Lounging home from Tokyo

As I watch the aircraft fly down along the valley on descent into the airport I find it difficult to convince myself that the holiday has come to an end. But it has.

A pile of dried millipedes greeted us at the front doorstep when we arrived home. The dog did his business on the sheepskin rug and threw up on the bedroom floor. The one remaining goldfish was floating ill in the tank. There was no lunch to be had but a tin of baked beans for Alex. Welcome home!

As always, I was sad to say goodbye to our room at the Shinjuku Prince. Alex continued to gaze outside at the passing trains. It was almost time to catch one of those trains.

After leaving our luggage at the hotel our first task was to book seats on the evening’s Narita Express for the airport. Then we set out to do some final day shopping at the Lumine and Mylord (love those names) department stores around Shinjuku station.

A little further south is the imposing Takashimaya Times Square complex. The basement food market of Takashimaya is worth a visit just for the amazing variety of foods on offer, especially desserts. The exquisite creations put your average suburban patisserie to shame.

We bought some desserts and a some bento boxes for lunch. But when we reached the restaurant level of the building we discovered that the wonderful outdoor seating area was closed. There was still a seating area inside, but without the views of Shinjuku park.

Alex had fun playing in the children’s section of the Uniqlo clothing shop. There was one young Japanese girl there, a few years older than Alex, who spoke excellent English and asked if she could play with him.

By now, there was only enough time for a brief race through quirky Tokyu Hands, where hardware, paperware, furniture and miscellaneous goods are sold. Then we rushed back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and lugged it back to the station. It was sweaty work, but we actually managed to get to the train about 15 minutes early.

It was a brand new Narita Express with seat power, wireless access (you need a Japanese service provider I think) combination locks on the luggage racks and information screens. The design feels close enough to the old Narita Express that the change is not too jarring.

The train ride begins amongst the giant skyscrapers and shopping centres of Shinjuku and Shibuya, At Chiba massive overhead monorail lines loop over the railway tracks. I must catch a ride on one someday. Then we are out in the countryside. Tea plantations nestled inbetween hills of trees and bamboo, fans blowing air across the rows. Serene rice paddings reflecting the evening sun, dogs walked along the tracks. Narita, dominated by a big pagoda, signals that its time to retrieve our bags and ready ourselves for the airport. Some complain about the distance of the airport from the city, but for me it is a relaxing prelude or coda to a flight.

Finally, we arrived at the airport and checked in for our flight. I never seem to be hungry prior to boarding, but B and Alex were. We decided to see what was on offer post security.

The security queues were the shortest that I’ve seen, though my bag of computers and wires caused issues as usual. We took the shuttle train to the satellite part of terminal two, then went to the Qantas business lounge. We were travelling, for the first time, on Jetstar StarClass tickets, which have complimentary lounge access.

The lounge was a smaller version of Sydney Airport’s, quite pleasant, but winding down for the evening. B and Alex ate soup and a chicken rice dish. I satisfied myself with sushi and small cakes, as well as lots of (non-alcoholic) drink, including grape Fanta. I have to commend the lounge on their toilets – deluxe automatic versions which even automatically raise the seat and lid for you, in addition to all the usual bum-warming-and-washing options.

The StarClass seats were a bit of a disappointment after Qantas international business class. Manual, without too much recline or leg support, they were like comfy armchairs. Still, they were better than economy!

I was also disappointed that Jetstar appear to have dropped their “Let’s fly away” music during boarding, taxiing and take-off as I rather enjoyed the soothing sound. We taxied out into a dark field spotted with lights, then lifted off into the black sky.

It was exactly one year to the day (even close to the hour!) since I last saw the seatbelt light switched on due to turbulence. It was a moderately rough flight for the first few hours. But there were no sweaty palms or feelings of deep anxiety, just a little annoyance. I guess that means that I have largely overcome my fear.

Alex fell asleep on my lap and stayed that way for a large portion of the flight. B couldn’t sleep and, as usual, neither could I, partly because my position was dictated by Alex. I managed to listed to some music on my mp3 player while B watched a movie on the brick-like entertainment unit. There was no space for me to the same and I didn’t feel like watching “It’s Complicated” on the cabin screens.

Meals were taken on B’s tray table. Soon after takeoff we were served a rather insipid ginger pork and vegetables – at the standard of Cathay Pacific. There could be no complaints about dessert, however. Very smooth chocolate mousse cake and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, chocolate biscuits and pretzels for snacks. Somebody in the Qantas Group catering has a serious chocolate addiction.

There was little for me to see and do for most of the night flight, although at one point, over the Philippines I think, we passed over a city like sparkling jewels in the night. Then nothing until Papua New Guinea. Normally I can enjoy looking out the windows at night, but there was no Moon and too many cabin reflections on this trip.

We arrived into Cairns early, while it was still dark outside. I rather like the Cairns’ international terminal, but today we had to pick up our luggage and transfer to the domestic terminal. For the first time we passed through Australian immigration in an airport other than Sydney. The queues were reasonable, a single dog was in action, mainly for Japanese passengers, and we didn’t even have to open our bags despite the food and wooden toys we admitted to carrying. Which was good, because they have been checked and passed on previous trips.

It was a cool morning in Cairns as we walked outside to the somewhat distant domestic terminal, the only indications that this was the tropics were the birdsound and the palm trees. The sunrise above the mountains was quite beautiful.

Initially Jetstar were going to charge us $120 for excess baggage, but when it was realised that we were continuing international StarClass passengers who upgraded prior to arriving at the airport our heavy bags were passed. We borrowed one of the free strollers and took Alex past security.

Cairns’ under-construction domestic terminal is reasonable shopswise, though lacking in any tarmac views. That was okay, because we all spent most of it asleep. Alex appeared not to enjoy the flavour of the local bananas as much as the South American and Philippine imports he had eaten overseas.

The Airbus A321 seats felt rather confined after our other flights, but it was only a two and a half hour flight. A very pleasant one at that. The were gorgeous views of Cairns and the reef as we took off. Then smooth carpets of cloud until we neared Sydney. We veered east out of Sydney harbour, views of Manly and the northern beaches to our left, then descended low over the Eastern Suburb and down on to the East-West runway. I’m not certain that I have landed there before. It was a perfect domestic flight, and Alex slept for at least an hour during it.

No immigration to worry about in Sydney, so we were soon out and waiting for a taxi with a baby seat. One was ordered by the attendant, but the first guy who pulled up claimed that an 18 month old didn’t need a childseat. Umm, you driving on your cousin’s license fraudster?

The next guy was originally from Shanghai, new what he was doing and where he was going. We had an enjoyable conversation about Shanghai with him.

Then the three very weary travellers arrived home. And eventually they slept. And slept.

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