Stroke of good luck

First off, Friday night I stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (free night award).  I intended to get a drink at the bar, look for Bill Murray, and enjoy the view.  I even packed a pair of dress shoes just for this event.

It turns out they do have a dress code — no jeans, shorts, short-sleeve shirts, and appropriate footwear (read this online, so I avoided the awkward moment by just showing up).  I have the wardrobe to get by this, but my slacks were pretty wrinkled and my dress shirt was also victim to The Night That Won’t Be Named.  It smelled less like peaches and more like a long hike at the Grand Canyon.

The bar also has a ~$26 cover and drinks were about the same.  I decided not to spend $50 to $70 to feel self-conscious in a really nice setting.  Instead, I spent $15 to have a drink from the mini-bar while enjoying the view from my room.

Which is a long way of saying that I really needed to do some laundry, my goal for Saturday.  As Chelsea can tell you, this isn’t always easy (Budapest comes to mind).  So just my luck that I was early for checkin at my hotel and home for the next three nights, and they have coin-operated machines IN the hotel.  At the mini-mart across the street I grabbed coins and some detergent (complete with me acting out scrubbing my shirt to the clerk) and got to removing three days of sweat and fear from my clothes.

Yes, the kiss marks are from me.

I pack enough to get through about 7 days, wearing and pants or shirts twice.  I was in the middle of day four and wearing pretty much the last things I could wear (slight exaggeration, but all t-shirts and undershirts were toast), so on this 13 day trip the timeline moved up quite a bit.  Which is why it’s great the hotel has laundry, which I had been planning on being a good 4-hour adventure.

This is a Rick Steves inspired (stolen) packing strategy, but the idea is it’s better to do laundry once or twice than to struggle with luggage.  Being mobile can be a lifesaver on metros, stairs and busy streets.

My life for two weeks

I am all-in on this packing strategy after four trips abroad, but it is possible your pack’s contents will prevent you from reenacting a movie scene now and then.

But don’t worry about me, I reenacted another scene the next morning.

Pool at the Park Hyatt (did some laps)

Required headwear, feeling confident

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Sayonara Kyoto

I wrapped up my brief time in Kyoto yesterday.  Fittingly I missed the every-thirty-minutes hotel shuttle by seconds, but the subway went fine.

In hindsight, I should have stayed longer in Kyoto.  It’s not a city that should be rushed.  There are areas great for walking and just enjoying, but with only about a day and a morning to see things, my focus was there.

Never came up with a great joke, but a barbed fence along the Path of Philosophy.

Did I have fun? You bet.  I love travel because it challenges your expectations and views.  While I wasn’t blown away by the temples, they were worth the transit/walk to them, which is saying something in this weather.

Thursday morning I woke up and went into town for breakfast.  There aren’t many places open before lunchtime, but there was a corner rice bowl place open so I ate there.  This place and many of the smaller and quick places use a ticket machine to pay and place your order, which you then hand to the cook.  The little pictures on the buttons are helpful, but twice now I’ve only had the slightest idea what I was ordering.  Which is actually kind of fun.

Conversation in my head: Okay, those top ones have rice under them and come with miso.  Those ones below look like dishes of a protein only and I’m not sure from what animal.  So rice dish.  That one has green onions all over it, it’s the number two button so it has to be pretty common.  Deal.

A couple hours later I walked from my hotel on the east side of the city, up into Northern Higashiyama.  Very close to my hotel was Nanzen-ji Temple.  I don’t believe you’re allowed into most of the temples, so you walk the grounds to see the structures and check out their gardens.

And here is a shot of the zen garden:

I then headed up the Path of Philosophy to Ginkaku-ji Temple.

For lunch I had a dish known there which I will shamefully describe as a savory pancake.  They mix batter, squid, and other things into a bowl then cook it on a hot top.  They serve it whole and you cut segments off to put on your plate.  It was good (sorry, pictures on iPhone).

Later in the afternoon I went out to the Arashiyama area to see Tenryu-ji Temple and the bamboo forest.  This temple had a bigger campus than the others.

