The short and the long of it

Action required announced the email. Your flight times have changed!

Clicking the link does nothing, so I phone the Jetstar call centre. The Philippino voice on the other end apologises for the time change.

What’s to apologise for? We are now departing an hour later! And from the more exciting International terminal to boot. Except it doesn’t make that much difference in the end. We still need to leave the hotel at 5am. So it’s up at a quarter past four when we still want to be fast asleep.

Alex doesn’t mind. He’s just thrilled to be flying.

We catch a shuttle bus to the airport. Most of the shops are still closed and the check in desks quiet. It doesn’t take us long to check in. More smiles from thde lady behind the desk would be nice.

Immigration and security are also quick. X-ray machines for Alex, he is delighted, bouncing around, a chatterbox.

We stop at McDonald’s to eat breakfast while Alex burns some energy in the playground. The shops are gradually waking up for the day, but there really is nothing we want to buy. Walking around I really do feel that Sydney Airport is not as bad as many make it out to be, and that’s comparing it to some of the big Asian airports. More play facilities for children would be nice though.

By the time we make it to gate 35 it is time to board. Oh no, VH-EBC again! The odd white Jetstar A330 is one I have flown a number of times before. I prefer it’s silver cousins, for no good reason.

It is here that I have to split from B and Alex. I have scored an upgrade to business class on my separate ticket, while they are stuck in economy. I offer to swap with B, but she insists on looking after Alex, something that I love to do just as much.

I take a seat in the business cabin, empty bar one other passenger. Attendant Karen insist on getting me a drink, despite my protestations, eventually depositing a bottle of water in my seat pocket. There are no amenities for this short leg of the trip up to the Gold Coast. None are needed.

My window is dotted by rain. It is dark grey outside, again not inspiring for travel. We trundle off to the northern end of the main runway, while the screens and attendants perform the safety demonstration. Then we engines at full thrust we power down the runway. Up, up and away on our latest adventure to Japan.

Ascending rapidly we pass over the Kurnell Peninsula, oil refinery and sandmine visible. Then a bumpy ride up though the many layers of cloud above us. When we reach the top the scene is of an amorphous white landscape. The seatbelt light is quickly extinguished, so I power up my phone (in flight mode, of course) and listen to music.

I am disturbed once by Karen, persistant again with offerings from the cart. Having just had breakfast I am not hungry, but I accept a packed of M&Ms and a very nice hot chocolate served in a china cup.

Only odd glimpses of the land below are visible between clouds. It isn’t until our long descent into the Gold Coast that more scenery becomes apparent, the rich green of the Northern Rivers district. We swing around to land from the north, joining another Jetstar A330 destined for Tokyo and a heavily decorated AirAsiaX of the same type bound forn Kuala Lumpur.

Exiting is done via stairs and it is fortunate that there is a break in the rain.

Gold Coast airport’s international transit area is nothing to write home about. A newsagent, cafe and duty free store, where I picked up a couple of emergency gifts for Japan. Then in the newsagent Alex spotted a “Busy Airport” lift-the-flap book, quite different to his much loved title at home. It even had big pictures of x-ray machines. I could not resist.

Sooner than expected we were being asked to reboard the aircraft. Outside, up the stairs and off on our separate ways. This time there were amenities on the seat and I accepted a glass of orange juice. An elderly Japanese couple beside me were split by the aisle to their disappointment. I wanted to help them without giving up a window seat, but B again refused my offer to swap. I figured that they would probably sleep anyway and I was mostly right, while I snapped happily away.

Again we took off towards the south and rose up through the clouds. The number of cloud layers seemed interminable and we bumped our way through each. And again they obscured the view. Having seen the Queensland coast countless times I didn’t mind too much, perhaps it would be a chance to watch some entertainment, write, or even sleep.

