Author Archives: Dan

Ways I beat jet lag

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My trip to South America had me travelling continuously door to door for 33 hours, on three flights, crossing ten time zones. I arrived free of jet lag to maximise the time abroad. How did I do it?

1. Develop a workable sleeping plan

I find that staying up when I need to is a lot easier than going to sleep on demand when I am not tired. Staying up all night the night before my travel allowed me to delay the bulk of my sleep for the 11 hour Trans-Pacific flight from Auckland to Santiago. This way, I woke up at about 7am in the local time of my ultimate destination, Bogotá. Bingo, already adjusted my body clock.

2. Actually sleep on the plane

Which I found to be quite easy, on LAN’s business class camas, complete with fluffy pillows and warm doonas.

The amazing transformer chair - the sleep was amazing

The amazing transformer chair – the sleep was amazing

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My world tour is almost here

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In early June 2012, I booked myself a trip around the world to visit a part of the world I had long wanted to visit. The itinerary was bare, as it contained only intercontinental flights and featured long, empty surface sectors between distant airports. I had planned six weeks in South America, two weeks in North America, one week in Europe, and three days in Hong Kong.

And then I sat on it and dwelled, for months.

Fast forward to now, and I am exactly four weeks shy of my departure date at 8:10am November 27 where I travel to Bogota, Colombia. I am frantically piecing together integral must-do components of my trip, such as clases de Español, hiking the Inca trail, viewing Aurora Borealis and Niagara Falls.

I created a budget to give me an idea of how much I thought I’d need for the trip. Numerous vague assumptions later, I came up with a figure so large I refused to believe it. So I did. And now I regret doing so as thousands of dollars pour out of my bank account to pay deposits for tours and accommodation with little trickling in to replenish the stream. It’s much like a financial El Niño, minus the water restrictions (to Australia, at least).

And I just discovered yesterday that to save $800 in flights, I have to send away my passport to get myself a Brazilian visa and jump through the administrative hoops amid pressing deadlines.

The planning is frantic, yet exhilarating and enjoyable at the same time. I hope the trip itself is more so!

So in short, I don’t have everything sorted, lack the required visas for everywhere I plan to go, have no idea how I will afford it all, but I am very, very excited.

It’ll be the time of my life.

Virgin’s ATR72 – basically a back-to-front Q400

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ATR72-500 at Rockhampton Airport

Here it is, my first trip aboard the ATR72-500, a French-Italian collaboration introduced to Australia by Virgin Australia, through operating partner Skywest, to more cheaply compete with Qantaslink’s Bombardier Q400’s on regional routes. The trip today was Rockhampton to Townsville where Virgin have launched a non-stop daily service to compete with Qantaslink’s twice-daily-but-never-on-time milk run via Mackay.

My first impressions were the same as that of every other ATR virgin. Rear door boarding? Huh? The aircraft is quite unique in that the aircraft places the luggage hold as a barrier between the flight deck and the passenger cabin. A few possibilities ran through my mind as to why this is the case. Flight deck security considerations? Shifting the people rearward achieves a better weight balance?

Regardless, it removes the motivation to instinctively pick the front rows of the plane, as you have to balance the quieter, more

View from Row 4

comfortable ride and prestige of having a low row number against the very practical benefit of sitting at the back of the bus and being first off.

For what it’s worth, I picked row 4, not sure why. I just liked the number.

Perhaps it’s some psychological mind game played that gets people get on and off planes faster? Because, let’s face it Virgin need all the loading efficiencies they can get. There’s no two ways about it, this plane is slooowwwww.  The plane has a cruising speed roughly three-quarters that of the Q400, and 40% slower than the Embraer jet that Virgin used to fly on this route, and by doing that, you heavily begin to erode the time savings that the non-stop service brings.

But the serious uptick for Virgin is that by going slow and burning less fuel, you have quite the efficient little plane. A Virgin engineer once told me that the break-even point for these planes are roughly 35 passengers, or only half full, which gives the airline plenty of room to move on pricing, and allows them to justify spending more time letting the market on thin routes against an incumbent operator like Rockhampton to Townsville mature and grow.

Back to the plane, as a relatively tall person, I didn’t fit very well. When standing up straight, I could just touch the ceiling while walking down the aisle, and walking down the aisle felt like a real life version of the board game Operation as I dodged the opened doors of the overhead compartments.

One false step, and BAM! Brain damage. Something I luckily managed to avoid.

The usual 30-inch seat pitch sardine can

In terms of passenger comfort, there superficially felt no difference between the Q400 and the ATR, both have cramped blue leather seats, boarding music (though the ATR didn’t feature the Boy and Bear cover of Fall at Your Feet), and a vomit bag, among other similarities. The biggest difference is that the cabin in the latter feels slightly more claustrophobic with the lower headroom, but makes up for it with the superiority of having window shades. In lieu of a full buy-on-board catering service, we were offered biscuits and cheese, with a water or juice.

