Straight and Narrow

Trip Start Dec 16, 2007
Trip End Feb 24, 2008

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Once Belinda and I arrived around 5 minutes late into Frankfurt Airport we took the free shuttle to Terminal 2, where we soon found Belinda's parents waiting near the Finnair check in desk. I checked my surprisingly light bag in and then headed through to the security check because the flight was boarding in just 15 minutes or so. It was an emotional farewell from Belinda, who was crying and hugging me, blocking the entry to the security area because she couldn't go through. We won't be seeing each other for months, which will be weird, but at least we have the internet and phones to keep in touch.

The first Finnair flight to Helsinki was surprisingly enjoyable. The A319 was lightly loaded so I got 1 and a half seats to myself. To my surprise a full lunch was served, which was surprisingly tasty. There were LCD TVs on the roof but no audio available so all shows were shown with English subtitles. I found it weird that the safety announcements were in English; Finnish, and in this case German, travellers were expected to know the universal language.

I had a 3 hour wait ahead of me in Helsinki so I first killed time by reading the train magazine I had purchased in Lucerne and playing Snake on my phone. Next I walked the entire terminal and then eventually decided to head through passport control. More waiting was ahead but not as much so I just waited patiently near the gate. The gate lounge was openned on time but the gate to the aircraft was not openned until 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time. Even with everyone quickly boarded we still had to wait for the loading of the freight to be completed before departure, so we ended up leaving about 40 minutes late. The delay was supposedly due to the late arrival of our A340-300E aircraft.

The onboard service was great, once they figured out that the entertainment system was broken and just kept restarting itself. The constant reboots mean that I now know that it is a Linux-based system but the flight status map runs on Windows. When fully working the entertainment system is better than most because it features wide-screen touch screens and the headphones were free to take and can also be used for single pin systems. The only let down was that music could not be listened to while watching the flight tracker, as is the case on most inflight personal entertainment systems. The food was great and the staff friendly; I love being treated as a Skandinavian local instead of an Australia.

We landed at Tokyo's Narita Airport on time but on the isolated farm runway so it took us 20 minutes to taxi to the gate, next to the Garuda 747 that Steve had arrived on an hour earlier. The cable-operated people mover took me from our satellite terminal to the main facility where passport control and customs were dealt with quickly and painlessly. The bags came out of the carousel after minimal wait and so I met up with Steve in good time to get to the JR station and get my railpass. Steve had already picked his up during his wait and so we also spent some time making free seat reservations for the rest of the day's journies. I had originally been worried about getting all this done in time but the JR trains on the airport line were running 15 minutes late "due to an accident" so we had heaps of time up our sleaves.

The N'EX (Narita Express) eventually came and took us into Tokyo station, where we had a comfortable change to the Shinkansen Hayate service to Hachinohe. This leg took a bit over 3 hours in a nice E2 series train travelling almost to the northern point of the main island, Honshu, at speeds of up to 275km/h. While the Shinkansen trains may be a little rudimentary in terms of interior furnishing they run very smoothly on a totally isolated standard gauge network, providing a better ride than their European counterparts.

At Hachinohe it was time to transfer to the slower regular JR trains running on normal, narrow gauge tracks for the rest of our trip up to Sapporo. Our next service was a Super Hakucho, operated by a "Heat" electric railcar. It travelled again for around 3 hours and took us through what is supposedly the world's longest rail tunnel to the island of Hokkaido and our next change at Hakodate.

A diesel railcar set operated the Super Hokuto service the rest of the way to Sapporo. This train was fully booked so we had to try our luck getting seats in the 2 unreserved cars. We were successful in obtaining 2 seats, 1 behind another, but many people were not so lucky. It seemed like a long trip; another 3 hours to travel up through Hokkaido, but it was a fun one as the train kicked around a lot.

All in all the 12 hour trip from the airport to Sapporo was a great experience, but not one that we will be rushing back to experience again, especially after flying. The scenery was great but bum fatigue really hit us as we continued to travel.

Arrival into Sapporo was at 11:56pm, after which we descended into the Subway to go to Susukino. There was a bit of a crowd out at that time of night, presumably because of the snow festival so the city certainly didn't seem dead. From the station it was then a 10 minute walk in the biting cold to the hotel where we were welcomed nicely.
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belinda_allen on

surprise [sər prÇ|z] vt
You sure seem to have been surprisingly surprised a fair bit. Keep the entries coming! :P

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