fish was dried or smoked and the smell coming off them was really appetising (if you like kippers or smoked salmon or mackerel).  There were also jars of caviar and other delicacies, cheeses, meats and other foodstuffs.

There were also shops and stalls selling handbags and jewellery, shoes and scarves and accessories.  We also found a shop selling typical Russian souvenirs such as the matryoschka dolls, handcrafted leather and wooden goods, and the ubiquitous furry Cossack hats and mitts.  We bought one of the Russian dolls as a gift for the lady who is looking after our cat while we’re away.

After the visit to the market we all boarded the bus once more for the return journey to the Quest, arriving back about 1.00pm, just in nice time for lunch.  As the Russian security bloke at the bottom of the gang-plank scrutinised our passports once more, he called out “nice shoes!” to me, referring to my colourful Irregular Choice trainers.  In fact, several people in the queue to get back on board commented on my shoes; I’m used to it when wearing IC shoes as they are so very different.  😊

The sun was on our side of the ship by now, so after lunch we were finally able to sit out on our balcony, enjoying a drink with the sun warm on our faces.

We then enjoyed a power nap (once again, to make up for the lost hour) before going along to The Den to take part in the music trivia quiz, which was called ‘Decades’ and consisted of 20 questions, four each from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.  We scored 17/20 as my knowledge of the 1950s and 1990s music is nowhere near as good as the other decades.  We were the joint top score (one other team had 17) but the quiz host was feeling generous and said both teams could have two stamps on their prize passports.  😊

We partook of a couple more drinks and whiled away the time, talking and laughing with our fellow passengers, before returning to 6009 to get washed and changed for dinner.  We decided to go up to the Windows Café where they were holding a Russian buffet, so we enjoyed traditional borscht, which is beetroot soup, as well as other fish and meat dishes and vegetable dishes in which beetroot figured prominently.

After dinner we bagged our seats in the Cabaret Lounge for tonight’s show, which featured the Azamara Singers and Dancers doing an excellent show called “A Million Dreams”.  We certainly cannot fault the entertainment on this cruise at all.

Then we finished off the evening up in the Living Room.  Even though it was now after 9.00pm, it was still daylight outside, and we sat in seats right at the windows at the front, where we could see the bow of the Azamara Quest as, by now, she had put to see once more.  In fact, we weren’t due to reach land now until Tuesday, four days’ time (yes, four days’ time).  😊

At 10.00pm, the Riviera Sounds trio struck up with their Latin rhythm as their lead singer called us all onto the dance floor to learn the merengue.  This dance was quite easy, as you’re really just marching; one foot then the other, back and forth, side to side.  They put on the music and the dancing was fairly brisk; I was quite out of breath by the time we’d finished.

It was after midnight when we returned to stateroom 6009, and once again we had to put our clocks and watches one hour forward.  By now I’d lost count of how many hours we were ahead of British time, 11 or 12 – I don’t know.  All I do know is that we slept very well once again, and we had three days at sea, crossing the Pacific, to look forward to.

Woke up this morning quite tired due to the lost hour and decided not to go to breakfast, but to make the most of the fruit bowl in our cabin instead.  Trevor went to the buffet and brought me back a cup of coffee (as there is no kettle in our stateroom).

At 10 o’clock we went along to the Cabaret Lounge to listen to a lecture by our dining companion Dale Pollock, the former Hollywood producer.  His talk was all about George Lucas, the guy who created and directed the hugely-influential Star Wars films.  Despite the fact that neither Trevor or I are film buffs, the talk was very interesting indeed.

We then just spent time pottering around the ship, passing pleasantries with our fellow passengers, some of who we were now getting to know a little.  We had a couple of pre-luncheon drinks in The Den and, because I was now feeling quite hungry, we went up to the Windows Café and I enjoyed a selection of tasty dishes at the buffet.

We were sitting quite near the sliding doors leading out to the rear decks, and this was a bit of a mistake, because every time the doors opened they let in a gust of freezing wind.  Despite the fact that most of the fog had now gone, it was still windy and uncomfortably chilly outside, and it was not surprising to see the pool deck largely deserted, only a few brave souls lying out on the loungers, wrapped heavily in the provided checked blankets.

