KIXed out of HEL

The display said 7°C. That feels positively balmy compared with the -14°C in Helsinki yesterday. We are back in Osaka and though it’s winter here too there is no trace of snow.

Our last morning in Europe is very cold indeed, especially in the park where we watch Alex slide down the hill of snow and ice on his toboggan. My unprotected cheeks burn in the chill air and when I take off my gloves to film him, my fingers go numb.

Kids from a school adjacent to the park play in the morning before class. Some return later, walking in a group down to nearby ice skating rinks, their skating boots clutched in their arms. A different kind of PE to Australia.

It’s a relief to return to the hotel and we don’t re-emerge from our room until the midday check in time. Leaving our bags, we head to the city centre to look for sports shoes at XXL. This, and some other proximate shopping, takes too long.

After eating a Mexicanish lunch at Pancho Villas, simply because it’s convenient, we race back to the hotel, collect our bags, and hurry back to Helsinki Central Station, where it’s a bit of a walk to catch the airport train.

The train is running ten minutes late and we are even worse. Along the way we farewell Finland’s snowy landscape, then rush to Terminal 2.

Checking in our luggage, it’s then a long, long walk to our gate, encountering the same passport control officer as on our entry, queueing for a tax refund and finally using the bathroom as boarding starts.

It’s another remote stand in the snow, but I have upgraded us to Economy Comfort and we now have priority boarding, so get an earlier bus.

It’s the same clean and fresh Finnair A350 interior as on our flight up, only it’s dark outside this time. When the purser announces that boarding has completed we also notice how empty the cabin is, maybe 3 others. Standard economy was probably less than half filled.

Our Economy Comfort seats are at the front of the economy section, have extra legroom (equivalent to the old 34 inch pitch standard), noise cancelling headphones and little Marimekko amenities purses containing socks, eye shades and a toothbrush and paste.

The rest is the same as normal economy.

I watch us get pushed back from the gate on the bottom cameras, then the safety demonstration begins. I like the Finnair background music, but it’s a no nonsense video with just the things you need to know. I notice that the crew don’t participate except for pointing to the exits. No prop life jackets or masks.

I’m feeling very sleepy now and doze briefly as we taxi out, though am awake to watch the de-icing, as the aircraft is sprayed with foamy brownish liquid.

Then it’s a taxi out to the runway for take-off.

The skies are clear above tonight so there are no disappearing tricks as we rise above Helsinki, banking around until we are pointed at Russia.

The cabin lighting changes from blue to evening orange. When we reach our initial cruise level the captain pipes up, but provides little information.

Meals are now served. The choices are a pork patty with rice and curry sauce (presumably Japanese style) or chicken fillet in pepper sauce with potato gratin, which we all select. Side dishes are cold soba noodles, a red cabbage and peanut salad, bread roll and cake.

The actual flavours are a bit disappointing. It’s okay, but not great food, especially after the previous meals we’ve been eating. Even the bread isn’t the best.

After the meal B redeploys herself to an empty row to sleep. Eventually Alex does the same, three spare seats enabling them both to lie flat.

Despite being really tired I can’t sleep. My head cold means that lying flat is a bad option. Despite the near full moon, the view outside isn’t particularly interesting. Cloud mostly blocks sight of the ground, apart from a few sparkling cities along the way.

Though the supplied noise cancelling headphones are inferior to my owned pair I can’t be bothered to change them over. Initially I listed to the soundtrack channel while showing the camera views on the screen. There’s no indication anywhere of the actual music being played, but I’m pretty certain we reach “A star is born” when the music changes to a song I truly hate.

Alright, change to the relaxation channel until that turns to muzak.

The flight is smooth enough that I’ll watch a movie instead. I look through the new releases and find nothing I want to watch. A few of them I’ve seen on previous flights. Ah, the 2014 Godzilla movie. That’s appropriate and I like the director.

I actually finish watching it!

Now I flick over the the games screen. I play Bejewelled for a while, but the focus gives me a headache. Angry Birds, now there’s an appropriate game. It’s Finnish!

Completing all the levels occupies me for the remainder of this nine and a half hour flight through the night.

The crew pass through the cabin a couple of times serving water, despite us all being given a bottle as we entered the aircraft.

Eventually first light appears outside the window. The crew don’t make me (or any other passenger) close my blind, so I get to enjoy the transition to day.

Below all I can see is a blanket of cloud as we cruise over Siberia and northern China.

I know when we’ve reached the coast when the skies get a bit rougher, though nothing too bad.

The others wake. We are served breakfast, potato boat with creamed spinach. It’s got chicken and egg as well, despite not mentioning it.

It’s okay, except for the spinach. The bread roll is still disappointing, but the cake is nice. With both meals I’ve asked for the blueberry juice which is the best thing about Finnair.

Our descent into Japan takes us across southern Honshu, over Matsue and Okayama, over part of Shikoku and Awaji Island, past the big Akashi suspension bridge. The pilot misses the cloud layer and our descent is mostly smooth.

We curve around the bay for a landing in from the north. As we land we are pulled forward by the aggressive use of reverse thrust, then it is a long taxi past a number of other A350s, Asiana, Vietnam, Thai and a Malaysia Airlines taking off.

Out through immigration, it’s all so familiar. Alex is delighted that the Kansai Wide Area Passes that I buy act as regular tickets that go in the automated gates instead of the paper Japan Rail Passes that must be shown to staff.

A packed Haruka Express carries us to Shin-Osaka station. I’m so used to catching this train in the evenings that the scenery looks very different in daylight.

From Shin-Osaka we have to change train to backtrack to Osaka station. We get a bit lost looking for our hotel. I’m so tired that I can barely open my red eyes. So it’s disappointing that the Ibis sticks to the 2pm check in time.

We wander around through the covered arcades, full of restaurants, pachinko parlours and sex shops. Ever since our last trip Alex has been obsessed with sashimi. Eventually we find a restaurant that serves a variety of food including a sashimi plate for Alex, sukiyaki for B and a chicken bowl for me. It’s so good!

We return to the hotel right at check in time and shortly afterwards I’m fast asleep.

By evening we are off shopping, wandering all around the area before returning to a kaiten-zushi (sushi train) with very reasonable prices.

Much as Europe was fantastic, it’s nice to return to familiar and a bit warmer Japan.

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