The Memorial and the Maglev
As we slid into the port of Naha, the prefectural capital of Okinawa, 3 US Air Force jets screamed overhead shattering the early afternoon peace. A timely reminder that after being largely flattened during WWII, the island was only handed back to Japan in the 70s subject to a continued US military presence on this strategically placed island. As I already know a good amount of Japanese words, like sushi, karate and karaoke, I only needed to learn the words for hello, please and thank you and I was pretty much fluent for our exploration. Peace Memorial Park is a touching reminder of the 241,414 souls that died in the battle of Okinawa. Large stones are set in a wave pattern and upon them is carved the name of each person that gave their lives (for both sides) in the battle. Other memorials in the park are worth some quiet contemplation in the well-tended surroundings about an hour outside of Naha. In stark contrast, Naha’s main street is Kokusai-dori a glitzy collection of tat that is worth experiencing if only for the energy and because it leads you to the more interesting covered arcades like Heiwa-dori. That in turn led us to the even more worthwhile Daichi Makishi Kosetsu Ichiba covered food market. This bustling market had an amazing variety of unusual seafood, which you can select and have cooked in one of the restaurants on the floor above. Back on the streets we caught the urban monorail, the only public rail system in the prefecture and the first since WWII. It’s a straddle beam monorail that runs for 12.9km (it’s currently being extended), but we only needed to go a couple of stops to escape the hustle and bustle of the shopping areas and enjoy the peace and tranquility of Fukushima-en. This Chinese style gardens was brilliant value at just 200 Yen (£1.50) and is full of pagodas, waterfalls, carp and turtles alongside its boardwalks. A perfect place to rediscover your inner peace before returning to the ship by the complimentary shuttle bus.
Far East toilet tips: Most are squat style, some western, bring your own tissues and sanitisers. Some have tricky electronics and those familiar with my Malaysian Adventures know I wasn’t touching the buttons with a bargepole.
Up until now we’d been basking in temperatures between 25C and 30C, so it’s going to come as a surprise to you that on day 8 I played snowballs! OK not exactly snowballs but the Snow Grotto in the onboard LivNordic Spa is one of the ways that you can cool down (alongside the plunge pool and bucket ‘shower’) after hot spells in the steam room, sauna or jacuzzi. Dubious at first I’ll admit, but this alternating between hot and cold is strangely invigorating. Which brings me to another thing. Use of the spa is included in the cruise price, as are drinks with lunch and dinner and many other things, plus you are not constantly bombarded with ways Viking can take a few extra dollars from you. To use the phrase of my American friends, Viking’s policy not to ‘nickel and dime’ its passengers is very refreshing.
It was sunrise as we settled at our berth in Shanghai, and we were in pole position for the best view in town. Last night we’d dined in Manfredi’s, one of the speciality restaurants on board, with an Italian theme. The breads and ravioli set the standard for the centrepiece of our evening, the 12oz rib eye steak. Cooked to total perfection and 10/10 on the “I’ve begun to drool scale”.
Despite your culinary magnificence Manfredi’s the World Cafe, where I sat outside enjoying my alfresco breakfast gawping at one of the best skylines in the world (eat your heart out Hong Kong), is my favourite place on the ship.
The football pundit in me wants to say “Shanghai is a game of two halves Gary”. Straddling the Huangpu River the main attraction on the West bank is The Bund, lined with buildings that induce a distinctly British feeling, most of which were constructed around the late 1800s or early 1900s. We were handsomely rewarded for popping inside two of them, one being the former HSBC which had a fabulous fresco ceiling and a banking hall of magnificent marble. The other, the Fairmount Peace Hotel, has a luxurious lobby from a bygone era and I swear it felt like Noel Coward could pop out of the lift at any moment. A large bull statue (similar to the Wall St version) is selfie central but also gave this old guy an ego boost when two lovely Chinese ladies asked if I would pose with them (individually). Charisma or curiosity, who knows but at my age I’ll take it whichever. The East side is home to ‘that skyline’ in the Lujiazui area of Pudong. The area is a feast of glass, steel and creative design, which showcases the dramatic progress and development this area has enjoyed. We elected to take it all in from the 88th floor observation deck of the Jin Mao Tower, a modern take on a pagoda style. Even from this height we were still looking upwards at some structures, like the 632m Shanghai Towers (China’s tallest building) who’s top floors were lost as it punched its way through the cloud layer. My highlight of the day, however, was a ride on the Maglev train. Riding on a cushion of magnetic force (no rails) we reached a top speed of 431 kph (267.811 mph) and swooped round bends at a heady tilt (what stopped us sliding off?). Is the Silver Travel bag going crossed eyed?
At night Shanghai’s skyline pulsates with colour, whilst mock paddle steamers light up the river. Possibly one of the best sail aways there is to enjoy as we head for Qingdao.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking Ocean Cruises.