#TBT: Japan Trip, April 2005: Shinkansen, Hiroshima, Peace Memorial Park

I’m writing this on my PDA (MODERN DAY NOTE: A PDA. Wasn’t that CUTE?!?!?!) while on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Hiroshima back to Kyoto. If you can read it, that means I’m much more computer-savvy than I give myself credit for (grin).

Today was pretty stress-free, since we’re getting more of our bearings when it comes to trains, shuttles, scheduling, maps, etc.

After yesterday’s near-fast (grin), we made sure to make room for meals today. We took the 9:20am shuttle from the hotel to Kyoto Station and, after a quick detour to a touristy place under Kyoto Tower to buy postcards, we had breakfast at a restaurant in the Station called “Beef Stew.” And I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Joe and/or Steve (our friend on this trip with us) had for breakfast (grin). I, on the other hand, had bacon and egg on French bread with a side of salad and Miso soup (Yeah, salad and soup with breakfast. That’s what they do here. Different culture).

So we made it onto the Shinkansen to Osaka (15 min ride), then switched trains to go to Hiroshima (90 min ride).


Waiting for the Bullet Train


Here it is!


The trains are VERY comfortable, with padded seats and foot rests. They have bathrooms, offer snack/beverage service, you name it.


This train is 8 cars long and each car has its own set of “rules”….reserved seats vs. non-reserve, smoking or non-smoking, “silence car,” etc.

At Hiroshima, we took a trolley car to the museum area that we intended to see. The first thing we saw was the Peace Park, which encases the remains of the “A-Bomb Dome.” That is a building that (sort of) survived the atomic bomb attack (“sort of” because all that’s left is the skeleton of the building and a few inner wall structurings…as opposed to all the other buildings in the city, which were totally obliterated).


The A-Bomb Dome as you approach from the trolley.


Information and history about the A-Bomb dome.


Beauty, destruction and modern times.


Information about the destruction of Hiroshima.


The Peace Memorial Park area. In the hours and days after the bomb hit, thousands and thousands of bodies floated in this river.

The park also houses several memorials (to the various thousands of people who perished), and the history museum. Here are a few of them, with explanations when possible:


Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students (middle- and high-school students who were working for the government to help make fire paths. Over 3/4 of the mobilized students died from the A-bomb.)


Close-up of the base of the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students


Cenotaph for A-bomb victims (Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace).


Short explanation of the Cenograph


Children’s Peace Monument. This memoriam is to Sadako Sasaki, a teenager who died of leukemia over a decade after being explosed to the A-bomb at the age of 2. Her goal was to make 1,000 origami cranes, in the hopes that doing so would cure her. She didn’t live to finish, and her grieving friends raised the money to erect this memorial to her. People from all over the world still bring thousands upon thousands of paper cranes to her memorial site.


The golden crane inside the Children’s Peace Monument.


Short explanation of the Children’s Peace Monument.


A small percentage of the thousands of cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument.


This mound of dirt is made from the cremated remains of the people who perished in the days, weeks, months and years after the A-bomb hit. Most of the people whose ashes are in the mound were unidentified.


(from front to back) Flame of Peace, Pond of Peace, Cenograph (partially obscured) and the center area of the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

The museum was amazing…it went through the history of the city of Hiroshima, the history of the invention of the atomic age, the events that led up to 8:15am on August 6, 1945, the immediate effects of the bomb, as well as the after-effects, some of which (birth defects, cancer, psychological, etc) persist to present-day time.

The museum houses thousands upon thousands of artifacts, from clothing people were wearing on the day of the bombing, to lunch boxes (melted, with burnt food still inside), to a pocket watch that was permanently stopped at 8:15am, to steps from a former bank that still had the faint shadow of the person who was sitting on them when the bomb hit and he/she was incinerated on the spot. There’s no way that my writing or our our pictures could ever do it all justice, but this website can give further information.

Besides the obvious tragedies of the loss and illness of thousands upon thousands of people, the one disturbing thing to me, as an American, is that the museum portrays not just the city, but the entire country as an innocent victim of the U.S.’s actions. Pearl Harbor and the rest of Japan’s part in WW2 was VERY minimalized in their presentation. Then again, as Americans, WE have learned an entirely different view of history. All depends on your perspective, I guess.

It was raining when we left the museum, but with umbrellas in hand, we checked out the various memorials within the park (see pictures above) and each took a turn ringing the Bell of Peace.


Me ringing the Bell of Peace


An explanation of the Bell of Peace

After that, we caught a trolley back to Hiroshima Station. In the months before we went on vacation, we had gotten a lot of “Japan advice” from someone we knew who had spent about 6 months living and working there, circa 2001-2002, and he recommended if we were going to eat in Hiroshima, to try to go to a restaurant that served okonomi-yaki style, since Hiroshima was famous for it. Okonomi-yaki is grilled ramen noodles, egg, vegetables and a batter, with meat, that you make into a sort of loose pizza in front of you (think of Benihana-style but smaller scale, the food comes all mixed together and you heat it up yourself). We found such a place near Hiroshima Station and had dinner there. VERY tasty!


