A Travellerspoint blog

To Japan for a change

Travelling from Melbourne to Hakuba

overcast 2 °C

Left work and we were all gathered at home soon after 2pm
Manage to chew up a lot of time stuffing around checking up phones and what may be compatible in Japan – finally 2 of our collection seem to fit the bill (CDMA 2100 3G is the only network frequency in Japan) but we will not know until we try. Using the Travel Sims again, they were economical for us all through Europe last year.
Check, check and double check we have the main items, and then head off at 4:05pm, 5 minutes behind Marko’s schedule. Even with a bit of traffic and getting petrol we were at Tulla by 4:50. As we were doing a domestic check in first, that took all of 3 minutes and we were left 2 hours to wander around the terminal. Changed some cash, had some chips, and triple checked we had everything.
A sad farewell as we said goodbye to L at the gate. We’ll be back soon! The flight to Sydney with the flying kangaroo was comfortable and uneventful. Went into the transit lounge for a long wait for the bus across to International (no Marko, it was free) which gave us a few quick moments to confirm with L we were on our way before we were called up.
We are at the back of the A330, well second last until the entertainment does not work, then we get moved back so we have got a video each. Again a comfortable flight, try to get a bit of sleep.
All the airports look the same

All the airports look the same


We land after an early breakfast, and into Japan for the first time! Narita is easy and quick to get out apart from 20 minutes in immigration. Dozens of rugged up Aussies ready to hit the slopes. Downstairs to the JR station and swap our voucher for a JR East rail pass (4 day flexi) and book through to Nagano.
We are on the N’Ex to Tokyo station, with a view on the east Tokyo suburbs. They are very different and mainly built in greys and browns. At Tokyo we have a few minutes looking for an ATM. When we find them, the 7-11 Bank rejects me, but the J Post bank is a winner. On Anne’s advice, I am keeping the cash reserves up high, as the ATM’s are hit and miss as to whether they will shell out.
This is my shinkansen

This is my shinkansen


Onto the station to meet our Shinkansen – the Asama 513 to Nagano. To G’s disappointment it is not a platypus, but he gets over this quickly. There is plenty of room in the carriage, and the seats are comfy. Not unusually, we leave right on time and the early part of the journey is moderately slow until we get outside Tokyo suburbs. As soon as that is behind us, the driver opens up and the scenery whizzes past at a huge rate. Seats are spacious and comfortable, they recline and can even be spun round so you can have groups facing each other. Soon we reach Nagano- it is snowing!! I follow some instructions off the net to go to bus stop 6 to get the Hakuba bus. At stop 6 there is no sign that mentions Hakuba, so I check all the other bus stops, no mention there either, they all seem to be local connections. So we head in and ask at JR car rentals, and the kind man directs us to the other side of the station. So if you are heading to the ski fields of Hakuba, Shiga Kogen, Myoko Kogen, go to the East side of the station. We have a fair wait, but we meet a local origami teacher who gives G a paper crane!
A good day for cycling

A good day for cycling


The bus trip is mostly uneventful, that is we fell asleep – me because I was tired and G because I drugged him for travel sickness, expecting a windy drive over the hills which never eventuated – its lots of tunnels cutting through the mountains. Out of the bus at Hakuba Happo, we go into tourist info who call up our hotel to come and pick us up – just as well, because the snow has started to bucket down.
It's snowing in Nagano

It's snowing in Nagano

Posted by lostagain 03:22 Archived in Japan Tagged skiing Comments (0)

