First, as usual, let me do the overall itinerary:
0B 111, OTP-BGY, 734, 29DEC
AZ 786, MXP-NRT, 772, 30 DEC
KE 2726, KIX-GMP, AB6, 04JAN
KE 1, ICN-NRT, 332, 06JAN
MH 92, NRT-LAX, 772, 06JAN
DL 2168, LAX-MSP, 752, 07JAN
DL 5778, MSP-MDW, E70, 07JAN
Part 1: Blue Err... To Bergamo And Milano (by dc9northwest Jan 8 2013 in Trip Reports)
Well, I'd left off the report in the Milano hotel. The next day, we decided to explore a bit more of the city. So, we were up before sunrise, had a sweet breakfast at the hotel's breakfast area (it was decent), and went out in the cold Milano weather. As we headed northwest on a street (indirectly) towards the center, we looked behind us and saw the sun rising. Surely not even Alitalia could ruin this day, right?
We crossed into what once was the largest medieval city in the world, “Mediolanum”, a city of over 50000 even in the 1200s. However, it was, if memory serves, the largest in terms of size, not population. Milan was partly destroyed in WWII so the historical nature of the city is less apparent than in other Italian cities.
Here are some pictures from an early morning stroll in Milan—my favorite time of day in Italian cities. We headed, more or less directly, towards the Palazzo Sforzesco. When we got close to that attraction, my heart fell. Early morning, but still full of tourist buses. I wanted to cry. Why? Why would they do this to me? Why? I don't understand why you'd want to travel in a pack of 50 and race everyone to the toilet.
Well, we didn't exactly have much time at our disposal, as our flight to Tokyo would leave at 14:35 local time. We had checked-in and gotten seats, and all we needed to do was to drop-off our bags. We wanted to head back to the hotel with enough time to spare to catch the Malpensa Express to our flight.
However, we didn't stop at the Palazzo Sforzesco. We headed on further, to the Cenacolo Vinciano. Well, we didn't enter, as I read you need tickets in advance, which was not featured in our discussed plan of a Milano visit. Afterwards, we also passed by the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio (although we didn't get to see much of it—and a pedestrian area was under construction, ruining the available views), before heading to the Cadorna metro/subway station. While we were buying tickets, some weird character came up to us asking questions. Funnily enough, this was not the only time this happened on our journeys.
Here's a helpful guide of what I'm thinking when someone approaches me while I'm conducting a transaction:
1) Someone approaches me.
2) I think: “What the hell?”
3) That someone who approached me starts babbling about something
4) I think: “Do you think I want to talk to you... NOW?”
5) Yes, or
7) 6) is correct.
8) He doesn't leave.
9) I think “Are you a pickpocket?... Yes.”
10) Still here?
11) I think: “Do you think I'm stupid?”
12) I tell the guy some variation on “Bugger off!”
So, in conclusion, here's another short guide.
1) Am I buying something? Yes?
2) Then don't approach me.
Since this particular individual did bugger off quickly, I do suspect number 9 was right.
We got the tickets and got on the Green Line (something I wouldn't do in Chicago) to Milano Centrale. Three stations later, there we were. I've got no real opinion of the Milan Metro, except M says the two stations looked exactly the same. Well, once we got to Centrale we decided to get tickets for the Malpensa Express. That went smooth and 20 Euros later, we had our tickets... not that anyone ever checked them! Still, I thought it would be best to timestamp them before we got to the train. In true Italian style, the machine was on its lunch break. It said “fuori servizio”... but it still worked.
But first, we had to collect our belongings from the hotel. We did so, and, upon checking-out, we realized that the front desk attendant was Romanian (no real surprise). She checked us out quickly and I asked her to print our boarding passes. An e-mail later and no problems. Same as in Bologna earlier this year.