At two o’clock we went along to a presentation by the ‘Destination Specialist’ Charles Richardson.  He spoke to us in detail about the volcanic Kamchatka peninsula, where we were heading.  In fact, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy town’s coat of arms features the “three brothers”, three active volcanoes that dominate the city’s skyline (and indeed much of the peninsula).  The talk was very interesting and explained how the continents were formed, about tectonic plate movements and earthquakes, tsunamis and, of course, volcanoes.

After the talk we went along to the Discoveries bar to take part in the “Selfie Scavenger Hunt”.  In this, we were given sheets of paper containing photos of parts of the ship, whether they were paintings, ornaments, signs or fixtures and fittings.  You had to find the item and use your phone to take a ‘selfie’ with it.  We only had 20 minutes to find 12 items, so it was fun to see everyone racing round the ship with their papers, looking for the items.  Some of us met up and traded information; Trevor and I managed to find 10 items before the time was up.  The entertainment host running the event said everyone who had 10 or more items would get two stamps on their prize passport.

The prize passports work in a similar way to price vouchers; you collect your stamps and, at the end of the cruise, exchange them for Azamara Club Cruises branded prizes such as a t-shirt or an umbrella (if you’re lucky) or tat such as bookmarks or packs of cards.

After the treasure hunt we had time for a drink in The Den before the quiz at four o’clock, which was all based around colours.  Trevor and I didn’t have anyone else in our team this time, and we only scored 13/20 (but got a stamp on our prize passport for participating).

The next quiz, the music one, was based this time on Jazz and Swing, and we nearly didn’t participate because we thought we’d be rubbish as we don’t know anything about jazz, but in actual fact we scored 14/20. The winners got 18.

We remained in The Den for a while after the quiz, engaged in interesting conversation with our fellow passengers.  Then it was time to go back to stateroom 6009 and get showered and changed for our dinner.

In the Discoveries Restaurant, we shared our table with two other couples, one from Australia and another British couple.  As ever, the food was scrumptious (did I say they do a fantastic Caesar salad on here?) and the drinks and the conversation flowed; in fact, while the Australian couple excused themselves after dinner to make it to the 8.15pm show, it was after nine o’clock when we and the other couple left the restaurant to go and bag our seats in the Cabaret Lounge for the 9.30pm show.

Tonight it featured a great instrumentalist called Jakub Trasak, who played different types of violins with a little bit of a twist.  For example, he played Coldplay’s Viva la Vida on the violin, which seemed an unusual choice but it worked really well.  He was excellent and we enjoyed the show tremendously.

We then finished off the day by going to the Living Room and sitting at the bar listening to the Latin beats of the Riviera Sounds, chatting to the bar staff, and enjoying a nightcap or two.

Once again it was after midnight when we left the bar, but we had to advance our watches and clocks by one hour again, so it seemed as if it was after 1.00am.  These 23-hour days are playing havoc with our body clocks; we were now 10 hours ahead of British Summer Time!

We returned to stateroom 6009 and settled down for the night.  We had another sea day to look forward to tomorrow, and we slept very well.

Friday, 17th May

Got up at 8.30 this morning and looked out onto our balcony.  There was still a brisk wind blowing and the sky and sea both looked quite grey.  We have a lovely big balcony stateroom, 175 square feet, but so far we’ve never really used the balcony as it has been too chilly to sit out.  Hopefully we’ll see some warmer weather and sunshine later on in the voyage.

We didn’t really do great deal today, just spent the time pottering about the ship and relaxing.  At half past ten we went along to the Cabaret Lounge where Captain Magnus was holding a question and answer session with some of his officers, namely the Chief Engineer, the Galley Director and the Head of HR.  Some people just asked ridiculous questions, such as why was the wi-fi so slow (do they really pay thousands to go away on a transpacific voyage to interesting places just to spend time on their wi-fi?!).  Much as I use the wi-fi when at home, it really doesn’t bother me not having wi-fi or an internet connection when I’m away; the whole point of the holiday and voyage is to do something that you can’t do at home.

After the Q and A session we went and had a cup of coffee and a walk around the ship, then returned to our stateroom where we passed the time pleasantly relaxing, reading and I did some of this blog.  This took us nicely to lunchtime, which we spent in the Windows Café, prudently choosing a table out of the way of the sliding doors and the cold wind.

