Monday September 17th 2012
I find myself once again at the departures hall of Arlanda Terminal 5. My home turfs. A place where people from all walks of life come to gather. The jetsetting businessmen off to sign a deal across the atlantic, the "Svenssons" going on their annual mainstream holiday of mediocrity, the refugee being deported back to his homeland where an uncertain future is to be faced. And then there's me. The "out-of-place" looking kid in the windbreaker jacket queueing up behind the Business Class counter, over washed with the judgemental looks from the passers by.
Check-In at Arlanda
"-Travel documents please"
, said the short haired middle aged woman as she waved me over. Traveling with luggage for the first time in months, I had all reason to use the counter this time, and as I handed over my passport I began hearing the ever so familiar typing sound. A thing that tickles my mind is the excessive typing that you so often hear at these manual counters. Given the modern days OLCI where the formalities are done with just the click of a mouse, one could only wonder what the extra typing is for. It's like they're writing an essay...
Soundlessly a paper boarding pass is printed, and my tiny shoulder bag receives a red *Priority tag before disappearing into the bowels of Arlanda. I thank the woman and head for security.
Security & Lounge at Arlanda
A clueless young gentleman stares long and confused at my boarding pass and frequent flyer card before hesitatingly pointing me towards the FastTrack security lane. I guess Tobias
was right. Faster than my eye can blink, I find myself dumped into the vast expanses of the T5
Quickly I make way to the lounge, my time is limited and I'm hungry for breakfast. After entering through the swooshing glass doors, I find the place as notoriously packed as it's rumoured to be. I end up sharing table with a group of Swedish businessmen bound for Chicago in Economy. One of them was already hitting the wine at 8am in the morning... That's understandable if you're facing 10 hours in a middle seat at the last row of an A330.
The standard Scandinavian cold cuts breakfast. [archive picture]
LH2927 Stockholm – Hamburg
Duration: 1h 30m
Date: September 17th 2012
Seat & Class: 19F Economy Class
Aircraft & Reg: Canadair Regional Jet 900, D-ACNA
I turn up at the gate minutes before boarding. Instantly the GA
spots my backpack and insists handing me a yellow "delivery at aircraft" tag. I explain to her that I flew the CR9 just a week earlier, but she refuses to listen… One by one we're called to the podium, where ID
's are thoroughly inspected, before letting us board. This resulted in a very calm and civilised boarding process.
Isn't she a thing of beauty? The CRJ-900 flying me to Hamburg.
Two jolly smiling german girls greet me at the door as I board. A welcome change from SAS where the old grandmas just shrug and stare. The cabin is fitted with the old style seats, worn but very comfortable, they will soon be replaced by the notorious NEK.
Sufficient legroom at row 20.
SAS Norge at the adjoining gate.
Thanks to the seat blocking Lufthansa offer to Star Gold passengers, 20D remains empty despite the healthy load. We soon push back and taxi to runway 01L/19R. During the safety demo, I couldn't help noticing one of the stewardesses smiling and giggling. Either it was the passenger in 6D pulling a flirt, or maybe just part of the inhumane working conditions Euro Wings put on their employees, we'll never know.
Takeoff was quick and noisy. We experience quite some turbulence as we shoot up into the stormy skies.
Stormy skies as we climb to 40 000 feet.
Blue skies soon appear from my window, and almost instantly the girls are up and running down the aisle. I'm pleasantly surprised when breakfast is presented to me.
Yoghurt and muesli make up for brekkie today.
It takes a while until the drinks cart reaches my row. I opt for the usual OJ and coffee.
This is very generous for a 90 minute flight.
Having eaten the bread & cold cuts part of breakfast in the lounge, this muesli + yoghurt combo fits the bill perfectly. The OJ had a very nice and citrusy flavour, with hints of lemon zest. As for the coffee it tasted good, in fact you could even make out the beans, which is a welcome change from the chlorine infused rubbish SAS serve.
Cruising nicely at 40 000 feet.
Soon enough the girls come around to gather the trash. Interestingly I notice one of them handing out in-flight service surveys to some passengers. A businessman in 21C, and the sleeping girl in 19F receive them. Not me, the trip reporter with the big camera. Oh well Lufthansa just lost some good criticism from my side. A leg stretcher was soon on the agenda, skipping the lavatorial visit.
The cabin of this cramped CR9.
The remainder of this short flight was devoted listening to the mellow tunes of The Arctic Monkeys "-I ask why don't you catch proper crooks instead?"
was the lyric quote stuck in my head, and before I knew it we were descending to Hamburg.
Kissing the tarmac at Hamburg Airport.