Here are pictures from Milan taken that rather chilly morning:
Church (chiesa chiusa):
Apartment building in Milano:
Ah, this looks more Italian:
The Sun had barely risen:
My favorite picture from Milano:
That's a pretty big wall. Wonder if anyone ever got in:
Another one of these ubiquitous arches:
Santa Maria delle Grazie:
The Cenacolo Vinciano is right there as well:
In the Malpensa Express:
Later, later, alligator, we reached Malpensa and went to the top floor, where the check-in desks were located. At the priority desk, we found a middle-aged woman (she'd consider herself young... but isn't) who seemed as excited about her job as an alligator going into space without a pressure-suit. Bitch would be the right word, but at least AZ, unlike RO, trained them to shut up when ill-disposed. Anyway, we got our bags tagged and no awkward questions about our itinerary (that we wouldn't complete). We never checked-in for the return to FCO and BRI, so no hard feelings there. At first, I could see the screen and was looking at what she was doing—when she noticed this she turned her screen away... Yes, I'm here to steal AZ's IT secrets... No, seriously, how the hell is this airline so bad at it? I can't understand it!
Actually the top level of MXP affords some views of the apron. However, we were already in a bit of a rush... so we went down to the security check level... the queue was huge, but luckily we could use the priority queue. 3 minutes later, we were through. A short trek through immigration later, we were finally airside. We discovered we had to pass through the duty-free to get to the gates... Hmmm... The disease. It is spreading.
MXP—the darkest of all airports:
Boarding the 777 by bus—aye, that's Italian style:
We decided to grab a bite at the ubiquitous airport restaurants. I got a rather cheap veal meal... not bad and decent size portion for the price... at one of the airport eateries. M probably got some seafood. We also got a couple of gelatos but they were not good. Somehow, it was later than I thought, so we had to go to the Alitalia lounge to meet up with A.net member AYA333, who would also be travelling on the flight (and back to Rome afterwards, in his case). Having lost track of time while eating, we had only about 10-15' at the lounge, during which we had a nice talk; afterwards we headed to gate B27 to board the 777. Well, the bus. The plane would have to wait a while. Once the bus started... and stopped by the 777, it was still a few minutes until we were allowed on the apron. The aircraft today was EI-ISO, so “not big”, according to AYA333 A nice ironic registration, therefore.
Not really a big plane:
This guy is in a few of our pics, looking weirded out by the three crazy people taking photos (M):
Probably the best 777 shot we took (M):
People lining up to get on the 777. I think they're all Japanese as the Italians probably skipped queue and got on first:
That engine is massive:
Boarding from the back:
Flight: Alitalia, AZ786
ATD/ATA: roughly on time
Seats: 40E and 40G
We took a few pictures of our machine before proceeding onboard. No one said anything... guess the people responsible for telling off passengers taking photos on the apron were on their lunch breaks (usually, from 12:00 to 16:00 in Italy—even churches close, as you can't worship Jesus on an empty stomach!). We used the back entrance, where we were met by an Italian and a Japanese F/A. A check of my boarding pass later and I was through. A small problem for M, since she wanted to use the other aisle than indicated by the F/A—her seat was in the middle so she could use either one. I think the F/As didn't know the configuration of the plane well enough to realize this, or only looking at G, and not at 40G. Then, why check boarding passes at all? Maybe we were going to Timbuktu instead of Tokyo.
We got settled and indeed, our choice of seats was pretty good... no trolley-bumping during the night, that's for sure. AZ did well to put the remote for the PTVs on the seatback. I always wake up with the light on or having called the F/A while sleeping if the remote is on the armrest.
Empty rows... still (M):
Looking back, where the 3-4-3 becomes 3-3-3 (M):
3-4-3 ahead (M):
PTV and remote in the seatback—well done here, AZ (M):
The mini safety card:
Timisoara's the most important of all those:
Well, we had a 12-hr flight ahead of us. It would indeed prove to be my longest flight. The route would take us over Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia, China and South Korea, before reaching Japan. Yes, Russia is a decently-sized country, indeed. Also, according to the in-flight map, some Russian cities still had their Soviet names, as AYA333 pointed out to me. What technology is this? The first 777 was built way after the fall of the USSR...
The service on AZ was pretty good in the beginning and declined as time progressed. However, the Japanese F/A did a good job all-around. This flight was much better than my previous long-haul journey with them, on a 767 held together with duct tape, from ORD to FCO.
