Monthly Archives: May 2014

Our Asian Adventure Concludes… Aboard Crystal Symphony

All of a sudden, during our final sea day while cruising the Yellow Sea, the realization sets in: This incredible11-day cruise is almost over.

On the last day of our “Pearls of China” itinerary we docked in Dalian – Friday, April 18th.  Crystal offered a complimentary shuttle to downtown where we could shop at the Friendship Shopping Center – a 10-story department store that featured literally everything from ice cream to fine jewelry. Cynthia especially made good use of this shopping “stop” as she purchased a fine, 8-piece hand-painted china tea service.  (We decided we’d figure out later how to get it back home to Galveston.)

Once back on board, we got our packing completed, had our final room service dinner and said our “goodbyes” to Rainer. Breakfast, our last morning in The Lido Cafe was sad as we said our “farewells”  to our favorite servers – Nuno,  Derrick, Norman, John-John and others  – who made our cruise so special for us.

Yet now…It’s on to Beijing.   We’re fortunate to be traveling with Pat and Colleen (our Dallas friends who we met early on during the cruise.)  And, we were also fortunate – although we didn’t  know it when we were assigned to Bus #10 – that we had THE best guide and a fun group to share the next three days with as we toured Beijing.  There were 32 of us and we represented not only the US of A, but South Africa, Mexico, Canada, Bolivia, England, Australia and Switzerland.  The consensus: We all really, really loved the cruise and none of us were ready to leave our beautiful “home” at sea.

Altogether, there were 13 motor coaches of Crystal guests who were embarking on this three-day/three -night land package to Beijing.  Our hotel for the next three days would be the China World Hotel Beijing – a 5-star property that is  part of the Shangri-La Hotel Group.  But first, we had a 150-mile journey from the cruise terminal to downtown Beijing.  Enroute, our guide Jason – a native Beijinger – shared some more facts with us about his country that we had not heard before.

  • 65% of the country’s population lives along the east coast of the country.
  • Manufacturing is # 1 industry – silk, agriculture ( rice), porcelain production, tea, and of course – automobiles.
  • Pandas are the national animal.
  • Beijing is recognized as the cultural and political center of China; Shanghai – the industrial and financial center of the country.
  • AND – this is the best… when we (and other foreigners) shake our heads at a decision or action that doesn’t make sense to the western world, The Chinese response is: “CHINA IS CHINA.”  And that essentially ends the conversation.
Cynthia (left) and I on our rickshaw ride through The Hutongs ( alleways) of Old Beijing.
Cynthia (left) and I on our rickshaw ride through The Hutongs ( alleyways) of Old Beijing.

The highlight of today’s tour was a visit to Old Beijing and a rickshaw ride through the narrow streets and alleys  – aka Beijing’s hutongs. Besides the fun rickshaw ride, we were ushered in to a private home for  literally a “glimpse” of a local Chinese family’s way of life. Jason translated for us the introduction by the elderly homeowner who shared with us his profession, family history and why he loved where he lived in Old Beijing.  Soon after that, we headed to our hotel and checked in.

It was impressive to all of us how well organized and efficient Crystal’s check-in process was at the Hotel since 13 motor coaches arrived essentially all at the same time.   Within less than five minutes, we were in and out of the registration area and up to our room, with our luggage there. (Also throughout the three days we were staying at the hotel, Crystal had reps on duty in the lobby to assist us as needed.)

Our second day of touring Beijing began early.  It’s worth noting: The buffet breakfast in the dining room was the most expansive, I have ever seen. The buffet lines were immense and featured at least 75 different food and beverage choices – everything one could imagine ( or not imagine!) for breakfast.  By 8am, we were on Bus #10 with our first stop  the Forbidden City and the home of The Last Emperor.

60,000- 80,000 people a day! visit The Forbidden City. ( Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
60,000- 80,000 people a day! visit The Forbidden City. ( Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Actually home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties,  this giant complex of over 200 acres of pavilions, gardens and courtyards,  is considered “one of the largest and best-preserved palace complexes in the world.”

