Snowflakes and storms

The constant rumbling and porcelain flickers across the sky make me wonder if we have dragged the weather of the tropics down with us. Certainly not that of Japan and northern Europe. It’s far too hot and humid for that.

It took us until the 11 AM check out time to pack our three weeks worth of travels into a state ready for the journey home. Leaving the bags with the hotel we set out for our last exploration of Japan. Where would we go? Where do we have time to go?
Not too far. I suggest the red torii tunnels of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, but Alex is insistent. The Kyoto Railway Museum. As we ride the rapid train to Kyoto Station, watching the trainee driver in front, he wears us down.

First we explore Kyoto Station and the Isetan Department Store. There’s a KATO trains shop, for instance.
Lunch is pizza and pasta in the underground tunnels in front of the station. It’s chilly outside, much colder than our other days in Japan so far. 
It’s a fair walk from Kyoto Station to the museum, past the new aquarium. It’s good to see that a new station is under construction outside the museum. It only makes sense for a railway museum to actually be accessible by train (I’m looking at you Thirlmere!). 
There is one thing that Alex is here to see. The automated ticket dispenser and gate. Whilst the gate mechanism is indeed quite complicated I really don’t understand his fascination with the system. He also wants to play with the split-flap display for train departures and we get a short go, but other kids want to try every single combination.

We missed out on viewing the model railway layout operation last time, so make sure we sit in today. Although it’s presented in Japanese I can recognise the service names as they are introduced to the tracks.

B is feeling sick with a cold and finds a place to sit down. Unfortunately, Alex forgets where she is sitting, so we go hunting around for her. When we look out it is snowing. Huge fluffy flakes of snow, coating us in white.
Eventually we find B, right where she told Alex she would be. It’s already late and we have to go. But it’s snowing again outside!
It’s a beautiful scene as we walk out to the steam roundhouse, an operating steam engine’s smoke billowing up through the falling snow, which dusts the tops of the locomotives.

We buy a n-scale railway museum decorated freight wagon, then go to the bus stop. Kyoto buses always seem to go quite slowly and it can feel faster to walk, but in this case the bus is the warmer option.
Rather than the frequent, but usually packed, rapid service to Osaka we decide to catch the more comfortable Thunderbird Express instead. But the weather is delaying many services and our train is ten minutes late. Still, at least we can sit back, relax and notice how the countryside has changed since this morning with a dusting of snow.
We really are running late, so once back in Osaka we navigate our way through the pedestrian crush and grab our bags. Then we have to reverse the process. Now we decide to save ourselves the effort of changing trains in Shin-Osaka then fighting for an unreserved seat on the Haruka Express.Instead we catch the direct Rapid Airport Express. But we are standing in the wrong spot, because the rear four cars split for Wakayama. So by the time we rush up to the front cars there aren’t enough seats left. So Alex and stand for most of the hour’s journey.
I’m feeling more nervous about this flight than any other on the trip so far. The wind is gusting in Osaka and there are jetstream eddies to the south. But what really worries me are the storm clouds around Cairns. To the west is a potential cyclone.
I’m still not as anxious as I used to be. Though we are rather late for checking in, there is no queue at the counter. Alex insists on eating gyoza at the Kamakura restaurant. I don’t feel like savoury food, so just have a pastry and hot chocolate at Choco Cro, a bit like the last trip.
The passengers are already boarding by the time we reach the gate. Once on board our Jetstar Boeing 787-8 flight I notice how much tighter the cabin feels compared with Finnair’s Airbus A350-900. Forget the tighter seat pitch and smaller screens, this is a low cost carrier.

Once everyone is aboard, the red and blue boarding mood lighting changes to an urgent fiery red. Then to a calming blue as the cabin is darkened.

I want to know what the pilot will say, so I hook my noise cancelling headphones up to the entertainment system. I’ve found two albums to listen to, collections of James Horner and John Williams.

I choose Horner to listen to first. Actually, I’m not sure it’s the best choice considering that the first music comes from a great transport failure (Titanic) and the composer died in a plane crash.

On the screen itself I display the map. Already I miss the Finnair A350’s interactivity, as the map spends too much time on displays of stats and less on the close up position of the aircraft.

Another Antonov An-124 in the freight area

The takeoff, to the north, is smoother than expected and we curve around the bay until we face south. As we move up through the cloud layers things get a bit bumpier and the seatbelt lights stay on until we reach our initial cruise level. 

The captain mentions that he has set the seatbelt lights off, but urges passengers to leave them on as a few bumps are expected along the way.
Indeed almost the entire seven hour flight is a bit rough. Nothing terrible, but there’s a lot of high cloud and wind.