All in all, and uneventful flight.

The orange cancer that saved Easter

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8 April 2012

I was ready to hate Jetstar and swear never to travel with them again.

Especially after the flight to Japan in which they reneged on the paid seating allocation and placed us in middle seats – we were eventually given aisle seats in the back row of the plane, right next to the toilets. And then forgot our food and drinks, and then when finally offered, did not provide a choice.

But check-in for my trip home was the ultimate slap in the face. In contrast to standard practice for long-haul overnight flights, I wasn’t entirely dreading this trip as, you see, I had managed to take advantage of a fortuitous business class sale, which meant I got myself into the pointy end of the plane for just $80 more than an economy seat on the same flight.

But panic ensued as the third-party check-in agents tried every possible means of finding my booking, without success. My troubles were escalated to the manager, the only person at the whole airport actually employed by Jetstar, who let me know that, in a stunning disconnect between what was booked and what was offered, I was in the wrong check-in queue as my booking showed me in economy class.

Oh, and I was in the wrong city too. Apparently, I was departing that night from Osaka, not Tokyo, which was news to me.

While I got what I paid for back in the end, it was a complete waste of half an hour that could have been better spent drinking $80 worth of scotch in the lounge. The check-in manager was apologetic, but not forthcoming with compensation, with the exception of a tiny fold-up stool to sit on in the check-in hall that made me feel like a little person.

But then I received a surprise. The inclusion of a Lindt chocolate egg on the dinner tray of my Easter Sunday red-eye flight home.

Lindt Easter Egg

Artists Impression of Lindt Easter egg - do not attempt to print and eat

Easter was an event I had simply forgotten about this year. With Christianity being the religion of only a very small minority of Japanese, the locals go about their daily business completely oblivious to the fact that more than billions of people worldwide are enjoying a holiday, regardless of whether they are Christian or otherwise. It is a little surreal when you realise that an event observed ritualistically every year since birth suddenly ceases to exist, barely noticing it’s passing.

It is also amusing watching the Japanese man next to me staring at the red ovoid with an inquisitive glance, his eyes silently questioning it’s significance.

He chooses not to eat it, and sleeps instead. Which was convenient, because it meant I could have two.

The wind is like the air, only pushier – a story of failure

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3 April 2012

Sometimes, circumstance conspires against you to ensure that your best laid plans go awry, no matter what you do, the outcome remains the same. Failure. This succinctly describes our attempt to watch an AFC Champions League game between a Uzbekistani team and Gamba Osaka, who were recently beaten by Adelaide United in a shock upset.

Fail #1: The weather

A strong storm cell emerged over the northern island of Hokkaido, which caused what was described by the local media as ‘typhoon-like conditions’, with seemingly little regard for its meteorological definition. Regardless, is was miserably cold, barely hitting 10°C, pouring intermittent rain, and my favourite, blowing the kind of gale that makes attempting to use an umbrella a pointless exercise.

Thankfully, the people of Osaka have realised their weather isn’t always particularly pleasant, and have built ridiculously elaborate and complex underground shopping centres strung together with more shops and more underground walkways stretching kilometres. It is entirely possible for many people to travel from home to work and home again via the shops without actually seeing natural light, or anything green.

Nevertheless, we were determined to get to the game, so we took the next step.

Fail #2: Finding a place to buy tickets

Motivated by the 500 yen ($6) per person discount for online ticket purchasing, we were keen to pre-purchase. Sure, we could have bought tickets using the internet available at our accommodation, but then the problem was printing it out.

The solution seemed simple, all we needed to do was find an internet café, and we were in Umeda, the business centre of Osaka. It couldn’t be simpler! Or so we thought.

We spent an hour, walking around the underground labyrinth, including a couple of hotels, for a computer with printing facilities with no success. Eventually we opted to search for an internet café using Google Maps on a local phone, but that also proved difficult, given they’re not actually called that in Japan.

For future reference, convenience stores (combini in the local parlance) often have printers available, and we believe internet cafés are called media centres if you are trying to search for one.

Fail #3: Buying the tickets

Of course, after finding a computer, and paying the 425 yen ($5) to use it for half an hour, I quickly discover that because we had left our run so late (2 hours before kick-off), online ticket purchases were no longer available.

Having resigned ourselves to paying the surcharge for buying at the gate, we printed out the access instructions for the stadium and continued on our way.