So far, my swimsuit has not seen the light of day this cruise, and every time we walk past the swimming pool there is hardly ever anyone in it, a total contrast to our last cruise in the Indian Ocean in January.  😊

After lunch we went along to the show lounge to listen to another very interesting presentation by Charles Richardson; this one was about the Battle of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands (Alaska) as it is a port of call we will be visiting later on in the cruise.

Afterwards I felt quite tired and decided to go back and have an hour’s power nap, to try to catch up on the lost hour last night.

Today’s 4.00pm quiz was appropriately nautical-themed, and we scored 18/20.  We then joined up with David and Raleen, the Australians we’d done the music quiz with the other day, and another couple from New Zealand joined us for the music quiz; this time the theme was The Beatles.  We scored 19/20 and thought we’d done quite well, but a couple from Liverpool got 20/20.  Well, they would have to, wouldn’t they?  😊

The rest of the afternoon passed in its usual pleasant way, until it was time once again to go to dinner.  Sometimes it seems as if we do nothing else on a cruise except eat and drink!  Tonight they were holding a Mexican buffet in the Windows Café, so we went up there and enjoyed nachos, chilli, enchiladas, chimichanga and other tasty delights. There was a particularly piquant chipotle sauce that went down a treat, and we left the restaurant fit to burst.

The evening’s performance in the Cabaret Lounge tonight came in the shape of Ernest Marchain, our cruise director, who had spent time on Broadway in various music theatre productions.  He was an excellent singer and performer, and we enjoyed the selection of songs he performed very much.

After the show we made out way to the Living Room, where tonight it was the turn of the passengers to be in the limelight; yes, it was Karaoke Night.  There were not many people in the Living Room, and it appeared that most people preferred dancing to singing, because I was the only person who got up to sing!  I started off with Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time then, when no-one else got up, I sang Hazel O’Connor’s Will You.  This was the first time I’d sang that song, because the usual ones that I do didn’t appear in the song book (a lot of them were American songs and artistes who I’d never heard of).

After my second song no-one else got up, so the karaoke only lasted 20 minutes before they decided to abandon it for the night and put the disco music back on, whereupon the usual dancers hit the dance floor.

We stayed in the Living Room until around 11.30pm, then returned to 6009 where we read and relaxed for a little while before settling down to sleep.  Once again we had to put our clocks and watches forward one hour, but we didn’t want to stay up too long because we were due to arrive in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Russia, tomorrow morning and we had a half-day tour booked.

Got up at our usual time of 8.00am to find the Quest docked in the port of Kushiro.  Going out onto our balcony and looking down at the quayside, we could see several stalls set out below, and a shuttle bus waiting nearby.  We didn’t have any excursions booked today, instead preferring to do our own thing and look around at leisure.  Once again, the weather was fairly cloudy but at least it was dry; in fact, we’d seen no rain since leaving home.

We ate breakfast in the Windows Café, then collected our money, camera, shipboard pass etc and went down to Deck 3 to disembark.

As we walked along the quayside, several children in school uniform came up to us, asking us where we were from and giving us little information sheets about some of the stalls we could see; also shuttle bus timetables and small street maps of the area.  The children and teenagers were spending time in the port mixing with and speaking with the passengers from the Quest, both to help their English and for them to let us see some of their culture and traditions.

The stalls contained local handicrafts, clothes, street food items and the usual souvenir ‘tat’ such as fridge magnets and plastic toys.

We decided to go into the town, so we waited for about 10 minutes for the next shuttle bus, which only took about a short while (maybe 10 minutes) to drop us off at the Washo Market.  This was a large indoor market selling flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables and meats, but mainly fish; rows and rows of stalls of fresh fish.  We saw tanks containing crabs and lobsters, as well as those giant King Crabs.  There were also squid and octopus, scallops, and loads of smoked and fresh fish, gleaming on their beds of crushed ice.  The Japanese are very big consumers of fish, and this no doubt contributes to their healthy lifestyles and the fact that they have the longest life expectancy of any other nation in the world.

Leaving the market behind, we slowly walked along the streets, browsing in any shop windows and just soaking up the atmosphere.  We went down some steps into a subway crossing, and it was amazing because the walls were adorned with artwork.  Apparently, all the paintings had been created by artists with disabilities, and they were superb.  We took our time browsing the art, taking several photos.