Just made it out of Rome

Thank you Frederica

storm 30 °C

In the morning the transfer van comes to pick us up right on time. We get a last look around Rome as we pick up a few other couples from their hotels. We head out to the Leonardo da Vinci airport and enter mayhem. We are here 3 and a half hours before take off time, but Rome airport must have a reputation as half the plane are already here. Its moving okay and we are soon at the front. Chuck the bags on the belt and hand over the paperwork...we have a problem. Please move over to the end here and my colleague will help you out...Frederica is mystified to start with. Yuro let her know about us this morning, but it is not quite as straight forward as first thought. We do have seats on the plane, we just do not have a ticket. So Frederica gives Malaysia a call to find out what the hell is going on, and she has much the same experience as me – she has a frustrating half hour with an occasional mutter from the other end and then she finds out they have hung up on them. She is getting quite frustrated, but she has worked out what has happened – when we had our upheaval on the way over, and had to have our KL to Paris flights changed they cancelled our return flights! The theory goes that they reissued the tickets, but they never told us about them... So now it is 90 minutes to flight time, and Frederica has to get back on to MA in KL and get them to reissue the tickets so that she has a ticket number to get us on to the plane. However, their reply was you can do it yourself, Frederica patiently explained it was a Sunday in Italy and their ticket office would not open for another 20 hours. Eventually they agreed to issue a number, and I head over to the ticket desk to wait for the number to come through, and wait, and eat chocolate, and wait...here it is. Now, the ticket has to be handwritten out - how long since you saw a red and blue paper ticket? And with 42 minutes to go, our bags disappear down the hole- but not the bike box which has to go through oversize luggage. But that’s not the end of the tension – the bloke who takes oversize bags has gone missing ‘don’t worry, he’ll be back soon’ fortunately it is only 5 minutes, but now we have to race through all the checks to get to the plane before it leaves – and we don’t even have time to do duty free shopping – much to L’s disgust. Apart from a toilet stop, it is straight onto the plane. Once we are in our seats, G’s first exclamation is “Can we never ever fly Malaysian again?” no problems with us there. The Italian end of MA have been very supportive and helpful, but the Malaysian end has been hopeless and not at all concerned with customer support.
We're coming back

We're coming back

I'm coming back too

I'm coming back too


So we tried not very hard to get to sleep and watched loads of films and tv. And we eat airline food, and don’t go to sleep. Then we don’t go to sleep a bit more and then we arrive in KL where we get some healthy food at Starbucks. Well you know what comes next – airplane, tv, food, sleep, and then we get to Melbourne.
And it was great to see Mum as we head out the gate ready to take us home. Well, L and G at least, as Rob has come out to take me and the bike home. After that it is home and sinking into our lovely comfortable bed – oh how we missed it...

Posted by lostagain 04:17 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Last day in Roma

And Europe too

sunny 35 °C

The buses are running again in the morning, and we ride in together. G and I are going to head off and look at a few different things, and L is off to the shops. We head out to the Pantheon, which we reckon is pretty amazing considering it was built 2000 years ago. The sun is streaming dramatically in through the roof and the marble decoration gives you an idea of what the other Roman buildings would have looked like in their prime. I think G was genuinely impressed!
See the light

See the light

In the Pantheon

In the Pantheon

Nearby we check out Piazza Navour, which I have manoeuvred G into on the pretext of showing him a toy shop. We do find a couple too, so honour is satisfied. We jump on a bus to get to where we want to, but a small detail is that we do not know where the bus is going. After we wrongly head over the river, we hop off and wander back via a cold drink. I get to have a look at a bike shop with some very cool machines in it, but none of the gear I am after.
Around this point we get to thinking we have had enough and we are quite happy with the idea of heading home to a long cold drink to soothe us. We hop on the 492 bus and head back to San Lorenzo. Up and cooled, it is time to start packing up all our stuff ready for our last day in Europe for a while.
End of a long day

