Vacation 2008 Update #1 or Super duper email update #1

Here is the first update of the 2008 vacation. This update starts at the beginning of the trip on Saturday, April 5th, 2008 continuing on up to and including today, Friday, April 11th, 2008. I am writing this at 1:00 p.m. on Friday the 11th. Since I am still in what is called the GST+8 time zone, that means that I still 12 hours ahead of most of you. I hope you are all having a good sleep while I am writing this. With luck it will be there when you next check your messages or shortly thereafter.

Saturday, April 5th

At about 10:00 I did Air Canada’s web check in. Once I figured out exactly which number on the eticket they wanted all went well. I also made sure the Aeroplan number as there.

Left home shortly after 2:00 p.m.. Arrived at hotel around 3:30 even after having to take a slight detour because what I thought was on off ramp from the 427 was actually an on ramp. Oh well, it just took a bit longer to get there.

Had supper at a local Tim Horton’s half a block away and watched TV the rest of the evening.

Sunday, April 6th

Took the 6:45 a.m. shuttle to Terminal 1. I was there in just over 5 minutes along with 6 or 7 other people. I went to the web baggage check in fearing that the 2 checked bags may be over the 50 pound limit for each one that is allowed. When you are packing for a 35 day trip keeping the weight down is no small feet as the Air Canada check in lady noted. When the verdict came in, the black one was 47 pounds and the brown one was 49.5. She graciously read it as 49 even.

I checked out the domestic arrivals area just to make sure where it was for when I return. All is well so I returned and went through security. There were no problems there. They did the chemical test on the camera bag and found nothing. On to gate 175 which is way, way out there. The plane was there waiting and so was I. I was there by 7:30 for the flight that departs at 9:40. Air Canada wanted everyone there by 8:40. While waiting I took the following two pictures.

This is the Boing 777-200 LR number 706 (I think) that I would be on for the next 16 or so hours.

The area in Terminal 1 around Gate 175 which is in the distance on the left.

Boarding commenced at the appointed time and went smoothly. This takes time when there is over 200 people getting settled in for the next 15 and a half hours.

The plane pushed back about two minutes late and I was on my way. The take off was about ten minutes later along one of the runways parallel to the 401.

Shortly after take off the plane turned north and just kept going. In less than ten minutes we were over a completely frozen Late Simcoe. The captain came on and described the route something like this. The flight would go over Timmins, Sudbury, and then out over James Bay, Hudson’s Bay and then somewhere close to Resolute Bay in Nunavut. From there, the route went out over the Artic Sea, about 400 miles west of the North Pole, then down over Siberia, Manchuria, into China, over Beijing, just west of Shanghai and on into Hong Kong. (This is a similar route to the one the infamous United Airlines flight that I mentioned in yesterdays message and will detail later here would have taken.) Below are several Artic Ocean pictures taken from the plane. They are probably closer to Siberia than Canada because they have all the window shades closed during most of this period. After all, it is the middle of the night in Hong Kong you know. One other interesting thing is that the flight is entirely in sunlight. There is no darkness at all.

This area is big. It took more than eight hours to fly over it. Here are a few more pictures of this area.

At about the 10 hour point in the flight I got up and took a stroll which included a washroom break. It was interesting to look into the forward part of the economy section in the completely blacked out plane and see all the individual LCD screens in the back of the seats lit up. It was almost an eerie effect. On my screen I watched 3 movies during the flight (because their map system telling you where they were was not working). These were Alvin and the Chipmunks, Enchanted, and The Golden Compass. I may have slept briefly during the flight but not much. 

Monday, April 7th

Arrival in Hong Kong was about ten minutes early. It did not take long to find out what the weather was like. Two steps up the Jet way from the plane and you were melting in your shoes. It was hazy, hot and very humid.

Hong Kong airport is a big place (as you will see in a picture later). There is a long walk, and then a couple of minute long train ride just to get to the arrivals area. There were many people in the line for passport control but they handle it well. The man who processed mine did not say a word. He had a hard time getting their system to read the digital coding on the passport. I think he finally entered it manually. (Air Canada had the same problem at Pearson Airport.)

By the time I arrived at the baggage claim, the bags were already there but widely separated. I had to exit through Arrival Area A (not B as Holland America claimed). The gentleman was there though and off to the limo we went. It turned out there was another lady (from Oakville) on the same flight so we took the 45 minute ride to the hotel together.