From there, we went to Tiananmen Square.

Well-guarded and well patrolled, Tiananmen Square, is also well-known for military parades.  (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Well-guarded and well-patrolled, Tiananmen Square is the site for military parades, student demonstrations, daily flag-lowering ceremonies, and other events. The Square can hold more than one million people! (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Originally built in the mid 1600s , it was enlarged to almost 100 acres in 1958 and can accommodate more than one million people!  For most of us, the most memorable event was the pro-democracy rally in May/June, 1989.  It’s also interesting to note that Jason  told us before we got off the bus, that we were NOT to ask any political questions of him while in the Square as he (as a Chinese citizen) was forbidden by law to discuss what happened and/or to give his opinion.  Before heading back to our hotel, we stopped very briefly for photos at Olympic Park and to see the “Bird’s Nest” and the “Water Cube” that were part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games.

Just one of many exciting performances at The Great Hall of the People - just for our Crystal Cruises group.  (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Just one of many exciting performances at The Great Hall of the People – just for our Crystal Cruises group. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

We made a quick trip back to the hotel to shower and change clothes before reboarding Bus # 10  for a private dinner and entertainment at The Great Hall of the People – ONLY for our Crystal Cruises group.  And what an evening it was…. entertainment ran the gamut from opera singers to young Chinese acrobats and all performances were very, very well done. Dinner (served Family Style/Lazy Susan)  was delightful with impeccable service.

Our very last day of our Asian Adventure was Monday, April 21st, and we were heading to The Great Wall. For Cynthia, Pat, Colleen and myself – this was the highlight of this three-day land excursion.  We climbed to the top!  And it wasn’t easy.

We climbed to the top!  (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
We climbed to the top! (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Young and old... everyone wanted to make it to the top of The Great Wall. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Young and old… everyone wanted to make it to the top of The Great Wall. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
This guard is balancing on on a narrow ledge of The Great Wall as he watches the crowds.  (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
This guard is balancing on on a narrow ledge of The Great Wall as he watches the crowds. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Built in the 3rd century B.C. to protect China’s northern border from marauding nomads and “barbarians”, the Wall stretches almost 4,500 miles – east to west – and required the labor of almost 1 million workers to complete! The steps varied in height between 6″ and 18-20″ and at least for the four of us – we held on dearly to the hand rail -both going up and coming down.  As with every place we toured, there were thousands and thousands of visitors.

Our last stop of our three-day/three-night Beijing land tour was the Temple of Heaven – a stunning complex comprised of buildings and gardens, trees and colorful landscaping. Built between 1406 and 1420, this is where the Ming and Qing emperors went to worship Heaven and to pray for a better harvest.  Covering almost 680 acres, this site is considered “one of the best in Beijing  to observe ordinary Chinese at play.”  We observed myriad of people playing card and tile games, line dancing, a karoke singer, individuals playing musical instruments, familes having picnics, as well as other fun examples of the locals simply enjoying a relaxing afternoon with friends and family.

Finally, we head back to our hotel.  Everyone on Bus #10 was exhausted and we ready to get packed and get back home.  The next morning following a leisurely breakfast, we departed for the airport.  Again, we were accompanied by Crystal staff on the shuttle.  Not only that, but we had a Crystal rep with us all the way through check-in at the airport.  A very nice and much-appreciated service as the Beijing airport was huge.

We boarded our Air China flight for a 13 1/2 hour non-stop journey over the North Pole to Houston.  Since we lost a day coming over, we gained our day going home, so essentially landed about the same time/day we departed Beijing. ( Thirteen hour time difference for us.)   We zipped right through customs, got our luggage and headed to Galveston.  We were “home”.  Yes, we were HOME!  As first-time visitors to China, our 17-day Asian Adventure  had been, indeed… an amazing and very interesting adventure!