My connection in Hamburg was short. 30 minutes to be exact. To my slight fear we land five minutes late, and by making matters worse we pull up at a bus gate. Worryingly gazing at the clock, my Munich flight had already began boarding, and yet we're stuck here crammed in the aisle. Eventually a bus turn up, and we make some frustratingly long turns around the tarmac before pulling up at the terminal. It was now 10.45 and I cold hear the final call for the Munich flight being made over the PA. I panic, I run. Up the stairs and zig zag through the crowds of business travellers, before the gate lady spots me and smiles. "-Ah looks like you made it, you're the last one!"
LH2065 Hamburg – Munich
Duration: 1h 15m
Date: September 17th 2012
Seat & Class: 29F Economy Class
Aircraft & Reg: Airbus A320-211, D-AIPL
The boarding process can best be described as tranquil, as I’m the only person down the jetway. Once onboard I receive some curious looks from the fellow passengers. Supposedly they must've made an announcement about "connecting pax" over the PA. I find my seat on the 2nd last row, and immediately the plane pushes back.
"Wheels Up!" at 11.07
Quickly climbing towards cruising altitude.
The flight is near empty and uneventful. The crew springs out in the aisle, and soon I'm presented with the service offerings on this Category 1 flight.
A granola bar, white wine and coke. Perfect!
I gulp the coke, chew down the Corny and sip the wine. Everything tasted good, providing enough substance for this 1hr flight.
Cruising altitude midway through the flight.
I'm busy spending most of the flight flicking through the (less) Miles&More (cost) catalogue, and before I know it green bavarian fields appear down below.
I find myself in the terminal of Franz Josef Strauss airport. It's past noon and I'm hungry for lunch. Before heading off to my preferred G24 Senator Lounge, I paid a short visit to a lounge yet unexplored in my agenda.
The Lufthansa Senator Café
This seemingly oddball lounge used to be the old First Class lounge at MUC
. As you'd imagine, the place was too small to cater the demands of today's First Class passengers. Once the current First Class Lounge had opened, Lufthansa made use of the space for the "loungette" that it is today.
Lounge overview. Seating capacity is maximum 10 guests.
Apart from a Barista ready to make your coffee of choice, the offerings consisted of light snacks and desserts.
I saved tummy space, and went over to the G24 lounge which left the warden with a slightly confused face.
Lufthansa Senator Lounge G24
The bouncer spots me, but refused to give eye contact. I crack a faux cough, and she reluctantly scans my BP
. The tight connection in Hamburg had me slightly worried about my luggage, so I ask the desk lady if she can track it for me. "-Sure thing"
she says, "it's all looking good on the computer, so your bag has probably made it"
. I thank her, and dig for lunch.
A fusion of Bavarian Leberkäse and cream spinach, along with rice and Indian Tandoori meatballs.
The businessman at the adjoining table was pigging it out, to which I saw no shame in doing so myself. Everything tasted perfect, and the meatballs had me completely full.
I look myself in the mirror behind the bar and decides that I should probably get a shave and a shower, after all those formalities were skipped this morning. I mozy over to the shower lady who gladly gives me a "room. I'm off to make another "Petteri Chew" which left me feeling more like a human.
Showered and fresh, I sit at the bar with a glass of Champagne. The barman recognises me from the last time, and we have a small chat. A large Bailey's is ordered, which I savour along with coffee and dessert before reluctantly dragging myself to Gate G26.
LH1847 Munich – Rome
Duration: 1h 35m
Date: September 17th 2012
Seat & Class: 6F Economy Class
Aircraft & Reg: Airbus A320-211, D-AIPR
Priority boarding is just being called as I turn up at gate. I flash the goldy plastic, and the gate lady gladly welcomes me over. The red light sounds as my BP
is scanned "-Can this be my first ever op-up?"
I think to myself. Sadly it's just a seat change, a bad one i.e. I am moved from my last row window seat, to 6A
on the "sunny side". "-Great now my pictures are ruined…"
, I mutter.
Parked at gate.
Sufficient legroom at row 6.
What happens next, I'm sure you're all familiar with at this stage.
"Wheels Up!" at 15.07.
Climbing out, away from Munich.
I am among the first passengers to be served. The purser who spotted my gold tag at boarding was extra friendly. In fact so that he even offered to fold down, and place all items himself on my tray table.
Raspberry pie, coffee and TJ. A perfect afternoon snack.
Lufthansa once again failed to disappoint, the catering was perfect, in fact so that the friendly purser insisted on giving me a 2nd piece of pie. How could I turn down such a kind gesture? The pie ended up in my bag as I was just too full from lunch.
Cruising at altitude.
Cabin view after the usual leg stretcher.
Our initial descent to Fiumicino was announced by our female first officer, she would be the one behind the controls when bringing this A320 safely back to earth, and safe it was. Touchdown was as smooth and tender as a kiss on the cheek, shattering all my preconceived notions about the skills of female pilots.
Arriving at gate.
When In Rome…
I inhaled the humid, warm Mediterranean air as I waltzed up the jetway. Some thoughts of concern went through my head while making way to the baggage hall. "-Boy, I hope these two days won't be rough"
, I thought to myself. After all, my previous impressions of Italy hadn't been good, and the crookful allegations regarding the country capital only made matters worse.