None of us want to eat anything, so we use our $45 of credit to buy a couple of amenity packs with blankets. B and Alex watch movies, I stare out. I’m really enjoying the music and it is relaxing me. I play a bit of Bejewelled on the IFE, but I find myself feeling a bit sick staring at the screen.
The cabin lights darken.
I see the bright half moon rise through the windows on the opposite side of the aircraft. It looks huge. Out of my side there is not much to see, mainly featureless cloud, occasionally a few stars.

And so that is how the flight goes. This time the clouds lie north of Guam and I see the island’s lights out of the window, the only city lights until our destination of Cairns. There are some patches of smooth air south and I see us flying high over the clouds. I watch the constellation of Orion, the pot to us from the south, sink in the sky and begin to set below the horizon. Then the storms return over Papua New Guinea, flashing, but not frightening as we weave our way around them.

The lights are switched on with an hour and a half to go. As we get closer to Cairns the air gets rougher and the storms closer, flashing brightly nearby. The weather bureau were concerned that a tropical low on the other side of Cape York would turn into a cyclone and the Cairns area has been experiencing heavy rain for days and there’s wind as well.

Although I didn’t experience much turbulence on our A350 flights, I think I prefer the 787’s response. The flexible wings appear to absorb more energy and the aircraft feels softer.
I am okay with the bumps as we descend into Cairns, through one cloud layer, then another. There is a very energetic storm cell to our right, constantly flashing blue-white and another responding on our other side if the flashes were anything to go by.
Finally the lights of Cairns’ northern suburbs appear and we descend lower and lower until we touch the very wet tarmac of the airport. 
Though we rush out through the long hospital like corridors of the International terminal and are quickly through immigration we face a significant wait for our baggage at the carousel. Then quarantine actually wants to x-ray our bags.
At last we are out. Now we have to rush to the domestic terminal, a long walk. It’s raining steadily outside and the path isn’t completely sheltered. The air is warm and sticky compared to what we’ve been experiencing lately.
We use the automated kiosk at the domestic departures to print out our bag tags then join the bag drop queue a little early. Once we are rid of our bags it’s off through security to the Qantas Club lounge.

We’ve had no breakfast, so the sausages, hash browns and scrambled egg are good, but what I really like is the fresh fruit and the (non-alcoholic) drinks. Both B and I fall asleep in the chairs for a short while. Then it’s out to join the boarding queue for our Jetstar A321 flight down to Sydney, the last leg of the journey. I’m a bit amused that it’s all A321s this trip for narrowbodies.

Alex fights with me for the window seat. I let him sit there this once and immediately regret it, for he falls fast asleep. Captain Ed Bechtel is a North American by accent and tells us that it should be a smooth flight once we exit Cairns’ weather. Good.

As soon as the doors are closed and for the first few minutes of our flight the airconditioning system appears to belch fog. An announcement is made that it’s just the humid air condensing with the cold (I knew that).

I envy Alex’s ability to sleep as we race up into the sky. It’s very bumpy as we negotiate our path between the clouds and it stays that way for a while afterwards. It takes us almost an hour to exit the weather systems and emerge into scattered cloud with dry farms below.

Again we’ve got $45 food credit between us and no desire to eat. I just get some model aircraft as I can’t figure out anything more complicated.

I can’t understand how so many people can’t survive a couple of hours without going to the bathroom. Even the pilots join to the queue to the forward lavatories.
While Alex is using the bathroom I sneak into the window seat until his return. What a difference it makes actually sitting there. It’s often the edge views that are the most useful, seeing what’s coming up, what sky is above and looking down to get a sense of just how amazing flying is. I really dislike sitting anywhere else.

Captain Bechtel announces that the skies over Sydney are mostly clear with an easterly breeze. Sounds good! 
But as we descend I see towering clouds on either side. Will we have to go through them?
We curve around and pass through gaps in the clouds. We are making an approach from the north. There’s Hornsby, the Homebush Olympic Centre, Parramatta Road and Ikea. That “breeze” is something more powerful as we hit some nasty turbulence on our descent.

IKEA, now where have I seen that before?

As we land on the third runway there’s a sense of relief that the journey has come to an end. Three weeks and thousands of kilometres.

As we walk from our gate towards the exit we pass a recently opened Lego shop with old logos and we are briefly back in Billund again.

A taxi returns us to our house. The pool is messy and the chlorinator needs repairs, the car is covered in sheoak needles and there is a huge amount of washing to do and we’ve got no food. I can barely keep my eyes open.

It’ll be a couple of days before Kita can come home. It’ll be good to see our own little piece of Finland and Japan again.
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