30.01.2010 - 03.02.2010
I have quickly learned that 30 minutes of prep for a 5 week trip is less than satisfactory.
But I left regardless due to having to drop someone else off at the domestic airport at the same time. Due to the lack of love between Qantas and Cathay all their ground handling is done by Toll Dnata (Emirates subsidiary). Due to the absence of Amadeus they couldn’t see my whole itinerary so some annoyingly unnecessary questions about visa one way tickets etc, in the end they just gave up and believed me when I said I had a RTW ticket.
The QF pub was packed with snooty South Africans; most were of the living dead, with 15 wheelchairs preboarding the Joburg flight alone! There were also some cashed up bogans waiting for a much delayed jetstar flight to bali. There was a very noticeable difference after walking the length of the terminal to the gate (again no qf loving) where they’re some fellow solo white male travellers to pepper the sea of yellow. Boarding was the usual Perth shambles with the check in peeps running up to do the departure stuff. There was only a token effort made at boarding by status and row. Regardless we impressively managed to get away on time, with the almost full plane only on the ground for a total of 75 mins. Forgot how much I love the CX Olympus economy product, awesome legroom and guaranteed no recline. Great uncensored entertainment options and 3 menu choices for meals. However I did have too good a view of the mini business cabin ahead which was distracting with its mood lighting etc.
Record flight time of just over 7 hours, was pissed they did the window shade nazi approach which almost denied me a great sunrise. Connecting gate info displayed promptly with about half the pax connecting. Our plane did another lean mean turnaround and was off to Sydney 90mins later. My next flight was only 2 gates away but I still had to suss out the brand new Qantas pub. It was very different to the old open-air setup but much improved falling under the QF global design scheme. Unfortunately its a bunker, but barista service was welcome addition and on demand pancakes. The things we sacrifice for views. I was disappointed I had to share the now much larger pub with a delayed Melbourne flight but gorged myself anyways, as part of my feast and famine regime. That means stuff yourself at the free lounges, scam as much prepacked stuff as your bag can take and then that has to last until the next airport lounge visit. At least the new Qantas offering provides a passable back-up option to the wing/pier (CX) should they be full.
Jumped on the plane to find the regional seats unfortunately as planed. They didn’t even bother turning on the video options on the 1st gen studio cx system for the 1 hour to Taipei. Despite the short fight (didn’t get above 32,000 feet) we got decent refreshment. I was pleased to be offered the option of remaining onboard for the layover but chose to set foot in Taiwan instead. Mistake, Taipei airport gives manila a good run for the title of worst Asian capital city airport. 50’s lino, wood and asbestos was the order of the day, plus I swear I was the only white person in the entire joint. No escalators only stairs, whiteboards and magnets for flight info signs, pretty poor. One benefit though the security screen was a breeze, they didn’t even care we were there as everyone beeped, no need to take out LAGS or laptops, it was great. Anyways soon back on the plane with a new cockpit crew but same cabin crew. Cathay still, despite recent cutbacks due to improving politics, still has a significant operation there, saw 4 other CX planes moving around in the 80 minutes we were on the ground.
Got stuck into the loop video options and found the Australia network channel which was good. Coffee must have worn off as I Fell asleep without realising. Thankfully the staff woke me for lunch, then a few asahi's later I was asleep again. The audacious island airport appeared and unfortunately was a ghost town, only one other plane in sight dwarfed by the large terminal complex. I think they should tow the island to Taipei where it might actually be used at more than 10% of its capacity. However there were an abnormally high number of people on the viewing deck. So many that I considered a celebrity arrival imminent or some such because I don’t think there would school excursions or group tours to an airport on a Saturday. I was done with immigration in 5 seconds due to me being the only one in the foreigner line. Bag was quick and then I was over the bridge to the transit centre in 2mins. Hit an atm, then the train ticket machine and waited a few mins for the next express. Was a typical soulless but functional Japanese affair but platform barrier gates were unusual. Also driver cam with speed was a nice touch. 30 mins later was in the heart of town and found my lodgings with ease. Room is standard Japanese, tiny. The establishment is a bit trippy in general as its sort of round building with really small (5 foot) doors everywhere. Japan is not for the claustrophobic. Don’t get me started about the bathroom. Was knackered with no sleep for 36 hours and only 5 showers in the past 10 days. Quickly went 100m back to the jr station for maccdonaroo setto. Enjoyed a prawn burger but didn’t enjoy the pain emanating from my knees after trying to sit at the kid size tables. Did enjoy Japanese TV, plastic surgery ads, text everywhere and the ultra-slow news cycle. Toyota recalls still big news and yokazuna (sumo) dodginess. Always keen to hit up one of the literally millions of vending machines, got a "Pocket Juicer Stand" which is a bizarre white peach/jelly drink thing. Also a Blendy, which was a decent iced cofffee. The beer wars are in full swing now that Kirin and Asahi own everything. There was a massive advertising push to get people drinking alcohol free beer for breakfast and also for young hipster chicks to drink beer. Desperatation in a declining market methinks.