Steve enjoying his okonomi-yaki.

After dinner, we got our tickets for the Shinkansen back to Kyoto (no changing trains this time!) and here we are on it (remember, I’m writing this on my PDA).

Tomorrow is our walking tour and I think it’s laundry day, as well. Until next time, sayonara!

#TBT: Japan, April 2005 – Kyoto & Nara (Shugakuin Imperial Villa, Nara Dreamland, Nara Station)

The first part of our day was stressful because of timing factors, the second part of our day was hysterically funny and the third part of our day was, well, hungry (grin).

Well, we THOUGHT we had it all figured out…how to get to the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. You have to get special permission to go and we had gotten that the day before. Joe, who had been obsessively planning this trip for the past 9 months, had every street, bus and subway map known to man, plus how to get from Point A to Point B throughout the country…but apparently only carried SOME of the written material we needed today…so today was the day of “miss the bus by ‘this’ much and have to wait 20 to 40 minutes for the next one.” We grabbed some pastries at a local bakery for breakfast (didn’t eat them yet because Japanese people don’t eat on the streets and we were traveling) and waited for the next bus.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A shot of the pastry shop.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
This flamingo place was actually directly across the street from the bakery, so while we waited for the bus (the bus stop was directly in front of the bakery) I wound up taking a good half-dozen pictures of the flamingo. With a zoom. Without a zoom. Trying to not get a bus or car into the picture as they were passing by (grin). I have no idea of what this store was. In fact, it didn’t even look like it was open for business yet, but with how much I like flamingos, it gave me a good giggle.

Anyway, after the bus let us off (we also had no idea of where to get off the bus. I gave the deer-in-the-headlights look to the driver and said, “Shugakuin, kudasai?” [Shugakuin, please?], so he would tell us when our stop was), we had to figure out which direction to go. Joe’s books just said to look for the place when we go off the bus. Well, it certainly wasn’t anywhere in sight. And we didn’t see any signs. Not in English, anyway. So I, being a female, was more willing to stop and ask for directions. I went into the local liquor store (I think that’s what it was) and asked the proprietor (who had like, 4 teeth), my now-obviously-helpful, “Shugakuin, kudasai?” (hey, it got us off the bus inn the right place, didn’t it?). His response was to point, give me 2 fingers, and said, “Left. Up.” OK, so when we go out of the store, we have to walk down 2 blocks that way, make a left and walk up the hill, towards the mountains. Gotcha. And sonofagun, it worked. Pity it took almost a half-hour because the “hill” was a half mile of a residential neighborhood with winding streets and a canal through the center of it.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The neighborhood on the way to Shugakuin Imperial Villa

We finally made it to the Villa, albeit 15 minutes late and they were gracious enough to lead us to the rest of our 10:00am tour…which, as it turned out, was spoken entirely in Japanese.

Oh, great.

Well, the views of the outside/hills/farms were pretty and I guess it was an interesting tour…something about land that had been owned by the Emperor but then the emperor moved to somewhere else so the farmers took back the land and when the officials found out, they decided to allow them to keep their land because it wouldn’t be right to take it away from them. And some of the land is still used for farming. As you may be able to tell from my description, except for the English handout they gave us, I had NO idea of what this place was (grin). Since I’ve gotten home though, I’ve found this website, (MODERN-DAY NOTE: the original website I linked to no longer exists. This is a new one) which gives a decent history of the place. Not to be outdone though, here are a few of our own pictures of our visit:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Everything on the walls were painted by hand.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Some more hand-painted wall decorations. And “not orbs.”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A different style of wall decoration inside of one of the buildings.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Our tour group looking at the outside of some of the buildings.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Me walking away from one of the ancient buildings. Or maybe it was the ladies’ room? I forget.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A view of the rest of the property, and beyond, from the highest hill in the complex.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A view of Kyoto from above, as seen at the Shugakuin property.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Steve’s newest friend, who he met on the tour. Yeah, Steve really WILL talk to anybody (grin). (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Steve is a friend who went on this trip with us)

After the 90-minute tour, we stayed at the front gate and ate our pastries, then decided to go to Dreamland, which was in Nara, a 40-minute express train away. Saturdays in Kyoto are HUGE tourists days so noon was not the best time to be taking a bus. An hour and a half later, we were back at Kyoto Station, finding our express train to Nara. No time for food…we had to find our train! We eventually got it, as well as our bus to Nara, and there it was…Dreamland!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Now, for those of you who never heard me talk about it, Dreamland (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Nara Dreamland closed in 2006, so its official page, which I had originally linked to, no longer exists. But you can read all about it with a quick search of NARA DREAMLAND) is a small amusement park that was built in the early 1960’s. It’s a total ripoff of Disneyland, complete with knockoffs of the train station, castle, Matterhorn, Jungle Cruise, Teacups, Main Street, etc., except with a budget of a carnival, with horrible upkeep and few visitors. It sounded wonderfully awful…the kind of place that you go to and just make fun of. I heard about it right after I got back from Japan in 1994 and, after learning out it, kicked myself for not going. So this was a “must see.” And see it we did…we got there at 2:45pm and the park was scheduled to close at 5pm…more than enough time, right? Here’s a photo review of the place, including the good, the so-bad-that-it’s-funny, and the ugly:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The kiosks where you pay to park, if you drive to Dreamland. Don’t know if you can read it, but it costs almost $20.00 to park there (parking is VERY expensive all over Japan) (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Remember, this was written in 2005, when $20 to park WAS expensive). The kiosks look so friendly, so inviting, so well-themed…well, maybe if you’re going to a jail.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The front entrance actually looks pretty darn nice, huh?