We continued on our way, going through a park which had some interesting sculptures; one of them was a large brass globe of the World, which was cut open transversely showing rows of blocks inside.  I wanted to know who the artist was, because there is an almost-identical sculpture in the lobby of the ship Balmoral, on which we’ve already cruised three times and are booked to do two more.  I couldn’t see any plaque saying who the artist was (in any case it all would have been in Japanese!) but I will endeavour to find out.

As the sky had got duller and the wind a bit more brisk, we decided to take a walk back to the ship rather than take the bus, particularly since we could see the Quest’s funnel and she obviously wasn’t far away.

As we walked past the stalls again, we stopped for a free cup of hot milk with sweet sake (the fermented rice wine) which was quite pleasant.

Back on board again we enjoyed a late lunch, and looking out of the windows we could see that a dense fog was slowly coming in, obscuring our elevated view of the town and the distant hills.

After our lunch, we had to go to the Cabaret Lounge with our shipboard cards and passports for the Japanese departure immigration inspection, as today we would be leaving Japanese waters on our way to Russia.

We then had a half-hour power nap before looking out on our balcony to a grey wall of fog.  We pottered around for a bit, then went to The Den to take part in the first of the quizzes, called “Famous Faces”.  While we were there, we joined up with another couple who were from Darwin, Australia, and introduced themselves as Raleen and David.  We were given a picture sheet with famous faces on it, such as Neil Armstrong, Bill Gates, William Shakespeare, Charles de Gaulle etc.  We only got 15/20, not enough to win.

The next quiz was called “Disco Fever” and featured music from the 1970s and ‘80s, which is my best era.  There were 20 questions and you had to give the song title and the name of the artiste.  We scored 38/40 in total (there was one title and one artiste I couldn’t get) and we were wondering who could beat that, but the team next to us scored 40/40!!  Amazing.

At 5.00pm a loud blast from the ship’s foghorn indicated we were underway again; in fact the blasts continued, one every two minutes, because of the dense fog and poor visibility outside.

After the quiz, we stayed talking in The Den for a while afterwards, then we decided to go to the Mosaic Café, where they were holding a Japanese Art Expo as well as whisky and sake tasting.  There is a Japanese artist on board the ship who is unique in that she uses coffee as her painting medium and sits on the floor to complete her canvases.  We had seen her in action earlier on today, and now some of her completed paintings were being displayed for purchase, and we could enjoy some free sake and/or Japanese whisky (Suntory!!) while we browsed.

We enjoyed several samples of the free booze, then returned to 6009 to get washed and changed for dinner.  This time we decided we’d go to the Discoveries restaurant and while we were waiting to be allocated a table, Dale and Susie, who’d shared our table the first evening, arrived, so we decided we’d all sit together.

We were given a table right at the stern of the ship, where we could see faintly see the wake of the Quest stretching out behind us.  It was still foggy, but not as bad as it had been, and we hoped it would soon dissipate because the air was damp and cold outside.

We enjoyed a great, tasty meal in excellent company; there was certainly no shortage of conversation. Afterwards we thanked each other for their company, and realised we’d been in the restaurant a couple of hours.  We therefore went back to The Den for a couple of drinks before going along to the Cabaret Lounge in time for the show at 9.30pm.

Tonight’s performance was called “Piano Man” and featured a British performer called Tom Seals.  He was excellent, playing the piano and singing a number of Elton John songs as well as Billy Joel and other piano greats.  In fact, we’ve been impressed with the calibre of the shows we’ve seen so far on this voyage.

We decided to finish the evening up in the Living Room, where we listened to the disco music and watched the dancers from our bar stools.  We had to put out clocks and watches one hour ahead tonight so, when we left the bar well after midnight, it was really after 1.00am.  We were now nine hours ahead of British time and would lose an hour in bed, but it didn’t really matter because we had a sea day to look forward to tomorrow and could do what we liked, when we liked.

And so we settled down in bed as the Azamara Quest continued her placid way through the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean, en route to our next exciting destination.

Got up at 8.00am to find ourselves docked in the port of Muroran, the gateway to Sapporo, Japan.  This was a new port of call to us, as are all of them on this voyage, even though we’ve been to the countries before. The weather was dry but the skies were cloudy, and we hoped that it would brighten up as the day went on.

