There isn't that much to enjoy about a seventeen hour flight with two change-overs, however we can thoroughly recommend Korean airlines and I did watch Spectre (at last) and Carol. I chose to eat the 'Korean option of Bibimbap. Luckily it came with an instruction manual!
We arrived at Narita airport around 8.30pm local time, and bought our tickets for the skyliner; a non-stop train from the airport into the heart of Tokyo. The train was pretty empty as we boarded from terminal 3, but soon filled up with passengers at the next terminal-stop.
We were informed by an antipodean lady that we were in her seats, so apologised and moved on. Seconds later another lady did the same, so I suggested to my son, maybe we should check if we have a seat allocation as I vaguely recalled hearing an announcement as we'd boarded that 'all seats are reserved'. As we sat in our third pair of seats, I read the seat numbers 14 C and D from out tickets and we both turned to see, that was precisely where we were sitting. It just goes to show that you always end up exactly where you should be in the end!
The night before we left England I had called my Mum to give her some details on our upcoming itinerary. I mentioned air bnb, and got the distinct feeling she had never heard of them. Once that was confirmed, I continued to dig myself a hole by telling her that we were going to an apartment run by three men whom we had never met before, and because of our late arrival they would be unable to meet us in person. That meant we would be following directions through unknown roads, in the dark to an apartment block with an entry code and little else to go by.
I don't possess the same 'worry gene' as my Mum, but I really do need to think about what I am saying some times! What happened next did get me nervous for a short while...
Tired and weary, we got off at Otsuka underground station, and started following the printed instructions from our hosts. We made a good start and the landmarks I had seen photos of onscreen came to life. Our next instruction was to turn right at the following corner. We did. We walked down that street, back up, back down further, tried another street and started to feel less confident. It was a quiet area of built up houses and flats, tightly squeezed together. There were however a few people passing us by here and there, so I beckoned over a Japanese couple, who couldn't speak any English and we don't speak any Japanese, apart from hello, goodbye and thank-you! Pointing at names on paper and the guy typing the address into his phone failed, so we thanked them anyway and moved on. I was sure this place existed. I said I am pretty sure it did to my son then remembered a TV programme, possibly Rogue Traders, where several couples had paid for a romantic holiday cottage in Scotland and driven all the way there, only to discover it never did. Time to bury that thought. Next, I accosted a young man who was both smoking and ending a conversation on his phone, to ask if he knew where this place was. Fortunately, he could speak some English. He has been looking at maps on his phone, when another man crossed our paths, and he asked the new guy something in Japanese, presumably about the elusive Vent Vert apartments that we were looking for. Between them they took up the gauntlet of tracking the place down! They must have spent almost half an hour with us puzzling, looking for buildings. Us dragging our luggage, and trying to get online to show them some photos, them meandering downs side roads and looking at every small block, until Eureka! It did exist. I am pretty sure the final outcome was by chance, but that is all we needed. We thanked them profusely and said good night.
We got in the building no problem, took the lift to the sixth floor looking for room 601. Stepped out the lift to see rooms 602 - 607 and a fire escape. This was bad. Not sure how I agreed to try the fifth floor as suggested by number one son, but anyhow, that floor ran from 502-507. Great. We went back to the sixth floor as I figured we must have missed a corner or something. Nope. Finally I thought we should try the fire escape that Samuel had earlier told me not to, and there, behind the door was room 601. Try and give your kids autonomy and look where it gets you!
It was time for some sleep...
Waking to a bright, but overcast sky we got a plan together and took to the streets in search of food. At the local station there is some kind of foodhall. The bakery looked good, and there were several savouries that caught my eye. I decided to try some ball-shaped doughy things that a guy was cooking fresh. Apologies for the description, but I have no idea what I was ordering! They had a squidgy texture and some kind of smokey cheesey centre. A bit like an inside-out fondue. There were some pink fibrous chunks inside, which I could not decide if it was bacon or smoked fish. Either way, I ate them with pleasure. Sam could not be tempted.
Next stop was back to the bakery, where one of the ladies was chattering away to everybody in a very happy, sweet voice. When we went to the counter she seemed very excited and presented me with a red box that had a star shaped foam opening. She indicated I should dip my hand in, and it reminded me of the tombola from school fetes. I retrieved a piece of paper with 300 written on it. So, it turned out that rewarded me a ten percent discount. She was even more excited now, so we smiled a lot, did some bowing of heads and went on our way. Fun times!
Our first day saw us in Ueno Park, where the blossom viewing is in full swing. I have to say, it was overcrowded, the sky was lacking life and there were still lots of buds on the trees, so I will be holding back on photographing them for myself.
We witnessed the craziest spectacle of large fish and water birds fighting it out for air and occasional offerings of bread. It looked like the fish were biting the birds bottoms, but my son assured me it was because they were opening their mouths to breathe. Any excuse!
We attempted to follow a short walk from the guide book, and bumped into a lady doing the exact same thing. She was not pleased and had decided that the walk did not exist. Seems like a common occurrence in Japan! Certainly not the easiest city to navigate, but it's early days. Anyway, it is fair to say that we failed to find three out of four things on that route, but we did stumble across some amazing shrines!
Later on we visited the mega store 'Yodabashi' in Akihabara. Eight floors of electronics, computers, cameras, toys, appliances and more. The boy was in heaven.
After a mamouth amount of walking we were tired and hungry. We were looking for a recommended restaurant, again to no avail, so settled for a basement joint serving up noodles. It was only when we sat down we realised the reason we couldn't find the other restaurant was because we were in Shibuya, not Shinjuku which is where we should have been. Tiredness is very disorientating!
Here's to sleep and successful wanderings!
Just to say, I will be uploading more images on my return as I am using my phone and iPad here.