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The back of the train station. If you look carefully, you can see me doing my impersonation of Evita Perón.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A walkabout character in the “town square.” I don’t know who he is or if he even has a name…his image isn’t ANYWHERE else in the park (whose logo seems to be a soldier). He just stands there and for about $1.00, he plays a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with kids, who win a trinket if they outsmart the oversized Frito Bandito. He took one look at us and started picking his nose. No, really!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The Dreamland fire department, right where you would expect it to be, on the left side of the “town square”.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
And every fire department should come equiped with a pink Cadillac and a Jeep, right? You can’t tell the angle of this picture, but the Caddy was being held up by cinderblocks.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A view of their version of “Main Street” and their castle, far off in the distant background (it’s hard to do the forced perspective thing when the buildings and trees are all the same size).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A closer image of one side of the street.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Ooooooo….now THAT’S pretty. Yeah, this place really IS a DIVE (grin).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Good emulation there, because Disney “Main Streets” ALWAYS have a utility truck parked on them, right?


Ewwwwwww!


Note the name of this restaurant on “Main Street”…Woody Garden!?!?!?

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
This HUGE fountain encompasses most of “the hub” area (this view is looking towards the train station). It looks like it would be pretty nice, if they turned on more than just the one center set of water jets.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The castle doesn’t look half-bad if you’re not CLOSELY close-up, even though it doesn’t have a whole lot of detail.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Of course, EVERY castle in Japan should have a statue of George Washington in its moat.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
And Abraham Lincoln too!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
And a Joe (wink).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Their “Matterhorn” looks like it’s made out of cardboard, doesn’t it?

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Or maybe it’s papier mache. I like how the Skyway goes right through the center of the thing, like Disneyland’s used to. The Dreamland Skyway was closed, by the way. It was constantly moving (maybe they were afraid if they stopped it, they’d never be able to get it started again?), but no one was on it and no one was manning either entrance.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Here’s the monorail, with the Matterhorn in the background. The monorail wasn’t running either…just sitting there, collecting dust and dripping grease.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
I love what they did with their landscaping.


The Swan Cycle ride. You go in a molded swan boat that has bicycle pedals in the bottom and PEDAL your way around the ride! No, REA

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Teacups???

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
European-made Carousel (American-made ones go counter-clockwise). The horses didn’t even go up and down.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Sure, cuz EVERY Disney knockoff park should have an Octopus ride…

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
….and swings…. (MODERN-DAY NOTE: This was before Disney’s California Adventure had  Flik’s Flyers, Golden Zephyr or Silly Symphony Wings…)


…and a Mirror Puzzle…

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
…and Bumper Boats. Nice line of scum on the bottom of the boats, huh?

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
We never figured out if this was the entrance to a haunted house or to the Matterhorn.


Grand Prix Raceway it ain’t!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The Flashdance ride. What a feeling!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Screw Coaster, huh? Well, I guess EVERYONE is screwed when they come to THIS park (grin).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
I dunno. I guess it’s the “ride that used to be there but isn’t there anymore” attraction. Joe suggested it was a UFO landing pad.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The one GOOD ride they have there….a roller coaster called Aska. I don’t “do” coasters, but Joe and Steve said it was very, very good, with LOTS of airtime. Meanwhile, look at the throngs of people in this picture!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
They had a lot of baby rides at this park.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
I like the white fences that they put around some of the rides. Really high-tech.


Someone called this the “ride that goes nowhere” ride. Walk up the stairs, go across, go down the stairs. Fun, fun, fun!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
And we complain about poor maintenance at the Disney parks…..HA!