I woke up from my thoughts as the belt roared to life. My small shoulder bag, wearing the distinct red *Priority was the first one off the belt. Paradoxically enough, luggage delivery at Rome proved to be a success.
The bag made it all the way despite the short connection at Hamburg.
Hotel La Locanda Del Manzoni Rome
Fast forward to 7.30pm. The Terravision brought my safely and cheaply to Termini, from which a sweaty 2-stop metro ride followed to Manzoni, from there my hotel was just a stone throw away.
The lady at check-in couldn't speak a word of english, and my italian was very poor. Through a series of gestures and "common words", I successfully obtain my key and pay the agreed upon rate of €99. A bargain price considering the location, and the ripoff average cost for a room in the city…
The room was small, simple, and clean. Good enough for my likings.
The bathroom, containing complimentary toiletries.
The hotel was by no means a Radisson Blu, which I've grown so fond of lately. However the place was simple, clean and comfortable, suiting my needs perfectly. The room even had its own front porch as it was located on "la terrazza".
I washed off, changed clothes, and hit town. Colosseum was just a few blocks away, and soon enough I was standing mesmerised in front of one of the greatest structures man has ever built. It was well past 9pm, but I was still full from lunch. I take an elongated walk around the area before settling for a reasonably priced restaurant, a stone-throw away from Colosseum.
Dinner tonight consist of Cannelloni, and red wine, lots of it since I accidentally ordered in a 1 litre carafe of the mediocre tasting "house wine". It would be a shame to throw away perfectly good wine, especially when you've paid for it. So I did like any self-respecting and patriotic Finn would've done. Down it. I am by no means a big drinker , but strangely the wine went down very well. In fact I didn't get near as drunk as originally feared, and I was left with a good nightcap.
Day 2 – In Rome
The barking of the neighbour's pitbull wakes me up in the morning. It's 8am, and the hangover is surprisingly nonexistent. I peacefully conduct my morning rituals before hitting the breakfast. "-Today's gonna be a long day, so I'd better load up"
, I think to myself. Breakfast was a typical Roman affair, consisting of Cappuccino and Cornetti. Not exactly that ubiquitous pig-out style extravaganza buffet you'd get in a large chain hotel, but I found it perfectly adequate. Maybe it was the excessive use of sugar in the Cornetti which gave the sensation of being stuffed to the brim.
A full day of sightseeing awaited, and here are the highlights:
Colosseum. Located right at my doorstep.
The place was packed with tourists, so please ignore the facepalming bloke spoiling my shot.
Some old ruins which I can’t remember the name of.
Believe it or not, but that’s actually a hospital!
Fontana Di Trevi. Packed with tourists as always...
Some Spaghetti Alle Vongole was my lunch today.
A roman classic: The Original Fiat 500.
Piazza Del Popolo.
The Vatican City.
A few days before setting off to Rome I contacted my friend Cristiano (who you may remember from such reports as this one: SAS, Lounges & Lovely Bavaria: ARN-CPH-MUC (pics) (by LH4116 May 4 2012 in Trip Reports)
) to let him know that I would be swinging by Rome. He was more than happy to have me over. By 8pm he swung by on his Vespa to pick me up at the hotel. In the true Roman cliché spirit, we took a few turns around Colosseum before speeding off to the restaurant in the outskirts of the city centre where his wife Claudia was expecting us.
What followed was a lovely evening with an amazing Pizza alla Romana, some good wine, Limoncello, and great company. We had a marvellous time together, and hopefully it won’t be the last. Cristiano was more than happy to have me back in Rome for a longer visit, ”-You must come here for at least a week”
, he said with great enthusiasm. ”-But you have to bring your girlfriend next time. Rome is a city meant to be shared, you know.”
Claudia rode her scooter back home, exhausted from a long day at work. Cristiano insisted in taking me back to my hotel on his Vespa, to which I could only comply. Another scenic and memorable ride followed as we took an extra tour around the monuments missed on my walking tour earlier that day. Back at my hotel, I lie on the bed and instantly fall asleep. Partly for the exhaustion of a day’s worth of walking, and partly for the Limoncello.
Wednesday September 19th 2012
The familiar marimba tone sounds through my hotel room at 6am. The slight hung’ish-ness leaves me snoozing for another thirty minutes before reluctantly making the effort in dragging myself up from bed. I shower, dress and pack up my remaining belongings before heading down for breakfast. As I walk out on my porch, I inhale the musky scent of the morning air which Rome has legendarily made itself famous for. Still full from last night, I settle for a modest Cornetti and Espresso. I leave the key to the muscular man working the nightshift. He checks to see that I’ve paid the bill before giving me the thumbs-up.