While Trevor went for breakfast in the Windows Café, I just enjoyed an apple and an orange from the fruit bowl in our stateroom; we then wandered around on deck and looked at our immediate surroundings.  We seemed to be in quite an industrial/commercial area and, as we didn’t have any excursions booked today, we just decided to take a walk out and explore on foot. Even just wandering around the town and the area, it’s possible to experience the culture and the differences between Japan and home.  😊

We disembarked the ship and walked along the dockside, getting some good pictures of the Azamara Quest moored up.  Then we just took our time strolling along, with no particular destination in mind, just exploring and looking around and seeing what we could find.  For a working day, the streets were surprisingly devoid of traffic and people, and everywhere was incredibly clean and well-maintained; there was no litter or graffiti or overflowing bins.

We walked along the street until we came across a Pachinko Parlour.  Pachinko is everywhere in Japan; the locals are mad on it.  For anyone who’s doesn’t know what pachinko is, it is an arcade game played with ball-bearings similar to pinball, but vertical.  The idea is to keep the balls in the air for as long as possible without letting them drop down the holes in the bottom.  When you walk into a pachinko parlour the first thing to hit your senses in the noise; the din is tremendous, with thousands of steel ball-bearings banging off the players’ paddles as rows and rows of people sit at stools in front of their machines.  It was surprising to see so many people playing, on what was a working day.

We didn’t join in, just walked about marvelling at this typically-Japanese phenomenon, and when we went outside again the usual street sounds seemed blissfully quiet!

As we were further north than Tokyo we found that the cherry blossom, for which Japan is famous (the cherry is their national tree) was still out on the trees, and we got some good photos of the trees with their gorgeous pink blossoms.  One of the photos I took had a Toyota car in the foreground for some more Japanese culture! 😊

We then decided to go into a large department store, and have a coffee in their little café and snack bar.  Then we had a wander around the supermarket, looking at the different things they have in Japanese shops from the ones back at home.  There were a lot of snacks of dried fish and dried octopus, as well as nameless snacks that just had Japanese writing on them and we didn’t know what they were, until a small photo of a dog on the packet showed that it must have been pet food; we laughed at the idea of bringing back some sweets and snacks for our colleagues only to find we’d inadvertently given them dog food!!  😊

Instead, I bought packets of what were undoubtedly sweets and, because I’d only had some fruit for breakfast and was feeling a bit hungry now, I bought a packet of cheese and chive flavoured crinkle-cut crisps (it had the description in English on the packet!) which were very tasty.  We then went to use the restrooms which had the usual control panel containing the usual array of water sprays/pressure, blow-dryers and perfume sprayers, as well as a comfortably-heated seat.  You could bring a book into the toilet and sit there for ages!  😊

Back outside, we wandered around the streets and the shops and were amazed to find that there were speakers intermittently placed on the lamp-posts, from which gentle music was playing.

We continued exploring and, by the time we arrived back at the ship in time for lunch, we saw on our phones that we’d done about 3 miles of walking.

Back on board the Quest we went up to the Windows Café again, where I enjoyed a plate of cold meats and fresh salad vegetables, washed down with a glass of chilled rosé wine.  Then we wandered around on deck for a while before returning to our cabin for a 30-minute power nap.

At four o’clock it was time for the quiz once more; today’s theme was Broadway musicals.  The music quiz (which was based on Michael Jackson hits) was due to start afterwards, but a voice came over the loudspeaker to say that there was a group of Japanese children dockside who had come to perform some singing and dancing for us, prior to the ship’s departure at five.

We therefore went outside and took up a good vantage point from Deck 5.  There were two large groups of children; one dressed in yellow kimonos and the other in red.  They did a variety of songs, chants and dances, some using hand-held percussion instruments.  It was a charming and colourful show, and I got some good photos and video footage.

Just after 5.00pm the Azamara Quest gave three loud blasts of her foghorn as the ship slowly pulled away from the dockside, and sailed off into the Sea of Japan once more, next stop Kushiro.

We pottered around the ship for a short time afterwards before returning to our cabin and getting showered and blow-drying my hair before changing for dinner.  Tonight I wore a green, navy and white dress with a matching green shawl crocheted in an intricate pattern in a fine alpaca wool.  We didn’t go to the Discoveries Restaurant for dinner tonight, but instead to the self-service buffet in the Windows Café, where a selection of Asian dishes was on offer.  While we were in there, we got talking to a Danish guy from Copenhagen who, inevitably, asked us what we thought about Brexit!