How was the actual service, you say? Well, it was not bad. We were first offered a drink, with lots of options—three unusual fruit juices (perhaps my favorite thing about AZ), peach-mango, apricot and blood orange. We also had a pre-meal snack, in the form of some savory bites of some kind, “made specially for Alitalia”.
Soon after, the main course was served—a choice between Italian and Japanese meals. Well, that doesn't tell me anything. M had received the Japanese meal so I knew it was chicken but what about the other thing? Well, I asked and was told it was crepes. For a main course? Hmmm, I don't know about that, let's go for the Japanese option also. It was of decent quality, decently tasty for an airline meal—nothing special, but certainly eatable. Green tea, regular tea, and coffee were offered alongside the usual juice options.
Japanese Chicken option (M):
Green tea and Apricot juice:
After the meal, the lights were switched off and we were left to enjoy perfect darkness until Tokyo. Well, not really. The chorus of turning-on lights started as soon as the main cabin lights went off. I drifted in and out of sleep for a few hours. AZ has some snacks and drinks at the galley in the back of the 777, which you can get in case you're hungry or thirsty. Quite useful, since it's recommended to drink a lot while on-board. But only if you're not stuck in one of the double excuse me window seats. 3-4-3 means thumbs-down. I even got an aisle seat, which I never do...
A bit past halfway through the flight, approaching Lake Baikal, I went up to say hello to AYA333, and he joined me in the rear galley for some aviation-themed communication, which lasted for a good period of time, before the seatbelt sign went on and we went back to our seats.
Not long after, since I slept a bit, breakfast was served. The main portion was the dessert raisin (?) roll, served on a “plate” five times as big as the roll, making it look puny. Along some yogurt and other breakfasty stuff, it was decent enough. Nothing special but not horrible either. You know, much better than what McDonald's looking thing DL offers for breakfast on their TATLs out of America...
Well, probably an hour and a half later we were on the ground in Tokyo, landing on runway 34R, and taxiing along the curved taxiway that makes NRT world famous. Some people did not wanna give up their properties when NRT was built, so there are some strange features, especially on the NE side of the airport, AFAIK.
Once we got to the gate and disembarked from this 777, we were met by an AZ agent with our names (and AYA333's... and 2 other names as well), going back to Rome. It seems that quite a few people had heard of the AZ mistake fare... and 2% of passengers on that flight actually bought such tickets. Well, a 99 Euro (in my case) ticket for a one-way to Japan isn't bad. Or you can use it to gather miles, as the fare bucket even allows for that...
Welcome to NRT (M):
Japanese immigration was quick, and no silly interrogation like in the US. That said, the agent seemed unsure of what to do with my Romanian passport. He checked some tables and stamped me in once he saw I indeed didn't need a visa, and once my picture and fingerprints were taken (standard procedure, it would seem).
We proceeded to buy Skyliner tickets to Ueno (a ward of Tokyo metro area). Then we headed downstairs, towards the tracks, and the JR ticketing office, whence we got our Shinkansen tickets to Kyoto, leaving Tokyo at 8:00 am 3 days later. Ironically this was Nozomi 207, familiar for those who've read sloair's report: www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/trip_reports/read.main/232361/
I will cover the Shinkansen journey briefly in the next trip report. Afterwards, we proceeded to the track, to wait for our Skyliner. It arrived, the seats swiveled from facing right to facing left, the train was cleaned, and only then were we allowed onboard. 43 minutes later, we were in Ueno.
Narita T1 station (M):
We dropped off our bags at our hotel, and, seeing as how check-in wasn't until 15:00 (and they are quite strict about this), we proceeded to walk to Ueno Park and in the immediate surroundings of the hotel. We saw a couple of shrines in Ueno Park (one under construction), and one further north-east, Kanei-ji Temple. We looked around Ueno Park a little bit, and, albeit not interesting for a Park IMO (although I'm sure it's nice during Sakura season), it features a large number of tourist attractions huddled together. We didn't stop by any museum, though, since Tokyo was the attraction, and not museums, and because we were quite tired at that time. Being close to 15:00, we headed back to the hotel, looking for food on the way there, although we couldn't find anything suiting both of us. I wanted meat and M seafood. The few places we knew offered both didn't strike our fancy or were full. Furthermore, only a small proportion of places offered an English menu (indeed, it is Tokyo after all!). However, some offer a Korean menu, and a familiarity with the Korean script and some Korean cuisine would probably allow me to find something eatable at one of those places. Alas, I wasn't that hungry. Tiredness prevailed. We checked-in, internetted a bit, and then slept... planned as 1.5hrs, it went on for 3. Zzzzzz.