I walk through the empty streets to Termini Station. It’s an odd but pleasant experience to see this bustling metropolis in such a peaceful state. I make it to the station just in time to catch the bus to the airport. The feared traffic jams were nowhere to be seen, and we cruise nicely along the highway until the airport comes in sight.
Check-In & Security at Fiumicino
The Departures Hall at Fiumicino Terminal 3.
I arrive early. Early so that the Aeroflot counters have yet to be opened. I sit down for a while at McDonald’s, enjoying the views of the tarmac with a latte in hand. I return downstairs just after 9am to find the counters open, with a zig-zagging line formed behind the Economy Class counter. I am faced with one of my pet-peeves of air travel. Queueing. I try my luck at the Business Class counter, waving my Star Alliance Gold card to the agent. Surprisingly she welcomes me with a smile, and lets me pick my desired seats off the screen. I dump the bag, thank her, and leave.
This one is for our friend Philip!
In-spite of the crowded terminal, I manage to pass through security fairly quick and soon I find myself dumped just in front of passport control. ”-Where the hell are you?”
, a text from the Finn pops up on my phone. Ten minutes later, I see him marching towards me, down the endless hallway leading to passport control. He greets me with a firm, steady handshake, and a ”-Hellooo”
in his ever so funny yet cynic fashion.
The usual Fedora is replaced by an Airbus branded baseball cap, and for a man who’s spent the night on a rough concrete floor he seem surprisingly rested. This as opposed to the grumpy, sleep-deprived state he seems to find himself in all too often these days. I suppose the army must’ve taught him well.
We clear passport control and catch the train to the non-Schengen G satellite.
Alitalia Freccia Alata Lounge Giotto
We arrive at a lounge complex, forming the very core of this satellite terminal. There are two Alitalia lounges, one upstairs and one downstairs which The Finn insist we use. Entering a SkyTeam Lounge appeared to be a fairly complex affair. The Finn handed his Flying Blue Gold card to the agent who gave it a well educated look. She then ran behind the counter, made a phone call, signed some papers, made another phone call, had The Finn sign a paper, before finally granting us access. All this without ever bothering to take a proper glance at my boarding pass.
The F&B section combined with the staffed bar. The first thing you see as you walk in.
One of the many seating areas in this lounge.
The lounge felt chic, exclusive, modern and minimalistic with its parquet floors and plush calf leather armchairs. The food offerings included only light finger foods such as mini-frittatas, Cornetti and sandwiches. The non-alcoholic drink selection was extensive, and all alcoholic beverages had to be ordered from the barman behind the counter. This lounge lacked the decadence and excess we see in most lounges these days, which frankly was a welcome change.
The Finn and I order up some sweet lightly sparkling dessert wine from the bar, sit down at two empty armchairs, and say cheers. We have a great trip ahead of us.
In addition to the wine, I settle for some mini-frittatas.
On the agenda this morning is one hour’s worth of lounging. We spend the time catching up, laughing at The Finn’s jokes, and drinking. Yes alcohol, at ten in the morning. Sitting here with the morning drinker himself, it would be rude not to have a glass or two. ”-Time’s up!”
, says The Finn. We collect our belongings and walk towards the exit. ”-Arrivederchi!”
, The Finn exclaims as we march out the door. The lounge lady looking flabbergasted squeaks out a silent ”-goodbye”
Did I ever say that The Finn is not only a FlyingFinn, but also a FunnyFin. The man cracks jokes which can have even the most demeanour of creatures giggle like a schoolgirl. This happened to be just the case as we rode the elevator up to gate level. As I desperately search my bag for my passport, I accidentally whip it out on the floor. ”-Well looks like you found it”
, he says with a jokeful tone as he picks it up and looks at it, ”-You know Jonas, in West Africa people would pay thousands for this”
The man sharing our elevator burst out in laughter, giggling like a schoolgirl exposed to the word penis. The man would not stop laughing, and every attempt by The Finn to make a conversation ended abruptly by the man giving brief answers before turning his head away. Either he was grasping for air, or he was too embarrassed for laughing at a stranger’s joke.
SU264 Rome – Moscow
Duration: 3h 20m
Date: September 19th 2012
Seat & Class: 28F Economy Class
Aircraft & Reg: Airbus A321-211, VQ-BEI
After the elevator incident, we turn up at the packed gate. In the midst of this crowd, Alex comes towards us waving and cheering. So here we are three a.netters, exchanging the usual pleasantries. It was to my slight surprise I discovered that this would be Alex’s first long haul flight. Soon enough boarding is called, and we all clog the gate.
The A321 operating our first leg to Moscow.
The freshness of the cabin is what strikes the most me as I walk through the door. -”Hmm, this will be a comfortable flight”
, I think to myself as I walk all the way to row 28. To my pleasure, The Finn will be occupying the window seat behind me, enabling us to blissfully exchange words during the flight. I settle in to my seat, and find it strangely comfortable.