End of a long day


Try to check in on line, but the Malaysian Airlines system would still not recognise our ticket numbers. Try to check in by our flights, no success. So we give a call to Kuala Lumpur to see what has happened to us. I spend 40 minutes on the phone with them, but they cannot tell me anything of any use – they can see our tickets going from Australia to Paris in April, but there is nothing after that – we seem to have disappeared and the lady ‘cannot see you anywhere’ on the system. She cannot trace us by name, by flight, ticket number, reservation, anything – and she is the expert for Malaysian Airlines. Her best advice is to ‘just turn up at the counter tomorrow and it will be fine’. Not trusting this after the near debacle on the way out, I get a phone number for the Rome operations then hang up. Fortunately, Yuro in Rome is more helpful and seems to understand the system better than the Malaysians. He has found us, and worked out that our tickets have been exchanged – what for he cannot tell us. We are not showing on the flight and there are only two tickets available on the flight. He asks us to leave it with him and give him a call back in an hour.
One hour later, Yuro has been on the phone with KL and thinks he has sorted us out some seats for the next day. He says to make sure we are on time in the morning and he will see us there.
That sorted, we head out for dinner nearby at Tram Tram. This is a great little restaurant serving some good honest food and not focussing on pasta and pizza. This is an excellent way to finish the food side of Italy and we need to have an easy walk home to let it settle a bit. Still just enough space to fit in some of Terry’s Chocolate Orange – I’m sure he won’t miss it. Now to try and get some sleep.

Posted by lostagain 04:09 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Roman Holiday

For the bus drivers at least

sunny 33 °C

To make certain we have an authentic Roman stay, there is a transport strike today. Starts off in the Metro, but spreads to the buses too. We are left outside a metro station studying the locked gates. We then walk to Termini where we wait in vain with hundreds of others for a bus to somewhere, anywhere.
What termini bus station looks like in a strike

What termini bus station looks like in a strike

Since nothing has happened, we go over and hop on to the hop on, hop off bus instead. At least the Roma pass gives us a 25% discount on this one. The real value of the Roma Pass comes soon after though, as when we arrive at the Colosseum there is a massive queue, but we can waltz past and straight to the front. The Colosseum is a magnificent reminder of the structures the Romans could build. Everyone used to get in for free, but where you sat very much depended upon your standing in society. Now its all reversed, everyone pays but you all go the same way.
Bear baiting

Bear baiting

It all stopped being used in the 5th century after earthquakes damaged it and the Goths turned Rome into a back water. It was amazing that Rome had 1.5 million residents in the 1st century AD, then down to 20,000 in the middle ages to leap back up to 400,000 in the renaissance. The arena is huge and stretches miles above you, but there is also a basement under the arena where all the gladiators and slaves were held before the fights. Them and all the wild animals could be wound up in lifts to pop out of the floor of the arena. Just as well politicians these days don’t stoop so low to buy a vote. After we have taken photos all around the place, we head out and over to the forum.
Send in the lions

Send in the lions


Again it is a bloody hot day, and it is great to be able to grab cool water out of the fountains all around Rome. Got a good tip from some other tourists: freeze some water in your drink bottle the night before and you have a lump of ice there to cool down your water all through the day.
Another arch

Another arch


We go over there via the Palatine Hill, where lots of the emperors built their residences, trying to outdo the memory of the previous. Most of the palaces need plenty of imagination to see them in all their glory, as all that remains is the brick skeletons. Up at augustus' place

Up at augustus' place


We trek over through the whatsit’s gardens and drop down into the Forum. Again it takes imagination to fill in the details but there is a lot more here than on the Palatine hill. There are plenty of marble bits lying around to give you a good idea of what sort of decoration you would have seen on the buildings. And if you step back you can get a good view of... the next group of Americans steamrollering through to get to the Pantheon, Vatican and the Trevi fountain before hopping on the bus to Florence tomorrow morning.
Cooling off in the Forum

Cooling off in the Forum


We also head over to the Trevi where we are bowled over by a couple of busloads of Japanese tourists, followed up with a left hook in the form of a Con Tiki tour. We join in with everyone else and throw our coins in the fountain. The fountain police blow us up for having our feet in the pond, so we give others our seats on the edge. This is one Roman fountain you do not want to drink the water from.
Cooling off in the Trevi - before the cops get us!

