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-   -   Travelgirl's Trip of a Lifetime (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/travelgirl-s-trip-of-a-lifetime-623665/)

ceb7369 Jun 19th, 2006 04:59 PM

Your travel report is riveting, I can’t wait to read more. You’re making me think I should lengthen the duration of my own 6-7 week European adventure that I am planning next spring.

May I ask how you are able to post so frequently? Do you have a laptop with you, and if so, are you able to use wireless or are you hooking into your hotel internet line? I ask because I am planning on staying in an apartment used by Keats in Rome that has no phone line and a convent in Venice, so I wasn’t planning on bringing a laptop, but the ability to post with ease is appealing.

Enjoy your trip!

Christine

SandyBrit Jun 19th, 2006 05:22 PM

travelgirl2 - Your lads did well with the 6 pm tour led by Benedict O'Looney who uses such words as circumambulate. Glad he made a special effort to speak with them.

Accents - very tricky. I get remarks on mine all the time both here where I now live (USA) and when I am home (UK). There are so many accents within the UK and US that we couldn't all possibly sound alike.

Tokyo next - have a safe journey.

Sandy


girlonthego Jun 19th, 2006 06:30 PM

Enjoying the report!

travelgirl2 Jun 20th, 2006 10:25 PM

Thanks for all your encouragement!

We have a wireless laptop with us. Primarily to research things to do as we go along (ok, also so I can post, which I am finding to be lots of fun). I've really only made the plane and hotel reservations and booked a couple of things to do, so as we go along we plan to look things up online. In London and Tokyo, our connection has been wired. In London, it was 15 GBP per 24 hours. In Tokyo, free.

The kids are great travellers. Very enthusiastic and cooperative. I usually post when everyone has gone to bed or when we're just taking a break. Now, we are in Tokyo and it is 3:00 pm and I can't believe it, but everyone is asleep. Usually, I am the first one to crash, but not today. But, I am ahead of myself...

Day 3 - Flight to Tokyo

Continuing our streak, we are 20 minutes late to meet the taxi driver at the hotel to go to Heathrow. When we emerge, he is obviously very agitated, so I say I'm sorry we are late. While we wait for DH, who is checking out, the driver says he was early and has been waiting for 40 minutes. I apologize again and point out that we are only 20 minutes late. He tells me that you are not allowed to park in front of the hotel. I wonder why he is so upset. Then, a policeman comes along. The driver tells him that he has been driving around the block and has just returned to the parking spot. Now I realize that the policeman seems to have been hassling the driver and I understand why he is so frustrated. This time, I apologize more sincerely and he says it's okay and means it.

We chat on the way to the airport. I innocently mention the price of oil and he starts bashing George W. Really bashing him. For 5 minutes straight. He uses the word 'shit' a lot. GW is shit. McDonald's is shit food. Etc. We start to get a little uncomfortable and hope the GW bashing doesn't last too long. We don't want to get into an argument, so we just listen. We find it is one thing to have a political discussion at home with other Americans and quite another to have one with someone with quite a different viewpoint. Well, we're not really having a discussion, just hearing a lot of venting. He tells us he thinks GW has done a lot of harm to the US' image.

But, as we change the subject and talk about other things, he is really very funny and quite a character. I am wondering what the kids are making of him. He tells them with such a great trip, they should be able to milk the parents for some good souveneirs. He suggests samurai swords for DS2.

I ask him where he is from. He says, I am not Arab, don't worry, there is not a bomb under the back seat. I say that I am just trying to place his accent. So, he gives us a little test. He asks us where in Africa Christianity started (well, a little more detailed than that, about the Ten Commandments. I ask him if that includes the one about not being late for taxis and he laughs). DS1, who has been silent the entire time, pipes up and answers - Ethiopia. The cab driver breaks into a huge grin and high fives him from the front seat. I'm glad that we've given him a good image of Americans, in at least a little way.

As we pull up to the airport, in front of the departure area, he teases us, saying he is out of petrol and do we mind if he gets some before dropping us off. We all look around, wondering if you can get petrol from the sidewalk. Then he starts laughing and we realize he is kidding.

We go inside and check in for our Virgin flight. Those people at Virgin really do things in a way that makes sense. They have a separate window for anyone checking in late. Also a separate window for families with children checking in. We then go over to the Ticket Desk and reserve specific seats for our remaining Virgin flights.

janisj Jun 21st, 2006 06:06 AM

This is so great - being able to follow you on this incredible advanture.