We then hot-footed it along to the Cabaret Lounge in good time for the first show at 8.15pm, which featured a really entertaining comedy magician called Greg Moreland.  He was very, very good as well as being quite hilarious, and we really enjoyed his show.

Afterwards we went up to the Living Room at the top of the ship as the dance-music group Riviera Trio were playing some Latin beats and teaching the cha cha cha.  As we’ve been learning this one at our dance classes at home, we already knew how to do the basic steps, but we still enjoyed doing the cha cha cha to the infectious Latin rhythm, and it helped work up a thirst for several cocktails at the bar, where we chatted to the Indonesian barmaid and the Gypsy barman.  Well, that was how he introduced himself; when we asked him where he was from, he said “I’m a Gypsy, I don’t have one particular place I live”.  Apparently he was born in Belarus but now lives anywhere from the Ukraine or Russia or on the cruise ships, only returning to Belarus to see his mother.

It was well after midnight when we left the bar (in fact I think we were the last ones out!) and returned to stateroom 6009, where we settled down and slept very well, looking forward to what tomorrow had to bring.

Got up around eight o’clock after a great night’s sleep, and hoped we had finally got over the 8-hour time difference.  We went out onto our balcony, but there was quite a cold, brisk wind blowing which would have made it unpleasant to sit outside for any length of time.

As we made our way to the self-service dining room, we were surprised to see quite a few people out on sun loungers by the pool deck already; the difference was that they were covered in large checked blankets instead of the usual towels.  One lady had braved the chilly wind for the warmth of one of the Jacuzzis by the pool.  The sky was cloudy and we hoped the day would brighten up as time went on.

Looking at the daily programme we didn’t see anything, apart from one or two quizzes, that we wanted to participate in, and it was nice to have the time to ourselves and not have to let the clock rule our day.

In fact, by about 10.30am, we both found we were very tired (we were obviously still jetlagged) so we decided to return to 6009 and go back to sleep. We must have been exhausted because we went out like a light and didn’t wake up until it was time for lunch!  ☹

The weather had brightened up considerably by now; in fact, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  It was deceiving though, because the wind coming down from the north still had a bit of a bite to it and unless you found a nice sheltered spot on the deck it was still a bit cold to sit out in.  Trevor and I stood on the lee side of the ship in the sunshine, standing at the railing doing that very pleasant pastime of just watching the sea passing by.  At one stage we spotted the tell-tale spouts and black dorsal fins that indicated a school of porpoises.

We didn’t really do a lot this afternoon.  We went along to the Den and enjoyed a couple of cocktails at the bar, then we took part in the quiz, at which a pleasant American couple, Peter and Georgia, joined us.  The questions were themed around Japan; we didn’t do very well, only scoring 11 out of 20.

The next quiz was based on music from the 1960s, and we did a little better at that, scoring 15/20 – I was the one who got most of the answers.  Still not enough to win though, but at least it was fun and in pleasant surroundings with interesting people.

We finished with one more drink (they do a nice Aperol Spritz on board!) then returned to stateroom 6009 to get a little more glammed up for the Captain’s Cocktail Party later on.  On Azamara ships there is no dress code; smart-casual is the order of the day, but old habits die hard and I always make the effort to dress more smartly for the evening, so I had brought a long black evening dress and sequinned wrap to wear tonight.

Another Azamara difference is that there is also no set dining time and no set tables – you can go in to eat when and where you want and, although this does undoubtedly have its advantages, we prefer to have a set table and get to know our table-mates over the two weeks, and in the past we’ve had a lot of fun, good conversation and laughs with other couples at our table over the years.

Because we wanted to be out of the restaurant in good time tonight for the cabaret and then the Captain’s Welcome, we decided we’d just ask for a table for two this time.  We enjoyed the usual scrumptious meal washed down with rosé wine and amaretto, then made our way to the Cabaret Lounge where we were able to get front-row seats.  Tray-bearing waiters and waitresses flitted among us, dispensing prosecco, martinis and gin and tonic, and the band played lively tunes in the background, before the captain was clapped onto the stage to the strains of Anchors Aweigh!

