My work in Nagoya concluded last week. We’re off to Fukuoka for 8 weeks. The easiest way to get there is by ‘bullet’ train. A few weeks ago I looked at the route and realized that I’d be passing right through Hiroshima. I’ve wanted to go there for a long time, so I thought it would be the perfect chance. Take an early train out there, spend a few hours there and then continue on to Fukuoka.
Not really sure what to expect, I booked myself a “Green Car” ticket (wider seat and less crowded then the normal seats) since Cirque is paying for the normal cost of a ticket. Instead of the normally crowded 3 x 3 seating arrangement, these seats are 2 x 2 and are rumoured to have a lot less people. The extra $50 to be comfortable for a few hours sounded great to me.
I lucked out. As you can see in the photo, my car was nearly empty. Lots of leg room and there’s even a drink service after every stop. It’s an express train, so that’s really about once per hour.
The photo on the right was tricky. The trains accelerate so fast, that they’re nearly at top speed by the time they leave the station. I was near the nose of this train when the alarms sounded, warning people to stay away while it moved past. By the time the last of the 16 cars went by, the train was doing well over 100km/h and I lucky enough to get this shot on my camera phone. You can see the motion blur. I had to preset the shot and look over my shoulder to guess when the end of the train was coming. I really didn’t expect it to work!
Arriving at Hiroshima Station, there are a number of options to get to the island where the museum and Atomic Dome (the correct name is Hiroshima Peace Memorial). Bus, taxi, streetcar or by foot. Taxis are of course the most expensive. Busses may be direct, but the routes may not be easy to understand. Most people take the streetcar. The routes seem simple enough. More confusing is the track layout at the terminus, which is the train station. Multiple lines end here at the same platform. You’ve got to be sure you’re on the right one. I didn’t. I was well off track, right from the start. By the time I realized my mistake, I was 1/2 way across town headed in the wrong direction.
Jumping off the train, I decided that instead of getting annoyed by my current situation I’d use it to my advantage and see some sights the old fashioned way: Exploring! A quick look at a transit map told me I had pretty long walk ahead of me. I noted the general direction and set off.
Less than 30 minutes later I was back on track. Hiroshima is NOT a big town. Walking from the main station would have seemed much more attractive an option if I’d known this at the start. The maps are deceptive.
The island is home to a huge park, various memorials and a museum devoted to those that perished when the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated over the mostly civilian population of Hiroshima.
My words can’t really describe the sights of the museum, you’ve really got to go yourself. I chose not to use my camera much inside of the museum. While camera use without flash IS permitted, I thought it was a bit tasteless to go around clicking pictures. I did take a few, but only when I was sure not to disturb other visitors.
I hope the World never again sees this level of horror.
The scaffolding you see has been erected to perform an inspection of this UNESCO protected building.
The owner and this watch stopped at the moment of the explosion.
The bomb exploded about 150 meters behind where I’m standing to take this shot.
Today’s my second day in Taipei. After arriving from Nagoya yesterday, I headed straight to the Japanese immigration office (not really an embassy, but similar) to apply for a temporary residency. YES, I will soon be a resident of Japan! Just one of the many, many, things I never thought would happen in my life.
On a friend’s recommendation I headed out in the evening to a sort of supermall for electronics. 6 floors of everything you can think of, and a lot of stuff you never knew existed. While very impressive, it doesn’t even compare to ‘Sim Lim Square‘ in Singapore. It may have horrible reviews, especially on TripAdvisor, but if you know what you want and how much it normally costs, you can find some really great values. Just be prepared for full body contact. The place is busy and the sellers are super pushy as competition for your money is fierce!
This morning at the Howard Plaza Hotel I had a western style buffett breakfast. Not much to write home about, but at least the eggs were cooked properly. I had an omelette, which I’ve been avoiding in Japan because they’re always undercooked. If it’s runny, it’s raw, in my opinion.