Looking forward to more. How long will you be in China and from there where are you heading next?

laartista Jun 21st, 2006 07:52 AM

great post-waiting for more

saltymuffin Jun 21st, 2006 08:27 AM

Really enjoying this! I am interested to hear about your flights. Did you get "round the world" tickets? What was the reason for heading to Japan via London? You are then coming back to Europe after Asia, correct?

Wekiva Jun 21st, 2006 08:48 AM

TravelGirl...I commend you for taking your children on such a trip. We just got back from a 15 day trip to Europe and left our 3 and 5 year old children w/ my parents. Our plan is to wait about 5 years and then go back with the boys. I am curious as to how your children will do on this trip. Have fun!

travelgirl2 Jun 21st, 2006 09:10 AM

After Tokyo and Kyoto, we will visit Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai. Next stop: Greece.

When we first decided to spend all summer travelling, our minds went wild with where we wanted to go. Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, maybe India, Turkey, Thailand. We knew that we wanted to spend the majority of the time in Europe for various reasons: Spanish language school, meet DH's best friend in Stockholm, meet family in Italy, etc. But we also wanted to show the kids (and us) a completely different culture. So, we settled on Japan and China for our exotic destinations. Could we fit in Australia too? Nope, too far. 11 weeks seems like a long time, but when you start mapping it out, it isn't long enough to go everywhere we want to go.

Sometimes, our itinerary does not flow in a logical way. For example, China to Greece is not the best routing and involves 2 whole days of consecutive flying, with just a quick intervening night in London. But, there are various reasons we need to be in a certain place at a certain time, so we ended up with a bit of a kooky itinerary.

I started out looking at around the world tickets. After spending lots of time researching the various possibilities (and the rules are very complicated), I received a price quote of $4300 for a preliminary itinerary. While thinking about it, the Virgin airfare sale of $413 for NY to London popped up. We still hadn't figured out our exact itinerary at that point, but I knew our beginning and ending dates, and that we'd either begin or end up in Europe, so I started researching fares from London-Japan-China-London. I found that we could get exactly the direct flights we wanted to Japan/China for an average of $1908 per person (3 adults and 1 child fare). With the round the world tickets, you were limited to certain carriers who may make connections through other cities, ie. Hong Kong.

So, I booked us round trip from Newark-London and round trip from London-Japan-China-London and planned to use budget carriers around Europe for the rest of the trip. Using this method, we got exactly the direct flights we wanted, with no extra connections. Our average per person rate (averaging 3 adults and 1 child - sometimes a child fare is available and sometimes it isn't) for the entire summer is $3800.

Planning all these flights was a LOT of work. I used www.whichbudget.com to see where the budget carriers fly. In one case, I purchased a round trip ticket on a regular carrier even though we are planning to fly only one way, because it was cheaper than a one way ticket. In the end, I am happy with the flights we've got. I'll let you know about our experience with the various carriers. So far, Virgin has been great.




lucyp Jun 21st, 2006 09:11 AM

Really enjoying your report, love the fact that your wireless makes it's timing so immediate to your experiencing it.

travelgirl2 Jun 22nd, 2006 08:07 AM

Day 4 – Arrival in Tokyo

We arrive 45 minutes early from London. After deplaning, immigration, etc., we spy a place to buy train tickets. I think the “official” station is one floor down, but we spot this one, so we stop here. They speak English and are very helpful. We need cash to pay for the train into Tokyo. It is about 9900 yen. I also purchase our tickets to Kyoto, for about 48000 yen. They only take cash. I am happy that I’ve ordered Japanese Yen (and Chinese Yuan) from the auto club at home (AAA), but I only have 52000 yen, so we easily get more money using our ATM card from the nearly Citibank machine.

The Narita Express takes about an hour. It is quick and easy and we have no trouble finding our assigned seats. The lady at the ticket booth had explained how to read the train ticket. There is space at the end of the train for luggage storage. Announcements are made in English, even one letting you know when you are 6 km from Tokyo station.

Once at Tokyo station, we follow the signs for Taxi and get in the taxi line. A small car pulls up and we pile in. 3 of our suitcases fit in the trunk. DH, all 6 foot 1 inch of him, sits in the front seat, with the largest suitcase on his lap. The kids and I and our 6 carryon pieces sit in the back seat. I give the driver the name and address of the apartment, written in English. He pulls the car over and thinks about it and looks at a map for about 5 minutes. Finally, I say “American Club”, because the Azabu Towers apartments are near the American Club (thank you to the Fodors poster who told me that piece of information). We start driving. Shortly, he drops us off at an office building. The doorman comes out and points out a large building with “Azabu Towers” written on it, about 2 blocks away. We head down the hill and then try to cut across the American Club parking lot, but it is private, so the nice English-speaking guard gives us a map and we go around, down the hill further and then up another hill. We finally arrive.

