Sunday, February 13, 2011

Our Taiwan Vacation - The Flight, and The Arrival

Our flight, Delta 281 ATL-NRT, departed very close to on time and we settled in for the long 14 hour, 50 minute flight. This was our first trip on a Boeing 777. Our previous trans-Pacific flights were always on the old 747’s (like the one we would not enjoy on our return trip through DTW). In comparison the 777 looked nicer inside and featured a personal TV screen in every seat. But I thought the seats were a bit harder than the old 747’s. I couldn’t help looking forward in envy of the business class travelers in their huge lie-flat seats with thick quilted blankets and a full-size pillow. Meanwhile we are all crammed like cattle and I am using my pathetic blanket and pillow to support my back and my butt on these damn rock-hard seats. As usual I picked an aisle seat so I can easily get up when I want to. My wife sat in the middle and a rather tall gentleman, who was a really nice guy, sat by the window. My wife and I each brought noise-canceling headphones to drown out the steady roar of the engines. Those things are essential for long-haul flights. I was looking forward to watching all the movies I loaded up on my laptop, but unfortunately the power plug under the seat would not work. Oh well, at least we had a decent selection of movies and TV shows on the on-demand system. I watched 3-4 movies but for the life of me I can’t remember them all now. The entire flight seems like a blur. I never can sleep on any flight which makes it extremely tiring and explains why I can’t remember much. What I do remember is looking at my watch frequently (perhaps too frequently) and staring in disbelief at how little time had passed since the last time I looked. We both drank lots of water, quickly depleting the 6 bottles we had brought with us. Dehydration is always a problem on these long flights and we could never seem to get enough water. As far as the food goes, it was OK but nothing fancy. More like the average frozen TV dinner you buy at the supermarket (and not the good ones either!). Time kept moving slowly, we kept asking for more water, and we got more exhausted as the flight went on. Occasionally we would stand up by the galley for a while, stretching our legs and trying to keep our moods up. We talked about how we would most likely fly to the west coast on our next Taiwan vacation before making the flight to Taiwan. It helps to break it up into shorter segments. Sitting on this plane for a solid 14-15 hours is almost more than we can take! The last part of our flight as we got close to Japan was rather bumpy and did not help us feel any better. We safely landed in Narita pretty much on time as the sun was about to set – which seemed pretty early for 4PM in the afternoon. Now we needed to get through the Narita security before doing anything else at the airport. Why we need another security screening, after going through a more exhaustive examination in the USA, is beyond me. A waste of time in my opinion but at least they are quick and efficient at it. No removing of the shoes here, expect for my wife who had a little too much metal decoration on her boots. We gathered our stuff on the other side of security and made our way into the terminal, first in search of a toilet then in search of the Skyclub. We had a couple of hours to kill again and I couldn’t wait to see the NRT Skyclub which I had heard so many good things about. My overall impression of the airport was not great as we walked through the terminal. It looked old, tired and outdated. The bathrooms were not in great shape with lot of broken parts here and there and dingy tile that looked 30 years old (and very well could have been!). This is the main Japan hub for international travel? When we finally discovered the Skyclub location we were pleasantly surprised. It was large, clean, and comfortable. The food selection was not bad and there was a decent choice of drinks, even self-serve beer machines! I want one of those at home! But sadly I didn’t partake of the beer because I think it would have made me feel worse at that point. I went straight for the coffee in a vain attempt at waking myself up. Didn’t help much, but at least I was comfortable for a short time in the cushy chairs while browsing the internet (checking Facebook of course). I wish I would have taken some photos but I just did not have the energy to mess with it. When it got close to boarding time we repeated the same process as Atlanta. This time my wife got snagged for a security check on the walkway to the aircraft. This was something I have never seen before and yet again seemed like a silly waste of time. I was worried about overhead bin space so I grabbed her roller bag and went on to our seats. Getting that bag into the small bins of this ancient 757 was a challenge. I managed to cram it in sideways and the girl already seated in our row was nice enough to move her bag back so I could fit my backpack up there. My wife eventually joined me a few minutes later and we wedged ourselves in another uncomfortable aircraft. Leaving NRT seemed to take forever. We taxied for at least 30 minutes while my wife was in dire need of using the lav. After takeoff the wait was too much to bear for her and she got up long before the seat belt sign was turned off. When you gotta go you gotta go! The flight to Taiwan was rough, adding nausea to our exhaustion. I couldn’t even think about eating the meal they served. We made it to the gate slightly early but still at a late hour of nearly 10PM. With a little second wind of energy we sped through customs and out to the arrivals area. Now we faced the challenge of contacting the rental car company. We had no phone (I brought my GSM-capable phone but we needed to buy a SIM card first) and no Taiwan money for the pay phones. My wife went over to a little shop and bought a couple of drinks so we could have some coins for the phone. While she called I stood by our luggage fending off half a dozen cab drivers who wanted our business. We got our directions where to wait for them and proceeded outside the terminal and across to an island in the middle of the roads in the cool and wet night. It felt good to be outside, even if we were surrounded by a chaos of cars, taxis, and shuttle buses. Our rental company van eventually arrived and we were told we had too much luggage to fit in one van. They suggested I go first and my wife follow on the next van. She was not too pleased with this arrangement but reluctantly agreed. The trip to the rental car office seemed like a crazy maze of incomprehensible logic. I remember at first we made a big loop around to the left and drove right by the very place we were just standing, but from the back side. All that way to go around just to make a right turn! Great planning there. I was dropped off at the office along a dark, dingy road and stood there feeling a bit lost and disoriented. A couple more vans came in but still no sign of my wife. After what seemed like an hour, but was really only about 20 minutes, my wife arrived and stepped out of the van looking a little displeased. I found out later that the van had nearly passed her by and she yelled out some obscenities before another company’s driver assisted and got the van to stop (kudos to that guy!). After a few minutes our Nissan Livina arrived and we were ready to officially begin our vacation in Taiwan. We liked this car from the beginning, with ample space for all of our luggage. It was a little hard to get used to at first and being so late and dark it did not help us to locate all of the controls. We cautiously made our way out to freeway #2 and immediately got a strong dose of Taiwanese driving. Cars flew by us on both sides and, as we merged onto the freeway, they even came by on the right side long after the lane ended. We made it to Jhongli where we had a room reserved at the Chinatrust Hotel. Once we got into Jhongli my wife’s memory kicked in and she knew her way around. We arrived at Chinatrust close to midnight and parked in the sidewalk/courtyard area right in front of the building (with their permission of course). Once we made it to our room we were tired but strangely not ready for sleep. We were hungry and decided to venture out and see what we could find. One thing I love about Taiwan is always being able to find some street food when you are out late at night. We found a corner shop serving a variety of soups, noodles, and dumplings. That really hit the spot! Later we walked down to a nearby night market and everyone was closing up shop already. Too bad, back to the hotel! We hit the bed very late and managed a few hours sleep before another day would begin.

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