The problem I have with many hotels is that their coffee, especially at buffets is just terrible. Sitting around for hours, poured into cold cups, made from the cheapest beans they could find and ground sometime last week. Crap. Just crap. Today was no exception. I was seated just a few feet away from the server’s station, so I could see what they were doing. Instead of using the drip coffee machine, they were filling pots from a super-automatic machine. I heard one of the servers hitting a button repeatedly after placing an empty pot in the machine. I suspect they’re making endless Americanos. In addition to being the wrong type of bean (drip filtered coffee should be a mild roast) they’re using a more expensive espresso bean. Each of their coffee mugs is probably holding about 3 shots worth. The flavour may be OK, but people will be bouncing around the room after a couple of cups! I had a few sips, but decided to pass on the rest.
Too bad there isn’t a coffee maker in my room. Instead I’ve just got a kettle. Plenty of single use pourover coffee makers have been hitting the market in the past few months. I decided to try one.
This isn’t my first attempt. I bought a no-name brand and didn’t read the directions. After tearing open the bag incorrectly, I threw it in the bin. Unusable.
This time, I thought I’d read the directions first! Wow, what a concept. Tear off the top of the bag, fold out the little ‘feet’ to grab the cup and then pour your hot (but not boiling) water in.
And voila, a fairly decent cup of coffee. Of course if you have fresh ground, you’re going to use that first. But if you’re all out, or travelling without your coffee gear, this is actually a decent substitute.
One problem that you can’t really see in the photo, is that the bag sits really low into the cup. If you want a really full cup (like I do!) most of what you see will be IN the coffee. I see a real risk of breaking the bag or spilling coffee grounds into the coffee as you take it out.
All in all, pretty good value for $1.
Quite a brilliant invention! Perhaps not the best cup of coffee in the world, but it’s certainly would wake me up with the fresh brewed smell just out of arm’s reach!
If they’d add a grinder, I might seriously consider buying one.
Biking from Osaka to Nagoya, Day 2
Waking up at my hotel in Otsu, I knew that I was just a couple of city blocks from Lake Biwa. I was dying to see the lake for the first time and after my mentally and physically grinding on day 1, I really hoped it would be an easy day.
I arrived in the hotel’s lobby for the breakfast that was included in the room price. I didn’t have high hopes as the traditional Japanese breakfast doesn’t have much that I care to eat. I really just wanted some toast and maybe a cup of coffee. Optimistically I’d add yogurt and a well done egg, but I really didn’t expect these.
At 07:00, I expected to have the place to myself. A quiet snack before hitting the road. To my surprise, the little cafe was completely packed. Wall to wall with not a seat to be had. I then looked at the “food”. Not a single thing leaped up and said “I’m yummy. Eat me!” I turned around and headed back to my room.
My panniers were already packed. In 5 minutes I was checked out of the hotel and biking downhill to the road that would take me all the way to Takashima. Finding that road was easy enough. It was the only large road.
Pre-trip research had told me that there were many bike paths or smaller streets between the main road and the water. None of these looked longer than a few kilometers long, so I didn’t take much care into noting where there were. I figured if they were easy to find and I didn’t mind the detour I’d take them. If I was tired or needed to make up time, I’d stick to the busier road.
Near the edge of Otsu, I stopped for the first time. Not because I needed a rest. I just found a very nice spot to take photos. I didn’t even notice the temple until I stopped to park my bike (also included in the photos, with all my bags still attached.) I was focused on the beautiful lake!
As I was about to continue my ride, a group of cyclists passed me by. About 10 guys all geared up for a fast ride. None of them even looked in my direction. As I pulled back out onto the road, I looked up and saw that they were all stopped at a red light just ahead. I pulled behind the last rider and said “oh-hi-oo” (Good morning in Japanese.) The last guy turned around and gave me a really annoyed look. Like I was dirt on his shoe or something.
The light turned green and the riders took off. I felt the need to show these boys that I could ride. They were moving quick, but not at a race-pace. I was able to keep up, at the back of the pack. 10 minutes later, another red light halted the pack. I said again to the guys “oh-hi-oo”. This time several heads turned and the guy that snarled at me the first time spoke with the other guys and must have told them that I was keeping up with their pace. A few of them nodded and gave wide-eyed looks at me.