That night I rested in hopes to feeling up to the trip out Nara, which it turned out I wasn’t.  So this morning I went out to see the Golden Temple before going to the train station to catch by bullet train to Tokyo.

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How do you say ‘hotel shuttle’ in Japanese?

I’m thinking I might start a new blog post category called “Andrew’s Pain Equals Fun for You.”  If you are heading to Japan soon, this one might also be informational.

About two hours into my 3.5-hour voyage to the darkest part of my soul, it hit me how a very small amount of money was preventing me from ending a travel nightmare.  That’s when I approached a sign waver and offered him $20 USD for any amount of yen he might have between 500 and 1000 — $20USD is somewhere around double that value. All I needed was 300 yen to take the metro to my hotel.

It didn’t take.  Language barrier was an issue, as well as I was acting and looking like a lunatic.  I was exhausted and started walking again.  It was around 87 degrees, solid humidity, I was wearing the jeans and long-sleeve shirt from the flight, and I was carrying my backpack and satchel totalling in around 40 pounds.

The problem was my debit card wasn’t working anywhere.  A first for me, as I’ve always pulled out cash once arriving in country (with usually about $200 USD for emergencies).  I couldn’t even buy water at a convenience store to restore all of the water I was losing to my now 30-pound undershirt.

I’d successfully taken the train from the Osaka airport to Kyoto station, but as soon as cash was needed it turned out I would be toast.  My route around Kyoto the other night would look something like a Survivor in a maze challenge.  I doubled back, went down one busy street then back the same way a couple blocks up.  Came back to same areas hoping to find banks in my guide book.  All over the place.

After the sign waver I just decided to walk to the hotel.  In hindsight, I don’t think it’d have taken more than an hour if I’d gone direct from the station there.  After about 30 mins into the walk I saw an American looking guy on his phone.  He was rightfully skeptical, but informed me about the card issue, and eventually gave me 1000 yen for $20.  Enough for a taxi the rest of the way, including the hill that leads up to the hotel.

The card issue — it’s apparently known that overseas cards work just about nowhere in Japan.  It’s gotten better, 7-11s are supposed to accept them,  but my card wasn’t even working there.  I had to find a post office the next day to pull out cash at their better-connected machine.

The other issues involve me.  I should also get currency ahead of trips to hit the ground running.  The equivalent of about $3 USD would have made this never happen.

The second problem was not doing my research (funny cause I just had that post about planning…).  My hotel has a shuttle to/from the station.  I read this in their directory this morning.  Granted I did a ton of hotel research, but not enough on how to get there.

I’m ready to laugh about it now, because I had a full and enjoyable day in Kyoto hitting the sights (not that you’d know if I was crying by the amount of sweat).

I’ll try and get another post up about the places I hit before leaving for Tokyo tomorrow.

 

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Alive!

I’ll try and write a longer post this evening (1:30pm here). Wireless access is non existent so far. Just shelled out $$ for lobby wireless at my hotel.

Adventurous arrival into Kyoto. My post later might be titled “There Will Be Sweat” or “Lost, Cashless, Heat and Humidity: 3.5 Hours Abroad”

20110914-092743.jpg

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Making sure you get a good seat

This trip I’m going on is all using miles.  From Delta, 110,000 miles, and from American Airlines, 50,000 miles.  That’s two different award tickets on several different airlines, all in business class except for the two flights that get me from Dubai to Istanbul.

There are a lot of steps involved to booking an award ticket, if you want to spend the time, but one important piece is making sure you like the seat you’re getting.  For coach this probably is a question of whether my seat has a personal video device or not.  In business, you’re shooting for a seat that lies flat and parallel to the floor.

How to know what you’re getting?  I browse award space to see how availability is doing.  If it’s really tight and I’m only seeing a single opportunity, it doesn’t really matter.  Just make sure you can get a seat.  If there are options, and you’re doing business, then you want to note the plane and flight number.  From there it’s usually a two-step process for me.

