No. of Recommendations: 31
The following does not cover much on the financial side and is primarily for those interested in my personal impressions, traveling vicariously or simply being voyeurs:

October 5, 2011:
Woke up this morning with ship in Petropavelovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The only place I had heard of this place was as a “country” on the board game “Risk”. This place is so remote that there are no roads leading in and everything goes in and out by ship. The view from our window was of a snow capped mountain and a rusting ship apparently abandoned and anchored in the harbor. There were more passengers from the ship than town people (or it seemed that way). While traffic was on the US/European side of the road, most of the cars had steering wheels on the Japanese (English) right hand side. Apparently, though Moscow has rules against importing less expensive Asian cars, their control is a bit weak over here (there is still a 30’ tall bronze statue of Lenin in the center of town and the administrative buildings still sport hammer and sickle symbols). No one spoke English, but when a toilet was required, the wife was able to convince Gold’s Gym in Russian (yes – there may not be a McDonalds here, but Gold’s has made it to deepest darkest Siberia) to lend us their facilities. While I speak no languages fluently (including English), my chief cook and bodyguard knows a bunch of them. We did not see anyone who looked like a native (almost indistinguishable in appearance and traditions from Alaskan Eskimos) and everyone seemed to be Russian (or Ukrainian). Contrary to the Russians I know, the drivers were polite and would stop to let you cross the street if you were in a crosswalk (maybe offenders are shot?).
The place has a Museum of Regional Studies which is a small eclectic place covering regional military history, flora and fauna, indigenous people and their culture. There’s a monument to Vitus Bering who founded the town while exploring the area for Russia. There’s another monument to the city’s defenders against a British and French flotilla in 1854 and there is another to the “battle” against Japan in 1945 when Russia took the Kiril Islands and Sakhalin. We saw fox hats and bear skins in a store, so I guess these (as well as salmon and seals) are found in the area.
As ship was anchored and we had to wait to be tendered in to shore, this stop seemed to be more an excuse to keep the stretch of unbroken sea days down than for any other reason.
Food in the evening was apparently the Philipino chefs’ interpretation of Russian food – not bad tasting, but would have Peter the Great rolling in his grave to have it called Russian). Show tonight was a very good Russian magician. Came as usual to chocolates on the pillow and fanciful creature on the bed crafted out of bath towels (both are an every night tradition which the towel animals usually on the bed, but occasionally peeking over the TV or suspended from hangers). I asked the Matre’D to sit us at an officer’s table on the next formal night (figure they will pick up the wine tab ?).
October 6, 2011:
Today’s dance lesson was Argentine Tango. The wife seems impatient with my progress. Water color painting is equally frustrating and have decided to turn the bird I am painting into a tree frog (it might end up as a green apricot if things don’t improve). Met some people (including ship’s IT officer) who are interested in scuba diving in Fiji. Quite a bit in the future, but figure “why not”?
Next stop is Vladivostok. Maybe I can find a decent Wi-Fi hot spot there that doesn’t break the bank.
We’ve been crossing a time zone nearly every day and I find that “early to bed, early to rise” is becoming par for the course. The casino is empty but the ship is loading 150-200 Australians when we hit Hong Kong, so there is hope for their business after all.
October 6, 2011:
OK, this is a bit creepy – it seems like every employee aboard knows my name (well, like my school teachers, first name is always “Mr.” and “foreign” family name is generally slurred or slightly garbled – but recognizable). Not only my name, but that of every passenger. That, coupled with their universally obsequious behavior seems to be a turn-on to many passengers and is a clever marketing behavior (but I still don’t know how it’s done.
I happen to be partial to eating a variety of pickled herring and salmon for breakfast. There is a menu item entitled “Scandinavian Breakfast” which comes close, but is limited to pickled herring and lox which is fine, but I also enjoy a piece of matjes herring which is not on the menu. I know from previous trips that a supply is generally carried for the enjoyment of the Dutch officers and there is always a bit of a game convincing the kitchen to let me break into the stash. Without the long story of how the game went this time, I am now presented with a freshly filleted herring surrounded with minced red onions and parsley each time I show up for breakfast ?. Dance today was “swing” – not my favorite. I have set my goal to be dancing like Fred Astaire and painting like Moet by the end of the cruise – we’ll see.