On the green, I again kept pace with the guys. I could tell they were riding faster than before. I guess their inner pride told them to push harder and lose the “gaijin” (foreigner). They had no hope of losing me. They weren’t pros, just a group of guys out for a ride. And I would have let my heart jump out of my chest, if had meant keeping up with them, for the sake of MY pride. Too bad those guys didn’t have the 20kg I had in my bags.
Another 5 minutes goes by and I’m in still holding my own. The lead rider signals a left turn. I intend to continue straight as I have no real turns on this entire day (yippee!) As we approach the turn, I yell out “si-yo-nar-aaa! (Goodbye!) At least half the pack turned around and waved goodbye to me, with HUGE smiles on their faces. Obviously I made a good impression and made some friends today.
With the pressure of team riding now gone, I slowed my pace to a speed more conducive to long distance riding. At the next opportunity, I pulled over to a drink vending machine to get some refreshment. My water bottles were full, but I had yet to have my morning coffee! As you can see by the address of this website, coffee’s pretty darned important to me.
If you haven’t been to Japan, you might be surprised to learn that the average vending machine serves cold and HOT drinks. The hot drinks tend to get rotated out for iced drinks in the summer (much to my dismay) but the prices are VERY cheap and the machines are everywhere. I don’t think you can take 100 steps in downtown Tokyo without finding a machine. I love it!!
Stuffing a couple of small coffee cans in my pocket, I head down the next small street I see in the direction of the water. There are a few small houses between the main road and the water. On my left I see several large gardens with some really delicious looking vegetables.
Not onions. Any idea what these are?
Watching me closely, two locals appeared, a man and a woman. Walking down the little road, they seemed quite surprised that a gaijin had found their little homes. The man approached me and asked ‘what country?” I told him that I was from Canada. His mouth fell open. He hadn’t guessed that one. He smiled and waved as he walked away. I guess they don’t get many visitors.
Lunch on the road didn’t present many options. The only place I found to stop was something resembling an American truck stop. Gritty, dirty and smokey. I ordered a rice with curry. It’s about the only thing I know how to order in Japanese. I’m lucky they had some!
The afternoon held a few surprises, like the incredible bike path under the tracks for the bullet train. Probably the best path I’d see on the whole trip. Perfectly paved with separate crossings at each stop. The cars stop for YOU, not the other way around. Awesome! Too bad the route they picked was more like a snake’s track than a proper path. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back sort of thing. Not a direct route to anywhere.
One of the stranger things I’d find on the trip I happened upon by complete accident. I saw something out of the corner of my eye and decided to investigate. What I found was a bicycle graveyard of sorts. I guess this is where the old ones go to die. Their parts are stripped and sorted for recycling here. I’m not sure why it’s only bikes, but it makes for quite a sight. In the lower right side of the photo you may be able to see the driver of a truck sitting in his cab. He refused to come out while I was using the camera. As soon as I put it away, he jumped out and began unloading a fresh batch of old bikes. I wonder if these are unclaimed street bicycles from a larger town. Many of the parts looked new. I can’t imagine why you’d scrap a new bike otherwise.
Lots of beautiful scenery on the rest of the ride. A very easy day too as it was nearly flat. Just following along the water. Didn’t see a single tourist (non-Japanese anyway) the whole day. I think I turned a few heads in the smaller villages too. Lots of people did double-takes when they saw me.
About an hour before sunset I arrived at the “Grand Park Hotel“. The hotel staff were a bit confused when I asked if I could take my bike into my room.
“Yes” I told them. “I arrived by bicycle.”
“Osaka.” I said, not telling them that I done it in 2 days, not 1 as was implied.
They were now a flurry of whispers and hushed comments to each other. The manager asked to see my bike. I took her outside and showed her. She not only let me take it into my room, but she held the elevator door so that I didn’t have to carry it up the stairs! Awesome… My worries about it being stolen dropped to almost zero. I instantly started to relax.
After a nice hot bath, I headed off for ‘town’. But I’ll leave that for the next blog post.
You can read it here:
–> Biking in Japan, DAY 3 – REST DAY
Or go back to the start of this adventure:
<– Pre-Trip Planning
<– Day 1, Osaka through Kyoto to Otsu
This being my first bike tour, I decided to make the first day of the trip the hardest. Not the longest, but the most difficult in the way of navigating and ride complexity.
