Thursday, March 5, 2015

Goldring Travel Experiences Azamara Club Cruises in Asia - Is it Amazing? Part VII (Doing It On Your Own - Part A - Dontonbori, Osaka)

My last days of my Azamara Club Cruises’ 16 day cruise on the Azamara Quest were spent at sea and then in Osaka.  It was a great time to sit back and really formulate some conclusions about my time aboard, but also to explore a bit of Osaka and Kyoto.

I must admit that one of the weaknesses of Azamara Club Cruises has been the port information.  It has been pretty non-existent and, at times, downright inaccurate.  For example, the head of the Shore Excursion Department (Land Discoveries) has a very heavy accent and, fighting through it, makes statements that are (apparently when translated into English) wrong. 

For example, he advised where the ship would dock and then noted that if you keep walking you will reach the famous Dotonbori Street in Osaka.  Well that might "eventually" be true, as they say in New Hampshire, but the reality is that it is about a US$30 taxi ride.  And getting local maps of the port in relation to areas of interest in advance of arrival is quite difficult (as happened in Manila). 

Related to that, the cost of the shore excursions has really gotten under my skin.  They are, frankly, offensive.  I do not begrudge a cruise line a profit (hey, they have to pay me somehow!), but there is a difference between a fair price and price gouging.  I find this unacceptable and if there was one big grumble on ship that I heard, that was it.  That is especially true when you are visiting ports that you only have the option of a tour or not much of anything else; as we had earlier in this cruise.

That said, after we docked in Osaka at 5:00 p.m. (and will be spending the next two days there) I shared a taxi with a couple and went on a culinary adventure.  While there is no doubt the Dotonbori area is touristic, there are many Japanese there and there I much to be enjoyed.  A bit of rain added color and energy.

Dotonbori Street, Osaka, Japan
I tried the famous takoyaki, balls of batter with an octopus center.  There is a real art making them and to eating them, and they are to be eaten very hot.  Basically there is a semi-circular pan that the batter is poured into, the octopus is placed in the center, and then through a series of well-timed turns with chopsticks round balls with a semi-liquid center are formed…and then eaten.  (Note:  Soy and/or mayonnaise are served on just about everything.)

Making Takoyaki is a real art
Takoyaki...and just about everything else...
is served with dry fish flakes
It was then time to try a barbecued scallop.

Barbecued Scallops on Donatbori Street, Osaka, Japan
After that it was time to sit down in a restaurant which had a “magic wand”.  You touch the wand to the item you want, then touch the number of orders you want and repeat.  

Creo-Ru on Dontobori Street, Osaka
has a "magic wand" menu for ordering

I decided on fried noodles.  These noodles are more like warmed in a wok rather than deep fried.  And they, as they almost always are, have a covering layer of fish flakes; made from dried fish.  (When you plate is served the heat from the dish makes them dance.)

Fried Noodles with Seafood and Pork
There is definitely a learning curve and the two people I was with were nice, but more of the "speak louder and faster" rather than the slow it down, point and be gentle sort, so it was a bit frustrating, but I got there.  (Another interesting ordering technique:  a ticket machine with pictures. You put your money in, push on the picture of the food you want, a ticket is printed and you give it to the man by the door.  You food is served shortly thereafter.)

A woman was selling sweet red bean cakes.  I walked by, but had to turn around and try one.  I am so glad I did.  It was one of the best things I ate on the entire trip.

Woman selling Sweet Red Bean Cakes
And then a bit of culture clash:  I stumbled upon a “cowgirl bar”.  Japanese girls dressed up like Daisy Duke (from the Dukes of Hazzard) with cowboy hats.  Your options:  1,000 Yen for one drink, 3,000 yen for all you can drink in an hour and 4,500 yen for all you can drink in two hours.  Not a bad deal.  Of course I had to go in and try something.  I opted for one drink:  kurokirisima (sweet potato vodka…I think).

OK, it was a dive bar (nothing wrong with that) and
you just cannot turn down Japanese bartenders
dressed as Daisy Duke in a cowboy hat!
It was then back to the Azamara Quest rather early as I had a full day private tour the next day…only to be greeted by the heat in my suite being “on” for the first time since who knows when and no way to turn it off.  I had to sleep with my balcony door partially open.  Not the end of the world, but with my sinuses all dried out I wound up with a cold for my last two days of the cruise.