Day 1 - Departure

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

It is a lovely day here in Cambridge. It is amazing how quiet it is so early the morning with last night's cool weather leaving a light dew on Parker's Piece. I am waiting for the bus to the airport having got up at 5:00 to catch a taxi to the bus station. I am not alone as there are a number of other people milling about with luggage on the side of the road waiting for the bus. Everyone is quite quiet though as I continue to appreciate the light white sprinkling that encompasses the world around me.

Parker's Piece

Last night was a bit of a last minute scramble. I have had my luggage open for packing for the past week but, of course, the last minute additions required my re-arranging the week's best efforts. There are severe weight restrictions on the flight I have with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow to Narita airport in Tokyo. They require that my luggage cannot exceed 23 kg with my carry on luggage not being able to exceed 6 kg. This a serious consideration when contemplating a trip of four weeks. Well, carrying a new change of clothes for every day of the 30 day trip is out of the question but exactly what type of clothes and what travel information from the numerous, teetering stacks, around my apartment I should pack is a bit tricky. The “itinerary” I have created is pretty much a must: It is a 15 page document that contains all of the travel/tour details for both myself and my mother. I have a few copies with me and she has a copy she has printed as well. This document will be our bible so is absolutely essential. I have decided on only a couple of the travel books as they are so heavy – “The Rough Guide: China” at more than 1270 pages is simply too much (since we have a guided tour for much of the trip in China I am not so concerned). I do have a pile of tourist brochures including city maps for Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Hong Kong which will come in handy. Other than clothes and tourist information I also have my MP3 player (for the long nights on the ferry and trains – I can't talk to my mother all the time!) and digital camera (complete with an over-abundance of media cards for it – I have enough for something like 10,000 photos). I debated bringing my laptop only for a short time – Made even shorter by reading of the Virgin luggage restrictions. It will be a bit inconvenient without it but it will be a bit of a break without the computer around all the time.

The train pulls up and, honestly, it seems as though the people getting on the bus have never travelled before as I quickly have my luggage stowed in the hold and I am sitting in my seat. The confusion and scramble continue for another ten minutes before we are on our way. The trip to Heathrow takes about two and a half hours taking in the sights at Stansted Airport and Hertfordshire University. I can't sleep. The bus only left Cambridge at 6:30 but I so excited about what is to come. I was talking to my mother last night and I agree with what she was saying – She will not be really excited until the trip is actually under way. Well, now it is.

Mother has a more difficult time of travel. Well, as far as flights go. She lives in Canada and first has to fly to Vancouver then she catches another flight to Tokyo. Her day will be quite a bit longer. Coordinating our arrival in Tokyo has been a bit interesting as my mother needs to cross the date line and we are both coming from opposite ends of the world to get there. I leave at 13:00 today and she leaves from Vancouver at the same time (local Vancouver time of 13:00 as well) but I arrive in Tokyo at 9:00 tomorrow and she arrives at 15:05. Confusing, yes. I spent some rather frantic time last night putting my brain through the time changes and durations involved to assure myself that she was, indeed, arriving the same day in Tokyo as I was and not a day earlier or later. That would have been a disaster. The plan is for me to arrive at the airport which is a ways out of Tokyo then travel into Tokyo to check-in then return to the airport to meet her later in the afternoon. That is the plan. How far Tokyo is away from the airport and whether there are any delays will, of course, have some bearing on this…

Nicely, the bus has arrived at the airport on time. It is quite a walk from the bus terminal to terminal three. I have to catch an elevator to the basement then walk for about half a kilometre to the terminal. I saved myself a bit of time by checking-in in advance on the Internet yesterday at work. This allows me just to present my luggage, boarding card and passport in order to check in. This is the theory. When I arrive at the Virgin desks the queues are absolutely horrendous and I waste a few minutes trying to figure out where I am supposed to stand. Guided to the correct area I find that the express method of checking in on-line has not really helped a great deal as I have to wait about half an hour to get to a counter. I spend the time chatting to a couple visiting friends in the United States. It passed the time.

The problem I always have at Heathrow is that they ask you to check in very early (three hours in my case) but then there is really not a lot you can do for those hours – Except, of course, to shop. Most of the shops are now after security so after heading through I wandered around for a while stopping only to have something to eat. I did not find the prices on electronics or anything else in this “duty free” area particularly inspiring so declined any purchases. Eventually the gate is announced and I make my way to the aircraft gate. There appear to be an overwhelming number of Japanese on this flight rather than British as I wait. They announced we were to board a bus to the plane but when we finally arrived at the plane (somewhere near the new terminal 5) we had to wait while they continued to load fuel. Eventually we loaded but had another delay as they found a problem that needed to be fixed. The pilot had to turn off the air conditioning for a few minutes while they did this so it did get a bit warm in here. The weather today is absolutely wonderful despite having been terrible for the past week – Lots of sun and fairly warm. The whole summer has been so awful this is a bit of a break.

An hour later than planned we finally took off. In the window seat I am able to see a fair amount – on the ground. Once we are in the air I can't see much of anything particularly since many people want to sleep so the blinds are drawn. I have been playing with the in-flight entertainment system thingy in the back of the seat and been watching a few movies. A couple of mindless romps (for fun – Shrek the Third and TMNT if you must know) but also Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio which I found particularly interesting as a lot of the action and intrigue takes place in Sierra Leone which was right around the corner from where I was working in Africa (see my Gambian exploits posted on my web site) never mind the fact that I made an unscheduled stop in SL when I was once on my way back to London. Not nice and a bit scary.

They have been feeding us at fairly regular intervals which does break up the flight a bit. I have been trying to sleep but I never seem able to while travelling. I only hope that on the trains in China I will be able to. I think those should be a bit more comfortable than trying to sleep in these damn airplane seats.

Day 2 - Arrival