Hotels are strange in the way they do things in this part of the world. I will not go into it here but after all was said and done I had a room on the 33rd floor (#3305). The hotel has 43 floors. I had a rest.

Each evening in the area around Victoria Harbor they have this sound and light show. Many of the buildings have special lighting installed on them. Many were built with it and some have had it retrofitted. It is put on by the Hong Kong Tourist Board. These lights are all controlled and synchronized through digital fiber optic connections and synchronized to music. Since I was only a large block form one of the better viewing locations I went to have a look. It runs at 8:00 for 13 minutes every night weather permitting. Here are some pictures of what it looks like. Video may have been better for this because many of the lights move and change in various patterns but these are the best I can do.

The side of the harbor that I am on with the Hong Kong Convention Centre on the left. I am on the island of Hong Kong.

This is the other side of the harbor. This is called Kowloon and is on the Chinese mainland but still considered part of the Hong Kong region.

The two pictures above were before the show started. The rest are of the show. This is the far side.

This is the near side.

The far side again.

This was the end of what seemed like one long day which it actually was but it was spread over two days.

Tuesday, April 8th

This morning I did nothing. Well, it was mostly nothing. I went and took some daytime pictures of the harbor area.

This is taken from roughly the same place as the ones last night were. This is the near or island side.

This is the mainland side and is a bit to the right of the ones above.

I also booked a Grey Line tour to see the Giant Buddha on Lantau Island for this afternoon.

The departure time was 1:15 p.m.. The problem with Jet Lag (or as I like to call it Timezoneitus) on this trip seems to be worse than others in the past. With the exact 12 hour time difference when it is noon here, it is midnight there (for most of you anyway). I seem to want to fall asleep just after lunch. This seems to be easing up but it is taking its time.

The first stop was something called the Ngong Ping cable car. This is a 5.7 km cable car system that acts as a tourist attraction and a method the get to where they built the Giant Buddha.  It starts near the airport and heads up into the mountains. It was shut down for six months for repairs last year when one of the cars fell of the cable. Usually very scenic. Here are some pictures.

The starting point of the cable car.

It makes a left turn and heads off into those mountains. It makes another turn later. You can see a couple of the towers in the mountains.

The airport is on the left centre. This is just before the right tower you can see in the right picture above.

Hong Kong International Airport. In the haze you can make out the large Y shape of the gates. The main terminal is centre right in this picture.

Then the car went into the clouds and
not much more than this was seen the rest of the way

At the top there is a simulated village of the past. It was hard to see in the cloud covering the top of the mountain. The humidity was so high up there that the fire alarm systems were going off all the time due to the dampness. So we went on to the Giant Buddha.

There is a lot of very complicated history involved with this. It was not explained very well. I will just say that it is very recent (in the last 20 years), it is very important spiritually, it faces north towards Beijing, and it weighs 250tons, is approximately 60 feet high and made of bronze. There is a shrine in the bottom of it. It is mostly hollow for the shrine and still weighs 250 tons. Here are some pictures, such as they are.

With the low clouds this was the best I could do.

This gives you some idea of the size. This door is just below the pedal/leaf in the middle of the other picture.

There is normally a walk of 280 steps to get up to this but for safety reasons related to the dampness they drove us up. It is not usually allowed.

At the bottom is the Po Lin Monastery whose monks look after the Giant Buddha. Here are some pictures from there.

The main area of the Monastery.

More traditional Buddha’s

Just as we were driving away the cloud cleared up just enough to get this picture out of the bus window. The marks and reflections are from the window.

You can see the 280 steps and just faintly at the top the Giant Buddha.

The final stop on this tour was a small village called Tai O. It was once the largest settlement on Lantau Island. It is the way the area around Hong Kong once was. Here is a picture of it.

The way back to Hong Kong was by what is called a fast ferry. It is the way the people of this part of the island get to the island of Honk Kong to work. It takes 30 minutes from here to what is called Central in downtown portion of the Hong Kong Island. I could not get a picture of the ferry but here is one of the transportation that many of the islanders use to get to the ferry.

Apparently there are 3000 bicycles here.

I got back to the hotel shortly after 7:00 and relaxed for the cruise that starts tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 9th

This day turned into just a bit of a fiasco (or schnozzle as I called it in yesterdays email). It ended ok but it took quite a battle by many people to get to that.