Shopping street in Ueno (M):
City from the entrance to Ueno Park (M):
Ueno Park (M):
First temple we saw in Japan:
Interesting shape for a tree:
Towards one of the temples (M):
Five-storied Pagoda (M):
And another view of the pagoda:
Park Exit (M):
-Wake up. Where are we?
-Tokyo. Hotel Sardonyx Ueno.
-What's that out the window?
-Must be the Tokyo Skytree, the 2nd tallest building in the world!
-What time is it?
-Around 8 pm.
-We have to explore. Let's go to Akihabara.
Second tallest building in the world from our hotel room (M):
And so we did. The walk from Ueno to Akihabara isn't long—probably not longer than 20 minutes or so. It was chilly outside, but not too bad. Akihabara is a haven for geeks of all kinds, it seems. It seems better suited for a night visits, with its blaring neon lights and its young people roaming around. New Year's Eve made it even better. The place was full of young adults and teenagers enjoying specialites such as Octopus Balls (it might not be what you think depending on just how perverted you are).
Oh, have I mentioned the vending machines? They're great and they're everywhere. Hot and cold drinks, without the language barrier. Awesome.
Akihabara on New Year's Eve (M):
Akihabara again (M):
Just walking around (M):
One of our favorite things about Japan—and there were many favorite things (M):
Around 10:30 or so we decided to stop to grab a bite to eat soon. We found a chain restaurant serving what looked like eatable food, according to their plastic food displayed outside. We went in, ordered some Gyoza, what turned out to be Salted Beans, what turned out to be Pork livers (I guess... Who knows.), and something... completely different, which “wasn't very good”. Afterwards, we headed to a shrine/temple for midnight celebrations—if there were any. Unfortunately the language barrier played a part here, as we didn't understand what the person at the entrance to the temple was saying. Though I think I heard “tomorrow”. Anyway, I took a couple of pictures and we wondered the streets a bit more. People were coming and going, but we didn't see any fireworks, not knowing where we'd have to go for these. We did see a lot of drunk-ish gaijin, though. Particularly loud-speaking Americans. And Japanese people seemingly returning from somewhere and going home or perhaps to one of the ubiquitous karaoke places or video game arcades. We then returned to our room.
Next day, we decided to visit Shinjuku, Harajuku (wasn't me) and Shibuya neighborhoods in West Tokyo. We took the Toei Asakusa Line to Shinjuku, the busiest railway station in the world... apparently. Wasn't that busy on this free day, however.
Toei Subway (M):
Toei Subway once more (M):
Shinjuku, the busiest railway station in the world, seemingly empty on January 1st (M):
Shinjuku seems to play the role of a central business district (though not the only one). Therefore, the part away from the station towards the West seems to lack a bit of soul. You could be anywhere. The more populated area with shorter buildings, shops and restaurants was more animated. You could usually even find English menus here.
Shinjuku ward (M):
Lots of Skyscrapers:
Peaceful neighborhood on January 1st:
We decided to go up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, to the North Side (free) observation deck. Free, although, to look East, you needed to buy something from the mediterranean-styled terrace/cafe. Anyway, we could see some of Tokyo and Fuji-san in all its glory. Pictures below.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government building (M):
Different angle on the TMG:
Looking towards the northwest:
By the Shinjuku Park (M):
Fuji-san from the TMG observation deck (M):
Fuji-San detail (M):
East towards the Skytree (M):
Afterwards, we went to the park just across the street, and to a temple where people were doing their New Year's prayers.
