24 Dec 2001 - 16 Jan.2002
Sendai – Ueno – NRT
As I live some distance from a serious international airport every International trip for me begins on a train.
I live in Sendai, a city of one million people exactly 350 km north of Tokyo. Japanese trains have little allowance for luggage so most people use a delivery service known as Takyubin. Two days before my flight a man shows up at 11 am (exactly as promised ). He takes my bag and also gives me a pick up voucher for when I’m leaving plus another voucher for when I return. So far so good !.
Sendai to NRT return Takyubin, one bag, 3,600 yen
December 24th, the big day has arrived. A 6 minute walk from my apartment to Sendai station on a very cold but clear winter day. My train is the Shinkansen/bullet train Yamabiko number 10. It originated at Morioka and terminates at Tokyo station. However I will be getting of at the other Tokyo station, Ueno. Leaves from platform 13, car 4 seat 2c and it leaves bang on time at 11.54 am. They go about every 18 minutes from 5.40 am until 12.20 am. Living in Japan for 6 years I have of course taken this train many times but this day was a surprise. It usually has about 6 stops on the way to Ueno but this one had only one stop, at Omiya, so it was reeeeeally moving. 350 km in 96 minutes, that’s a 219 kmh/138 mph average !
Train is 10,390 yen one way
Arrive Ueno at 1.30 pm and take south exit and walk about 200 metres to another station, this one belonging to the private Keisei Railway Company. This is the departure point for the Skyliner rail service to Narita airport. Trains depart at 10 and 40 minutes past the hour but I miss the 1.40. This could be tight ! Take the 2.10 train for 1,920 yen, car 2, seat 7c for NRT terminal 1. Travel time is 64 minutes, flight leaves at 3.45 pm !!!!
NRT terminal one is for Air France, Alitalia, AA, BA, CP, KLM, KE, NW, SIA, UA, Virgin and Varig ( plus others )
Terminal 2 is JAL, ANA, JAS, JAA, SU, China, India, NZ, Asiana, Biman, Canadian, CO, DE, Garuda, Iran, LH, MAS, PIA, QF, SAS, Swiss, Sabena, Thai and Turkish ( plus others )
Terminal 2 is the nicer one but both are fine
NRT – INC (KE 002 at 1545 24th December)
As expected I arrive late but all staff very helpful and I manage to collect my luggage (remember takyubin ), pick up my ticket and check in, all in about 15 minutes. At the security check it is discovered that I have not one pair but 3 pairs of scissors in my carry-on, to say nothing of my flute which I can only imagine looks pretty nasty on an X-ray machine. I eventually get the Japanese version of ‘you look like a nice boy’ and head down to immigration with all cutting and musical implements intact. Outgoing immigration is usually really crowded and slow at NRT but this day it was a breeze and I arrive at the gate just in time to hop the bus out to the plane. Great timing or what ?
Aircraft is 777-200 with 2-5-2 seat configuration in economy. I have the middle seat (30 E )but it is Ok as both on each side are empty. Plane is about 80% full as this is essentially a commuter flight for business people. Departure delayed by 35 minutes but I’m on holiday so I don’t care ! Plane is in VERY good condition and is extremely clean. Nothing memorable about take-off or 130 minute flight but landing is rough. Meal is some kind of bok-choi seafood stuff so I pass but indulge in 2 very good Carlsberg’s.
I had been looking forward to seeing the new airport at Inchon for sometime. I have taken this route many times and the old airport at Kimpo was an utter disgrace. INC is a great surprise. Very clean, friendly staff, free internet, nice seats and the food was cheap and very good. I went to the ‘western food court’ and had a nice pizza and 2 beers for about US$13. There were also lots of rooms for disabled passengers, babies, families and such.
All in all top marks for INC
INC – AKL (KE 823 at 2045 24th December)
Gate 17 had another security check in place but frankly it was a joke. Some teenager asks me if I have any weapons or ‘heavy steel things’. ‘No’ ! ‘Have a nice flight sir’. Not sure if I should be pleased about that or not ?
KE 823 leaves on time and I am in seat 36 D and I have 3 empty to my right. Aircraft is a 747-400, about 65% full and again looks in great shape. Very clean and the seats looked brand new. This flight is 11 hours 10 minutes and it arrives dead on time.
Dinner was a very nice beef stroganoff with smoked salmon salad and apricot cheesecake followed by a nice glass of port, or three. I think they knew I was coming. Movie offerings were so bad I didn’t even write them down. Just read for a while and got some solid shut eye for about 7 hours. During the night I noticed the stewardesses cleaning the aisles with some kind of silent vacuum cleaner, another nice touch from KE.
Breakfast was another seafood only offering but the stewardess must have heard my inner groan and hustled of and got me a nice omelet and sausage thing from business class. Much appreciated !
NRT – INC – AKL – INC – NRT ticket was about 132,000 yen. A pretty good deal for that time of year I thought
AKL – WLG – BHE
Immigration, duty-free, luggage and customs were a dream and the weather was great upon arrival at AKL on Christmas day. I was surprised at how busy the airport was considering what day it was.
My mother made me an E-reservation for my domestic flights which departed in one hour so I decided to walk the 1 km to the domestic terminal. Upon arrival and check-in I am informed that the flight leaves at 1300, not 1330 as I thought !!!!! Late again !!!!!
Some kind people allow me to the front of the security line and yet again the scissors and flute are ignored, this time in the name of expediency, and I make the plane just on time.
AKL – WLG (NZ 439 1300 25th December)
Flight leaves on time and is a very full and tidy 737-300. Stewardesses are fabulous, like human beings in fact, but alas only Tuna for lunch. What is it with all this seafood ….. I hate seafood !!!!! Scenery is great on a beautiful clear day but I can barely keep my eyes open. Wake up when someone tells me to get off the plane so I really can’t tell you much about this 60 minute flight ….