By 4pm or so, Steve was starting to get hungry, so we stopped off at what looked like an abandoned picnic ground with an overhang. One of the food places nearby was open…
Image hosted by Photobucket.com
…and Steve saw they had some sort of meat dish for about $20.00. He picked that and the owner motioned for us to sit down at a picnic table. The guy brought over an ashtray…”Smoke? Smoke?” (EVERYONE in Japan smokes) “No thanks, we don’t smoke.” He went back to (we thought) preparing Steve’s meal. By this point, I left to go in search of Dreamland souvenirs. By the time I come back, the guys had this portable hibachi unit on their picnic bench, which is connected to a gas line coming out from under the table. And they were sitting there, grilling the food!
Image hosted by Photobucket.com
They said the guy was wonderfully nice….gave each of them a plate, utensils and dipping sauce (and a set for me too, for when I came back) and there was LOTS of food. The guy came over several times, to “help” them cook…I guess he figured they didn’t know what they were doing. He even offered to take our picture…
Image hosted by Photobucket.com
He started talking with us more and more, asking where we’re from and how long we’ll be in Japan, His English was just slightly better than our Japanese, but we were still able to converse, albeit in a simplified way. At one point he looked at Joe and then at Steve and said, “Your son?” We burst out laughing at that (well, Joe and I did [grin]) and I pointed to Joe and said, “No, my husband!” The guy said, “Oooohhhhh!” But then he got this really confused look on his face, looked at Steve, looked back at me and said, “Who three?” We laughed again and said, “He’s a friend.” “Ooooohhhh!” Then he pointed to the woman behind the counter and said, “My wife!” The guy must’ve been embarrassed that he referred to Joe as Steve’s son, so he gave me an ice cream cone. Hey, who am I to say no to free ice cream?

Before we left the nice, unwittingly hysterical man, Joe said, “This food was very, very good. Thank-you very much. I would like to know the name of it, so that I can ask for it again. What do you call this kind of food in Japan?” And the guy looked at him and said, “Ahhhh…in Japan, we call this barbeque!” We almost wet out pants!

We bid out goodbye to the guy and his wife and took their picture before we left:
Image hosted by Photobucket.com
They were just another part of the reason that Nara Dreamland became such a strong, strangely pleasant memory for us.

The one ride that the 3 of us went on was the Jungle Cruise. I think this one had to have been the worst of all. Take a look at this:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The entrance to the ride.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
One of the boats. It didn’t look particularly seaworthy, but we figured if worse came to worse and we sank, the water couldn’t have been more than a few feet deep and w we’d be able to walk to shore. Of course, we’d have to fumigate ourselves after being in the scuzzy water, but….

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The boat was not on a track (I guess when the Dreamland Founding Fathers came to Disneyland to steal their ideas, they couldn’t see through the murky water of the REAL Jungle Cruise ride to tell that the boats were on a track) and the driver (the guy with the red windbreaker that says STAFF) just pressed a button to start a pre-recorded shpiel so he could drive the boat uninterrupted. Note that all of the “jungle natives” are, um, “people of color.”

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Ooooo….scary tiger! Well, scary he’s in that bad condition, anyway.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The snake is in 4 or 5 pieces. I guess it’s cheaper to buy it that way. But they sure did a lousy job of hiding where one piece ends and the next piece starts!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Oh give me a home, where the flamingos roam, and the rhinos stand behind them all day…

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The picture doesn’t do this justice at all. You see, it’s an action shot. The cheetah is on wheels on a track. The wheels move up and down the side of the log at a snail’s pace, which therefore SSLLOOWWLLYY rolls the cheetah to and from the embankment! We almost wet our pants laughing at that one!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Watch out for that stationary elephant with the garden hose coming out of its trunk!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Someone must’ve used a real gun to shoot the hippo, cuz it was deader than a doornail. It just laid there, half-in, half-out, not moving.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where we have a pheasant, an ostrich, 2 parrots and some toucans, all living in harmony in the same place. It doesn’t matter than in real life they’d be on different corners of the earth…in Dreamland, anything can happen!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Oooo…the suspense is killing me more than the ride is…here comes the dark, scary, cave!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
What was in the cave? 3 sets of bats. That’s it. This picture is set #1. Only 2 of them still flapped their wings. I especially like how they hang rightside up from the stalactites.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Another “action shot.” This alligator had a stick coming out of its tail and the stick was connected to a motor that made the whole thing spin in circles. So that, my friends was the Dreamland version of an alligator in a death spin. Us Floridians prefered to call it gator on a spit.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Shot taken after we exited out boat (nope, it didn’t sink!). Native #1 looks like he had a stroke. Native #2 looks like he’s scared of the bamboo that’s growing in front of him. And native #3 just looks…um…very happy with his lot in life.

it really is an awful park. But we turned it into a REALLY fun afternoon. By the way, this is an article some other people wrote about their trip to Dreamland in 2004. Their website also have some nice video links of the place. MODERN-DAY NOTE: Joe is positive we have some videos of Nara Dreamland too, but we can’t find them. As soon as we do, we’ll put them up on YouTube so you can share in the so-awful-that-it’s-great -ness.

Made it back to Nara Station…a tiny train station, so no food there, but we figured we could get something at Kyoto Station when we got back there. Not. The restaurants were PACKED, with lines outside every restaurant. SO…we decided to catch our shuttle bus back to our hotel and eat something there. Shuttle arrived on time at 8:40pm and we got back to our hotel at 9:20pm…and EVERY restaurant AND room service closed at 9pm. By this time, with just a noon pastry and 2 bottles of soda (Fanta sweet grapefruit…mmmm!) in me, I was hungry and hypoglycemic. And the guys were hungry too. And so, with chowing down on the “Take Five” candy bar that I had bought during our stopover in Chicago 2 or 3 days ago, we went to bed at 11pm.

