Thursday, July 5, 2012

Let The Journey Begin

July 4-5, 2012
San Luis Obispo - Los Angeles - Tokyo
Miles Flown: 5448

A 5:45 wake up call began the day as my shuttle from Santa Maria to LAX was scheduled for a 7:00am departure. Riding shotgun with Don the Steve Carrell look alike driver the 4th of July provided us with traffic free roads and a 2:45 minute drive time to LAX. Five other passengers joined me on the shuttle... an unassuming couple headed to Amsterdam, two people flying on Southwest and a "strange bird" of 60 years headed to London to go on an RV trip with some of her friends. The "strange bird" spent the 2:45 minute journey making wire names for her friends, reading her bird watching books and telling the driver potential alternate routes to LAX. Needless to say, much of what she said was ignored although I'm sure two weeks in an RV with her would be an amazing experience.

Check in was seamless, with the lovely American Airlines agent suggesting that I buy a new camera for my journey... not sure why, but she was pretty adamant about it. She was nice enough, gave me my boarding pass and wished me luck on my journey.

With 90 minutes until departure I had some time in the Admirals Club Lounge. Being the first lounge of the journey there is no doubt that the US lounges can't hold a candle to the international versions that I will encounter over the next 5 weeks. I'm a big fan of the pre-flight shower, so the shower room scored an A+, however the rest of the lounge could have been better. Most international lounges offer complimentary food and beverage... the Admiral's Club offered a great mix of free food and drink consisting of Chex Mix, mini muffins, and juices. If you want the real food... there's a price tag attached. Knowing that seat 9A was awaiting, I did not mind waiting.

Boarding began and Flight #169 pulled back from the gate about 12:45pm with 1/3 of the seats in Business Class being occupied. Great for me, great for the flight attendants... not so great for the bottom line. I settled in to seat 9A, with 9B remaining unoccupied I was able to borrow the pillow and duvet and make myself at home.

The meal service on any US carrier is usually 2nd tier when compared to many international airlines... today was no exception. Starting off with the obligatory glass of Champagne, the flight attendants delivered menus with today's selections:

To Start: Warm mixed nuts
Appetizer: Vegetable rice noodles with shrimp
Salad: Fresh seasonal greens with cream wasabi dressing
Bread Basket: Assorted gourmet breads
Main Course: Shoyu Chicken (chicken breat topped with a soy-teriyaki-ginger sauce accompanied by seasonal mixed vegetables, daikon and fried jasmine rice.
Desert: Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream

I'd grade the meal about a B-. Obviously better than a normal meal at 36,000 feet, but nowhere near the quality and attention to detail that I'm envisioning with my next few flights on Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Royal Jordanian.

The next 5 hours were split between catching some shut eye and watching some movies and TV shows. After watching 3 episodes of The Office, 21 Jump Street and a few others it was time for our second meal service:

Meal Service #2 - Light Meal
Main Course: Uno's Pizza (an individual deep-dish four cheese and pesto pizza served with a green salad and Caesar dressing.
Dessert: Glazed peaches with sugared puff pastry.

Meal Grade: C- . It's tough for most food options to taste good after being on a plane for 10+ hours and this was no exception.

We landed at 3:35pm local time which is 16 hours ahead of Pacific Time.

My overall grade for American Airlines Flight #169 was a B-. Can't wait for the Asian airlines next week!

With only a carry on in tow I deplaned at 3:45pm and make it through immigration and customs in time to catch the 4:05 express bus to Tokyo Statiopn where I would pick up the Shinkansen (bullet train) out to Shin Fuji where my hosts live.

Tokyo is served by two major international airports, Narita(which I flew into - located about an hour from downtown) and Haneda (which I fly out of - located much closer to downtown). There are a variety of ways to mae the journey from Narita to Toyo station and I chose the new bus service which surpisingly only cost 800 Yen ($10).

Driving through an overcast Tokyo the vastness of the place really catches your eye. There are people everywhere, tiny streets with houses jammed into every square inch. Towering above all of this are huge apartment buildings where the masses live. A huge city witha great energy.

Arriving at Tokyo station at 5:15pm, I had 40 minutes until my train left for Shin Fuji. The weather was about 85 degrees, with the air thick and steamy. At exactly 5:56pm, my train departed for the 65 minute journey reaching speeds in excess of 150 mph, the bullet train lives up to it's billing.

Day 1 & 2 concluded with my host picking me up at the train station, grabbing a quick bite to eat - Curry Rice and Shrimp, with the smallest water glass ever which the waiter refilled 17 times for me. Then it was off to their house for a quick recap of the day, a wonderful hot shower and bed.

The Journey Had Begun!

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