Universal Attraction

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

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The day of Steve and my departure from Sapporo was not all travel. We enjoyed a leisurely Comfort Hotel breakfast before checking out just shy of the 10am deadline. Our bags were stored at the hotel so that we could enjoy our final few hours in the city ahead of our afternoon travels. With 3-4 hours to spend it was hard to commit to anything major so we had settled upon getting to know the city a little more, by walking up to JR's Sapporo Station.

The walk began with familiar scenery up to Odori Park and then through a part of this main Snow Festival site before continuing north, into territory we had only passed through on the subway. This part of the city was much the same as the rest, but it was good to see it for oursevles and witness the gradual transition of shops as we approached the station, a major hub in the city.

Once at the station we were finally able to make seat reservations for our upcomming train trips, except for our afternoon's trip to the airport, which was already fully booked. This process took quite a while because the JR welcome staff insisted we be served by an English speaker and the girl we got took forever checking the train details I had printed out in a book. With the reservations out of the way we explored the station building and it's newer shopping area. Soon we were up on the station tower's 38th floor observation deck, enjoying the views of the region and the trains coming and going below.

From the tower it was a simple matter of making a leisurely walk back to Odori Park, along and then down to the hotel, where our bags were waiting. As nice as the walk was there was no way we were prepared to lug the bags through the snow so we travelled the shorter distance to Susukino Subway Station. The 2 station trip on the city's rubber tyred, centre rail system was easy as usual and we arrived at Sapporo in good time.

An earlier Rapid Airport service was leaving the platform as we arrived, full of people. Others were already queueing for the unreserved cars of the next service in 15 minutes so we joined while the lines were short. When the train arrived we sped onboard and managed to grab the last 2 seats before worrying about stowing our bags. Quite a few people were left standing for the 50 minute trip to New Chitose Airport.

Check in for our SkyMark Airlines (budget) flight to Tokyo's Haneda Airport was quick and easy. Notably the baggage check in lady was very, very friendly and dealt with the language barrier in a comical way. Our inbound 737-800 aircraft was delayed on the tarmac because our gate was being hogged by a JAL 777 but the crew managed to get us out pretty much on time. Despite the lack of entertainment, snacks or drinks the 1 and a half hour flight was enjoyable and I would recommend this airline for any domestic Japanese travel. A highlight had to be the old fashioned safety demonstration, due to the lack of onboard TV's, despite that it was not in English.

Haneda Airport is a great terminal for Tokyo and is nice and close to the centre of Tokyo, especially when compared to its international counterpart, Narita. Another benefit of this domestic-only airport is the Tokyo Haneda Monorail. This fantastic Hitatchi system whisked us away to Hamamatsucho Station in southern Tokyo, on the JR ring line. It is an amazing monorail in that it has several tunnels and operates local, rapid and express services, which overtake each other at select loop stations. Have you ever heard of a monorail that is so busy and decked out that it has overtaking platforms at stations?!?

At Hamamatsucho we were once again travelling on our JR passes and had to take a local train just a few stops to Shinagawa, where the Shinkansen trains stop. Due to better than expected running we had a 45 minute wait for our Hikari service onward to Shin-Osaka, time that we killed having a dinner snack at Starbucks. The service was operated by a series 300 train, the type used in those Bigpond ads a while ago.

When we boarded my seat was occupied by another traveller but the one next to Steve (who was seated a few rows back due to a lack of availability when reserving) was available so I sat out of my reservation until the first stop. Eventually the person who was entitled to the seat adjacent Steve arrived so I went up to claim my seat and had a chance encounter. Travelling with the Japanese couple in my seat was an old Tasmanian lady, who was able to translate for us. The group swapped around so I ended up sitting next to her and she talked a lot, helping to fill the time for the rest of the trip. It turns out she came to Japan 36 years ago with no Japanese knowledge on a year 13 Rotary exchange and was now travelling with her original host sister and her husband. She is an artist and she is currently hosting her 6th exhibition in Osaka, partly funded by the Australian Consulate. She loves Japan and wants to apply for an Australia Council grant to use their studio in Tokyo sometime soon. She even showed me photos of her acreage 15 minutes from the centre of Hobart! Crazy experience.

By the time we got to Shin-Osaka, some 2 and a half hours after leaving Shinagawa, we were ready to crash so it was convenient that our hotel was just across the road from the station's East exit. Hotel Shin-Osaka was an odd affair. Access from the station was down a little alley and then the room was massive. Added to this was the shower that was an entire room and the lights in the roof with pull cord switches!

The rate we were paying for the hotel was good so breakfast was not included. In the morning we decided to pay the $8 each to try their buffet offering. It was limited in terms of western food options and featured a lot of raw seafood so it was clear early on that we wouldn't be returning again.

From Shin-Osaka JR took us across the river on the regular narrow-gauge lines into Osaka station, from where we connected to the Osaka Circle Line. We knew we had to travel a few stops on the inner line (anti-clockwise) but the old loop trains don't have displays and only manual, guard-made Japanese announcements so making sure we nearly missed our station. All did end up going smoothly and we made the connection to the JR Yumesaki Line to Universal City.

What lies at Universal City I hear you ask? Universal CityWalk Osaka and Universal Studios Japan of course! It had been years since I'd visited a Universal park and Steve had never been so this first theme park of the Japan park of the trip was exciting for the both of us. Queueing for tickets and then to enter the park took a while and allowed us to become anxious about the crowds, although they would not really be an issue during the day. As we walked down the main Hollywood streets into the park Steve was really excited and thought that the theming was so cool, exclaiming that he wanted to live there!

Our first ride had to be on the new Hollywood Dreams roller coaster so we lockered our loose items at the ride entry and queued for about 20 minutes before hopping aboard. The coaster was my first B&M Hyper Coaster (4 seats across) so I have to remark that I found it very comfortable, free and smooth. Although there were no inversions the ride was very fun and the fact that riders can choose their prefered soundtrack song out of 5 options for the ride was very cool. For this first ride Steve and I both choose the J-Pop option #1.

As the day progressed drizzle came down continuously but we managed to prevent oursevles from getting wet by keeping undercover as much as possible. Attractions we enjoyed were Jurassic Park; a visit to the facility from the movies on a splash-down boat, Jaws; a cruise through the movies' town of Amity, Terminator 2: 3D, The Adventures of Spiderman; a 3D movie and dynamic vehicle ride, Backdraft, Waterworld Stunt Show and the Wicked mini-musical. Of these there are a few highlights; the crazy little Japanese lady that was our skipper on Jaws, screaming and waving her shotgun around like a maniac, the plane they launched into the lagoon during the Waterworld show and the technology involved with the Spiderman ride, where passengers have to wear 3D glasses to see the scenes projected onto screens while the ride vehicles spin, bump and jump as if the action were real. Too bad we had to queue for 70 minutes to enjoy this high-tech ride.

I also ended up becoming the park's newest attractions when 3 Korean girls asked if they could take photos with me. I agreed and, as you can see in the gallery, Steve found it quite amusing himself. Our day was bookended with a trip on Hollywood Dreams, strapping ourselves into the flashing LED-equipped shooting star trains for a final ride. Steve chose the 2nd J-Pop track while I found that The Beatles' track "Get Back" suited the ride very well.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at Osaka station to have a wander around and find some food for dinner. After quite a bit of wandering we settled on some bready things from a self-service bakery. Just grab a tray with tongs and walk through the aisles of open bread products, taking what you want and then end at the check out. Weird.
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