Between the walking and the steps and the lack of most snacks, I’m gonna lose a LOT of weight this trip.

Tomorrow is Hiroshima. And food. We will make sure to leave time for food .

#TBT: Japan April 2005: Kyoto: Kyoto Station, Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, Seeing Beauty & The Beast

So after waking up at 4:20am (yes, 4:20 in the morning. Jetlag sucks!) and catching up on our internet/computer stuff, Joe, Steve (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Steve is a friend of ours) and I started our day by using the hotel’s shuttle to go to Kyoto Station. Lesson #1 is get to the shuttle at least 15 minutes before it has to leave because it fills up FAST:
Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
We made it onto the shuttle bus, but there were a LOT of people who didn’t. My favorite was when the driver had squeezed in every single body he could, there was no room to breathe, people had suitcases on their laps, and someone came up and said, “Do you have room for 4 more?”

Arrived at Kyoto Station around 10:00am. Re-built and expanded around a decade ago, that place is HUGE…besides being the main bus, train and Shinkansen (Bullet Train) center for Kyoto, it also encompasses a few shopping malls, a department store, a hotel, the theater where Disney’s Beauty & The Beast was playing, and I forget what else…I mean it’s HUGE.
Image hosted by Photobucket.com
This picture of Kyoto station, which shows how cavernous is it, is only a tiny piece of the whole complex.

We wandered around for an hour, getting our bearings and looking for a place to eat. Found a noodle shop that opened at 11am and had a good breakfast/lunch of stuff that we mostly knew what it was (wink). The shop, which was within the confines of Kyoto Station, gets a lot of tourists (and non-tourists too), so one of the workers helped Joe and Steve with what they had to do with their food (“put these spices in this liquid, mix and dip your food into it”…that sort of stuff). I apparently “won” the “Stupid American” contest…the guy only helped me once…told me to pour the broth over my noodles and shrimp and then he left me alone (wink).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Front of the noodle shop. Notice the display of plastic food on the left side of the store. Besides showing potential customers the type of foods they offer, those who don’t speak the language can go outside with the person who is taking your order and you can point to what you want.

So after several stops at several information booths, we found our train and made it to the Imperial Palace. It’s a group of very big, old buildings inside a park. Actually, it’s much more than that. The Japanese Imperial family lived in these buildings before they moved to their Imperial Palace in Tokyo in 1868. It was built and rebuilt (ten times due to fire) between 750 and 1855 A.D. The do have free guided tours, but you need to apply in person (not by mail or phone) to be able to go on one. That didn’t work for us logistically, since we had just arrived a day and a half before, plus the tours are only conducted in Japanese. We were only allowed to stand outside the buildings and, at best, peer inside.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
One of the more ornate buildings that is in the Imperial Palace complex.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Looks like Epcot, doesn’t it?

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
General description of what we’re seeing in this particular building.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Close-up of what was described. And no, that’s not an orb.

Since we made it to one tourist spot without incident, we decided to take our chances and took another train to Nijo Castle. Another “big ol’ opulent house where someone important used to live.” This one began construction in 1601, as a residence for the Shoguns and, like many old Japanese buildings, was burned down and rebuilt many times over the centuries. We were allowed to go inside this one, albeit after taking our shoes off to protect the centuries-old floorboards. Nijo castle was built in such a way that the floorboards always squeak if someone stands or walks on them…it was done that way on purpose, so guards could hear intruders at nighttime. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the buildings but took shots of the outside and the gardens.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Main building of the castle

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Main gate before the castle (taken from the castle courtyard, looking back, after you’ve already gone through the gate)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Visitors are allowed to climb the (VERY STEEP!) stairs to just one of the guard gates. This is the view from there.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A very photogenic building in the Nijo Castle complex [wink]).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A view of the moat

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Nice shot of the Nijo Castle garden.

By this time it was about 4pm. Beauty & the Beast was scheduled to open their doors at 6:10pm so we trained it back to Kyoto Station and found a sit-down place to eat called Toh Sai. Joe and I both had the pork cutlet in curry with white rice (before we had gone on this vacation, someone told us that when in doubt, get the curry platter) and Steve had a beef dish. Decided to get dessert…Joe and I shared a chocolate parfait, which was chocolate soft-serve ice cream with whipped cream, chocolate syrup and frozen raspberries on top, and a layer of mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks and more frozen raspberries on the bottom. I’ve never been a fan of chocolate and fruit, so all I’ll say is that the ice cream part was good (wink).

Made it to B&TB…the show is exactly like the Broadway and/or traveling version, though, of course, all in Japanese (“Ohayo Belle!” instead of “bon jour”). We were able to follow the storyline without a problem though…between the 3 of us, we’ve seen it 20 times between Broadway and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (grin).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Posters advertising the show. Photo taken at Kyoto Station. Notice what show is coming next…Aida!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Stairway that leads to the main entrace of the theater. The opening to the right leads towards a hotel that is also in Kyoto Station.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
A picture of the inside of the theater. Very plain, undecorated black walls and ceiling, with these BRIGHT pinkish-purple seats.

