Monday, February 4, 2008
A happy traveler in Sapporo.
We said our good bye to Wendy and Paul last night as they
both had to get up way earlier than Julia and I this morning.
Paul had arranged for a cab to pick us up at 9:00am which got us to the airport
in good time. We had made an electronic check-in last night so we just had
to drop off our bags and pick up our boarding passes.
The Ice and Snow Festival made our troubles drift away.
All went well until the Virgin Atlantic check-in woman
informed us that all travel from England to Japan was subject to a £45.00
per kilogram excess baggage fee. We were floored by this news as we knew we
were over the limit. We had to pay $30.00 in excess baggage when flying from
the USA to England on the same airline but, nowhere had we seen anything
about this ridiculous excess baggage charge. All I can say is make sure you
read the excess baggage rules before you buy an air ticket as the airlines
(particularly Virgin Atlantic) are robbers. This was such a shock to me I
did not calm down until 2:00pm well into the flight.
I will never fly with
Virgin Atlantic again as this charge seemed too excessive and extortive. What
can you do once you are at the check-in counter, your whole trip depends on
getting the flight, you have connections, etc.
Virgin Atlantic comes up with
a ridiculous rule all you can do is give them the money. Rant, rant, rave,
rave! I have it out of my system now, sorry.
The good news was the flight was not very full so Julia
and I took over four whole centre row seats which let us have lots of room
and a better chance to get some sleep on the 12 hour flight. We also had an
option for a Bento Box for lunch and we both agree it was the best airline
food we have ever eaten. Both of these things still will not entice me to
use Virgin Atlantic again.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Andy was in his element, freezing cold temperatures.
We saw the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis from
the airplane last night. This was a real surprise and something I have
always wanted to see with my own eyes. We saw it because our flight path
took us north of Russia and very close to the North Pole. Our altitude was
over 40,000 feet se we got a spectacular view of the light show from above
it. It looked like a green, blue, and silver moving circular glow. It had spikes
and waves in it and it changed quite often over the hour it lasted.
Here is a shot from our hotel window.
The flight got into Tokyo airport 40 minutes early and we
were glad of this as we have both officially decided we hate long airplane
flights. The airport was very empty of people and the restroom I used was
the cleanest public restroom I have ever seen; plus it had electronic
toilets -- more on this later. We were very jet lagged, as we got no sleep on
the flight, so we kind of staggered from the international terminal to the
domestic terminal but, thanks to the very helpful airport staff and good
signs we made it there in good time. I am happy to say there was no excess
baggage charge from All Nippon Airlines which was our carrier from Tokyo to
Sapporo. I was even able to connect to the Internet via wireless access
without a problem at the Tokyo airport. I got my Internet fix.
Other than landing in a snow storm the flight to Sapporo
was uneventful. We decided to take a taxi from the Sapporo airport to our
hotel and this was a mistake as it was quite expensive and it turned out our
hotel was very close to the train station. We could have taken the train
from the airport if we had known. Also, the snow started really coming down
during our taxi ride which made the going slow. We were glad when we finally
made it to the Keio Plaza hotel in downtown Sapporo.
Lawrie (my brother) was already at the hotel and Andy
arrived shortly after Julia and I.
We cleaned up a bit and then went out for a fantastic sushi dinner at a little
restaurant not too far from the hotel. Copious amounts of sake were consumed
After we staggered back to the hotel ready for a good
night's sleep. Julia and I had not slept at all on the airplane so we were
very ready to sleep now.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Here is a shot of Julia in front of one of the many ice
carvings. This one had an Egyptian theme which seems appropriate considering
our recent trip to Egypt.
Julia and I slept for 14 hours straight last night and
this morning and when we got up we felt great . We had breakfast at the
hotel and had our first taste of Japanese breakfast foods which, are
interesting to say the least and all very good. After breakfast the four of
us headed to the Odori Park a short walk from our hotel to see the
Sapporo Snow and Ice Festival. It
had stopped snowing and the sun was shining even though the temperature was
well below zero.
Here is a shot of me obliging the kids.
While we walked around the exhibition we were continually
asked by school children, who were practicing their English, to tell them
where we were from and to mark our home on maps they had. This
was quite flattering at first but, after the 9th or 10th time it got old.
We left the Odori Park and headed for the Sapporo Beer
Garden which is located in the Sapporo beer factory. This was a 30 minute
walk from the Odori Park. When we got there we ate a yummy lunch of thinly
sliced lamb and vegetables which we cooked for ourselves on our table grill.
Here is a shot of Julia and I enjoying our lunch.
After lunch we went to the Sapporo Beer Museum and bought
a beer tasting. We meet a Japanese man named Yoshi and his wife Yoko. Yoshi
could speak a little English and we had our electronic translator so we were
able to communicate to some degree. Yoshi and his wife were very friendly
and egger to speak with us. Yoshi is 61 years old but looked like he was 50
and his wife Yoko looked much younger too than her age.
Here is a shot of one of the exhibits at night.
From Julia: They invited us along to another bar and
another couple joined us; some drinking friends of theirs. The group turned
out to be party pensioners and big boozers. The lady that joined our party
was very enthusiastic about meeting foreigners; she slapped me on the boobs
several times and stuck her hand into David's jacket to feel up his chest.
She was extremely flirty and drunk. so Andy, David and I dropped out before
the next bar, only Lawrie felt he could stay sober and cope with continuing
to drink with them. We were a little worried that Lawrie would end up in the
white slave trade or be found naked on a pile of snow in the morning. Thank
goodness he did show up at the hotel a couple of hours later. He said that
they all kept on drinking beer and sake and eating. Lawrie, as he expected,
really did out drink the Japanese. The group only separated because Yoko
became sick from drinking.
Apparently, the other lady was groping everyone because we were the first foreigners
she'd met her whole life; she's 73 now.
We all left the hotel in the evening (after our unusual
afternoon experience) to walk back to Odori Park and see the Sapporo Ice
Festival by night lights. Many of the sculptures looked better under lights
as you could see more contrast on the white snow. Some of the bigger
exhibits also put on colored light shows which were not too bad.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Getting ready to go skiing.
Today was a day of logistics. Because we have organized a
train tour after the ski trip we had many loose ends to tie up. We had to
find a UPS store so we could send our ski gear back to the USA. We dropped
in to take a look at the other hotel we will be staying at in Sapporo after
the ski trip. And we had to locate the Japan Rail Pass office so we could
collect our rail passes when we finish skiing.
We spent the day walking around Sapporo and working hard to communicate with
very helpful Japanese that did not speak much English; lucky they could
speak some English as none of us speak any Japanese.
We had to keep reminding ourselves that this is all part
of the fun of traveling.
Julia and I are still feeling the effects of jetlag and
this made today even more difficult. The good news is we have a week of just
having fun skiing and not worrying about translating train timetables ahead.