 

 

A few additional comments and observations…  Dalian is considered a “remote Manchurian seaport” that lies on the shores of the Boi Hai Gulf.  Throughout history, this ice-free port has been a coveted prize for conquerors. Showcasing Chinese, Japanese and Russian architectural styles attest to Dalian’s strategic importance. Although a big city, it has a “small town” feel -more so than any other city we visited. Beautiful beaches, parks and a long-established population of popular folk artists seemed to give the city a more “casual” ambience.  Also, tourism is very important to the economy  here – as evidenced by a contingency of local college students greeting us – and  wearing “Welcome”  Badges – as we got off our shuttle bus at the Friendship Shopping Center.

Would I go back to China and Asia?  ABSOLUTELY!  But only on a cruise.  With Crystal – as I’ve said many times – you’re “home” when you board your ship.  The quality, professionalism and sincere friendliness of the staff, combined with the interesting and exciting onboard enrichment programs; the extensive and diverse options for each port’s shore excursions and the well-planned,  multi-day land excursions offers one an incredible opportunity to see, explore and experience so much of the local culture.  And “all” of this is enhanced by knowing you have your ship to come “home” to after a long and busy day ashore. It’s a wonderful, wonderful way to see the world…. And the difference really is Crystal clear.

 

 

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Our Asian Adventure Continues Aboard Crystal Symphony… SHANGHAI!

We have just docked in Shanghai... the largest city in the world!  (photo by Robyn Bushong.)
We have just docked in Shanghai… the largest city in the world! (photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Following a delightful Palm Sunday at sea, we docked in Shanghai early Monday morning, April 14th. Situated at the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River – actually situated  in the Yangtze River Delta of East China –  Shanghai is not only the largest Chinese city – it is THE largest city proper in the entire world with a population of almost 24 million. As we stood on our balcony, it was hard to grasp the magnificent vista before us: A  skyline backdrop that went on – seemingly forever – combined with bustling river traffic right below us.  Looking down,  we are mesmerized as the “old” navigated  the waterways of the Huangpu River along with the “new” in an endless flotilla of sampans sailing  side by side with giant tankers, tugs, and barges.

Foggy, hazy view from the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Building - second tallest skycraper in China.  ( Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Foggy, hazy view of Crystal Symphony from the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Building – second tallest skyscraper in China. ( Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

We had opted for the all-day “Highlights of Shanghai” tour that began with an elevator ride to the 88th floor of the Jim Mao Building (the second tallest building in China.) Standing on the Observation Deck, we had a 360 degree view of the “largest city in the world”.  Even more amazing from this vantage point was trying to comprehend  what it must be like to live and work in a city of such mammoth size and scope.

From there, we boarded our motorcoach to the Jade Buddha Temple. (The temple was built in the late 1800s to house two jade Buddha statues that had been brought  by a monk from Burma to Shanghai. The two precious jade Buddhist statues are not only rare cultural relics but also porcelain artworks. Both the Sitting Buddha and the Recumbent Buddha are carved from whole white Burmese jade.  The quiet, peaceful serenity of this temple – on the inside – was certainly in stark contrast to the frenetic pace of life taking place just outside its doors.

Family-style dining was typical for all lunches and dinners when sightseeing in China. (photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Family-style dining was typical for lunches and dinners when on tour in China. (photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Next stop – the iconic Jin Jiang Hotel where we gathered for lunch.  Served family style ( i.e. served from a Lazy Susan in the center of our table for eight),  we first enjoyed a variety of fresh salad vegetables.  Next, we were offered at least 10 different dishes that included beef, chicken, seafood, soup, rice, noodles, cooked vegetables, dumplings, and watermelon for dessert. (It’s interesting to note that this famous hotel was the site of the 1972 Sino-American joint communique by Chairman Mao and President Nixon.)