I wasn’t wrong. This day was hard.
Starting out from my hotel in Osaka, I spent the first few km on city streets heading to a bike shop. I’d had a slow leak in my front wheel since replacing the tube the week before. I did the job myself and even though I thought I was extremely careful, I must have pinched the tube somehow in the process. I wanted an expert to replace the tube and mount it for me, just to be SURE it was 100% ready to go.
Arriving at the shop, I found out that I was there an HOUR before they opened. Damn, valuable daylight wasted. I found a can of hot coffee from the nearest machine and found a place to sit. Yes, I did say hot. It’s delicious, cheap and the machines are everywhere. On the main street, there’s no place to go. No benches or seats. Just around the corner I found a set of stairs to rest on. An older woman soon passed by me and I nodded my head to say ‘hello’. She bowed to me and quickly left. A few minutes later, she returned and held out her hand in my direction. She had gone to the store and in addition to her shopping, she had bought an orange juice which she was now offering to me. I quickly thought about this: I’m wearing very odd clothing, siting in a fairly dirty sidestreet and I don’t appear to be in any hurry to leave. OH MY, she thinks I’m *homeless!* I politely decline the juice and give her a big smile, bowing my head quite low to indicate how grateful I am. What a nice lady!!!
There are very few homeless in Japan and even fewer beggars. At least this is what I thought as long as I stayed in the cities. On the outskirts I found that there are LOTS of homeless. Living under bridges isn’t a just a stereotype, it’s the truth. Leaving Osaka, I saw more than I could count.
The bike shop opened on time and their mechanic quickly had my tire fixed. He told me that he could not find a leak in the tire itself, but the valve had a slow leak. Aha! Maybe it was just defective… I’ll never know as I left it there and quickly remounted the wheel and got riding.
My route involved some very busy city streets and dedicated bike paths by the river. Nothing too difficult. I’d been on all of the route during my little ‘scouting’ trip the week before. Because of this, the ride pace was quick and easy. The only change in plan was a quick stop at a restroom because of the coffee earlier.
Within a half hour I was on my way outside of the city. With a very wide path almost all the way to Kyoto, I knew I could relax a little. The only real pain were the barriers preventing cars from driving on the bike paths. They’re designed so that riders can roll right through so long as they lift their feet and go slowly. The bad news for me: My panniers are too wide to get through. I had to dismount and LIFT the bike over the barriers. Considering how heavy my bags are, this was no easy task. And they’re frequent. Every 1 to 2 km. The good news: It’s an excuse to get off the seat and stretch a little.
Before I know it, I’m turning off this bike path across a large river towards Kyoto. This is the end of the section that I’ve scouted ahead of time. It’s all new territory.
On the other side of the bridge, I find the path I’m supposed to take. It’s heading in the wrong direction. I pull out my handy phone and look up the map. Sure enough, it too shows this but also shows a 180 degree loop just out of sight. I head off again and soon enough find the loop. At least I’m headed the right way now.
The bike path is quite nice. Well paved and clean. I’m riding beside a large river, with steep slope leading to the water. This part is concrete and a little scary. I really don’t want to go off the path here!
Several km down the path, I get to a train crossing. It’s fenced off, presumably because the ‘Shinkansen’ (aka bullet train) comes through here and you’d never get out of it’s way fast enough. There seems to be no way around it. On the other side, I see a man on a bike staring at me. I wave and get his attention. With a series of hand gestures I ask him how to get around the train line. He points to the slope, indicating to walk the bike under the bridge. I start to push the down the slope. I quickly realize that the bike, myself or both are about to quickly end up in the water. I decide against this and go back up. This would turn out to be my first of many route changes on the trip. Detouring several km’s out of my way, I did manage to find a way around those train tracks.
Several kilometres down the road following the river, I ran into another dead end. This time when I checked the GPS, it showed a different reason for my troubles. I’d biked several well past the point where I should have turned away from the river. This time I had a decision to make: Turn around and go back or try to find a new route. I opted for the new route, which meant leaving the bike path. This was a mistake. Due to many small streams and railway lines, one way and dead-end streets were quite common in the neighbourhood I was travelling through. I probably rode 3 times the distance I really needed to go.
