Delays and final days

Delays and Japan Railways are not usually two words you associate with each other. On our final day in Tokyo we had planned to visit the JR East Railway Museum in Saitama. But our train to Omiya was running late and going slowly. I think the excuse given was congestion.

We had to return to Shinjuku by half past three in order to collect our luggage and catch the Narita Express, so we made the painful decision to discontinue our journey at Akabane and head back.

The rest of the time was just shopping and eating. Our favourite curry, a hole in an underground wall, run by a lady from China. Searching for clothes and purses and admiring the gorgeous fish tank displays at the end of Subnade. Gokuri and sweets from Can Do in PePe next to our hotel.

A disappointing end to a very busy stay.

In a rare event we were early for the Narita Express at Shinjuku Station. Once aboard we all fell asleep. Alex slept virtually the entire ride, for me just to Tokyo Station.

I was feeling very nervous about turbulence on the upcoming flight and sad to leave Japan. It feels silly to waste the agony of such a long flight on such a short stay.

From the station Terminal 2 it’s a 630 metre walk along a racetrack to Terminal 3. We checked in with plenty of time to go. Terminal 3’s dining options are down market food court fare in keeping with its low cost airline services. B had yakisoba, Alex Freshness Burger and me, well I could barely keep the lack of contents of my near empty stomach down.

I hate the anxiety that precedes flying now. It’s compounded by the exhaustion of a rushed holiday and a desire to stay longer. At least the flight to Cairns will be shorter in length that the Gold Coast.

I have travelled these Japan routes so many times that I have a library of experiences to select from. What will this trip be like? Will it be the one where we hit turbulence after taking off from Narita or the last flight home where it was smooth the whole way, a brilliant flight? Will we hit a wall of storms. Memories can both scare or give hope.

It’s a short taxi out to the runway tonight, a parade of Qantas Group airlines with the Brisbane, Gold Coast and local Jetstar flights in the queue.

We take off. So far so good, then, “Oh F*+#”. Up and down, up and down. It’s the reverse of our flight in. It’s bad. I’m hating this a lot.

If only!

Eventually we get high enough that the weather calms down and the auto-pilot, equipped with advanced turbulence mitigation, can kick in.

After an hour we were served supper. Neither B nor Alex wanted theirs but I opened up my beef stew. It was the same as I had enjoyed on my last flight back from Japan. It felt good to eat unpickled vegetables!

Then, ten minutes later the turbulence started again and the seat belt lights were switched on. It was quite bad, with lots of drops. Probably jetstream related.

I lost my appetite and my faith in this flight. I was not enjoying it.

Fortunately, it did calm down a bit, though there were still lots of niggling bumps. The cabin lights were switched off and I was left to peer into the darkness of a night sky without a Moon.

I dozed fitfully and watched the first two episodes of the X Files on the entertainment system. I couldn’t focus on any movies and old television suited me fine.

More bumps north of Guam. I think I actually saw Guam out to my right, an atoll of lights. The high cloud cleared near Papua New Guinea and the sky became so rich with stars. Massive flashes of lightning, like an atomic apocalypse, could be seen over the island. It looked very scary, but the pilots did a good job of steering us around the isolated thunderstorms with only a few minor shakes.

With less than an hour left on the flight the lights were switched on and meal packs handed out. Swiss muesli, a mini carton of milk, tub of orange juice and a very nice blueberry muffin were served.

Soon enough we began our descent into Cairns. Contrary to Jetstar’s reputation, we were actually 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

Our baggage came out very quickly and the immigration process was similarly fast. Much better than landing in Sydney.

We took a long walk in the dark outside to the domestic terminal, checked in, and made our way to the Qantas Club lounge. Alex made us all pancakes from the machine. The best thing was just relaxing without any fear of turbulence.

I was quite nervous with our next flight or two and a half hours to Sydney. I had promised Alex the window seat and convinced B to let me sit in the middle so at least I’d have some view out.

There was a delay as the cabin crew had to perform a manual head count and it seemed like some passengers had moved seats and weren’t moving back to their booked seats as asked. Judging from the cabin manager’s attempted use of Australian accented Mandarin it was quite possibly the Mainland Chinese passengers responsible for this.

We roared up into the sky above Cairns. The pilots did well to steer us around the clouds off the coast and soon we were cruising smoothly high above a carpet of white. I was so tired that I kept sinking into small naps. The others slept as well.

Our tickets gave us $15 of credit for snacks. We weren’t going to be eating anything after our breakfast and lounge meals, so I just spent it on junk food to take away.

I’d hoped that our descent path would be straight into Sydney Airport from the north, but no, we had to come in from the south, curving around off the coast. There was a huge cloud bank offshore, very scary looking. I watched a Qantas jet fly again it, a tiny speck.

Not again, I thought. Last time a near perfect flight back from Cairns spoiled by the very same thing.

But no, we curved around the clouds at the last minute. Again the pilot skilfully missed them, making a beautiful descent over the Kurnell Peninsula and across Botany Bay.

And so ended a very busy but fun holiday.

As we drove home after picking up a very excited Kita from boarding I could see the massive cloud bank across the sky. It looks so impressive. The sky is a source of wonder and fear. And though I could have stayed much longer in Japan I was glad now to be home on firm ground.

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