Mandatory knee shot. A comfy 32 inches of legroom on this bird.
Parked next to a Delta A330.
Our departure was delayed due to a sick passenger whose stretcher needed to be carried in through the back door. This resulted in a missed takeoff slot, and 45 extra minutes on the tarmac. The plane eventually took off.
Takeoff over the sea.
Climbing out towards our cruising altitude.
The service began almost instantly after the captain’s decision to extinguish the seatbelt sign. A young blonde stewardess comes down from Business Class to welcome The Finn by name, and ask for his meal preference. I’m left slightly baffled by Aeroflot’s performance in taking that extra step in recognising elites onboard. On Star Alliance this is unheard of, particularly on Lufthansa who finds great pleasure in pissing off their life giving HON Circle members.
The service on Aeroflot was agonisingly slow, inefficient and disorganised. First a drinks round was made. This followed by the collection of trash. Then comes the meal, but no drinks follow. What on earth are they thinking? Are they trying to replicate a restaurant? By the time the meals are served, the drinks are already finished, and we’re left with nothing to wash down the food. This highly flawed service delivery process became evident on all four flights with Aeroflot.
I opt for my usual diet coke.
The lunch served on this three hour flight.
By the time the cart reaches my row, I’m left with with the fish option. Fine by me I suppose. The starter consists of a piece of hot smoked, and raw salmon on a bed of iceberg lettuce and a wedge of lemon. The entrée is a fillet of wild salmon covered with hollandaise sauce, served with roasted vegetables and potatoes. Dessert was a generic faux praline.
The meal tasted good, but not spectacular. I had expected the meals to be much worse on Aeroflot. The starter was amazing, I’m a real sucker for salmon which only had me craving for more. Lucky for me The Finn (I was now occupying the aisle seat on his row) passed me his untouched piece of raw salmon. ”-Take it. It’s filled with nasty worms anyway”
, he says with a paranoid tone. The entree tasted equally good, except for the slightly dry wild salmon. I much prefer the farmed ones. The sauce however made up for that.
Trays are collected and coffee is served. The faux pralines gave the sensation of chewing cold wax, and the coffee was bland with a hint of chlorine.
The reminder of the flight was uneventful, some chatting with The Finn rounded rounded with writing a few lines of this report, on my trusty old gal iPhone 3Gs. The only proper iPhone ever made! Soon descent starts, and I move back to my original seat.
Coming in for approach over rural Russia.
A smooth touchdown.
We docked in the late afternoon sun to our gate at the D Terminal of Sheremetyevo Airport. We squeeze ourselves out of the plane, and follow the signs to the transfer desk. The Finn gets stuck because OLCI messed up his home-printed boarding pass. We eventually proceed to a rather pointless passport control, followed by an even more pointless stamping of the boarding pass, and a security check. At last we were free.
The bright and modern airside of Terminal D.
The Finn insists in stopping by at the tax-free store to pick up what he calls ”Hotel Vodka”
. He ended up going for a rather exotic chilli pepper vodka. Paying for it turned out to be a hassle, apparently some chinese guy was slowing things down at the register, and I overheard The Finn muttering his priceless ”-Bloody Hell!”
and -”Jesus!” curses
. I couldn’t help but giggling.
For reasons of solidarity, and uncertainty regarding the access rules after the recent Flying Blue Aeroflot Lounge snafu, The Finn chose to skip the lounge visit in favour for a visit at a traditional Russian restaurant by our gate. The food was cheap, the wifi free and fast. If only all airports could be like this, then we wouldn’t need this constant crave for lounges.
I settled for a pirogue, and some pork soup.
SU264 Moscow – Tokyo
Arrival: 10.20 (+1)
Duration: 9h 25m
Date: September 19th 2012
Seat & Class: 34A Economy Class
Aircraft & Reg: Airbus A330-343E, VQ-BEL
Boarding is a tranquil and orderly affair, like you would expect when the majority of passengers are japanese. I’m about to board my first A330, the Ford Fiesta of long haul airliners. The Finn sits in 15K which means that we won’t see much of each other during the flight. The cabin is modern, fresh, and clad with the ubiquitous light brown seat fabric. I soon settle into my seat 34A. The cushion is hard, lumbar support mediocre, IFE box surprisingly non-existent.
The legroom was adequate enough for my liking. Or ”Lagom”, as we say back home.
A blanket and pillow had been placed on each seat.
Aeroflot offers a state of the art Panasonic AVOD entertainment system.
Without warning, the plane rattled about as the push-back commenced. A cheesy safety video was played on the screens, and before we knew it the Rolls Royce engines roared to life as we thundered down the runway, and in to the russian night sky.
Takeoff, with parts of Moscow visible.
Climbing out whilst enjoying the setting sun.
Nightfall came quickly, and without much better to do, I fired up the IFE. While The Finn may have expressed his dislikes about the offerings, I found them to be perfectly adequate. The number of movies and TV
-shows were enough to keep me entertained through this 9 hour flight.
