Friday, 22 August 2014

Our last day in Japan and the journey home

Oh no, it's the last full day of our holiday, three weeks have really flown by. 

We have a bit of a lie in and at about 10:30 go over to Aqua City and queue to get into Eggs n' Things for a bit of a late breakfast. Mindful of the amount of food we got there last time, we share a Cheese & Tomato Omelette and sides of toasts and potatoes. Victoria has a guava juice, I have an orange juice and very nice it is all too.

I pay cash and leave the restaurant and have only gone a few yards when I am chased down by our server, whoops I had left 50¥ short, how embarrassing.

Victoria want to have a coffee so we pop to Starbucks and she has an iced soya Latte, she definitely does not fancy trying the Macha Latte again! We also have a bit of extra luggage to take back, what with all the goodies we have picked up on our travels.

Coming out of Aqua City we pose for a couple of photos with the Statue of Liberty and then descend the steps to the beach and take some photos out over Tokyo Bay to the Rainbow Bridge and of the beach. As usual it is very hot and the sand cannot be walked on in bare feet, leaning on the railings is enough to get a burn.

We know that our bus to Narita will leave at about 07:00 in the morning so we pop into the shop outside the hotel pick up some pastries for our breakfast on the coach and a couple of ice-creams for now. Back in the room we do the majority of the packing and I go down to reception to do an early checkout so there is no need to rush in the morning.

About 14:00 we caught the monorail out to Shimbashi and we walked a few blocks to the Tamiya Plamodel Factory flagship store. There are three floors of model madness, the basement is full of remote control cars and tanks, the ground floor is model kits and the first floor is a modelling room. I had a great time browsing the racks and shelves, but mindful of the limited space in the luggage pick up a t-shirt, a couple of 1/700 destroyers and some weathering kits. Victoria also picked up a few bits to put away for me as gifts later in the year.

We then walked back to Shimbashi station and followed the road towards Ginza, which is a big shopping district. By now, it had been a good five hours since breakfast and it was still very hot, so we stopped in a Cafe for a slice of pizza each and a couple of drinks.

Once in Ginza we walked around for a bit enjoying the sights then went into one of the huge department stores. Doing her research, Victoria had found out that the basements are huge food halls and we were not disappointed. Going down the escalator there are loads of concessions selling all manner of foodstuff from sushi, noodles, fish, meats, fruits and vegetables and all manner of deserts and other food stuffs..

We find a stall and after handing over our 'we are veggie' cards come away with some great looking Inari pockets. At another store we try some lovely granola and I buy a pack of the cashew nut and kiwi fruit version to bring home. At another store Victoria picks up a melon bread and I get a date and walnut cake.

This is fantastic, we could spend hours here. it's one of the few times I have regretted being veggie, there would have been so much we could have sampled.

With purchases we emerge from the department store and it's now starting to get dark, the bright signs of Ginza look great.

We find a traditional washi paper shop and Victoria makes a few purchases. Our server does a wonderful packaging job, it seems a shame to open them when we get home. We then go into one of the mental character shops they have there, loads of cartoon and comic book character ephemera. We pick up quite a few bits and bobs there too.

We walked back from Ginza to Shimbashi and ate our Inari pockets on the station steps. They were delicious. We caught the monorail back to Diaba, Victoria popped into Starbucks to get a Japanese mug to use. We then each had a beer in Segafredo at Diaba then went back to the Grand Pacific and in the very smart hotel bar Victoria had a frozen Margarita and I had another beer, we did feel rather under-dressed in our shorts though.

Ready for an early wake-up we went back to the room and at the scrummy melon bread we had purchased earlier and crashed out in bed.

Up at 06:00 we showered and finished the last few bits of packing and were on the 07:05 coach back to Narita that took about an hour at that time of day (it takes much longer once the rush hour starts). We ate the pastries we had purchased the day before on the coach. Once at Narita we were quickly checked in and airside and easily passed a couple of hours browsing the shops. Victoria found a very nice place that did origami papers at a very reasonable price and I finally purchased a box of the inimitable Tokyo Bananas that everybody reckons you must try. We also purchased some strawberry cheesecake, red bean and green tea Kit-Kats to try when we got home.

It was eventually time to board our flight VS901 is an Airbus A340 called 'Soul Sister'. A twelve hour flight somewhat spoiled by idiots who think that babies and toddlers belong on twelve hour flights. It's not fair on the kids and it's not fair on the other passengers. Take your toddlers to Spain, it's only two or three hours away and nobody will want to punch you in the face. It's not like the kid will remember a holiday to Tokyo before their first birthday.