Japanese audiences are very different from American audiences…besides a few nuances that wouldn’t translate over (i.e. when Belle sings the line, “Madame Gaston, his little wife, UGH!!!”, the “Ugh” is MUCH less accentuated in Japan…because people generally just aren’t that mean to each other in Japan where they would say something that bad about someone else [grin]), their applause between songs is polite and short-lived, there was little-to-no laughing at the parts we Americans always laugh (i.e. when Gaston knocks LeFou to the ground), but they clapped for 5 minutes straight, non-stop, for TEN curtain calls at the end of the show! Now, this COULD be because the show was scheduled to close the next night, but even so, it is, by far, the LONGEST applause I’ve EVER seen!

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Joe and I and a lifesize cardboard cutout of Lumiere.

Overall, we had a very nice time and the only disappointment was that they didn’t have any Japan-specific, or Kyoto-specific B&TB merchandise…all of their shirts, mugs, etc., all had the generic “B&TB: A Broadway Musical” logo. Only thing they had was an ornament for a cell phone that had “Kyoto – Finale!,” to commemerate the closing the show, so we got one of those. I would have bought the CD but, of course, I got that YEARS ago (wink).

Took a city bus back towards our hotel and amazed ourselves at not getting lost between the bus station and the hotel. Was in bed by 11pm, with plans to meet Steve at 8:30 Saturday morning, to go on our next adventure.

#TBT: Japan, April 2005 – Osaka to Kyoto: Shuttle Bus Ride, Holiday Inn Kyoto, Jet Lag

We arrived yesterday afternoon and after a 2-hour shuttle ride from the airport in Osaka to our hotel in Kyoto, we fell into our beds at 9pm Thursday (Japan time), after being awake since 4:30am Wednesday (Orlando time). All told, we were awake for probably 26 of the past 28 hours. I’m getting WAY too old for this (grin).

During our shuttle bus ride to the hotel, we already stared seeing lots of Engrish. A factory that made ice products had a logo that said, “Always to make your life the best!” I saw an establishment called “The Glory Hole” and laughed. Don’t know what it was, though I doubt it was what I thought it would be if it was in the US (grin).

The hotel, Holiday Inn Kyoto, is nice. Apparently it’s a “hot spot” for Americans (mainly older ones on tours…but I love old people [grin]) so the 3 of us are not the only ones who speak Japanese. We’ll appreciate that more as the days go on and we understand NOTHING [grin].

MODERN-DAY NOTE: If you look at their website and compare my photos from 2005 and theirs that are copyright 2017, you’ll see that the building has not been change AT ALL. Same carpet in the lobby, same furniture in the room).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Our hotel’s lobby
Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Our floor (7th floor) – a view from the elevator

The rooms are small…about 11’x20′, bathroom included, but it’s just Joe and I in this room (Steve [MODERN-DAY NOTE: Steve is a friend of ours] has his own room for this leg of the trip) so we’re using the 2nd double bed as an extension of floor space (wink).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Joe and Steve at the computer (my laptop) in our room
Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Duck on bed in his and Steve’s room. The radio is composed of 6 pre-determined stations and the red thing on the bottom shelf of the nightstand is a flashlight, in case of emergency (earthquake). No Gideon Bible in the nightstand, though some places had the works of Buddha.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
You can’t see it, but you have to step over a 4″ rise in the doorway to get into the bathroom. They also give you slippers to wear in the bathroom (since it’s customary to take your shoes off when you enter the hotel room and you don’t want to run the risk of getting your feet wet in the bathroom). That dark, rectangular thing on the floor between the toilet and the shower is a drain. They don’t use caulk as often (or as much?) as we do, so water from the shower is allowed to drain/drip/pour onto the bathroom floor, which is oh-so-slightly graded towards the floor drain. It’s probably a cleaner system, since caulk gets dirty and moldy, but it really messed with the minds of us stupid Americans who were trying to put down floor mats and couldn’t figure out why they were getting SO wet during our showers! (grin)

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The toilets in most of our hotels were made by Toto, which is a Japanese company but they sell them in the United States, as well. They were awesome…all the ones we experienced had heated seats (with adjustable temperatures), automatic closers (so you don’t slam the seat down) and a bidet. Some of the fancier ones also had “odor neutralizers” (automatic scent expellers), “courtesy flushes” (automatic half-flush when you sit), noise cancellers (computerized sound of a toilet with the press of a button, so no one hears you “going”), etc. Steve hated the heated seat and both of the guys thought the bidet was scary (grin) but I thought the whole setup was GREAT! I want one. No, really. I do. I don’t think we can do the bidet thing because our water is too hard and the sprayer would be chock full of calcium deposits within 6 months (and Joe is wonderful about letting me buy stuff but he’s already drawn the line at a water softener for the benefit of a more efficient bidet [grin])…but all we need for the warm seat is a plug…which I think we can do…woohoo! (MODERN-DAY NOTE: I did get my own Toto Washlet in 2008, when we gutted & re-did our master bathroom. Calcium deposits are not an issue and it still ROCKS!) That thing under the toilet paper, with the round hole, is the smallest garbage can known to man. Two tissues and it was all filled up.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Our complimentary bath sponges from the room (grin).