I started off by watching Failure To Launch, starring the gorgeous Zooey Deschanel.
Halfway through my film, the crew came out to distribute menu cards and drinks. I ordered two drinks this time, to cope with the flawed serving procedures.
Some tomato juice and white wine. It both looked and tasted like piss!
The crew soon came around to distribute the meals, the choice was either chicken or fish. I went with the former. It turned out to be chopped pieces of chicken breast in oyster sauce, boiled vegetables, and noodles. The starter was a rather dull chicken breast, and cheese on a bed of iceberg lettuce and black olives. The dessert was a generic chocolate cake.
Dinner is served!
The starter had a nice juicy chicken piece of chicken breast, with some fresh and crunchy lettuce. It tasted more than well. As for the entree it came to be a slight disappointment. While it sounded so good on the menu, the noodles were overcooked, the sauce bland and greasy, and the chicken was dry. Dessert wasn’t much to brag about either, just another dry piece of coloured sponge cake.
After the trays had been cleared, I went to check on The Finn who was well busy watching Forrest Gump, and enjoying the wine. We both agreed that the wine tasted like piss, but nevertheless it was served for free, unlike most other Aeroflot routes where the flow of alcohol is highly restricted. Before returning to my seat, I too ordered in some extra wine. I chugged it, and went to sleep.
Morning over eastern Siberia.
I manage three hours of sleep. Economy Class is not ideal for flights longer than five hours. My neck was feeling stiff and my ankles had swollen like baked potatoes. I climbed over my seat mate, and took a leg stretcher down the aisle. Half ways, I feel this strong nerve twitch in my right leg. I look down to find it completely red and swollen, I could hardly walk. I limped back to my seat, where I spent 30 minutes trying to massage the pain away.
Meanwhile, with roughly three hours before hitting Tokyo, the crew commenced the breakfast service.
I start off with some orange juice. Note the menu card.
The choices this morning are either omelette or crepes, to which I chose the latter. The crepes were filled with apple sauce, and topped with shaved almonds. They come served with the same salmon starter as on the flight from Rome, and the ”dessert” consist of a fortune cookie.
Breakfast is served!
The crepes were doughy, tasteless, and lacked that sweetness you’d normally expect from this french breakfast delight. Overall a filling, but not too satisfying breakfast. The crew later came around to collect the trays, and distribute coffee which was much needed at this early morning hour.
The reminder of the flight passed slow, very slow. I watched through some episodes of The Simpsons on the IFE, took another walk down the aisle, and dozed off for a brief while.
View of the mid Economy Class section on this A330-300.
Getting close to our destination now!
Descent was eventually initiated, and we soon began our approach to Tokyo Narita Airport. This followed by a smooth touchdown.
Coming in over the fields of Japan.
I have a deja vu moment as we park up next to no one other than Rijsttafel!
Before I’m even able to reach for my backpack from the overhead bin, the cabin is already empty. It’s to my slight horror that my shoes are now too small to fit my feet, and again the twitching nerves have me limping out of the plane.
I reach passport control, and The Finn is nowhere to be seen. While his flight wasn’t due to leave for another four hours, I couldn’t quite understand why he was in such a hurry. I quickly pass through passport control, and find my shoulder bag nicely on the belt. I proceed through customs, and then find myself in Japan!
Four Days In Wonderland
With limping legs, I stumble out to the arrivals hall, looking eagerly for a place to buy train tickets to town. I soon discover that the Kei’sei counter has everything to satisfy my public transport needs. ”-Cash payment only!”
, says the ticket officer the moment he spots me pulling up the ’ole MasterCard. I sigh, ”-Oh well, there goes any hope for a plastic holiday”
, I mutter in my thoughts. I later return with a 10 000 Yen bill which does the trick well.
With all necessary travel documents in hand, I submerge downstairs to the train platforms. As I fiddle about, trying to figure out how to insert my ticket in the gate slot, I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. As I look back, it turns out to be no other than the young man sitting beside me in 34C. We exchange a few words of pleasantry, and he soon insist I’d get a taste of Japan’s notorious oddball sodas as we pass by one of the ubiquitous vending machines. They are more or less a national icon. ”-It’s my treat”
, he says, pushing for the oddest flavours he could find. I end up getting a soy milk green tea, and a yoghurt flavoured soda with tiny lemon infused jello-cubes on the bottom. Both were amazing.
We continue our conversation on the Commuter train bound for Tokyo, and he soon offers to invite me over to his home. ”-I’m actually free for the rest of the day, so I can take you on a tour around the city in my car, if you’d like?”
. How could I refuse this kindness, which nearly brought a tear to my eye. We drop by his house to unload his suitcase, before firing up the car and hitting the empty afternoon streets of Tokyo.
Traveling by car in this country sure felt like a luxury.