Ship is attempting to accommodate holidays, but things are a bit Kafkaesque.
Met a couple who said that this was their first cruise. I said that was sort of learning to swim by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. The cruise is REAL long (we’ve been on about 30 assorted cruises over the years and this is three times the duration of the longest trip we’ve taken) and the rough weather at the beginning would be a turn-off for anyone who didn’t realize that, when on a ship, this sometimes happens, but it’s not an every day event, can generally be dealt with pretty easily (though is rarely fun) and hopefully is a short interlude of the type of thing people pay good money to experience at an amusement park.
The computer/photography instructor is engaged to the lovely woman who teaches tai chi (and who, among other attributes, is a massage therapist). I’m trying to broker a deal between them and the dance instructors to teach them how to dance for their wedding by taking it out “in trade” as a barter for services. I’m trying to figure out what my commission will be (letting me access email?). Seems like a win/win to me ?.
I’ve been pretty much ignoring the financial markets (as with the slow, expensive and time zone unfriendly internet connection, there’s no fire in the gut to engage in trading), but I admit to peeking. The single benefit of a rising US dollar seems to be that it will go further if/when I spend them in Australia.
October 8, 2011:
Went into Vladivostok today. We started by going into the main train station to find an ATM. As in most of Europe, they are called “Bankomats” and with a bit of practice you can squeeze that phonetically out of the corresponding Cyrillic letters. We were directed down a flight of stairs, but didn’t see it so I asked another young lady and she was nice enough to lead us to a machine. The machine was easy to use, but asked whether I wanted large bills, small bills or a mixture. I asked for mixture, so it spit out a single 1,000 ruble bank note (the total I had asked for). It then asked if I wanted a receipt, to which I said yes (I’m still waiting). The girl was still hanging around and pointed to a kiosk where I got the bill changed. She had a very limited English vocabulary but, along with my wife’s limited Russian vocabulary and a bit of imagination as to meanings, she then gave us a tour of the newly refurbished terminal of the Trans-Siberian Railway. We left the station to walk to a WWII period Soviet submarine which is now a museum. It was pretty cool as the periscope still worked (more or less as the lens was apparently shot), but it was apparent that this boat was not built with comfort in mind.
The sub was in front of a large memorial to those lost in WII with an accompanying newly refurbished small stand-alone chapel. We could see a row of nearly identical warships (looked like large destroyers or light cruisers) flying a bow flag which looked like the British Union Jack – apparently the flag of the Russian Far Eastern fleet as well. There is a huge suspension bridge being built across the harbor. It is being built from both sides so crossing it would remind one of walking the plank. We walked back towards the center of town and went into a small pharmacy (a fellow passenger we bumped into wanted some eye drops). The place was extremely clean, well lit and modern. The marble tile floor had been cut out an area of about three feet by ten feet covered with glass through which we could see a cheerful scene of flowers and butterflies. The young lady, garbed in a white lab coat, standing behind the counter spoke perfect English and made sure that the eye drops our friend got (made by Bausch & Lomb) were appropriate. It seemed, from the questions she asked, that she was able to prescribe as well as sell.
Similar to our previous stop, many of the cars have steering wheels on the right side (though driving is on the side of the road used in the US). There were far more made by Lexus than at the last stop and a high percentage were SUV’s (if not Lexus, then Toyota Land Cruisers) with most of the balance being Toyota or Nissan. I guess smuggling is doing well in this port city. Everything is being renewed and spruced up in expectation of a major meeting in 2012 of Pacific states to be held here. There is far more evidence here of non-Russian ethnic groups than in Petropavelovsk (I guess both phenomena due to ethnic pot stirring during Stalin’s time (and maybe the mix in the local gulags?).
We went to GUM department store to buy a few things we had forgotten (nail clippers, make-up removal pads, etc.). While there, prudence dictated using the rest room and they directed us on a long journey. First walking up the stairs past the two non-functioning ancient elevat9or cages. They through the stockrooms, past the tailors to a toilet without a seat (or operating instructions), no toilet paper and locks on both the inside and the outside of the doors (still don’t know why anyone would want to lock a toilet from outside. The electrical wiring in this hidden portion of the store was so “impressive” that I took a photograph to share with some of my electrician friends in the States.