The captain on the Azamara Quest is called Captain Magnus Davidson and hails from Norfolk; a fellow Brit like us.  He gave an amusing speech and thanked everyone from choosing Azamara, and introduced us to his senior officers.  A waiter came around offering us canapés, but after our giant dinner we had to reluctantly refuse.

The show tonight featured the show company performing snippets of songs and music from different eras and venues around the world; the one for Britain featured “The Pub” and they sang the Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) which was less-known to the USA passengers but joined in lustily by the British crowd:

Now I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
To be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door…

All in all, it was a very good show which was something a little different.

We weren’t tired at all after our mammoth nap earlier on, so we just went back to The Den and sat at the bar and enjoyed a couple more cocktails, before returning to our cabin around 11.45pm.  Sliding open our balcony door a little, we were met with a blast of cold wind, even though the Pacific Ocean looked very calm.  We decided against going out and sitting on the balcony for a short while, which was a shame when we spent so much time doing it on our last cruise.  The temperature here was about 15 or more degrees colder, however.   😊

Tomorrow we were due to arrive in Muroran, another port in Japan, and we settled down for the evening and, once again, slept well.

Amazing Azamara

Didn’t sleep very well at all last night.  At some point I woke up in the pitch darkness, feeling as if I’d been asleep for hours, to find it was only midnight.  From then on I was asleep and awake and asleep and awake, tossing and turning, and morning seemed an absolute age away.

Finally, at 5.00am, I got up and made myself a cup of coffee, and had a look outside on our balcony in the cool and quiet morning air; sunrise had occurred about 20 minutes previously.  I then returned to bed to drink my coffee and read my Kindle, after which I settled back down and slept until after eight o’clock; in fact the last couple of hours’ sleep was much better quality than the rest of the night.

We then got up and I enjoyed a long, refreshing shower and shampooed my hair before we packed up our stuff and went down to the hotel’s huge dining room for breakfast.  The weather looked quite cloudy outside and we hoped it would brighten up.  I enjoyed some cold meats and cheeses washed down with coffee and orange juice, then we were ready for whatever the day had in store.

Back in our room, we put the cases outside for collection, then decided to take a walk outside in the hotel gardens, as we had a couple of hours before the coaches were due to arrive to take us to the ship.

It was very pleasant in the gardens; there were lots of trees and flowers and little winding paths.  We were just that bit too late to see the famous cherry blossoms.

We saw pagodas and statues and came to a pond which contained a selection of carp.  Some of them were very large, about 15 inches long, and they were in a variety of colours; orange and white, orange and grey, white and grey or black, with patches, smudges or dots of contrasting colours.  They had all gathered down at our end of the pond, no doubt hoping for some titbits, despite the notices up advising visitors not to feed the fish.

Afterwards we returned to our room and had a cup of coffee, before picking up our cases (which we’d amusingly heard referred to as “ruggage” at the airport) and going downstairs to check out.

We then had about half an hour to await our bus to Yokohama, where we would pick up our ship, the Azamara Quest.

The bus arrived and we happily boarded and set off for the 45-minute ride to the port of Yokohama. The sun was shining and we passed beautifully-clean cities and parks with trees and lots of colourful flowers and roses.

Soon we pulled up at the International Port of Yokohama, and we caught our first glimpse of our home for the next 14 nights, the Azamara Quest.  We have not been on this ship before, although we’ve sailed on her sister ship, the Azamara Journey, when we went to the French Riviera and Monaco Grand Prix in 2011. She looked quite distinctive with her black hull and white funnel sporting the blue “A” logo, and we couldn’t wait to join her.

Just in front of the port we noticed crowds of people and saw signs proclaiming, in both Japanese and English, that this was a “Belgian Beer Festival”, and we decided that if he had the time later on, we’d come back here and explore.  😊

It was fairly quick and easy going through the embarkation process.  Because we’d already been allocated our cabin and had printed off the bar codes for our boarding passes, it was just a simple matter of showing our passports and USA ESTA documents and registering a credit card.  Then we happily went along the tunnel which took us onto the Azamara Quest.  On boarding, we were each handed a glass of chilled prosecco, and told that we could go straight to lunch as our staterooms would not be available until 1.30pm.

Up at the pool deck, we enjoyed a light lunch; Trevor had a club sandwich while I chose a plate of tasty nachos, washed down with another glass of prosecco each.  On Azamara cruises, wine is included with your lunch and dinner, as are other selected beers, spirits and soft drinks, or you could upgrade your drinks package to included premium brands and cocktails for an extra £12.75 a day, which is in fact what we did.