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
They also gave us disposable toothbrushes, toothpaste, things to pull our hair back and razors, but none were as funny as the bath sponges.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
The view outside our window. I like the contrast of the parking lot on one roof, tennis court on the other roof, residential area across the river, and then mountains.

We don’t have many solid plans today, since we don’t know if jet lag will hit us later in the day. We’re seeing Beauty & The Beast tonight though…all in Japanese (we know the story, so it’s OK)…I can hardly wait!

Anyway, it’s past 6am and I’m gonna go start getting ready to take a shower. This hotel has free DSL in the rooms (WOO HOO!) and we’ll be here for the first 5 days, so y’all will get reports here and there.

#TBT: 2002 When We Had Dinner Inside WDW’s Haunted Mansion

Way back when, Joe and I were huge Disney fans and were at a time in our lives when we went to just about any Disney-sponsored event that came down the pike (unless it was pirates or princesses. We were never into pirates or princesses). During that time frame, when Disney restaurants hadn’t been “dumbed down” to (A) save them money by offering more limited menus and (B) satisfy the mediocre and predictable palates of Mr. and Mrs. Middle America, we also ate “around the world” (Walt Disney World, that is) on a fairly regular basis. Disney offered a dining program for Florida residents called “Disney’s Dining Experience” where, for a reasonable annual fee, you got 20% off your bill at most WDW table-service restaurants (hey, it paid for the tip – and with the cost at some of Disney’s restaurants that could wind up being a pretty penny) and had the opportunity to dine at some special-made Members Only hard ticket events.

However, times have changed. The joy of Disney has tarnished significantly for us. Disney’s Dining Experience turned into “Tables in Wonderland,” which is now open to Florida residents, AND Disney Vacation Club Members AND Annual Passholders – which means less exclusivity. The price for Tables in Wonderland has also gone up quite a bit. The quality and quantity of the Tables in Wonderland events have also decreased (I know this because whereas I had to constantly request and re-request to be on TIW’s email list when I was a member, the MOMENT I didn’t renew, I started getting emails from them every freakin’ month, with the descriptions of their upcoming events). So nowadays we go to Universal if we want to go to “a park” (hello, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter ROCKS!) and we’ve discovered the joys of local Orlando-area restaurants that totally blow 99% of Disney’s restaurants out of the water.

But “way back when” (when Disney still offered quality experiences because maximal profit – not just profit; profit I could see – I mean when it didn’t always have to be MAXIMAL profit), was a wonderful, magical time – this is the sort of stuff they used to do:

Disney’s Dining Experience Presents Dinner at The Haunted Mansion
Wednesday, September 25, 2002, 7:15pm – 11:00pm

The weather was warm and humid (welcome to Central Florida in September), with a threat of more rain (which never came while we were outside). We all met at Guest Relations to check in and to get our seating assignments. The seating assignments were written on 5”x8” parchment-like paper, with HM01hand-made burn marks (they smelled like burnt toasted marshmallow and yes, I did smell a burn mark [to see if it was real] to come to that decision). Our paper said:

You have been doomed to join us
for a swinging wake as a
special guest of honor at the
Haunted Mansion

You will be dining at
Ambassador Xavier’s
Table Number 1
‘Sharon & Joe’ Party of 4

When all seventy of us attendees had arrived, we followed the half-dozen Suits and the two or three people who carried “crowd control” blinky red flashlights and walked as one big group towards the Haunted Mansion…from under the right side of the train station, up Main Street (it’s so cool when it’s empty), around the left side of the Hub, over the wooden bridge to Liberty Square, and onto the Liberty Belle Riverboat.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Some of the hors d’oeuvres served on the Liberty Belle

Upon stepping onto the dock, we were offered small plastic cups of Guenoc Chardonnay. We were then encouraged to go to the top deck of the boat. From the boat you could see the Mansion in the distance, but it was slightly difficult to make out because it was already dark outside. However because of the bright lighting behind it, the scaffolding that’s still around the atrium was simple to see ;-). Once the boat took off around the Rivers of America (without the usual prerecorded spiel), we were treated to more bottle-poured wine, several Coca Cola products, as well as a variety of hors d’oeuvres (salmon sushi, baby peeled potatoes filled with sour cream and topped with chives, prosciutto and cream cheese (?) on crackers, salami rolls and stuffed cherry tomatoes).

Following the end of the riverboat ride, we were led to the restrooms in Fantasyland that are next to Peter Pan’s Flight (a good choice of facilities since those particular restrooms have LOTS of stalls) (MODERN-DAY NOTE: those restrooms no longer exist. They were closed when the restrooms to the left of It’s A Small World opened). Once everyone was done and a male and a female Suit confirmed that the restrooms were empty, we were led to the Mansion.