Finally back on track, I joined another very nice bike path by yet another river. This one was wide and well paved. I quite enjoyed this section as it had some beautiful scenery and there were plenty of other people biking and roller skating on the path. I was having such a great time on the ride that I again rode past a turn and found myself quite a ways off my intended route. This time the route I needed to take was clear and one angled road took me where I needed to go. On the way though, I was stopped by the police at a checkpoint on the bike path. They were making sure that everyone had working brakes and lights. I was waved through though. I suspect that they didn’t speak English and couldn’t be bothered with trying to deal with me.
Navigation continued like this all day. Getting slightly lost and then finding my way. I’d chosen a much too difficult path. This was made worse by the fact that I was starting to climb some small hills. Evening was approaching fast and although I had lights with me, they were only blinkers, which were only to help me avoid being hit by a car. I didn’t have a light bright enough to light the way in front of me in complete dark. If I didn’t get to the hotel soon, I’d have to slow down or perhaps even walk my bike to avoid running into something.
Climbing hills isn’t new to me. But I I alway prefer to do it at the start of a ride. Not at the end, when I’m mentally and physically wiped out. But with no other options, I had to press up the hill as quickly as possible. The sun was now setting and I guessed that I had at least 10km to go before reaching the hotel.
The path now was right beside a highway. A straight shot to my goal, but it continued to get harders. Car headlights were now hitting me in the face and it had turned completely black. Lucky for me, there were streetlights here and I could keep riding at a reasonable speed. The uphill turned downhill and I was now coasting down a very long hill into Otsu, a city on the edge of Lake Biwa.
Arriving at my hotel, the Toyoko Inn. The front didn’t look impressive, but I was so happy to get off the bike and check in that this was quickly forgotten. A few minutes later I had my room key and was carrying my panniers up to the room. A hot shower made me forget about all the troubles of the day. Next thing I knew, I was out the front door and wandering around Otsu looking for a place to eat. A ramen and a half dozen gyoza later, my belly was full and I was headed for bed.
The next day I would see Lake Biwa for the first time. The next 2 days I’d be riding around the lake, on what should be a flat scenic ride through rural Japan.
<– Read part 1, Planning the Trip or move on to Day 2, Otsu to Takashima – Around Lake Biwa –>
The most difficult part of this trip was certainly the prep work I did *before* the trip even started. There were so many aspects of a multi-day trip that don’t apply to my normal rides. In addition to making sure the bicycle itself was ready to ride I also had to worry about lots of other things. The portions written in BOLD are the notes I’ve written after the trip, so you can learn from what I’ve learnt.
-Buying ‘Panniers’ (bike bags) Should they be hard or soft? How big is too big? Do they need to be waterproof or will a raincover be good enough? Is the mounting system compatiable with my bike’s frame? How do I install them? How many do I need? I ended up buying soft bags for the rear of the bike from ‘Ostrich’, a Japanese company. As far as price goes, I’d say they’re middle of the road. Not cheap, not expensive. The Soft bags were really nice to handle going in and out of the hotel. Even though I checked the weather several times a day I still got caught in the rain. My water ‘resistant’ bags were FINE. Mounting and unmounting the bags was only a problem the first day. With a little practice it was easy. Front bags may have been nice to spread out the weight of all my stuff, but if I’d had the extra space, I probably would have just loaded them with stuff I didn’t need. I thought I’d packed pretty light. Next time, I’d take even less. Carrying the heavy bags up stairs at the end of the day SUCKED.
-Making a Checklist of what I really NEED versus what I would like to take. This was essential, as I had wanted to take MUCH more than I really needed. Even still, the bags were heavier than they should have been. My laptop will NOT be coming along next time!
-Finding a route. I’m a big fan of the website MapMyRide.com Their maps and mapping tools are great. But on the bike, I didn’t know if I’d have internet or how reliable it would be. I decided to buy and ‘offline’ map which I could download to my phone and use with it’s built in GPS to guide me without internet. I’d also go “old school” and buy a book of high detail maps. Keeping my phone in ‘flight mode’ would turn out to really extend battery life. The map book was not used. Not even once.