After lunch we wandered around the ship which was already very familiar due to our having been on the Azamara Journey and the Adonia (which was a P&O ship until last year, when she then joined the Azamara line as the third ship in the fleet, the Azamara Pursuit).

It was then time to try our stateroom; we’d already spotted our cases on deck so we knew they would be delivered soon.  We went up to deck 6 and found stateroom 6009, a superior balcony cabin of 175 square feet.  It was decorated in shades of beige and grey with lots of mirrors, and had a king-size bed with crisp cotton sheets, a settee and coffee table, a dressing table and chair and floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors leading out a to a large balcony that contained a table and two chairs.  It all looked very nice indeed, and we knew we were in for a comfortable two weeks.

Once we’d dumped our bags we decided to go ashore once again, as we were not due to sail until 5.00pm.  In any case, in was good to be able to stretch our legs a bit, and the weather was sunny and bright, but not too hot.

We walked the mile or so along the sea front, back around to the beer festival.  The route along the way contained lots of colourful flowers and beautiful roses, and many people were taking photographs.  Everyone seemed smiley and happy and it was a nice cheerful atmosphere.

When we got to the beer festival, there were many, many stalls sets up, as well as standing tables containing little clusters of people clutching beer glasses.  In the middle, a stage was set up with some live entertainment.  We were advised that we needed to purchase the beer glasses (which you could keep as a souvenir) as well as tokens which were exchanged for the beer of your choice.

We joined the queue for our glasses and tokens, doing a spot of people-watching while we were waiting.  A lot of the visitors had their dogs with them on leads and there also seemed to be many student-types.  We got our glasses and tokens, then had a stroll among the stalls before choosing a beer each; mine was a sort of strong lager of 7% while Trevor chose one that tasted of cherries.  We had 11 tokens to spend, which seemed a strange number until you realised that most of the beers costs three or four tokens, a sales ploy forcing people to go back and purchase more tokens.  We therefore just shared the last beer between us, which was just as well considering it was 10% ABV!

After we’d enjoyed our beers we then took a slow stroll back to the ship.  The lady was still at the top of the gang-plank dispensing the free proseccos, but she recognised us from earlier so we didn’t get another freebie.

On returning to our cabin, we saw our cases outside, so we brought them in and spent some time unpacking and hanging everything up neatly and folding things into drawers and cupboards.

On Azamara cruises there isn’t a set dining time or set table, so we weren’t in any hurry.  As we were feeling quite hungry, however, we took the time to get washed and changed and smartened up a bit, then made our way to the Discoveries restaurant, where we were asked if we wanted a table for two or if we were happy to share.  As the conversation and banter with table-mates is part of the pleasure of cruising, we agreed we’d prefer to share, so we were shown to a table for eight at which an American couple, who introduced themselves as Dale and Susie, were already seated.  Presently another two couples, Peter and Jane from Phoenix, Arizona and François and Marliese from Antwerp in Belgium joined us, and the conversation and anecdotes flowed.  Inevitably, when they found out that Trevor and I were from Britain, they asked us for our views on Brexit, and we (who voted to Remain) said it was an utter shambles.

I enjoyed a delicious meal of jumbo shrimp cocktail followed by Caesar salad, then New York style steak with baked potato, washed down with chilled rosé wine and finished off with coffee and amaretto.

Our table was one of the last to leave the restaurant, whereupon we made our way to the show lounge where there was an introduction, by way of musical numbers, to the Azamara Singers and Dancers, as well as a welcome by the cruise director who told us all the exciting things the entertainment team had in store for us on this 14-night voyage.

We finished this eventful day off with a visit to the very pleasant bar and lounge called The Den, and we perched on leather bar stools and enjoyed a cocktail each.  Another couple were sitting at the bar and, when they spoke, we recognised from their accent that they were from Liverpool.  We sat there for a couple of hours, drinking and chatting, until it was after midnight which was surprising in light of our jetlag.

We then returned to stateroom 6009 and settled down for our first night on the fabulous Azamara Quest.  The sea was very calm and we left the balcony door open slightly, in order to get some fresh sea air and listen to the hypnotic “shhhhhh shhhhhh” sounds of the sea.

We slept very well.