The 16th century Yu Yuan Garden - accented with huge stone dragons, rockeries. tea houses, ponds, and beautiful landscaping.  (photo by Robyn Bushong.)
The 16th century Yu Yuan Garden – accented with huge stone dragons, rockeries. tea houses, ponds, and beautiful landscaping. (photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Following lunch, we traveled  to the Yu Yuan Garden. Covering about five acres, this scenic garden was built during the Ming Dynasty ( 1557) and has gone through multiple renovations, ownership, decline, restorations, and finally was taken over by the government and opened to the public in 1961. Highlighted with pavilions, corridors, unusual stone sculptures, statues, rockeries, quiet resting areas, lush landscaping and streams filled with colorful fish, this large garden is surrounded by restaurants, food courts, souvenir stores, silk shops, clothing, jewelry, and shoe stores, tea shoppes and even a Starbuck’s!

We’re now headed back to the ship and venture through a very densely-populated residential area. “Densely-populated” is an understatement, too!  Every single – without exception – apartment balcony had clothes lines strung from roof top to a pole and all lines were filled with clothes blowing in the breeze.  Another common sight were outdoor sinks – used as big basins to wash clothes and dishes  -plumbed and positioned next to a curb in front of a store/shop.  Also, we were amazed at the quantity of “stuff” the locals could stack on a bicycle and still be able to balance and  maneuver through heavy traffic.   One other interesting bit of local trivia, we learned from our guide that buildings up to six floors generally do not have elevators; only buildings taller than six stories.

From the promenade of The Bund - considered Shanghai's "premier attraction."  ( Photo by Robyn Bushong
A stunning city view from the promenade of The Bund – considered Shanghai’s “premier attraction.” ( Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

We’re almost back “home” – with just one more stop: The Bund.  What an incredible vista standing atop this promenade.  While we were there, a bridal shoot took place and visitors were posing for pictures with the backdrop – not only of the bustling Huangpu River –  but  with a backdrop of an eclectic mix of buildings of such diverse architectural style as Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classical and Renaissance.  This proved to be a marvelous “snap shot” of Shanghai… that showcased not only the impressive architecture, bustling river traffic and the Pudong  New Area ( Shanghai’s New Economic Zone), but literally a snapshot of the condensed version of just “all” this city has become.

Once back on board, Cynthia and I stopped at our favorite bar on deck five for a late-afternoon cocktail, and toasted to another marvelous day of our Asian Adventure. We were also very happy to be back “home” on our ship. That evening, Rainer brought us a superb room service dinner.

Shanghai at night... It's in technicolor!  (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Shanghai at night… It’s in technicolor! (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Our “entertainment” for the evening was watching all the party/dinner boats sail right by our “window to the world.”  What a great day.

We will be in Shanghai two more days/one night before we have a sea day crossing the Yellow Sea and then our final port of Dalian. We will then debark in Beijing on the 19th.  

A few additional comments and observations…First the weather.  Could not have been better – mid 60s, sunny and breezy.  Very light pollution. We were told in the summer – temps can exceed 100 degrees and the air is very humid.  Again – just as it was in Hong Kong and Xiamen – the city was clean and very green.  Even in the crowded neighborhoods, you didn’t see litter. Major commerce here: Textiles and automobiles.  Skyscrapers continue to be built as fast as possible. It’s amazing to see hundreds of buildings that are at least 50 stories tall. What is even more amazing to us – how/where are they going to get the businesses and people to fill these buildings?  The  “one-child”  law is already becoming a factor as the Chinese labor force is not as plentiful, plus the younger people are better educated  now and don’t want factory work. So some industry is having to move their assembly line work to the Philippines and/or Indonesia where labor is cheaper and more plentiful.

Our Asian Adventure Aboard the Crystal Symphony Continues…

Today is Palm Sunday, April 13th. Hard to believe Cynthia and I have been “home” on the Crystal Symphony now for three days.

We sailed from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor late Thursday evening, April 10th and had a welcome sea day on the 11th, followed by a whirlwind visit to Xiamen yesterday. When we first boarded—after our 3+ days of travel and non-stop marathon sightseeing tour of Hong Kong—we were welcomed like family and that’s exactly how we felt: So happy to be “home”!  Our embarkation was efficient, taking all of five minutes. In our beautiful stateroom on the Penthouse Deck (Deck 10), we unpacked, met our Austrian butler -Rainer, and our cabin stewardess Monika. After a quick tour of the ship, we enjoyed a very light dinner and were early to bed.

