Sunday, June 22, 2014

Konnichiwa from Kyoto, Japan

Konnichiwa from Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto, Sunday, June 22, 2014

As marathon journeys go, this one is up there. Way up there. From start to finish, it took us 41 hours to get here to Kyoto from Southport, Connecticut. Door to Door. Accomplished in stages, it involved eight full legs to make it to our hotel, The Via Inn in Kyoto on Shijo Muramachi.

--1. Car ride from Pequot Avenue to Westport Railway Station, Connecticut--courtesy of our helpful neighbor, Ken. (Reason we didn't catch said train from Southport? There was a bomb scare at Fairfield that shut down the railroad line. Not a very good omen, one might say, for a trip halfway around the world. Still, we did not let a mere potential terrorist attack get in the way of our plans). So we were off. It was Friday, June 20 at 8.30 am.
--2. Metro-North train ride from Westport (train was pulling into platform when we got there, much to our awesome luck). One hour in virtually empty train got us to Grand Central Station in Manhattan, New York. It was Friday, June 20 at 10.30 am.
--3. NYC Airporter Ride by Shuttle Coach from Manhattan to La Guardia Airport in Queens, New York. Uneventful if very comfortable. Sun shining down on a gorgeous summer's day in New York City. It was Friday, June 20 at 12 noon.
--4. US Airways 'Shuttle' Flight from New York's La Guardia airport to Reagan Airport in Washington DC. Wine and beer served gratis on board--a rarity these days in America. Flight empty. Nice view of the Potomac and the Capitol as we landed and great view of the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial throughout our stay at the airport. It was Friday, June 20 at 3. 15 pm.
--5. American Airlines Flight from Washington DC's Reagan airport to Los Angeles International Airport. It was Friday, June 20 at 5.00 pm. Grand view of the Grand Canyon as we flew right above it--an experience of a lifetime. Still cursing the fact that I was so awed, I forgot to take pictures. Watched two movies in-flight: Winter's Tale with Colin Farrel (a cute NY fantasy flic) and The Monuments Men (for the second time--liked it even more this time round). Chriselle and Robert had left that very evening for a wedding in Minnesota--so our stay at the airport was lonesome. It was Friday, June 20 at 7.30 pm (local Pacific Time which is 3 hours behind New York Time).
--6. Three hour layover at Los Angeles airport as night fell over the USA. We had been traveling already for what seemed like hours and we had still not even left the Continental USA! In the middle of the night/early in the morning of Saturday, June 21, at 1.00 am, we got into our next aircraft: a China Eastern Airlines Flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai Pudong Airport. Flight took about 13 hours and had us bored stiff. Despite fairly decent in-flight entertainment (I watched Baz Lurhman's The Great Gatsby and liked it very much), it seemed to go on forever. Llew and I dozed on and off for about six hours and were over the sea so completely that our window seat was a total waste. We reached Shanghai at 7.00 am on Saturday, June 21.
--7. After a two hour layover in Shanghai during which time we browsed through duty free shops selling tea and silk scarves and douzed our bodies in perfume to keep our proximity to bearable to those around us, we were airborne again: this time it was China Eastern Airlines' connecting flight to Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan--flight took two and a half hours during which time we had crossed the International Date Line and completely lost one whole day of our lives! Delicious breakfast in-flight saw us consume Chinese momos and a sweet pudding like concoction made of jellied azuki (red bean) paste. Very good indeed. When we arrived in Kansai airport, it was 12.10 pm on Sunday, June 22.
--8. Yet another journey in store--for we had to get from Osaka to Kyoto: this meant a shuttle ride of (get this!) almost two hours past verdant green, freshly rain-washed hills and scattered town settlements based around urban sprawl before we were deposited by MK Shuttle Service that we picked up at the counter at Osaka airport, to the door of our hotel--the Via Inn on a side street right off the busy Shijo Muramachi and Kurasama-dori intersections. We walked into our hotel lobby at 4.00 pm on Sunday, June 22 (having left home on Friday, June 20 at 8. 30 am).

So there you have it--phew! If you are exhausted just reading about this convoluted journey to Japan, just imagine what we went through enduring it. Even a seasoned traveler such as myself have broken all traveling records to make this marathon journey. Surprisingly, Llew and I were still good humored when we alighted from the shuttle and checked into out hotel--small, very neat, spotlessly clean and centrally located, it is just what the doctor ordered for 7 days' stay in this impeccable city. We liked our little room (reminiscent of our cabin on the cruise ship same time last year) with its perfect little attached bathroom and its many amenities--including free wifi!

While Llew shaved and showered, I decided to stretch out my cramped knee caps for a mini-nap and was asleep for almost two hours before Llew woke me up to shower and get down to the lobby at 5. 30 pm. to register formally for the Workshop I have arrived here to attend. Chief Organizer Fay and another Chinese delegate (whose name I promptly forgot!) were already there. We were introduced to each other, were joined by Fay's husband Gary and another delegate named Donna. After sitting around chatting with them for almost 45 minutes, we excused ourselves and at 7 pm, set out to find a bite to eat.

Although our hotel is very conveniently located and surrounded by eateries, it is impossible to decide where to go as all signage is in Japanese. Pictures and realistic plastic models of food in restaurant windows help but are inadequate. Stopping to ask exceptionally helpful and overly polite young ladies, we found our way to the basement food court of a department store called Actus on the busy intersection of Kurasama and Muramachi and eventually settled for an Italian place called  Kouji where we shared the most delicious Grilled Chicken with a Side Salad and a large bowl of Pasta with Bacon and Mushrooms that was divine. The waitress was quite the most enchanting little person in all of Kyoto and we were charmed. There is bowing and smiling and Japanese utterances all around us, but we are simply at a loss. All we know is that we are in the midst of some of the world's nicest people and we are touched by their simple sincerity.

First impressions of Kyoto? It is busy, modern, young (full of a twenty-something population), hip and sparklingly clean. Not a cigarette butt to be spied anywhere although smoking is rampant. We think we will like it here very much, thank you.

We returned to our hotel at 9. 15 pm, jetlagged and very sleepy. So I shall call our first day/night in Japan a halt and remind you that almost everywhere in the world, no matter where you night be reading this, here it is already tomorrow.

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