The “traditional” sized Soviet women seem to be a thing of the past (and that body size is now the domain of the US). The new generation seen thin and svelte. The ladies all seem to be wearing stilettos and fashionable clothing. One of the guys on the cruise tried buying a shirt, but all of them were tapered to the point that his gut wouldn’t allow the buttons to be closed.
While many of the young seem to know a bit of English, it’s helpful when trying to communicate to thread in as many Russian words as possible as otherwise you are more likely to get the right answer to the wrong question ?.
The ship topped off its fuel tanks in Vladivostok as well. I was told they do this whenever they dock here so I guess petroleum products are cheaper than in other parts of Asia.
October 10, 2011:
Tomorrow we will be hitting Pusan, our first Korean port (and the first of a long string of daily port stops). In honor of Canada’s Thanksgiving day, the ship is decorating and tonight is a formal night. I have been wearing my orange “I AM CANADIAN” hat for fun. Yesterday, I sent my wife’s sandal to the Engineering Department for repair (figured they would have a good sense of humor ?). Today I am looking for a replacement tuxedo button as I mashed one in a closet door (figure there is a department which makes and maintains the costumes for the shows so there is some hope). I left the jacket at the front desk and it was back in my room with an identical matching button attached before I was (though I admit to stopping along the way ?)
I decided to cash in my residual 650 rubles for greenbacks. The ship stiffed me on the rate (and maybe I should have either held them until next time I was in the neighborhood or traded them for RMB at an HSBC branch in China), but the explanations and arguments with she who must be obeyed” wouldn’t have been worth the $2 haircut I took.
I’ve asked for an engine room tour – we’ll see.
October 11, 2011:
It’s a bit spooky but I am always a day ahead of the new right now (not that it does me any good). I am writing this at the end of the day and most of you guys haven’t even woken up yet. Last night I arranged for an officer to sit at the table and pick up the tab for wine.
Today we visited Pusan (Busan), Korea. This area was port of a small enclave which did not fall to the North Koreans during the beginning of the Korean War. It was heavily shelled and mosta structures are pretty new. We started by taking a bus out of the huge port. There are dry docks here large enough to house an aircraft carrier. The seaport is very heavily industrialized. Surprisingly, few people seem to speak even a few words of English.
We got off the bus at Yongdusan Park. I made use of an ATM and, as it resembled a ideo game (music and all) was more entertaining to use than most. The park is 69 meters above sea level and we went to the top of a 120 meter tall observation tower (4,000 won – about $4 each) to see the city. Also in the park is a pagoda with a huge bronze bell and a log on a swing to clap it with. From the park we took a bus to a commercial street about a block from the Jagatchi fish market. I have seen plenty of fish markets in my life, but never anything close to this one. Everything that lives in the ocean is kept live and sold here (duplications encouraged). Octopuses crawl out of baskets and are chased down the street by fish mongers. Muscles the size of overshoes, eels, Alaskan king crabs, fish of every sort, abalone, welks, sea slugs – name it – fill a building a few football fields in size. You can have your choice brought upstairs for preparation (cooked or raw) if you’re hungry. Oh – and the entire place is spotlessly clean and, despite what I suspect are hundreds of thousands of swimming/crawling denizens barely has an odor.
From there we wandered through a number of street markets. We stopped at a shop to pick up a soda for my wife and I picked a different shaped bottle which turned out to be an alcoholic beverage (roughly like dilute vodka – say about 40 proof). We ended up buying a Korean pancake (sort tasted like potato, egg and lots of garlic ad scallions – about 8,000 won or roughly $8) which was accompanied by a couple of types of kimchi (cabbage marinated in hot pepper sauce) and raw onion slices in what I think was soy sauce. My drink was strong enough that after a couple of shots I gave the bottle to some kids eating at the next table. The street markets (Gukje, Daedeaok, BIFF Square, etc.) sold every imaginable item and a wide variety of Korean food (spices, sesame seeds, kimchi in many variations, tempura, etc. etc.). After a few hours of wandering, we returned to the ship. I guess lunch was a bargain as the wife says food is still; repeating on her.
Ship is sailing out of the harbor with pilot boat following like a remora on a shark.
Saga will continue in a few days.

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