Anyhow, I had my earphones in for 12 hours but did get to see Anchorman 2, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Lego Movie in that time.

Back at Heathrow, we got through immigration and having used Purple Parking 'meet at the terminal' service were soon in the car and on our way to the Premier Inn. After a pizza we were crashed out by 7PM and were up again by 3AM, we got showered and dressed and were out of the hotel at 4:30AM and were back home in Nottinghamshire by 06:45AM, probably my quickest ever Heathrow run.

Out great adventure was over. Some people say they are glad to be home, I'm not, I could board a flight tomorrow and do it all again!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Tokyo Disney Sea

While in Tokyo we could not pass up the opportunity to visit Disney during our stay so we made space for a day at one of the parks. Victoria suggested that rather than the Disneyland Park we instead visited Disney Tokyo Sea as it is so different to any other park they have.

We purchased the tickets in advance and they were only 6400¥ each, about  £40.00 not bad compared to other parks. As we were staying at a Disney Partner Hotel we booked the free transfer to the park selecting the 08:30 shuttle.

We arrived in reception nice and early and were first on the bus and were dropped off at the park just after 09:00. The first thought was, wow it is damned hot, the temperature was 35C and there was much less cloud cover than in previous days. Entering the park we stopped for a photo opprtunity by the partner statue and one by the huge globe sculpture. We did a photo-swap with other couples for both.

Having not yet had breakfast we stopped for a bite of Mickey Mouse Churros and a cup of juice before continuing our adventure. We also stopped to consult the map that we had picked up at the gate. Bugger, despite an English front page everything else was in Kanjii!

We stopped to catch some of the parade on the Mediterranean Harbour, unlike other parks, the parades at Tokyo Disney Seas are aquatic and rather than floats they have boats. They also fire a lot of water into the crowd, Victoria was wearing a lot of anti-frizz serum today!

As the crowds had gathered for the parade, we left early and grabbed a pair of Fastpass tickets for the 20,000 Leagues under the sea ride for 25 minures time at 10:25, actually shorter than the posted queuing time.

Now, once your Fastpass is active, and it stays active for an hour,  you can grab another Fastpass, so we went to check out the Gondolas, but they were not open, so we took a look in Tritons Kingdom. This undersea themed part of the park is built underground and it was lovely and cool down there. While there a very helpful cast member gave us an English version of the park map.

Our Fastpass was now active, however rather than goung straight on the ride we now picked up a Fastpass for Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The Fastpass did not become active until 15;40, however still much better than the 170 minute advertised queuing time! We would be able to pick up another Fastpass in 2 hours time.

Brandishing our Fastpasses we entered 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and were soon on the ride. Your car is a bathysphere that seats six passengers and you travel the ride on a track encountering all manner of deep sea creatures on your adventure. It's wonderfully themed in a Jules Verne meets Steam Punk style that is carried on throught the entire Mysterious Island part of the park.

Emerging to the surface again it is dammed hot still so we pick up a bottle of Tinkerbell Green Tea, it's supposed to be refreshing but I just do not get it, and walked back to the Gondolas. They were open but are now closed for another parade. We sit in the shade of a tree and drink the Tinkerbell Green Tea and eat some Pringles like crisps to get our salt levels back up, did I mention it was hot!

Wandering through the American Waterfront area we check out a few places and decide that we would grab lunch later at the New York Deli. We then go to the station and after a 15min queue board the Disney Seas Electric Railway, disembarking a few minutes later at Port Discovery.

I don't know if I have mentioned it but it is dammed hot, so we stop and pick up icecreams, I have a Tropical Fruit lolly while Victoria tries something new, a slice of Mango frozen on a stick, lovely and fruity it is too.

Victoria also finds a pair of Mickey Ears with a sparkly bow that she really likes at one of the vendors, these are only 1200¥ about £10.00 so half what you would pay in Paris.

We stop for a photo opportunity by the float plane and then find the Mickey and Friends Greeting Trail. We queue for ten minutes and get some shots with Goofy and then for another 20 minutes for Mickey. There is some shade but it is very hot in the queue when you are not under the trees so we alternate wearing Victorias hat.

One of the things about Tokyo Disney is that there are loads of different types of Popcorn on offer so we decided that we ought to try a few throught the day so we next stopped and tried a Jalapeño and Cheese version, sat in some shade watching and feeding the birds.

In Japan there tends not to be any hand driers or towels in public toilets, the locals all carry their own small towel for drying their hands, in the park you could see many pepole using their towel to mop the sweat from their brows, did I mention it was hot. Well, suffering from towel envy we dropped back into the coolness of Tritons Kingdom and purchased our very own Mickey Mouse hand towel, they have loads on offer and it was only 600¥ (about four quid).

