When we arrive in a port, we get an announcement on the tannoy (hopefully in the corridors and not the cabins, but the speaker in my corridor is very loud, nonetheless) to tell us when we are allowed to go ashore. This is usually at about half eight-ish in the morning. It is fairly pointless to rush off this early, in my opinion, because nothing will be open, ANYWHERE, so we tend to aim for 9.30/10, which seems (a) more sensible and (b) more civilised – we are on holiday, after all! In Japan (and Korea), nothing much opens before 11/11.30am, so rushing off in the early hours makes even less sense here. In fact, I said to Dad I would be happy to work in retail if the hours were 12-9, like they are here, and not 9-5.
You are not going to believe this. Today’s announcement? 07:06. Heaven help you if you were planning a lie-in!
Luckily, I’m not cross, because I was already up, because we have been still for a while, and my body clock doesn’t like that, as you know. Right? So what do I do for the next two hours until my breakfast comes?!
Osaka is twinned with San Francisco but is on the same latitude as Los Angeles. So now you know.
It also has what used to be the world’s biggest passenger ferris wheel (a record now held by Las Vegas). Of course you know that the Singapore Flyer and the London Eye are not ferris wheels, but observation wheels, so I don’t need to explain that to you. 😉 Does anyone remember what I wrote about the wheel last time we were here? Something about a bear of very small brain?
So, anyway, went ashore and grabbed a taxi to the station. Turned out it was a LOT further away than Google Maps led us to believe (like TWICE the time)! Once at the Shinkansen Station (separate stations for different types of trains in Osaka – pay attention), I used the ticket machine to buy some tickets, but, although the machine spoke in English, the very last page was in Japanese only and nothing seemed to happen, so we had to give in and ask for help. A nice guard put it all back into Japanese and did it again, and completed the process for us. We ended up with 12 tickets and two receipts for just two journeys! That’s two tickets per person per trip. And you put BOTH tickets through at once into the gate. Which come out stamped – don’t ask me how. Then up onto the platform. We had unreserved tickets – which I do not recommend. Pay the extra. Get a seat number. And get one in cars 6, 7 or 8, because there although there are stairs and escalators to all three parts of the train, they all basically come out near 6, 7 or 8. And then you have to walk to the front or back to get to the numbers you actually need.
There is STEP-FREE ACCESS from street to train here. Brilliant. And barriers to prevent people falling/ jumping in front of the trains. On board, it is pretty much like any other modern train. Full of people, fairly comfy seats, but with annoyingly small windows. The trip to Kyoto takes 15 minutes exactly. Word of warning: when it says the train is 11.30, it means it LEAVES at 11.30 ON THE DOT, not that it arrives at the platform then. If you aren’t on it by then, you’re getting the next – there’s one every 15 minutes. Precision timing is everything. The ride is, as you would expect, VERY smooth and EXTREMELY quiet. You have no idea how fast you’re moving. In fact, if you don’t look out the window, you can’t even tell you’re moving at all. Very pleasant form of pubic transport travel.
While we were queuing for a cab at Kyoto station (only one big station here for all the different trains), it started to rain, so it wasn’t the greatest welcome to a new city! We went to the Westin Miyako hotel for lunch at their Shi Sen restaurant. Their Chinese food was SUPERB and the service was excellent. We also had a stunning view over Kyoto. Yes, the observant amongst you will have noticed we ate Chinese food in Japan. That’s because their Teppanaki restaurant doesn’t open until the evenings. Which was a shame.
There was a blossom chart in the hotel lobby, which said that the best cherry blossom was currently at the Imperial Palace, so we took a taxi there, instead of our planned visit to Maruyama Park. Having failed to find a wheelchair or anyone to explain the ticketing, we found some peach blossoms – the cherry blossom is still in bud, it isn’t out at all much yet. So the blossom report was wrong. Brilliant. At least the rain had stopped. And we saw some pretty trees.
Then back to the station and back on the train. This time, it pulled in as we got there, so we just jumped into the nearest carriage and sat down in allegedly reserved seats. But as it was the last stop before terminating at Osaka, we weren’t disturbed, and had a pleasant little trip back. There is no gap between Osaka and Kyoto – the buildings never cease – between one and the other. I suppose this is why it is considered one city from the point of view of the world’s largest city measurements. It’s continuous. Mile upon mile of buildings, with only the occasional playing field to break the grey with a splash of green that whizzes by so past, your eyes are still thirsty for it.
Once back in Osaka, we took a taxi to Bic Camera, the huge tax-free electronics store where, on our last visit, I bought a laptop and a camera. No such luck this time. The only computer lady who could be bothered to talk to us, did not speak enough English to make the sale. We even used Google Translate on one of the machines in order to converse! She said that all the computers now default to Japanese, and if you want other languages, you have to do a free download of a language pack. When I said I would be happy with that, as long as we could do it before leaving the store, so I knew it had worked, she could not understand. And she could not find any staff member to speak to me in English.
So we left empty-handed. I cannot spend 400 quid on a computer if I cannot be sure that it speaks the same language as I do! We were disappointed that a store aimed at tourists now hires people that don’t speak good English, but also that the prices are significantly higher than last time, relative to home. I don’t mind a price increase – it has been eight years since we were last here – but a FIVE-FOLD increase is pushing it a bit. There are some beautiful new computers coming out, but wait for the US/European versions. Another word of warning – they all now have Office pre-installed, but you need an Office 365 password to activate them. This is the way it is going to be now. We are all prisoners in Bill’s little world, and there is, as far as I can see, no way out left available.
Then back to the ship for dinner – which was much more edible than last night! Then Dad and I went back ashore to use the free wifi to Skype home. Signal was not marvellous, so we didn’t stay long. But that will be the last chance for over a week, so we had to try. Then bed and crashed. A long day. I am rather looking forward to these upcoming sea days. I’m shattered.
Before dozing off, I watched a movie starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore as songwriters, with Hugh playing, to all intents and purposes, Andrew Ridgley. It was a lovely film, and I really enjoyed it, despite the rather standard Hollywood ending. Does anyone know what it is called?