We stop by the Tokyo SkyTree, located just a few blocks away from his house.
We swing by Otemachi. Sadly the imperial palace was closed.
Ending the tour at Tokyo bay. That’s the Rainbow Bridge at sunset.
At 5pm local time, he drives me back to my hotel. I couldn’t thank him enough for what he had done to me, and I insisted in taking him out for dinner. He declined, saying he had things to do. I waved him goodbye as he drove off, before checking in to my hotel.
Hotel Nihonbashi Villa Tokyo
Hotel rooms in Tokyo are normally expensive, very expensive. Unless of course you don’t mind living in a remote suburb. It was perhaps why I booked this modest 3-star hotel off Booking.com the moment I came across the bargain rate of Yen 4500 per night. Not much more than what you’d pay for a sleeping capsule. The hotel is located in the calm, and humble business district of Asakusabashi. Public transport was easily accessible, and places of interest such as Asakusa and Akihabara were just a few blocks away.
The hotel staff were perhaps the friendliest I’ve ever met, or maybe it’s just the overall culture of politeness and good manners, which seems evident throughout this country. After reserving the agreed upon price from my MasterCard, I’m given the key for accessing my room.
My tiny and cramped single room on the 8th floor.
The spotlessly clean bathroom ”module”.
The room is very basic and cramped. There’s hardly any room to move about after unloading my bags. The bathroom was spotlessly clean, containing all essential toiletries, as well as a toothbrush, comb and razor.
It was 5.30pm, and the jet lag fatigue was slowly creeping up on me. ”-Suppose a quick shuteye wouldn’t hurt”
, I thought to myself as I laid my weary head on the soft down pillow before closing my eyes. I woke up later after what felt like 20 minutes, but I am left with a slight shock as I see the clock already showing 7pm. I jump out of bed, and head out for dinner and more sightseeing.
The world’s busiest pedestrian crossing at Shibuya.
I end up having a shrimp tempura with cold Soba noodles at vending machine street food shank in Asakusa before walking back to my hotel at 10pm.
Day 2 – In Tokyo
, I grunt as I wake up late at noon. Half a day of sightseeing is already lost, but luckily it’s raining outside. I perform the morning rituals, before running off to the nearest Lawson Convenience Store to pick up some cup-noodles for breakfast. Yes, cup noodles. They’re a cheap and filling way to start the day, a popular snack among students, and office workers as well as thrifty tourists like myself.
The cup noodles here are tastier and more filling, than those back home.
What follows next is a productive day of sightseeing.
A stereotypical Japanese gaming hall in Akihabara.
The rain that day was gushing down. Luckily it ceased after a short while.
The Imperial Palace.
The best sushi in Tokyo can be had in Tsukjii located just steps away from the fish market. I recommend you visiting Chiyoda Sushi, located just next to the metro station H10.
Dessert consisted of Coolish. Soft ice cream in a ”space bag”.
For coffee I skipped Starbucks in favour of the local alternatives. Café Veloce, serving up a tasty Gelé Au Lait. That’s an iced coffee with espresso infused jell-o and liquid sugar.
Later that evening, I headed down south to the Tokyo Tower.
Dinner was to be had at a Yakinuku Restaurant/Bar. I ended up ordering a ”Grilled Hakuchoro”. It turned out to be fatty chicken stomach, and the taste was revolting.
Day 3 – In Tokyo
The alarm clock went off at 8am, I woke up. After a shower, shave, dressing and cup-noodle breakfast, I headed out to explore the city yet more. On the agenda today was a visit to Shinjuku, to pick up some merchandise my sister had ordered me to buy. Having purchased the goods, I headed over to The Nikon Plaza, to have my camera left in for a clean.
View over Shinjuku and Tokyo, from the 28th floor. Simply stunning.
My camera was handed back approximately one hour later. Enough time to try out the new Nikons in the showroom. I thanked the camera master, and headed off to catch the train to Ikebukuro, where I made a visit to the Toyota showroom. It turned out to be rather unspectacular.
The buzzing shopping district of Ginza at night.
The famous Ginza Apple Store.
Later that evening, I met up with The Finn at Roppongi. He had the excitement of a 10-year old, when proudly telling me about his first flight on The Dreamliner.
The Roppongi Crossing. Much going on here on a Saturday night.
We soon swing by a nearby Sushi joint offering drinks at Happy Hour prices, where The Finn ordered in his first bits of sushi for the whole trip. Given his seemingly paranoid view on raw (or cured for that matter) fish, boiled shrimp was the obvious choice.
We were later joined by an old colleague and friend of The Finn. A finnish man living as an expat in Japan since a few years back. I sit by and sip my Suntory & Ginger, as they catch up on old memories, most notable a certain failed business trip to Glasgow. In the midst of this stroll down memory lane, we move along to a nearby Ramen joint at Roppongi Hills.