Cooling off in the Trevi - before the cops get us!

Then we head back on a leisurely bus trip back to our apartment, and after grabbing some supplies we settle in for a great home cooked meal and a bottle of champagne. Send off an email to Malaysian to see why we cannot check in over the net.

Posted by lostagain 03:52 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Another country - Vatican City

sunny 32 °C

We head off to Termini to get our tickets – we have gone for the Roma Pass, 3 days of travel, two museum entries and discounts off other stuff at 25 euros each. We jump into the Metro off to Ottavia station and head over to the Vatican. Into the museum first – not too long pleads G. We head into the museum starting with the pine cone plaza.
An idea for landscaping

An idea for landscaping


This is a great space with some great works, including the pinecone and the massive head of Augustus. Then into a garden with roman statues and sarcophagi. Amazing the skills they had working with marble all that time ago. We head round through the statues of roman emperors and grand ladies and into the Egyptian rooms.
A new bath maybe?

A new bath maybe?

There we see more sarcophagi and even a mummy on display. Then through a few more roman statues and into the hall of tapestries. After this, through to the amazing map rooms where a pope had a painted maps of the all the regions that the pope had at the time. We try to spot a lot of the places we have been, but it can be difficult as half the maps seem to be upside down. A few packs of Americans bulldoze through these rooms to keep to their schedules.
Next are the Raphael rooms where there are loads of frescoes put together by Raphael and his students. Beautiful colours and compositions show a great example of Renaissance mastery.
That Raphael could paint

That Raphael could paint

After this we head into the Sistine Chapel, which is about 8 metres wide, and around 40 metres long. Michaelangelo has done a pretty good job on the frescoes here – and it seemed a few other people have heard of it too – the place was packed. We spent quite a while in here enjoying the sight. The Final Judgement which covers one entire wall is fantastic, and the ceiling is amazing. But the walls often get overlooked - there are some great scenes there too, by some of the other masters of the time. And they were done quicker than the ceiling too - it took six years to paint – imagine how much trouble I would be in if it took me that long to paint the ceiling... The Sistine Chapel is the one place in the Vatican you can’t take photos – whether it is because of security (it’s the pope’s chapel) or so they can keep a hold of all the merchandise I don’t know. But still there are plenty of flashes going off and the guards are kept busy telling them off and shushing all and sundry when the volume gets too loud for a sacred spot...
We join the rest of the thong, sorry, throng heading out in double time once the Sistine is done. Twister

Twister


We are heading over to Basilica of St Peter to get a look around before it closes. G and I head up to the cupola. First there is a lift to get up the base of the dome, then you walk up the steps inside. There are really two domes, one inside the other. As you get higher, the walls bend further over which is really disorientating. In between the domes

In between the domes

Next a set of steps and a teeny spiral staircase up to the top of St Peter’s and the view over Rome. The 360 degree view gives you an appreciation of how much green there is around the seven hills. From here you can see a lot of the Roman remains as well as the more recent additions. After a while we head back down again. View from the top

View from the top


There is not a lot of time to look around, but we do see Michelangelo’s very touching Pieta, and Bernini’s cover over the high altar, as well as the statue of St Peter, whose bronze foot is worn away from the pilgrims coming to touch him up.
La Pieta

La Pieta

A nearly deserted St Peter's

A nearly deserted St Peter's


As I am chased out at closing time, I take a couple of photos – it is pretty rare to get a photo of the basilica nearly empty. A couple of photos of the Swiss Guard (because you have to) and then we head out to a disappointing dinner.
San Lorenzo, where we are staying, on first inspection seems to be a bit of a rough neighbourhood, but most of that seems to come from the mass of tagging everywhere. There are some good honest restaurants around, a thriving nightlife, in a uni accommodation area. Some places you wouldn't go after dark though.

Posted by lostagain 03:38 Archived in Vatican City Comments (0)

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