Seiko, at the reception desk, checks us in. These are serviced apartments, serving expatriates who generally stay here for several months or more. They change the towels and empty the garbage every day. They do more cleaning every few days. Seiko explains everything to us, shows us around the apartment, demonstrates how to use the 4 remote controls, shows us some restaurants nearby on the map (TGI Fridays, Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.). She is very sweet. She slips off her shoes and leaves them outside the apartment.

I can recommend the Mansions at Azabu Towers apartments. I booked through www.moveandstay.com. It is located in the Rappongi area, near Akasaku. We have a 3 bedroom, which has 1 king bed and 2 single beds. It is perfect for us and will give us room to spread out and recover from jet lag. The apartment is not fancy and the carpet has some stains on it. It fairly nicely furnished and has everything you could possibly want (CD player, DVD, washer and dryer, microwave, iron, air conditioning). The beds are firm, but not terribly so. DH and I agree that the shower is excellent. The washer and dryer are by GE, in English, and work very quickly. The microwave is in Japanese and we have a bit of trouble figuring it out, even with some written directions in English.

Even though we knew where the McDonalds and Starbucks were , we decided to go to Jidaiya for lunch. This was mentioned in the Time Out Tokyo guide book, which, by the way, we really liked. The man at the front desk called to find out the menu for us and made a reservation and called a taxi and gave the taxi driver a map and told him where we were going. This was all pretty much unsolicited, as we just asked if he knew of the restaurant. He said, “May I call to find the menu? May I make a reservation?”, etc. The staff at Azabu Towers could not have been more helpful or accommodating. Then, the taxi driver was eating candy and offered us all a piece of Japanese hard candy to sample. More important, after 1 unsuccessful attempt, he eventually located the restaurant. It seems very difficult to find anything in Tokyo.

Jidalya has a doorway which is about 4 feet tall. Upon entering, we took off our shoes and left them in the rack by the door. The seating areas were sunk into the floor. The décor is fun. The choices were noodles, chicken or fish. We ordered some of everything and proceeded to enjoy it. Very little English was spoken, beyond noodles, chicken, fish, water. We felt totally out of our element, as we were unsure about the customs. The waitress was very smiley, so it wasn’t uncomfortable. It is just a new experience to realize that you stick out like a sore thumb and are probably doing everything wrong. Anyway, lunch is a very good deal at 880 yen, while dinner runs 5000 yen. DS1 is a very adventurous eater and tries and enjoys most everything. DS2 generally likes the more familiar food, but is game to order chicken and rice and taste a little bit of some new things.

The restaurant called a taxi to take us back to the apartment. While waiting, DS2 and I go into a small grocery store. When we come out, the taxi is there and we all try to get in. But the driver says “No, no”. We realize that he thinks we are trying to poach the cab from the fare he is supposed to be picking up. I point to the restaurant and pantomime a phone call. But we’ve come from the grocery store, so he doesn’t believe we are his fare. Finally, he says the car number, in English, and we say “Yes, yes.” He makes a call, I think to the restaurant, to confirm our story. Finally, we take off.

We spend the rest of the afternoon sleeping. I try to stay up, but when everyone else has been sleeping for a few hours, I finally succumb too. Then, we are all up at 2 am. Changing time zones is difficult for us.

laartista Jun 22nd, 2006 09:02 AM

This is an awesome report. Thanks for posting while on your trip.

HappyCheesehead Jun 22nd, 2006 09:09 AM

Travelgirl - I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying this!

I am starting to feel like I am getting to know a little about you and your family - it is like turning on your computer and being excited that your friend sent you an email while they were away on a trip!


LoveItaly Jun 22nd, 2006 10:49 AM

Count me in as another fan of your marvelous trip report travelgirl!! And your two sons sound like amazing travel partners. Interesting how serious the taxi driver was about making sure you were the correct passengers.

Wishing you all beautiful days. Thank you again for sharing your family's trip with all of us!

TuscanTweety Jun 22nd, 2006 11:09 AM

Travelgirl, would you like to adopt a slightly worn adult female as your daughter for the next family trip? Let me know if you decide to start taking applications.

;)

LCBoniti Jun 22nd, 2006 02:05 PM

This is so wonderful! I check back every so often throughout the day so I don't miss anything.

I love you for doing this! It is such a joy to share your trip with you. And, just think, you won't have to try to remember everything to write a trip report when you come home!

Best regards from the other side of the world,
Linda

escargot Jun 22nd, 2006 03:00 PM

This is magical!! Love getting it 'as it happens'
Keep taking good notes so you can update us - it's better than the travel channel !