Shinjuku Park and a Temple (M):
Temple and People doing Hatsumode (M):
Lower Shinjuku (M):
The non-skyscraper part of Shinjuku. English seemed more “represented” around here:
There's not much to say about Shinjuku. It isn't my favorite part of Tokyo, as it seems less Japanese than other neighborhoods around the city. We took the Yamanote line to Harajuku, which M wanted to see live since forever. We got off the train and onto the very, very crowded Takeshita Street. Yes, I know, the name is a bit unfortunate. Not my favorite place in the world, again. Lots of pink, and lots of teenagers here. We wandered around some more streets (these were very nice for a stoll), before heading to Yoyogi Park, which was full of people. Because, no doubt, there was a temple there. Yes, indeed, there was. Hatsumode in action. We joined the procession, although we didn't go all the way to the shrine, due to the massive wall of people in our way. We eventually returned, saw a bit more of the Yoyogi Park and went back out, proceeding towards Shibuya, more or less directly. We were getting hangry at the point.
Train info in Shinjuku (M):
Yama(no)te Line (M):
Takeshita Street in Harajuku (M)--a rather unfortunate name...
More walking around:
This might be Cat Street—no idea why it's called that:
Harajuku Station (M):
Huge line for a temple in Yoyogi Park:
Walking towards Shibuya:
All the restaurants on the street seemed to either be fast-foods or closed. We went to the Shibuya station exit, saw the busiest crossing in the world, before heading to a department store. Why? For food, obviously. We finally found a place suiting us both. I got a beef shabu-shabu, a dish where you cook your own food in a pot of heated oil/soup/something liquid. The dipping sauce, along with “seven spices” mix in it, and some sort of vinegar and hot/chili peppers was really quite delicious. The beef was very good as well. M had a pork meal, with a lot of weird plates... “some fish, some soup, some pickles, some rice. and something creamy and gross”. Anyway, I really enjoyed the shabu-shabu, although the collagen bowl (where you cook your meat) didn't look like something I'd want to eat at first. Shibuya was quite nice to walk around, though still a lot of foreign tongues, Spanish, English... you name it. M even heard some Romanian here, I think. I didn't catch it. After a few pictures with the famous dog statue at Shibuya station, we went to get some credit on the PASMO card. Again, while we were attempting to conduct a transaction, a Japanese guy approached us. Now, I don't know of his intentions... maybe he just wanted to practice English, but I will refer you to what happens when I'm attempting to conduct a transaction and you approach me. I will assume you're up to no good. No “bugger off” this time since we're in Japan and that would be impolite. Soon, we were on the Ginza line train, back to Ueno. We finally then back to the hotel and had an epic struggle for the internet. Since our hotel had only one wired internet access point and no wi-fi.
Busiest Pedestrian Crossing in the World—Shibuya (M):
Shabu-shabu meal in Shibuya:
Shibuya at night:
Still a fair number of people around:
And on the third day, God created... Wait, no, that's not it.
And on the third day, we went to Asakusa... Ginza, Maru/Imperial Palace and Nihonbashi.
Asakusa was great—a more traditional neighborhood, but with signs of modernity all over the place. First stop, the famous and beautiful temple complex. It wasn't so crowded yet, so we were afforded a nice view, being so early in the morning. A delightfully relaxing place (at least at that pretty early hour). I'm gonna show you some pictures below.
Asakusa right before the crowds got there (M):
But... it's still crowded (M):
Entrance to the Temple's Courtyard:
Looks pretty Japanese to me:
Modern and Traditional:
Asakusa Temple (M):
Temple with lots of people there for New Year prayers (M):
In the Temple Complex (M):
Yes, perhaps my favorite place in Tokyo. Then we decided to have a stroll around the neighborhood.
Asakusa Shopping Street (M):
Just walking around Asakusa:
A big attraction around here is the Asahi Brewery, which we didn't visit. However, we did see the famous Golden turd on the roof.
The SkyTree and the Golden Turd:
Then, after realizing that sometimes, even knowing what you want, you have to go the other way, we proceeded on to Ginza via the Ginza line (again). A shopping street—not my favorite thing, but once of it, the neighborhood seems nice and interesting. Oh well, we had another stroll, some pictures, you know. I like how empty this place was (aside from the main street) being in a city of 30 million people. Eerily calm, but not overly so. We got ourselves some green tea ice cream snacks; I received an accusation of not eating my ice cream properly for maximum enjoyment, and then we headed to Tokyo Station itself.