Fail #4: The subway is closed

Attempting to catch the Midosuji Line in peak hour, Osaka Municipal Subway’s busiest line, is never normally recommended, but we were men on a mission, and we had to do what we needed to, to make the game. What we encountered at Umeda subway station was pedestrian gridlock. And after making our way through the ticket gates and down to the platform we found out why.

An announcement is made over the PA, Michael listens, and relays the message to Sham and I; due to the adverse weather, the subway wasn’t travelling all the way to the end of the line, where we needed to go.

That’s alright, we thought, there are other options to get the stadium. So we headed to another line where we were able to get to the stadium by transferring to the monorail system at the terminus. Or so we thought.

Fail #5: The monorail is closed

So of course when we arrive at the monorail station, we discover the monorail is out of action for at least half an hour for reasons that couldn’t adequately be explained by the station staff.

I watched as my watch ticked past 7pm, kickoff time for the game. We would struggle to make it there by half time if we had to wait for the monorail to reopen, so intelligently we cut our losses, returned to Umeda, and sought an Irish pub to watch what was left of the game on TV.

Asahi in a glass

File footage of a delicious beer

Fail #6: The Irish pub

We immediately prop ourselves up on bar stools in front of the television, which was playing an Australia vs New Zealand rugby game from many years ago. Having politely asked the bar staff to switch to the Gamba Osaka game, which in theory would be popular in Osaka. She fumbles around through a few sports channels unsuccessfully, and returns to tell us that she cannot find the correct channel.

To add insult to injury, she leaves on the screen a local game of baseball, a game I know little about beyond what Wii Sports has taught, which is mainly just wrist control, and that comprehensively flogging someone early in the match invokes a mercy rule. We reluctantly watch.

So after roughly five hours of constant failure, we managed to watch zero gameplay of the soccer, in what could be a good contender for the biggest fail streak ever.

Nara – the natural habitat of deer and moss

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2 April 2012

Deer in Nara

Tourists engage with a passing deer

On the strong recommendation of our Kansai tour guide Michael, a day trip was made to the historic capital of Nara. It is a short 45 minute journey from Osaka on the JR Yamatoji Rapid train, as long as you get on in the correct direction, which in the afternoon we thought was a silly idea and one that we neglected to use.

Two things defined Nara, deer and moss.

Deer are to Nara what canals are to Venice and murder is to Washington DC – they make the place. They roam freely through the streets, tamed and trained though years of conditioning to pose for photos and stalk tourists for food. And they are protected. A plethora of local laws dictate what can and can’t be done with deer, such as limiting food supplies to the biscuits sold by roadside vendors, and the townsfolk are extremely protective. It goes without saying that deer have right-of-way on the roads.

Mossy walkway

Moss lines the lanterns tucked away in the rainforest

Moss is another prevalent feature of Nara. It may simply be the age of some of the features, with some over a millennium in age, but it was quite prominent. I’m not entirely sure whether we copied others or not to begin with, but our enthusiasm for taking photographs of this potentially prehistoric moss was readily copied by other tourists.

But Nara is not all about flora and fauna, it was once a capital many centuries ago, before even Kyoto, and also a place where the Buddhist beliefs and Shinto rituals began to forge a strangehold, as evidenced by the majestic temples and shrines nestled within the foothills on the periphery of the city centre.

I attempted to cleanse myself of bad luck and spirits by showering myself in the smoke from a burning incense stick, but I don’t think I did it well enough – I got sick a couple of days later.

Burning incense outside Todai-ji

Burning incense outside Todai-ji

We’re not in Kansai anymore

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1 March 2012

Atomic Bomb Dome

Atomic Bomb Dome - one of the few buildings not levelled by the bomb

To satisfy the history buff within, we went for a day trip to Hiroshima, to visit the incredible museum dedicated to the memory of those who died from the world’s first use of the atomic bomb on the city in August 1945. It is an extremely moving and insightful place, and I cannot recommend the visit highly enough. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is set in a beautiful park land built on an island that was levelled by the bomb.

The whole experience is very humbling, and really gives you a sense of fear when you discover that while that one bomb could kill 200,000 people, the world remains in possession of bombs that are several orders of magnitude more powerful.

The bomb, ironically dubbed ‘Little Boy’, caused supersonic winds, torched the earth to 5,000°C, and if that didn’t knock the buildings over, the resulting fires would have.

It was interesting to note that the museum did not take sides or point blame, merely presenting facts in a very cautiously objective manner.

Okonomiyaki

Delicious modern Okonomiyaki - noodles, pork, veges with an egg cracked over the top

After all the learning in Hiroshima, what better way to cap it off than with an Asahi and okonomiyaki  – noodles, pork, egg and vegetables served as a round portion that comes in somewhere between a pizza and an omelette. Very delicious! Some places even let you prepare it yourself at the table.