The first morning onboard, I couldn’t wait to get up to the Lido Café and sit in my favorite “spot,” a window table for two, where my dear friend Dorothy and I  sat for breakfast every day on our 13-day Trans Pacific cruise in December 2012. How nice that three of the dining room staff remembered us! Keeping with the routine from my previous cruise, it was up to the gym and a good work out. What a nice surprise that Brian, the fitness director and spin instructor, remembered me, too.

Friday was a sea day and everyone seemed glad to leave behind the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong and just relax. And what a superb place to relax—every amenity is at your fingertips. The service is superb but unobtrusive. The staff prides themselves on making you feel as if you are the ONLY guest onboard. It’s hard to describe: atmosphere is casual but classy. The food, in all venues, is exceptionally good with great variety and selections. Housekeeping-– some of the very best you could ever expect to find anywhere.

A relaxing, sunny day at sea on the Lido Deck.  (photo by Robyn Bushong.)
A relaxing, sunny day at sea enjoyed on the Lido Deck. (photo by Robyn Bushong.)

I think one of the best ways to describe the delightful ambience on this gorgeous, sunny, breezy day was to watch the guests relaxing on the Lido Deck, their favorite beverage at their side and book in hand, and visiting with new friends  – and all the while… listening to a great sextet at the pool playing Santana-style music.

Saturday we docked in Xiamen. Also known as the “Pearl on the Sea”, Xiamen – a gorgeous tropical seaport – is also the second largest city in China with a population of 3 ½ million. Other than Victoria, .BC., I don’t recall EVER seeing so many tree-lined esplanades, a kaleidoscope of color at every corner and a park every 500 meters. Unbelievably beautiful! My observation of sanity with traffic and pedestrians in Hong Kong was just the opposite here. The traffic on this Saturday morning was beyond indescribable. No sooner had we boarded our motor coach for a 4-hour tour, and we knew we were in for a wild ride. Our driver was fearless. Everyone jaywalked; pedestrians competed with giant buses for the right of way and bedlam ensued.

A delightful young lady, a graduate of Xiamen University, conducted our tour. We’d read in our daily bulletin that our guides would be university students with limited English. This young lady, whose English name was “Theona,” gave 110% to making our tour interesting. The problem was that with thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of visitors at our first stop—The South Putuo Temple— we just had to observe, as it was impossible to hear her commentary. I don’t ever remember there being so many people in one place as at this temple. (It’s interesting to note that South Putuo, or Nanputuo, is a very famous Buddhist temple founded in the Tang Dynasty (618-907.) Of the many beautiful temples in Xiamen, this is by far the most famous. It is so named because it is south of the Buddhist holy site Mount Putuo in Zhejiang Province.

 

One of some 15,000 artifacts in the  Chinese Oversea Museum.  (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
One of 15,000 artifacts in the Overseas Chinese Museum. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Afterward, we visited the Overseas Chinese Museum. This 3-level museum, filled with over 15,000 artifacts, highlights the history and happenings of Chinese who went abroad to work and live. One of the most interesting accounts is of those Chinese immigrants who made a major contribution to the United State’s Transcontinental Railroad in the mid 1800s. These immigrants worked long hours in severe conditions for minimal pay to help build the tracks across 1,800 miles of arid plains and deserts and through the rugged granite walls of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. (Only suggestion: It would have been so helpful to English-speaking visitors to have had access to a brochure in English, since several of the major exhibits related to these immigrants’ lives in both the USA and Canada.)

Our tour concluded with a tea-tasting ceremony for our group of 34 held at a government-run teahouse. Once back on board, our busy day in Xiamen concluded with a concert that evening in the Galaxy Lounge by internationally acclaimed pianist, Tian Jiang. Outstanding.