Hit up the streets of Nagoya, taking advantage of my almost 100% functioning feet and weather just begging to rain (explained later). First stop was Oasis 21, or really just a fancy bus station. Roof top pond pumping out Christina Aguilera amongst others, great family fun. Next door went to the Aichi Trienalle at the Aichi art precinct. Good stuff on offer with nice western and Japanese selections, particularly my favourite, 20th century stuff. Then followed Central Park (original huh?) up to the main park in town, forgot its name. This park had evidence of the sister city relationship with LA in the form of 5% of the Hollywood walk of fame being replicated! Walked past the half asian/euro town hall and then onwards to the main event, Nagoya castle. Bombed in the dying moments of WWII it was rebuilt, as all old Japanese shit is anyways, in 1959. The benefit of the bombing was you can actually go in this one! Got jumped at the entrance by some volunteer “guides”. Deal was free tour in exchange for an English lesson, I took it. We both struggled but I think it was worth it, just. We eventually made it through the grounds stopping at every statute, tearoom etc, where they would spend a minute trying to put together a sentence. We finally made it to the castle, which was a little tacky but each floor has exhibitions models etc. The view from the top was quite good and I was surprised to learn that it was a “quiet” day, looked pretty busy to me. Once we exited the main bit the drizzle was apparent but I showed my true gaijin colours by surviving without an umbrella. I managed to get rid of my guides, who handed me business cards in parting, despite my “I’m just a student” getup. Darkness was approaching so I got a little lost but eventually made my way home on foot just as it started to pour. Got home soaked and had a fantastic dinner courtesy of the nextdoor Lawson. Had no idea what I ate. Also if you're in Nagoya check out the aptly named "Asian Bar"..
Next morning got a JR ticket to Ise, the holiest (Shinto) place in Japan. Splashed out for a reserved seat and all so my bit of the 2-car train was quiet. Weird little diesel railcar thing, can see why JR want to close the line. 90 mins later was in Iseshi and heading to the temple. I love how you can go 90 mins and be somewhere in the fifties destroying the image of advanced Japan. Good to know it’s all bought on public credit. Liberated sans map I made it and found the domestic tourist focus, as unlike most of Japan there was no English signage. I just went down any path that looked good. Found the main bit, which you can’t actually go in unless you are related to the Emperor, but it has a cool thatched fence with many police around. The hills and grounds were extremely green (did I mention it was drizzling the whole time?), and lakes and bridges very Japanese garden serene. After seeing the outer and inner shrine (well all meer mortals could see) and the accompanying mini temples I went two stops down the line to the coast. Furutami, home of the wedded rocks. The rain got worse as we approached the coast and I was shocked to find a Japanese train station with no fare gates, I just wasted 250 yen! Walked to the famous rocks, actually got my camera out (big effort given the weather) then headed back to the station to buy my return ticket from an 80 year Japanese dude. Got the local, changed later to an express and finally hit the rapid some stations later. Was home just before dark, but was stuffed from some serious foot mileage.
Today was off to Europe! Got up hugely excited and went straight to the Meitessu (private) station. Actually I stoped off at the passport photo booth just ext to where I was staying for my Egyptian visa later. Anyway got caught in the last remnants of peak hour people traffic. Meitstsu have a bigger operation than JR here but with only a quarter of the platforms, Trains every 30 seconds, utilising the Spanish Solution (Wikipedia that shit). Got to the airport, checked in, where the contractors (swissport) struggled with getting me checking to Vilnius as it involved two separate tickets, the supervisor got it together in the end. Then to the amazingly huge observation deck. It was through the skyplaza, great bit of airport shopping, stupidly all landside. Anyways the ob deck, no security, no fees, great vies. Plus café and it many enthusiasts and day trippers. Got some good snaps before freezing and then headed airside. A little worried my inbound was 30mins late due to my 1 hour connection in Helsinki, but credit to the ground crew we manage to leave a few minutes early. Flight was great (80% full, no-one next to me), had a nice regular supply of Lapin Kulta’s (the other alternative was called Koff, sound healthy?) and enough on demand content to get me though. Landed 15 mins early, this made all the difference at rush hour in Helsinki as 5 mins after I got in the then short security queue erupted with literally thousands of people queuing to who knows where. Plus the dumbest security people I have seen for a while. Maybe because they looked like they just came from a heavy metal gig, Mohawk, piercings everywhere and all under 25; at least I knew I wasn’t in Asia anymore. Stopped by the finnair schengen lounge for 5 minutes which was shit, one tiny room and was packed. Then ran to my gate far far away and hopped on the bus just before it left, stopping to get the latest Economist was worth it as it was impossible to get at Nagoya. The Fincomm flight was uneventful and perfectly on time. My first Embraer flight was only 50% full. Finally got my freezing cold bag and hit the traino. Single track, 2 car affair but private service and never got more than 55km/h. Cost me a whole aussie dollar. Easily found my place to crash and that I did.
Woke early the next day (go time difference) and went to the free brekkie. Kinda felt like that bit in the movie Eurotrip in “eastern europe” as I paid didley squat but the brekkie was full buffet and then they ask what hot stud you want made to order, got a very decent omelette full table service with my own personal plate of cold meats and massive bread basket. Anyways then it was time to hit the street of Vilnius. Armed with a dodgy hotel map I head off to the places I could see from my room, which was quite a lot. It was awesome just walking the quite snow filled streets on a clear sunny day with great old architecture everywhere. Climbed a few hills for some nice views and then paid a visit to the KGB museum. I am gonna try on the student thing as far as it will get me. It liked to call itself the genocide museum but that was a abit of long bow in my book. It was very similar to the one in Budapest, another unfortunate soviet outpost invade by the germans and Russians. But the torture and execution rooms were quite graphic. Water boarding has been popular for a while it seems. Very impressed with the level of English on the displays, with every single item captioned in both languages. Only disappointment was the sometimes overly subjective language used. Then crossed the river and stopped by a supermarket. The beer prices reminded me why I love Europe, a six pack of 500ml cans for $2. Also saw beer in PET bottles, which I had heard about from friends back home; maybe it was always there I just never noticed it was actually beer? Managed to retrace my steps back to where I was staying, which was unfortunately all uphill. Darkness soon fell and I got my tech in order.
More to come. Photos are on facebook.