I will go to SeatGuru and enter my flight information to see what they say.  If it’s an international flight and it says recliner seat, that’s not ideal.  Some of the newest plane configurations have a lot of room.  For instance some Delta flights using the 777 have only three seats across, with a flat-bed seat.

I will also Google “delta A330 business class trip report” to see what people are saying/showing about those seats.  A lot of people take videos or extensive pictures of cabins.  Seeing things like “these are the old Northwest Airlines seats” are worth noting.

So for getting to Japan, I had the choice of connecting down to LAX and then flying Delta’s 777 to Tokyo.  I wanted to do this, but the flights from SEA to LAX were not good (leaving SEA and having about 8hrs layover in LAX).  Delta flies SEA to Osaka direct, but on older planes because this is a lot less popular route.  In the past this route used a 767 configuration which did not get great reviews.  However, when I checked recently, it showed an A330 which wasn’t wonderful, but through trip reports and Seat Guru, I saw that seat IJ had a lot of legroom. That meant I could have a window seat and still climb over the stranger sitting next to me, important because The Wife isn’t wife me for this trip.  Its business seats also go flat, but at a slight angle to the floor.

So I balanced the saved time and reasonable seat option and went with SEA to Osaka.  And as it turns out (at least right now), I may not even have someone in the seat next to me.  After checking in you can check how full your section is by going to Expedia and finding your flight.

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Why Type A Travels?

I know there’s a Bio section, or About Me section that I haven’t filled out.  That’s one reason I’m trying a blog for the first time — this is the same web platform that we use at work and I’d like to get a better grasp on WordPress.

Type A Travels has two meanings to me.  Ask any family, friend or coworker, and they’ll tell you I’m a planner.  Likely they’ll have a less-flattering term for it, but I’ve embraced it.  Type A personality is another name for it, so this refers both to myself traveling, as well as other travelers that enjoy doing some research.

So I may only do this for a couple weeks, or I may try and pass along info to friends and family for longer.  Either way I plan to post my travels, as well as tips to help others get out in the world.  It’s a format I’ve enjoyed on other blogs.

One last defense I’ll offer for why I’m trying a blog for the first time is this.  On my first trip to Europe in 2004, I did a month-long trip by myself through too many countries and had way too good of a time.  I also did about ten email updates to people back home, which I recently found again in my old Hotmail account.  Needless to say it was a kick reading my instant reaction to the things I was experiencing back then.  Below is a good chunk of my first email from Andrew minus seven years:

I slept about 2 hours on the second flight and couldn’t sleep anymore. Coming into London there was a lot of fog so I couldn’t see anything below the plane until it dropped down pretty far. Then I saw a country road with people driving on the wrong side and I knew I had made it.
The airport I flew into is under construction and therefore sucked. I had to wait in lines for about 45 mins after getting off the plane just to get to the place to stand in line for the passport check. Taking the express train into town was very easy thanks to my BritRail pass. I got off and started walking around. I saw quite a few things (Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abby, etc) all in passing and will go back tomorrow and take a closer look. I went to the War Cabinet Rooms where Churchill and his crew hid out during WWII. That was interesting and worth the 10 bucks.
After that my lack of sleep started catching up with my so I hit up a pub for fish and chips and a Guinness. Ordering food is very different over here, but once the guy told me to come and order at the counter so he could then bring it out to me, I had it figured out.
Right now I am typing at my lovely hotel and its about 1:30 in the afternoon. My room is on the top floor and is about the size of half my dorm room back in CM. The bathroom and shower is a flight down for mutual use among the cheap people like me.
Hope all is well with you all and let me know whats going on back home. There aren’t many Americans over here and the only language being spoken, besides a version of English that was left behind when people came to America, is what I believe to be Russian.

Alright, this is probably an exercise for my own enjoyment in about 10 years.

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Time to time travel

About 24 hours until I board my plane to Osaka.  Not sure how to deal with the jet lag that will come from the steps in this trip, but maybe it’s so extreme that it will actually be better?

Here’s how I’ll be traveling into the future before slowly going back in time over a few flights.

And yes, that's my terrible cell signal from holding the phone.

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