We have had our last set of Fastpasses for two hours and could pick up some more. The closest ride with Fastpasses is Storm Riders so we  dropped into Port Discovery and picked up some Fastpasses. Aquatopia looks ace but there are no Fastpass and the queue is almost three hours long, we did not fancy that in the heat.

We walk back through the American Waterfront and make our way to New York Deli where whe pick up our lunches, a couple of portions of Fries, a Ratatoullie Salad, drinks and the crowning glory, Alien shaped sweet mochi in a Alien bento box, Victoria was smitten! As mentioned everything is better alue for money than Euro-Disney here and this lot came to about £15.00

Refreshed and emerging from the cool of New York Deli we wandered around enjoying the sights and soon realised that it was hot and time for a drink so we polished off a bottle of water and soon after had another icecream. Again I had a lolly but Victoria tried the Crushed Ice with Lychee and Grapefruit, that was very refreshing.

Having not been in the Arabian Coast part of the park we wandered over there and had a five minute queue to ride the Caravan Carousel, Victoria got a Camel, I was lumbered with a
plain old horse.

Continuing through Arabian Coast, we queued for ten minutes to get on the Sinbad's Storybook Voyage, this is very well done, a bit like It's a Small World but without the cheesey mannequins and annoying song. There was a song, it was quite catchy but I could not understand more than a few words of the Japanese.

Coming out of Sinbad, we found Abu capering around so stopped for a photo opportunity with him.

Our Fastpasses for Storm Riders were now active so we went into Port Discovery and joined the queue. This is a great ride very much like a cross between the Star Tours and Armageddon rides we are used to. You are strapped into your seat and flown into the eye of the storm very much like Star Tours, however the ride gets all Armageddon when the hull is ruptured and wind and rain start to enter the cabin. A great adventure.

Emerging from Storm Riders, our Fastpass for Journey to the Centre of the Earth are now active, I am glad we have these as the normal queue time is now up to three hours! Like the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea this is all very Jules Verne Steam Punk. Entering the ride you are shown to a steam powered elevator and descend to the bowels of the earth. At the pit bottom you are ushered into your transit, a steam powered car and begin your journey. The first part is through interesting rock and crystal formations, then you start to meet deep dwellers and finally a monster of some sort attacks. The roller coaster part now starts and the vehicle increases speed through a series of banks before a drop in the dark and then you climb and emerge from the top of the volcano into bright daylight.

After all that excitement we wandered back to the Mediterranean Harbour lagoon and stood in the heat to watch some more of the big waterborne show taking place there.

Victoria had tried some of the new things she was looking forwards to, now it was my turn to try a Frozen Lager. Yes, a Frozen Lager. In the Nautilus Galley I ordered my drink, what you get is about three quarters of a pint of lager, and the top quarter is filled with slushie lager, yes a slushie machine is used to freeze the lager to give it a frosty head. How great is that?

Now, one thing we noticed that as well as the theming in the park, a lot of of the Japanese  there were theming their groups, couples wore the same t-shirt, whole parties wore the same outfit. Our tops were getting quite sweaty in the heat (did I mention the heat), so we purchased a couple of Mickey Mouse t-shirts (less than a tenner each) and joined in the fun.

We stop at the Arabian Coast and try some of the curry flavoured popcorn, very tasty, but I doubt we will be trying any more.

There were a couple more big rides in the park that we would liked to have tried however, wandering over to Tower of Terror there were no more Fastpass left and a 90 minute queue time, likewise Raging Spirits was out of Fastpass and a 180 minute queue time. However, at Raging Spirits a casy member took some shots of us in front of the great flaming waterfall that is part of the ride theming.

The level of service here is fantastic, to give an example at one point I pulled my map out of my pocket to get my bearings and one of the park cleaners was asking me how they could help.

Victoria wanted to see if she could get to Ariels Greeting Grotto but the queue had closed for the day. It was getting fairly late and we figured that we probably would not get on many more rides today but would take what opportunities came our way. We stopped in Port Discovery for another lolly, Victoria having the frozen mango again, we then decided to head back to Tritons Kingdom again for the cool and see what rides were available.

Enjoying the cool, we queued for about 30 minutes to ride the Blowfish Baloon Race before a light supper of French Fries at Sebastiens Calypso Kitchen

Emerging back to the surface it was now dark, so we enjoyed the sights of the park at night before doing a little shopping and picking up some postcards to send home.

We met our bus at 20:30 and by just after 21:00 were back in the hotel room and crashed out.

