Far East foray

A tra­di­tional cruise car­ries us away on an itin­er­ary that sees us shop­ping, eat­ing and ex­plor­ing our way through some of Asia’s most ex­otic, colour­ful and his­toric ur­ban cen­tres.

VOGUE Living Australia - - China / Japan - sil­versea.com

Dip­ping in and out of Asian ports, this spring cruise on the Sil­ver Shadow has cul­ture, chop­sticks and even me­chan­i­cal crabs. Shang­hai looks like a fun­fair at night, with its mad­cap sky­line, punc­tu­ated with build­ings that look like robots, pago­das and gi­ant bot­tle open­ers. The wide Huangpu River that di­vides the old town from the new is in­sanely busy after dark, a traf­fic jam of dark barges, sleek mo­tor cruis­ers and fer­ries lit up with fairy lights.

Sit­ting on our ve­ran­dah on the sixth deck of Sil­versea’s Sil­ver Shadow, we feel like we’re right in the river among it. The Sil­ver Shadow is a small ship, so she has been able to dock right in the cen­tre of the city, with views of both Pudong dis­trict and the fa­mous river­front boule­vard, The Bund. A slew of shiny new port­side sky­scrapers flash daz­zling neon, colour­ing our de­par­ture. It’s an ex­hil­a­rat­ing way to start a cruise that will take us to Tian­jin (Bei­jing); the Ja­pa­nese in­land sea; and Hiroshima, Osaka, Ky­oto and, fi­nally, Tokyo. Of all the small-ship cruise lines, Sil­versea is the clas­sic. It’s the cruise line you choose when you want true slow travel, time to read, play cards, lis­ten to jazz or clas­si­cal mu­sic, learn about an­cient China or the his­tory of Hol­ly­wood movies, and eat ex­cep­tion­ally well — four or five times a day if you wish, with sil­ver ser­vice (of course). It’s also one of the cruise lines that keeps many of the tra­di­tions of cruis­ing from an ear­lier era — ‘gentle­men hosts’ em­ployed to dance with sin­gle ladies, but­lers suited dash­ingly in tails, and for­mal evenings dur­ing which guests must dress to the nines. Cer­tain as­pects have been brought for­ward to the 21st cen­tury — no set seat­ing as­sign­ments or din­ner­times and all-in­clu­sive al­co­hol, for in­stance — but the guests on this cruise seem happy to do old-school ac­tiv­i­ties such as rug­ging up on deckchairs with a good book from the well­stocked li­brary or sip­ping pre-din­ner mar­ti­nis in the 1930s-feel Art Deco bar. It’s not the sort of cruise for those who need to be en­ter­tained ev­ery mo­ment and ex­pect Broad­way spec­tac­u­lars and climb­ing walls. The shore ex­cur­sions tend to have an em­pha­sis on his­tory and cul­ture.

After sail­ing for two days, our first port is Tian­jin, China. We opt out of the long bus ex­cur­sion to Bei­jing but ex­plore the port city of 15 mil­lion peo­ple, which is still an hour’s ride from the dock. It’s a sur­prise — gleam­ing, well-planned, planted with mil­lions of trees and shrubs, and al­most en­tirely mod­ern apart from the ‘con­ces­sion’ ar­eas of lovely old 19th-cen­tury British, Ger­man, Ital­ian and French man­sions. The Cul­tural Square has two ex­cep­tional mu­se­ums — an art gallery show­cas­ing Chi­nese scrolls and other paint­ings, and the Tian­jin Mu­seum, which con­tains rooms of beau­ti­ful porce­lains, jade that dates to the Ne­olithic era, and del­i­cate ink and stone prints. We also stop by a man­sion, once owned by the Shi fam­ily, where 19th-cen­tury life has been pre­served. There’s a lot to ad­mire — canopied beds, tea­rooms, a tim­ber-lined the­atre and some pretty won­der­ful but dusty dio­ra­mas. We cruise through the Yel­low Sea, edg­ing around Korea to Hiroshima, sit­u­ated on Ja­pan’s largest is­land, Hon­shu, on the Seto In­land Sea. It’s rain­ing, which seems ap­pro­pri­ate for a visit to the fa­mous ‘A-bomb dome’, the Hiroshima Peace Me­mo­rial and for­mer govern­ment build­ing that took the brunt of the blast on 6 Au­gust, 1945, when the Amer­i­can war­plane the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb. It’s sym­bolic for the city that the metal dome and build­ing ru­ins still stand. The Hiroshima Peace Me­mo­rial Mu­seum con­tains arte­facts from the bomb­ing (graphic pho­to­graphs, burnt cloth­ing) and a grip­ping vis­ual re­con­struc­tion of the bomb drop, show­ing the dev­as­ta­tion of the city that oblit­er­ated 400,000 peo­ple, many within one minute. Out­side the mu­seum, ladies stand with plac­ards read­ing ‘no war’.

OSAKA IS THE ‘KITCHEN OF JA­PAN’, WITH ITS STEL­LAR REP­U­TA­TION FOR FOOD

Next, we sail to Osaka. Some guests take the bul­let train to Ky­oto (only 15 min­utes), but we stay to ex­plore Osaka, the ‘kitchen of Ja­pan’, with its stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion for food. Tofu dishes and okonomiyaki, a Ja­pa­nese savoury pan­cake, are spe­cial­ties. We wan­der the un­der­cover shop­ping mall Shin­saibashi and visit a sim­ple restau­rant for chicken and ten­der, crunchy pork katsu.

After lunch, we hang out in Amerika­mura, the young, fash­ion­able part of town that’s the birth­place of street cul­ture in Ja­pan. It’s fab­u­lous for peo­ple-watch­ing; there are some kooky char­ac­ters here. We then walk Do­ton­bori, a long, neon-lit street par­al­lel to the canal that’s lined with restau­rants, food stalls, and an amaz­ing num­ber of me­chan­i­cal crabs. Our last day at sea, we catch some rays out­side the Panorama Lounge, where they serve af­ter­noon tea daily, and watch the white wa­ter dis­ap­pear be­hind us. Disem­bark­ing in Tokyo is a joy — friendly port staff help us with lug­gage, cus­toms, im­mi­gra­tion and taxis. Vol­un­teers hand us gifts and help with di­rec­tions.

Tokyo is a riot of spring flow­ers. We set out for Aoyama, the fash­ion­able dis­trict of lux­ury brand stores, de­signer bou­tiques and the Nezu Mu­seum, which has an ex­quis­ite gar­den. It’s iris time, and the one month of the year when bowls of matcha tea and iris-painted mocha, or sweets, are served in a tra­di­tional tea­house among the maples and wil­lows. It’s the per­fect end to our Asian ad­ven­ture.

THIS PAGE a fes­tive ferry floats along Shang­hai’s Whang­poo River at night. OP­PO­SITE PAGE Prada store in Ginza, Ja­pan.

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