SeaUrchin Jun 22nd, 2006 03:55 PM

Yes, I am loving this report too! I can't wait to read more, thanks!!

travelgirl2 Jun 23rd, 2006 03:46 AM

Day 5 – Tokyo

I am embarrassed to admit this to Fodors posters, but we have done two horrible things today. First, we took an organized bus tour. We decided that with one day in Tokyo, it is the only way we would get to see some things. We called in the morning and booked a Sunrise Tour.

The tour would pick us up at the ANA Hotel, which is sort of near where we are staying. As we were short on time, the front desk called us a taxi. They said it would arrive in 10 minutes, but it comes in only 3-4 minutes. We are noticing that every estimate of time turns out to be much longer than the actual time things take. Is this so you will be happily surprised when things happen quickly? Anyway, I’ve run back to the room to get something, so when the cab arrives, DH, DS1 and DS2 get in and the taxi takes off. They frantically try to tell the driver that they are waiting for another person. He finally stops, halfway down the street. When I come out of the building, I look and look for them and finally see DH waving to me from down the street.

The taxis are very interesting. The seats and seatbacks are covered in spotless white cloths. The doors close automatically, so you have to remember not to slam the door shut when you get out. You are not supposed to tip, as it is considered insulting.

While waiting for the tour at the ANA Hotel, we purchased croissants and pastries from their bakery on the 2nd floor. Delicious! There is a courtyard area directly behind the hotel where we sat and ate the pastries. There were several restaurants facing the courtyard, including Subway.

The tour turned out to be fine. The tour guide was very informative. We visited Tokyo Tower, Asakusa Kannon Temple (the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo) and Tasaki Pearl Gallery, where we learned about cultured pearls. We learned that many Japanese are both Shinto and Buddhist, Japan has a very high suicide rate, the average salary in Tokyo is about $52,000 per year (or was it 5200000 yen? how do they manage in this expensive city?). Also, the kids in school are required to learn English and a third language. It used to be that the most popular language was German, followed by French. Now, most kids are taking Chinese. The world is changing.

At one point, the tour guide asks if anyone on the bus speaks Spanish, as there is a Spanish couple on the tour and he needs to tell them that they will be dropped off at the temple in the front and they should meet the bus at a different place in the back of the temple. I volunteer and proceed to attempt to convey the message. Later, I notice another person on the tour effortlessly talking to the Spanish couple. Why didn’t they volunteer and save me the embarrassment? Oh well, I will be going to Spanish school later in the trip, so this was good practice.

At the Buddhist temple, two giggling schoolgirls show me their camera. I think they want me to take their picture. Then I realize that they want to take their picture with us. We had heard about this, but when it actually happens to us, we are amused and really can’t believe it. We, in turn, take our picture with them.

As we sightsee at the temple, there are people praying. I hope they don't mind all the tourists there while they practice their religion. They are just intermingled with the tourists, everyone standing in front of the shrines.

After the tour, we wandered around and stopped in a restaurant that had pictures of the food posted outside. It was totally random and I don’t know the name of the restaurant, as it was in Japanese. It was excellent. We all rated it a 10. The kids had chicken on a stick (yakitori, I believe), I had some meat fried and sashimi, and DH had chicken with an egg on top. Everything was really good. No English was spoken. We just pointed to the picture board they brought over.

We walked a while and stopped at a convenience market and bought chocolate snacks to enjoy later and yogurt and juice for tomorrow’s breakfast. Well, I hope it is juice, as the juice we bought this morning turned out to be iced tea. Then, we hailed a cab on the street. None of the taxi drivers we encountered spoke English. Even with the hotel card written in Japanese, they had trouble finding the place. Once again, I used the magic phrase – American Club. And we got home safely.

By the way, DS1 and DS2 have asked me to stop trying to speak Japanese, as it embarrasses them. When I tell this to my friend at home, she says she is glad I can embarrass them in Japan as well as I can embarrass them at home.

We relaxed for the afternoon, slept, did some laundry. Then (please forgive me), we ordered a pizza from Domino’s for dinner. Yes, Domino’s. They delivered it to our door, with a bow.

The kids watched a little TV. Cartoon network. There was a button to press on one of the remote controls which automatically switched the narration (sound, not subtitles) from Japanese to English. The kids watched some shows in Japanese. DS2 says that everything is funnier in Japanese. DH braved the subway for the first time and went to Ginza for an evening stroll, but the rest of us just wanted to catch up on our sleep. Tomorrow – the train to Kyoto.

Nikki Jun 23rd, 2006 04:31 AM

What a fascinating report! Glad to be able to accompany you vicariously on your travels.


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