The next day was foggy and extremely windy. In fact, the promenade deck doors were blocked for exiting outside because of the wind.  A plethora of cultural enrichment opportunities –  ranging from a hands-on cooking demonstration by a guest chef in the Starlite lounge, to a fitness Boot Camp, to “Movie Editing Made Easy” where you can learn “iMovie Basics Part 1” on your iPad – highlighted the ship’s activities options. Today’s lecture by World Affairs Lecturer, Sir James Hodge discussing “China Today; the Giant Awakens” was extremely enlightening.  Highlights of his talk:

  • China can now produce more in two weeks than it used to produce in a year.
  • Currently 18 million Chinese belong to the Communist Party, with 20 million wanting to join each year.
  •  Pork is the preferred meat.
  • There are over 600,000 different villages in the country, 55 recognized ethnic minorities within 110 million inhabitants, 300 local dialects spoken. And that’s just the beginning of what I learned in an hour.

Tonight, we look forward to dinner at Prego (the popular Italian specialty dining venue) with our two new friends we met yesterday from Dallas. Tomorrow, we dock in Shanghai to enjoy three days/two nights of sightseeing and culture.

Our Asian adventure aboard Crystal Symphony continues…

HONG KONG…Our Asian Adventure Began Here!

Welcome to Hong Kong! Let the picture taking begin… (photo by Robyn Bushong.)

We arrived in Hong Kong as first-time visitors only to be greeted with torrential rains and dense fog. Welcome to Hong Kong! But the pouring rain didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the adventure that lay ahead. My dear friend Cynthia and I had just completed 21+ hours of travel from Galveston, Texas to begin our Asian adventure aboard Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony “Pearls of China,” itinerary that was to begin in Hong Kong, April 9th, with calls in Xiamen, Shanghai (two overnights), Dalian and then concluding with a three-day land package in Beijing on April 21st.

We were met by our private guide (who we had arranged through the Hong Kong Tourism Board) and taken to our hotel –The InterContinental. Highly recommended as the property is located directly on Victoria Harbor and the unobstructed view from our room: Simply Spectacular! First order of business upon arrival at the hotel was lunch and to review our priorities for sightseeing in this intriguing and enticing city. Since the hotel’s specialty restaurant, Yan Toh Heen, featured dim sum, we quickly chose this venue and learned it was a recipient of a “1-Michelin Star.” Our guide ordered for us and the quality and presentation was outstanding. As we concluded our fine lunch, we told our guide we wanted to walk since the rain was subsiding, as we were ready to see, do and experience everything possible in the short time we had to enjoy this exciting, world-class city.

We headed to the Star Ferry for the 10-minute ride between Kowloon (where our hotel was) and Hong Kong. A  good friend who handles tours in Hong Kong had set our priorities for us: First and foremost, take the tram to the top of Victoria Peak. Next, see the Financial District, Hollywood Road, Man Mo Temple and browse the fine shopping district; enjoy dim sum (check!) and experience the Stanley Street Market.

With all the trees, dramatic and colorful flowers, and gorgeous landscaping, Hong Kong’s “green space” was amazing. What was also amazing were the hundreds and hundreds of tourists out and about on this rainy Tuesday afternoon. What we learned was that the previous Saturday (April 5th) was a national holiday: Tomb Sweeping Day. In Chinese it’s Ching Ming – which literally means “Clear and Bright” and is a tradition where families travel to their family tomb to sweep, clean and place flowers or other memorials on the gravesite. Because the national holiday fell on a Saturday, the banks/financial institutions were closed on Monday and apparently many people added an extra day to their holiday weekend.

We walked through the Financial District and the IFC (International Financial Center), and passed such fine stores as Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Piaget, Rolex, etc. As we headed towards the Peak tram station, we passed St Andrew’s, an elegant Anglican Church (Episcopalian) and the historic St. John’s Cathedral completed in 1849. Then we boarded the tram for the ride to the top of the Peak. The trams, which have been operating for over 125 years, hold 120 people each and run about every 8 minutes. Following the brief—albeit very steep—ride to the top, we arrived at an incredible sight. Our friend was right: Standing on the top of Victoria Peak and looking down over the entire city…WOW! While we were walking around, a volunteer greeted us with a complimentary headset device that provided a detailed overview of the area. We had wanted to do the 90-minute walk around the perimeter of the peak, but it started raining again so we departed.