There was a note under the door when I got up indicating that due to a problem the Statendam will be late arriving. They expected to start checking people in around 3:00 p.m. and boarding around 5 p.m. The original times were 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Holland America’s shore arrangements are handled by a local company. The letter that came from the ship and the company’s letter conflicted in what they said. I went to the desk in the lobby and they said, follow our letter, so I did. I found out that there were more than 200 people for the cruise at this hotel. We were offered a free sightseeing tour with lunch. They had tried to group the people which under normal circumstances probably works fine but they lost control of it and things got all fouled up. Busses finally showed up to pick up people, confusion reigned but everybody finally got away.

Meanwhile, across the harbor the Statendam was pulling up to the dock an hour and fourty-five minutes earlier than the company expected it. All of a sudden there was a shortage of busses to take all the people coming off the ship to the airport or wherever. If things had gone as planned without the delay none of this would have been a problem. Some of the busses doing the tours truncated the tour went to the dock and tried to off load the people so they could use them for the people from the ship. Several of the groups on the busses revolted and would not get off until they had a room (air conditioned) to sit down in. The company wanted them to stand in a line outside. The company somehow managed to rent a couple of meeting rooms in a near by hotel which solved this problem but delayed everything else. These people also never got the lunch that was to be included.

In the meantime, the bus I was on complete things as planned, got to the restaurant, and had the lunch. Every crack and crevice around the pier area was packed with baggage waiting for the ship. Security was so sadly\badly lacking that I carried all my stuff to the restaurant.  The meal was fine, if you liked Chinese food. It did not suit me. We sat in the restaurant for almost 3 hours because there was no where else to put us. During this time is where I heard the other horror story associated with this cruise which is the one of the United Airlines flight. I will come back to that in a minute.

This is what it looked like during the long stay in the restaurant.

Apparently we had it better off than many others.

Finally at about 5:00 we were taken over to the check in area. Somehow we ended up being the very last people to be checked in for the cruise. I was 5th to last to be checked in and finally made it to my stateroom (more like a cabin) #602 as booked at approximately 7:45 p.m. At that point they had checked in 998 people in just less than two and a half hours using 20 people with many helpers.

Due to the late arrival, the departure was later so I got to watch the building light show from the other side of the harbor. Here are several pictures of that.

The show from the Kowloon side of the harbor.

Another view.

A final view of the show.

The ship finally sailed as per its originally revised schedule at 10:00 p.m. Here is one last picture as the ship sailed north out of Victoria Harbor.

Here the two sides of the harbor blend together in my last view of Hong Kong.

The United Airline flight story.

Apparently a number of people from the U.S. arrived in Chicago on Monday to fly to Hong Kong and stay one night and board the cruise on Wednesday. The flights route and timings were similar to mine. The fight was about 11 hours old and over Beijing when the 747-400 they were on blew its #3 engine.  The plane could have probably made it to Hong Kong but they did not take any chances and turned around and landed in Beijing. They were not allowed off the plane once it landed. The Chinese military had it under guard at all times. Somehow United found another 747-400 nearby and got it there in approximately 2 hours.  By this time these people had been on this plane for something approaching 16 hours 5 of which were on the ground with no engines or air conditioning. Apparently things were a bit rank by this time. Finally they were allowed to walk off the one plane and on to the other one (they were parked side by side) all under the ever watchful eyes of the Chinese military. Busses were there but were not used. The plane took off and arrived in Hong Kong five or six hours late.

They were met at the airport by the Holland America rep and taken to the same hotel I was in. Little did I know it but not more than a few hours after I checked in on Monday the hotels entire computer system crashed and was down for what appears to have been around 36 hours. There were no rooms in the inn, or at least they could not find any if there were. The Renaissance hotel is part of the Mariott chain of hotels and a new one had just opened not far away. They were shipped there with people from the tour company. They got to bed around 5:00 Wednesday morning. Then they had to get up after only a few hours sleep and endure the embarkation debacle.

I feel for them.

Yesterday, April 10th

Did all the necessary things that need to be done on the first day of a cruise.

Today, April 11th, 2008

It has taken all day to write this. It was completed at 5:35 p.m. with final editing after dinner.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow Shanghai!!!