Instead we were fed an early lunch. I was surprised to be given a menu booklet that listed every business class meal on every Jetstar long haul route. I chose chicken rikyu-yaki, which was a bit overcooked and the rice was more of a risotto than a typical Japanese dish. The miso vegetables were nice, as was the rather gluggy sauce. I was looking forward to the cheesecake, but it has been replaced by rather small, but rich, chocolate brownies.

Then it was entertainment time.

I’m used to really dreadful movies on the Jetstar main cabin screens, but today it was The Adventures of Tintin. I want to watch it, but couldn’t be bothered with the rather distant screens. Instead I pinned my hopes on the portable units which were being handed out.

Gone were the “bricks” as I used to call them, replaced by modified iPads. Unfortunately, there was still nothing I wanted to watch on them. Zilch. I tried some of the included games, which looked cool in a late nineties PC kind of way, but which gave me motion sickness. I asked if I could give it to B as she might like the chic flick, the included eMags and Alex the childrens eBooks, but I wasn’t allowed to.

I wasn’t concerned by the lack of entertaiment. The window is the best IFE, as the saying goes, and I had plenty stored on my own devices.

There were brief glimpses of coral atolls around Heron Island, but it was thick clouds all the way up until we approached the coast of Papua New Guinea. Coastal settlements and big rivers carving their way down from the highlands. Suddenly the clouds changed to tropical cumulonimbus and the flight got bumpier. Suddenly the clouds stop and we are crossing the northern coastline of Papua.

Since then the clouds have varied from scattered cumulus with a shimmering blue sea below to hazy high cloud that gives us the shakes. But there is nothing but ocean below. Maybe I should have a nap!

Before I could do so B decides she wants to swap with me and read her book in peace. So I go back to economy to play with Alex. We read stories, draw and play “conveyor belt” games with the tray tables. Eventually she returns and I am surprised to see that we only have two and a quarter hours left to go.

The remainder of the cruise is spent in hazy skies of high cloud. We are served a light dinner of yakisoba (fried noodles) with ice cream for dessert. I watch the final episode of Dirk Gently on my phone before listening to music until we begin our descent.

It is evening and the grey sky has an orange edge as we fly down between Shikoku and Honshu. I can see rivers and rice paddies, cities and factories, ports for ships and aircraft, and a lot of reclamation work off the coast. It is a visual feast after the past eight hours, but I wonder how many of those reclamations are really needed and how much is make work for the Japanese corporations.

Finally we land on the manmade island that is Kansai International Airport. Alex emerges excited and having been very well behaved on the flight. I feel stuffy and stinky, despite just sitting down almost the entire day.
Immigration is dreadfully slow, every foreigned fingerprinted and photographed. We collect our luggage (Alex doesn’t want to leave the luggage belt), make a trip to the bathroom (Alex is amazed at the light activated flush and automatic soap dispensers and hand dryer, all built into the one sink. Then to his delight we catch an airport lift up to the station.

After exchanging our vouchers for rail passes we turn the corner to see some sort of noisy singing promotion along with a number of stalls selling food. I want to eat, the beef smells delicious, and some free samples confirm this, but B wants to move along.

The Haruka express takes us from Kansai Airport to Kyoto via Osaka. I enjoy the glimpses of neon lit suburbia, but Alex is dreadfully tired and eventually falls asleep just as we arrive at Kyoto. It is a struggle to carry him and all the luggage, but he awakes as we leave the station and is soon thrilled to see a colourful fountain moving to music.

We walk all the way up past Kyoto Tower and the dark Higashi Honganji temple towards our accommodation. I can’t find it and eventually have to ask for directions from a Toyoko Inn. Fortunately, it’s not too far away and we arrive at the very stylish and comfortably equipped Citadines apartment.

We haven’t had a proper dinner, but the are a couple of late opening eateries outside the hotel. We chose one where it is necessary to preorder and pay on a machine near the doorway. Tonkatsu and some Chinese dish are what we ordered. It tastes good, but we are all so tired when we return to our room. Not sure if we are up for another big trip tomorrow.

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