Shopping Street—my least favorite kind of street:
A nicer and quieter kind of street:
Nice looking “clock tower”:
Close to Tokyo Station:
Once here we proceeded to the Imperial Palace/Gardens. We found out that the Main Entrance would be closing at soon. We still went in to the public part of the Imperial complex and walked around some perfectly manicured fields and trees. Again, pleasant, in the middle of a bustling metropolis. One place Tokyo didn't remind me of, though I'd've expected it might, was New York. Nope, no real similarities IMO. After this, we headed back to the station, and found a curry restaurant, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Eating in Japan is not too cheap, though not as expensive in Norway either. Beef, however, is expensive for the size IMO. While I was wrong in fearing food in Norway, I was right in fearing food in Japan. It was difficult choosing a place to eat, every time. Don't get me wrong, the food was to the highest standards in these places, but for me, it's difficult. Also, thumbs down in allowing smoking inside—but Japan is not as bad as they say regarding this—definitely much better than Romania. After a decently filling meal, we headed northeast toward Nihonbashi, though there wasn't anything of much interest in the main part of this neighborhood. We did see a temple towards the south, Suitengu Shrine, which seemed to be recently built. Afterwards, we took the Hibiya line back to Ueno. Soon, we were back in our hotel, ending our Tokyo adventure.
Nearing the Imperial Palace:
The Imperial moat:
The Imperial Park:
Nice looking trees:
Nihonbashi at night (M):
Another temple (M):
Details of buildings (M):
Or lanterns (M):
I will continue with the departure to Kyoto, Kyoto sights, the A300 flight to GMP and Seoul in my next part.
Overall, Tokyo was great, even though it's hard if not impossible to say something about Tokyo globally—each neighborhood seems different, some resembling “Western” places and others not at all. Ueno and Asakusa were nice because of their traditional nature. Shibuya seemed quite vibrant. I enjoyed most places I've seen here. I still think in Tokyo you shouldn't go to Museums but just walk around in as many different neighborhoods as possible. Definitely a place good for a return in the not-so-far future.
AZ? For 99 Euros to Japan. Hell, at that price, the best flight I've ever taken and no complaints whatsoever. Much better service to Japan than from the USA by them. No surprise, really, as the Japanese are used to far, far, far better service standards compared to the USA.
Malpensa—I think it's a weird little airport. I don't much like what I've seen. It's ok, though.
Narita—Hadn't yet seen much of it, but as you'll see later—it's very nice.
Thanks for reading my report, everyone, and comments are always appreciated.
Previous Trip Reports:
Blue Err... To Bergamo And Milano (by dc9northwest Jan 8 2013 in Trip Reports)
First Time To Canada: RO 733, KL M11, Porter DH4 (by dc9northwest Dec 26 2012 in Trip Reports)
Austrian To VIE, Plus Bratislava And A Schnitzel (by dc9northwest Dec 22 2012 in Trip Reports)
SFO-JFK On AA, 762, And LGA-MDW On WN, 738 (by dc9northwest Dec 19 2012 in Trip Reports)
California Dreamin': Virgin To SFO (by dc9northwest Dec 18 2012 in Trip Reports)
Moldovan Adventure: Chisinau And 9U From VCE To OT (by dc9northwest Aug 27 2012 in Trip Reports)
AZ, MLA-FCO-BLQ, And San Marino (by dc9northwest Aug 26 2012 in Trip Reports)
To Malta On Emirates' A330-200 (LCA-MLA) (by dc9northwest Aug 25 2012 in Trip Reports)
TAROM, OTP-LCA, B737-300, And Nicosia (by dc9northwest Aug 23 2012 in Trip Reports)
Norway, Part V: LYR-OTP, SK/OS, 73G/100 (by dc9northwest Aug 18 2012 in Trip Reports)
Norway, Part IV: Tromsø Og Svalbard (by dc9northwest Aug 4 2012 in Trip Reports)
Part III: Bodø, And A Widerøe Dash 8 To Tromsø