-Figuring out my average daily ride distance, by finding the total distance of the ride, dividing by the number of days and leaving some extra to account for bad weather. I may end up riding in the rain, but I’d like to avoid it if I can! Then finding suitable places to stay near where I expected to be at the end of each day. Did a pretty good job of this. I did learn that effort and distance are not related. 38km through a busy city is a LOT harder than 75km on a flat road in the country.
-Booking the hotels for the first few days. The rest I’ll do as I go. This also worked well. I didn’t have any problems booking hotels as I went.
-Buying supplies that I normally wouldn’t take on a short ride: Bike tools, spare parts, emergency food, water and a medical kit. Hey, you never know when you’re travelling out in the countryside alone! I did end up eating and drinking some of this as some of the places where I thought I would find supplies didn’t have *anything*.
-Calculating cost and withdrawing enough money for the entire trip. I do NOT recommend this, but since my personal bank card only works at one specific bank in Japan, I didn’t want to take chances. In the smaller towns they may not have that bank. I took too much money. Risking loss or theft, I really shouldn’t have done this. But…I didn’t have problems…
-Making backup plans, like explaining my route and estimated time of arrival for the trip to several of my friends. Worst case, at least somebody would coming looking in a few days. I also looked for several alternate options to shorten or lengthen the trip depending on how it all goes. I arrived exactly on time at the end of the trip and checked in with *someone* every single night as soon as I stopped riding. No problems.
Now that all the work is out of the way, you can read about the ride itself and see some of the pictures I took along the way:
Day 1, Osaka, through Kyoto to Otsu
Day 4, Arrival in Nagoya
While working with Cirque du Soleil’s “OVO”, I was presented with a rare opportunity: 6 days off in Japan. While the “Fuji-dome” is being torn down in Osaka and moved to Nagoya, I could take some time off to do what I pleased. For me, that means two things: Photography and biking. I’ve never gone biking in Japan or touring anywhere. I had no idea what to expect and nobody to guide me before the journey started.
How did it go? There were some pitfalls and some triumphs. But in the end, it was FABULOUS.
Click the link to read each all about my trip:
Life seems to be moving at the speed of light lately. I just can’t seem to find enough time for anything these days.
Here are some photos from a recent trip to the Czech republic. Just outside of Ceske Budejovice is Hluboka Castle. Very nice to look at from the outside and even nicer on the inside! Despite a horrific theme of a bird eating the brains of a dead turk, the castle interior is an amazing array of wood panels, stained glass and inlaid *everything*. Quite amazing!
Enjoy the Photo Gallery:
I woke up this morning, expecting a relatively easy, but long travel day. Heading to a destination I’ve visited before, from home should be a pretty easy thing for a well-travelled guy like me. In the end, I must say it wasn’t that hard. But I did have a couple of really interesting events that I’d like to share with you.
The airport shuttle picked me up at the scheduled time. Meaning of course, that the guy was there early. In my book “If you’re not early, you’re LATE.” I walked out my front door and there he was, with van that I had requested. A normal car might not have fit all the gear I’m bringing with me on this trip. Could be long one. No return date set. I suspect several months or maybe even half a year. Think of everything YOU’D take for a trip that long!
While I struggle through the door, the guy just awkwardly stands there and watches. I’d expect a little help, if even just to hold the door open. I then load the first bag by myself into the back of the van. The driver finally clues in that he should help and grabs the second bag. Ok, maybe he’s not so bad. Walking back to the door really slowly to see what he does, I hear a car door open. He’s gotten in, leaving me to get the third bag. Not working hard at getting a tip, are you fella? I load the bag and open the door for myself. Had he really been trying, he’d have done that too. Oh well, in Eastern Europe service standards are pretty low. Not much more can be expected. But it sure is nice when it happens!