Rainy, cloudy view from the top of Victoria Peak. (photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Rainy, cloudy view from the top of Victoria Peak. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

After we took the tram back down, the rain had stopped again and we walked to Man Mo Temple. Built in 1847, the temple is one of the oldest traditional-styled temples in Hong Kong and is dedicated to the gods of literature (Man) and the god of war (Mo). From there, we stayed on Hollywood Road to view some of the city’s most beautiful antique shops and fine jewelry stores. To ensure we got a bit more immersed in the local culture, our guide suggested we take the subway to the Temple Street Market area. Living in Texas we’d never experienced anything like this before. Crowds on the New York City subways couldn’t hold a candle to the throngs and throngs and throngs of people traveling in all directions in Hong Kong’s subways. Everyone had an electronic device in their hands. And how these commuters could maneuver from one escalator and subway car to another—while seemingly never taking their eyes off their cell phone—was simply incredible.

Neighborhood food vendors offer a popular stop for dinner.  photo by Robyn Bushong
Neighborhood food vendors offer a popular stop for dinner. (photo by Robyn Bushong)

From there, we worked our way along the busy streets of food vendors, pastry and coffee shops, neighborhood grocery stores, drug stores, camera shops, and other small, neighborhood businesses. Food vendors sold fresh crabs, fish, lobster, and “internal organs” of other creatures cooked to order, and served on a skewer with hot and spicy sauces. As we observed the frenzied pace at which everyone was moving, our guide told us that since most locals work from 9am till about 7pm, we were right in the middle of the prime rush hour pedestrian traffic.

We kept moving along the bustling streets, heading towards Temple Street Market. Once there, we were amazed at the stalls—everything from cheap watches, imitation leather goods, jewelry, silk scarves, t-shirts, shoes, camera and electronic equipment, toys and souvenirs.

Open only at night, Temple Street Market is worth a visit. ( Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Open only at night, Temple Street Market is worth a visit. ( Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Our guide told us that the market is only open nights from about 6pm-midnight. Each of these hundreds of vendors packs up their wares at night, only to set-up again the next evening. What a hard way to earn a living. We didn’t buy anything, but were glad we saw the market. From there, we took a taxi back to the hotel, bid our guide farewell, and at 8pm on our first night in Hong Kong… we were DONE!

The next morning we awoke early to gorgeous sunshine and an indescribably beautiful skyline. As we ate breakfast, we watched the buildings come to life as neon signs lit the skyline starting around 7am. We were to board Crystal Symphony early that afternoon, so we had time to do a little shopping and sightseeing on our own. We set off on a leisurely walk through the streets near our hotel to shop and later enjoyed lunch at the world-renowned hotel, The Peninsula. We didn’t realize at first just how close we were to the Ocean Cruise Terminal as it was only a short walk from our hotel. We also learned that Hong Kong had recently completed a new terminal, but that it was miles from the city centre. Ocean Terminal, where Crystal Symphony was docked, showcased multi levels of retail shops offering everything from Gucci to Nike and all literally just footsteps from where we were to board our ship. What a great way to start a cruise.

I also recalled that Crystal Symphony will return to Hong Kong during the holidays this year for a 15-day “China Sea Holiday Spectacular” (December 21- January 5, 2015), and will be docked at Ocean Terminal during the New Year’s Eve celebration. Can you imagine what an experience that would be to see one of the world’s most spectacular fireworks displays light the skies over Victoria Harbor—and all to be enjoyed from the prime vantage point of a balcony or deck aboard your ship!

Well, we’ll be boarding soon and our Asian adventure aboard the Crystal Symphony…it’s just about to begin!