Monday, November 02, 2009

On the way to Japan: First Rome, then Tokyo

AOG, Tokyo

My partner found this really good deal to Tokyo with Alitalia a few days ago and, almost on a whim, bought (after some consultation with yours truly and his own brother and some friends) two plane tickets to Japan.

Alitalia is an Italian airline which neither one of us had flown before, and, as a company, it gets really bad publicity in the European press.

A friend of ours told us about the experience a friend of his had with it last August.

Apparently they lost his luggage on the trip to Rome from Caracas, and, for the duration of his stay, he was without any of his things. He did get them back in the end. Once he returned to Venezuela!

It seems they are also on strike these days.

With this in mind, we left my partner's apartment early in the morning for our 11:45 flight to Rome. It is quite funny that a few months ago we discussed where to go in the Summer and we mentioned Rome a few times, before settling on Brasil (see previous posts).

So in the end, we went to both places...almost.

Rome's airport is on the coast, and nowhere near 'la città eterna'.

Funny how some things turn out...right?

The flight itself was not too bad. Although the interior color scheme is identical to that of a plasticky Christmas tree (same odd green hue), the seats were large enough for both of us, and comfortable enough.

The staff were a combination of politeness, aloofness, attitude, and airline industry courtesy. I don't think they can really be faulted for much. We got a small free snack on the way over. And some red orange juice which we both found very strange.

Be that as it may, however, that is more than what I can say for Iberia!

Once in Rome's airport, it was a slightly mad rush to the gate. We kept thinking how British the thing looked. Spartan meets budget cuts and aims for design. If nothing else, it is functional.

And just as expensive to shop in as Britain's (and Spain's) airports.

When we arrived at the gate, it was swarming with (mostly) Japanese tourists. How odd, I thought, that they should fly Alitalia to Europe -we had seen some of them in our flight from Barcelona. A few minutes later, I saw that many of the women were carrying Gucci bags, Prada backpacks, Missoni sweaters....and then it all became clear!

Once on the plane, we discovered the anomaly that our flight from Barcelona had been. The seats were not very comfortable, nor were they spacious. Furthermore, the flight was packed. And I mean packed!

I think there was only one spare seat next to one of the window exits. Next to me there sat a middle aged Japanese couple. Next to my partner, there was a couple around my age. We were both lucky enough that the wife (small Japanese lady in both cases) sat next to each of us. In Spain this normally does not happen.

The husband always sits next to me to ensure I don't disturb or take away his wife (if only they knew!). It appears that in Japan they have other things to think about....or maybe they want me to take and disturb their wife! Who knows.

The first odd thing we noticed about the Japanese (and this has turned out to be first of hundreds...and counting) was the large amount of passengers wearing masks over their faces. Throughout the whole 12 our flight, they never took off the mask. We found it a bit odd. Especially when, at the back of the plane, a small self-service minibar was set up by the crew.

They would come over, pour themselves a drink, and lower their mask for a few seconds to take a sip. Then they returned to their sit and all, I think, slept with their mask on.

After being served dinner at around 5PM our time, we were not to be served anything else until about 1 hour and 45 minutes before landing at Narita Airport, one hour outside Tokyo. To say that I almost starved to death is cutting it short. Oh my God were we ever hungry! There were not enough saltines and crackers to keep us going on that plane!

I slept most of the journey but once I got up from my slumber, I stayed up until we landed. And, unfortunately, everyone's personal TV screen and entertainment center -located on the seatback in front of you- worked, but mine.

I told the crew about it, but they are not engineers. What can they do, other than reset it as many times as you ask them to? Nothing. And no, there was no chance of an upgrade unfortunately.

Finally, after a 14 hour journey from Barcelona (and 3 hours sleep before leaving), we landed in Tokyo.

And Oh! Mah! Gad! the things we were about to see!

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