The ride to the airport is pretty uneventful. I wouldn’t say he was a slow driver, but he wasn’t the ‘normal’ speed maniac that I seem to get from some of the shuttle companies. His English is pretty bad, but he understands enough. I can tell he’s really nervous. Deciding not to push him into a conversation, I sit back to enjoy the ride. Most of the time is forcing myself not to sleep. Halfway into the drive I glance at my watch. It’s barely 8 o’clock. I’ve been on the move for 2 hours already. I hate mornings.
Using the Business class check-in lane, because the airport doesn’t have the First class check-in that my Lufthansa Senator’s status allows me, I’m told that I need to put one of my bags into ‘oversized baggage’ at the end of the terminal (not very far aware, luckily!). The bag contains a bicycle that doesn’t fold for travelling. It’s pretty huge, but light enough to sling over my shoulder. After paying a small fee and getting my boarding passes, I head off the VIP lounge.
Right on time we’re boarding the small regional jet that will take us to the airline’s main hub in Frankfurt. We line up on the runway and I hear the engines go from a gentle idle to a huge ROAR as we begin to speed down the runway. The nose lifts up and then comes crashing back down with a jolt. The engine power is cut and I’m being pressed against my seatbelt under heavy braking.
I look out my window and see a few birds at eye level pass by, close to the nose of the aircraft. Ok, I get it. We either hit a bird or the pilots aborted to avoid them.
As frightened passengers are looking at each other for answers to what has happened, I tell those near me not to worry as I know what’s going on. Or do I?
The aircraft is turning now, as we hit the taxiway on our way back to the passenger terminal. The intercom comes alive and one of the flight attendants is screaming at us in German, then in English “Please remain in your seats with seatbelts fastened. In a few moments the flight crew will explain what is happening. Until then, please remain calm.” 30 seconds later we’re coming to stop at the terminal and lots of service vehicles are approaching the aircraft, including a fire truck with lights flashing. They’re close enough that I can see the confused look in their eyes. I can see them saying to themselves: “Why are you back here?”
The pilot makes an announcement telling us that yes indeed, the aborted takeoff was to avoid a flock of birds that crossed the runway at low altitude just ahead of us. He didn’t explain why it was so dangerous, but if you remember the water landing on the Hudson River a few years ago, that was due to engine failure after striking birds. (You can read the Wiki article about it HERE.) The pilot calmly explains that the aircraft must be fully inspected to be SURE that nothing came into contact with the plane. Then about 30 minutes later he further explained that even though no damage was found, they needed to wait until the plane’s braking system had properly cooled before we could take off again. All told, we were delayed over an hour.
No further drama here, a normal flight the second time around. As we approached Frankfurt, they announced that they’d been in contact with the ground staff and informed us of a few gates changes, but also that no flights needed to be rebooked so long as we went directly to our departure gate. As I exited the aircraft at the most remote parking area I’ve ever seen at Frankfurt, I remember thinking that I’d probably miss my connecting flight. As I boarded the bus to the main terminal, I glanced at the time. My second flight had already been boarding for about 10 minutes. Damn! I still had to go through Passport Control and possibly another security check before heading to my gate. With less than half an hour, the odds of me making it were getting lower and lower.
I positioned myself right near the rear door of the bus, opting to stand so I’d be that much closer to where I needed to go when the bus stopped. We arrive at the terminal and everybody piles out. But the glass doors to the terminal don’t open. We’re all trapped for a few minutes between the bus and the building. The doors open and we all rush in. I’m at the front of the pack by the time we get to the large monitors where everybody stops and gawks at the information they should already know: Where to go! As I walk up the escalator to save even more time, several people sprint by. I don’t don’t see anyone else from my flight. They’re far behind.
Approaching the gate, there’s no destination or flight number on the board. I stand there for several seconds wondering if I had heard wrong or if it had changed again. I approach the nearest employee behind the desk and ask where the gate to Osaka is. She says “HERE! Quickly….boarding pass!!” I now see that the gate is actually open, but they’re resetting for the next flight. I board the plane, find my seat, sit down and hear the announcement “Boarding completed.” If there was anybody else from my first flight coming, they’ve missed it!