While the prices certainly aren’t those you’d normally expect to pay for a bowl (1700 Yen), I settle for small side of fried dumplings. I end up finishing the untouched leftovers of The Finn’s fatty pork belly. Thanks man!
At 10pm, we catch the last metro back to our respective hotels. On the way, I stop by a small supermarket to pick up some Udon Noodles and Miso for my sister. We say goodbye to The Finn’s friend, and hop on the train back home. I stop by at The Finn’s hotel near Ueno station to borrow a power adapter, before making it back to my hotel just before midnight.
Day 4 – In Tokyo
This is my last and final day in this wonderland of the rising sun, and the rain gushes down on the streets as I look out the window. ”-Dammit, I’m going to get soaked”
, I mutter on my way to the shower. The hotel receptionist is kind enough to borrow me an umbrella, and I set off to explore the quintessentially Japanese neighbourhood of Asakusa. After spending hours getting saoked in the rain while looking for an ATM, I pop in for some lunch at a traditional Ramen shack.
A big bowl of Ramen, and 5 dumplings. Cheap as it should be, only 540 Yen!
The rain keeps gushing down so I drop in at a nearby Starbucks, and kill some time there until the raining ceased. It became dark before that happened.
The Asakusa crossing at night. The streets are still wet.
The Asakusa market.
A Japanese curtain of some sort.
Empty and wet streets on this lonesome Sunday evening.
I take the metro to Shibuya for one final visit before leaving for home. The place was packed as usual. My last meal in Japan ended up being the culinary icon Teriyaki Burger, at the equally iconic MOS Burger.
A Teriyaki Burger. Sorry about the concealing lettuce leaves.
Monday September 24th 2012
I wake up the following morning at 6am. My shoes are still wet from the previous day as I grab my bags, and leave the hotel just after 7am. It’s sunny outside, and the streets are surprisingly calm despite the feared weekday morning rush hour that Tokyo has made itself so notoriously known for. I catch the Kei’sei Narita SkyAccess Train from Asakusabashi via Otemachi, and arrive at Narita Airport Terminal 1 one hour later. The air conditioning on neither trains was functioning properly, and with the heat I end up sweating down my clean change of clothes.
Check-In & Security at Narita
Once again, flashing my Star Alliance Gold card to the bouncer grants me access to the Business Class check-in desks. The friendly girl lets me select the exit row window seat on the long haul segment, and I’m happy as a clam. My bag is dumped, and soon The Finn joins me at the counter.
He too was lucky enough to get the exit row window on the opposing side, and for the LHR
segment he chose to be seated right behind me. With our boarding passes in hand, we head for customs and security. We do some last minute shopping, before heading over to the lounge.
Delta Sky Club Narita
The lounge entrance.
A woman greets us at the counter, inspects The Finn’s Flying Blue Gold card, glances our boarding passes, takes the invitation card, before welcoming us by name. Now that’s a first! The lounge is large and bright, offering an abundance of comfortable seating, and a stunning panoramic view of the active runway.
Overview of the main seating areas.
SkyTeam once again fails to disappoint in terms of lounges. This overseas SkyClub is different from the dire and spartan affairs found in the US. There was a proper food section, with various salads and hot soup, a generous drink selection of soft drinks, and spirits including Bailey’s... And a fancy beer machine to keep The Finn happy.
The food and drinks section.
I settle for some wraps, a side-salad and Ginger Ale.
Rounding things off with my usual Coffee & Bailey’s combo.
A grand total of two hours were to be spent here, mostly chatting and enjoying the spectacular views of the runway. We manage to spot both the JAL B787, and the Lufthansa A380 taking off, as well as my beloved personal favourite: The SWISS A340-300.
Lounging with The Finn, as always means morning drinking. After downing a few glasses of Bailey’s I moved on to some Jack&Gingers. The Finn however stuck to his beer, after all that beer machine could keep him entertained for hours, I bet.
”-Time to go!”
, said The Finn before gulping a finger of Jack Daniel’s. We soon bid the lounge lady goodbye, before catching the escalator down to our gate.
SU263 Tokyo – Moscow
Duration: 10h 05m
Date: September 24th 2012
Seat & Class: 29K Economy Class
Aircraft & Reg: Airbus A330-343E, VQ-BEY
My chariot for this 10 hour leap across Siberia.
Boarding is already at full swing by the time we turn up at the gate. The Finn flashes his gold card and joins the priority boarding lane, whereas I take the more humble approach. Onboard I am slightly shocked to find the plane fitted with the infamous Aeroflot signature blue faux leather seating instead of the earthy light brown fabric. The seats are hard and uncomfortable, but at least I have my exit row to be thankful for.
Fantastic legroom at the exit row.
Truly a great day for flying.
We push back, and the Rolls Royce Trent 700 power plants roar to life as we begin our taxi.
Taxiing to the runway.
SAS Plus is Business Class made faux!