Wellington airport is also crowded and pleasant enough but by now I have had enough and opt to just sit outside and watch some Xmas day family reunions until my flight is called.
My ultimate destination is my hometown of Picton which is at the top of the South Island of NZ. The nearest scheduled airport is a small town south of it called Blenheim (BHE).
WGL – BHE (NZ 8236 1605 25th December )
This is a very short 20 minute across the Cook Strait between NZ’s 2 main islands. The Metro 111 aircraft doesn’t get much height and the views from 4C were spectacular. BHE airport is of course very small and it sits at the end RNZAF base Woodbourne. This is the NZ air forces main technical training establishment. It is also the home of Safe Air which does a lot of contract maintenance from various countries, both civil and military. Consequently there are usually some unusual spotting opportunities. On this day I saw 2 Philippine AF F-27 s and I think a Pakistani P-3.
Anyway I am home for Xmas on time, kiss Mum and have a damn good time.
AKL – WGL – BHE – AKL ticket was NZ$ 261
CHC – ZQN (NZ 513 0945 5th January)
During my holiday I take a detour to visit an old friend in Queenstown. NZ 513 is yet another immaculate Air New Zealand 737-300. For a change I request a window seat and get 13A all by myself and enjoy some great views on this 45 minute flight. A simple roast beef sandwich with some different cheeses was served and was very nice. Excellent weather for the approach to ZQN which must be one of the best in the world, Crown Range, The Remarkables, Wanaka and Lake Te Anau in full glory.
ZQN – CHC (NZ 524 1415 8th January)
Having been seriously fleeced at Queenstown casino but otherwise having a great time I am yet again very late and run up the boarding stairs just in time. Assigned seat 13A again but this time heavy cloud cover so I just read The Bulletin which the stewardess was kind enough to bring back from business class. Just a coke and some chocolate for me this time.
CHC – ZQN – CHC was NZ$ 291 but I left my scissor collection and flute behind …
BHE – AKL (NZ ???? 1600 15th January)
All good things must come to an end and it is time to leave. Kiss Mum again and board direct Metro 111 flight to AKL. Flight time is 85 minutes and some nice scenery from a relatively low altitude compared to a 737. Seats (8A) on these planes seem very large with plenty of leg room. Props are noisy but we can’t have everything ? There is no stewardess.
AKL – INC (KE 824 2105 15th January)
I again walk to the international terminal and find it very crowded but staff seem to take it all in stride. No real problems at security with scissor ensemble or flute, ‘Is that a flute in your bag sir or are you just pleased to see me ‘? As a KE ‘Morning Calm’ (100,000 miles) member I get to use the business class check-in where they promptly upgrade me without even being asked or even taking any of my miles. Seat 08H thank you very much.
Disaster then attempts to spoil the party. I had arranged to meet some friends in Auckland for dinner before my flight. I assumed they would come to the airport and we would eat there but only one show’s up and tells me they think I am staying a few days and the rest are waiting for me at a restaurant in town, about a 40 minute drive away. 2.5 hours to flight time I say and rashly agree to head into town, 2 beers, back slapping, some name calling and then leave I think. All goes to plan but on the way back the car dies and I end up flagging down a police car which kindly gets me to the church on time. Enough time for duty-free shopping and all in fact !
Just make the plane, yet again ! This is an 11 hour flight and the food is excellent. Having smelt but not eaten the Thai food my friends were having I was ravenous. Dinner was steak, garlic potatoes and green beans. Dessert was ice cream and fruit. I accompanied it with some Guinness and then a glass of port. No PTV’s even in business on KE and the movie choices were even worse than the previous flight so I just read the Asian WSJ and got a very serious 8 hours sleep. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and yoghurt. Very nice ! Arrive on time at INC 0605 16th January.
INC is very quiet at this time so I have a good poke around in all the corners and it is still impressive.
INC – NRT (KE 001 0930 16th January)
This 2 hour flight is an absolutely full 747-400 and I am feeling somewhat cramped in 35A. Again the plane is clean and the seats look and feel new. Turbulence all the way on this leg and I get a great view of the wing flexing for about an hour. Crossing over Japan we also have a nice look at Mt. Fuji despite all the air pollution. Strangely no meal or drinks are offered on this flight. Woman sitting next to me is very hot and I get a phone number after wowing her with my linguistic abilities. Have been in contact but not actually met yet as she lives in Tokyo. Another trip report could be required for that one.
Arrive NRT at 1130 and as I have a Japanese re-entry visa I have the pleasure of going to the ‘Japanese Passports’ line at immigration. This is always fun with lots of locals looking at you real funny. It is almost the best part of any holiday from Japan.
Luggage and Customs are quick and I make my way to the ABC takyubin counter. Hand over my bag and the voucher the man gave me way back in Sendai and I am on my way.
Return Skyliner (1245, 1,920 yen) is very empty. Shinkansen (1410, 10,390 yen) is also empty so I stretch out and sleep most of the way. One must be careful sleeping on the Shinkansen though as the stops are like subway stops so you have to be ready. Have snoozed my way to some remote parts of the country in the past.
I arrive Sendai station at 1600 and by foot to apartment by 1610, 16th January 2002. A nice surprise awaits as a lady friend of mine who has been collecting my mail and feeding my bird has left a beautiful home-made pizza and 2 beers in the fridge complete with cooking instructions and a request that I call her soonest !
Japanese women, NOTHING beats them !!!!!!!
1830 there is a knock on the door and here is the same chap from last year with my bag.
Travel and other services in Japan may seem expensive but boy do they deliver what you paid for ……
That was my holiday for Christmas 2001/02. This is my first trip report so any comments or suggestions welcome.