This flight’s aboard an older 747, the -400 model. I’ve specially picked my seat because of the configuration by the emergency exit door. There’s 2 seats right by the door. In the next row, there are 3 seats. I’ve picked the window seat in this second row, because of the extra legroom in front of you. Although I’m quite far back, I’m facing the crewmember in the rearward facing ‘jumpseat’ because of the missing seat in the front row. It’s quite a good seat because you’re not on an aisle, so you don’t have constant traffic brushing up against you and you still have the option of getting up any time you feel like it. In my opinion, it’s nearly perfect. (Numbers 33A and 33K, FYI.)
Just before takeoff the head purser of the flight comes over and introduces herself. Something they always seem to do for their Gold Status members. It doesn’t cost anything and it really does make you feel like you’re appreciated. Nice touch Lufthansa (although not as nice as the handwritten birthday card I got from one of your VP’s this year. That ROCKED! Seriously, do I make them THAT much money?) The same purser just happens to be working in my area of the plane. She sits down in crew seat nearest me for takeoff.
The rest turned out to be a fairly dull flight, but I revel in it after all the excitement of the morning. A few hours sleep, but for the most part I just watched movies.
As we prepare for landing, the same crewmember again sits facing me and straps herself in. She gives me a knowing glance, which seems to say “I’m bored, but I know you’ve done this a million times too.” I lean forward and say “I’ve always wanted to try that.”
“Sitting backwards during a landing, in the jumpseat.”
“Really?” I ask. “I didn’t think it would be allowed!”
“There’s and extra seat and you’ll be out of the way if I need to open the door.”
I could not contain my excitement. I’m sure my smile was ear to ear as I hop out of my seat and plunk myself down into the folding seat. She then gave me a quick but thorough briefing on where my life vest was, how to adjust the straps and where the oxygen mask would be should I need it. I’m a bit overwhelmed, but I follow allow as best I can, asking her to repeat a few bits that I’m unsure about.
I can hear the flaps moving and she explains that the position we’re in is directly over the main landing gear. On cue, we feel a few large ‘thumps’ as the doors open and the gear come down.
The seat has shoulder straps that the normal ones don’t have. I’ve over-tightened them and literally cannot move. I look out the door’s small window. I can’t see anything other than wing. There’s no reference to the ground. Just as I’m thinking that I cannot predict when exactly we’re going to touch down, I feel the aircraft noise coming up. The ‘flare’ that they do to ensure the rear wheels touch first. I know we’re VERY close now.
My compliments to the pilot. I can’t say it was a perfect ’10’, but was a solid ‘9’ for sure! (to his credit, out of several hundred flights I can only recall one that I’d say was perfect.) Very smooth. Nice work!
After saying thanking the crewmember a few million times, I grabbed my gear and headed off the aircraft. On the jetway, there were a few ANA staff (All Nippon Airways) with a list of names. Usually if there are connecting flight issues, they’ll wait there with information. There was a large sign with a list of passenger names that they wanted to talk to. And there, was my name. Uh-Oh. I don’t have a connecting flight, so it must be something else.
Great. Just great. I’m informed that none of my luggage has made it onto the plane. It’s all still sitting in Frankfurt. There is only 1 flight per day, so I’ve got to wait a full 24hours to get my stuff. Serves me right for not taking a change of clothes with me (I’ve been burned in the past, so I made a rule to always do this. I broke the rule. Damn.) I’m instructed to file a form at the lost baggage area after immigration. A young girl make sure that I have a comfortable seat and the squats next to me to take down my information. I think it’s a little weird, but whatever. I then see that the other employees here are doing the same. Sitting the guests down and squatting lower than them to take the information. Odd, but this IS Japan. Odd is normal here.
After a few minutes of note-taking with me pointing out what style of bag it is, with colour and style charts, the girl tells me that I should go and look on the luggage belt because 2 of my bags DID make the flight. I nearly sprint to the carousel. Right away I spot both of the bags, with their orange “Priority” tags. I pull them off the belt and then finish up with the paperwork.
An hour later I’m at ANA Crowne Plaza hotel. My bad luck continues and I’m told at 08:00 that my room will not be ready until 15:00, which is the official check-in time.
All in all, a VERY interesting day. It could have been worse!!
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