Of all the Disney Parks we have visited I would certainly recommend Tokyo Disney Seas. It is exceptionally well presented, the maintenance is top notch, the staff are really friendly and do their best to help you. We love Disneyland Paris, but after our visit to Anaheim a couple of weeks ago and now Tokyo it does feel rather shabby and expensive.

I may save my pennies and travel further afield next time, I seem to have caught the travel bug.

But I may have mentioned, it was very hot.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Mount Fuji and Hakone

Today we had booked on a guided tour to see Mount Fuji and Hakone so it was an early rise to meet our pickup in reception ay 08:00.

We were taken to Hamamatucho bus station where we boareded the coach and met our guide, Hiroaki Murofushi. We were soon on our way, Hiroaki kept us a great commentary - in excellent English - as we covered the couple of hours to our first destination; Station 5 on Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji is a dormant volcano and is the highest peak in Japan at 3776m. It is of great cultural significance to the Japanese who try to climb the summit at least once, apparently though once is enough.

Station 5 is where many of the climbers start. The usual ritual is to start from Station 5 at lunchtime and visit the shrine there. Then they climb up to Station 8 and rest for a few hours before setting out for the summit which is to be reached just before sunrise so that the mountain can be viewed at dawn before setting off back down.

Apparently it takes about 9 hours to get to the peak from Station 5 and about five to get back down, it did look very steep.

As we disembarked the coach it was very misty, you could only see a few meters.

Victoria and I visited the shrine first, Victoria tried another O-Mikuji, this one was much more favourable than those at Asakusa. We took in the sights and grabbed a few photos as the mists were clearing and you could see quite a lot of the mountain.

We then popped into the gift shop and sent a few postcards home before boarding the coach and setting off.

We noticed that at this stop and all the others a lot of our fellow travellers get off the coach, take a photo or two then hit the gift shops. A lot were saying that you don't see much in the mist, well if you had been looking the mists cleared and there was plenty to see.

Fourty minutes after we arrived we were on our way back down the mountain to our lunch destination a hotel at the bottom. As veggies we had not booked the lunch so found a little resturant.

The Japanese love theming things and this was an Italian resturant themed with the Gaspard et Lisa cartoon characters. When I say themed, they really do go the whole way, pictures all around the place and a Gasparde et Lisa tea party set up in the middle of the room with giant cuddly toys.

We each has a Spaghetti Pomodore, lots of lovely fresh veg in a tasty sauce and ony 1250¥ch (about £9.00).

We were soon back on the bus for our next destination. The scenery was beautiful and Hiroaki kept us informed of the sights and their history. After about an hour and a half were were at Hakone and at the base-staion of the ropeway to the top of Mount Komagatake.

We boarded the huge gondola, it holds about 100 people, and were soon on the seven minute journey to the top, the views from here are awesome. We were told to catch either the next gondola in ten minutes or the one in thirty - you can guess what most of the party did!

The mists soon rolled in and you could see bugger all, but we walked around the path to the other side of the summit and realised that we could see the sea from here. When we walked back to the station the mists had cleared again, we still could not see Mount Fuji but the views of Lake Ashi were brilliant.

For the gondola back we were pretty much at the front of the queue, so managed to bag a great view from the front window on the descent.

At the bottom, Horoaki gathered his charges and we then walked through to the jetty to board the boat for our Lake Ashi cruise, about 25 minutes to another wharf with some excellent views.

We boarded the coach again for the last time,  final stop was to be Odawara station where after a few minutes wait we boarded a N700 bullet train for the half hour trip back to Tokyo.

The first thing you notice is how quiet the thing is, it zipped into the station and you hardly noticed, Victoria was facing the wrong way and I had to inform her that the train was here.

The bullet train is ace, wide bodied there are a bank of three seats and a bank of two, Victoria and I grabbed a pair. The train speeds back at about 165mph in air-conditioned spendour and all the announcements are in Japanese and English.

We disembarked at Shinagawa station and I had the opportunity to have a geek shot taken at the front of the train.

We changed platforms and boarded the JR Line to Sinbashi station and from there caught the monorail back to Diaba. We were pretty knackered but needed feeding so we hit Aqua City and chose the Éggs n' Things resturant where we both ordered pancakes with fruit and a drink.

Bloody hell, these things are huge, you get five pancakes on your plate and a lashing of fruit, I managed mine but Victoria only got half way through the pancakes. With my beer and Victorias Mango Lava Flow cocktail it only came to about 4500¥ (about £28.00)

We went to Starbucks so Victoria could try one of the local specials, a Machi Chai Latte, she said it was repulsive, I was not going to even risk it so it went in the bin.

A long and tiring day, we were soon crashed out back at the hotel.