HM04
Madame Carlotta

We were gathered into the queue area of the HM, where an old, creepy woman was waiting to greet us. She told us to gather ‘round her and once we had, she introduced herself as Madame Carlotta, the mistress of the Mansion. Carlotta was dressed in black, white and maroon with lace trim and she looked like she hadn’t seen sunlight in several decades. She asked if any of us had been in the Mansion before…it looked like all of us raised our hands. She then asked if any of us were Trivia buffs…several of us raised our hands. She went on to explain that we couldn’t see it now because it was too dark but the next time we visit the Mansion, to look at the roof of the building. Across the top of the HM there are all the pieces of a chess set except for one. Which one is it? A guest said she knew the answer…it’s a knight. Carlotta said she was correct…the knight IS missing, because it’s always night at the Haunted Mansion :-). She went on to explain that there would be samplings of 5 different types of wines with our 5-course meal and that each one was just a sampling…so don’t expect more and don’t ask for more, because it was just too bad (she said this so it sounded very lighthearted…as it turned out, you could have as much wine as you wanted…and several attendees DID get pretty hammered).

Carlotta led us to the main entrance of the Mansion and said she had a special surprise for us, because the doors had a new, mystical, special way of opening. She told us to say “Oooooh! Ahhhh!” and that would open the doors. We did it once and nothing happened, so we said it again and the doors slowly opened…by way of the person behind them ;-). This person introduced himself as Broome, the head butler. Broome was a very tall man in a gray and black butler’s uniform, with dust and cobwebs all over him (Modern Day Note: for those “in the know,” I could easily see him telling puns at the Adventurers Club, once upon a time. May he R.I.P.). He explained that his job was to tell everyone about the meal they would be eating, but that first he would tell everyone where to go. After laughter, he explained that he would inform people where their assigned tables were, if they needed such assistance.

HM05
Dinner in the Stretching Room

We all filed into the Mansion, where our tables were ready. Each table held up to 8 people…there were 2 tables in the pre-show room (where Master Gracey’s changing portrait hangs over the fireplace. This is the room we sat in). The doors of the stretching rooms were all open and there were 2 tables in each of those spaces. The pre-boarding area had another 3 tables, with a movable privacy wall between it and the actual loading area. Each tablecloth was black and red in a snake skin pattern, with a matching covering on each chair. The centerpieces were made of intertwined “live” plants and “dead” twigs, with 3 candles each, to help light up the relatively dark room. Each place setting included a black serving plate, 1 glass for water and 5 glasses for wine. On each place setting was a copy of our menu on the same burnt parchment paper as our seating assignment. It said:

HM06Welcome Foolish Mortals to a Spooky
Evening at the Haunted Mansion

For your dining pleasure

Roasted Squab on a Confit of Leeks and Asparagus

Creamy Seafood Soup with Squid Ink and
Seared Halibut

Chicory, Radicchio, Frisée Salad, and Micro Greens on a
Foie Gras Tombstone with Truffle Vinaigrette

Raspberry Sorbet on Ice Skull

Grilled Beef Tenderloin topped with a Freshwater Prawn, and
served with Root Vegetables and Fingerling Potatoes

Blood Orange Mousse and a Spooky Crème Brûlée

A selection of ghoulish wines will be served during the wake

Rest In Peace

On the back of the menu were printed descriptions of the “haunted” wineries that supplied our spirits for the evening (spirits, get it? spirits!). It said:

Guenoc Winery
The original owner of the land where the Guenoc Winery stands today was a famous Stage Actress named Lilly Langtry. The original house that Lilly built is still in full use today by the current owners of the estate, the Magoon Family. Countless guests of the home have seen Lilly’s ghost over the years and strange occurrences happen there on almost a weekly basis.

Valley of the Moon
The Valley of the Moon is the name given to the Valley by the Native Americans that once roamed the valley. The chants of their past songs still haunt the Valley to this day.

Kenwood Jack London Vineyards
The famous author Jack London, started building a very large home in Sonoma overlooking the Valley of the Moon in 1935. A catastrophic fire burned down the house before it could be finished. There was no apparent explanation for the fire and attempts to re-build were thwarted by constant accidents and thus the home was never finished. The frame and basic structure of the house still stand today and reports of weird and unexplained occurrences are common in and around the original Jack London home site.

Back to our evening…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Our ghoulish place settings

The HM theme song (slow organ version) quietly played in the background throughout the evening. The stretch rooms “stretched” and “unstretched” during the event, complete with lights going off and quiet thunder/lightning at regular intervals.

Our servers for the evening were originally scattered around the rooms in various zombie-like poses. Once we were all seated, Carlotta explained that the servers were under a spell that made them unable to speak. True to her word, they could not speak but could grunt, gesture and point well. The servers were dressed in drab green and looked ghoulishly pale and unkempt.

Someone suddenly LOUDLY banged at the front door of the Mansion, so Broome went to answer it. Outside was Abner, a scary but funny magician. Abner was tall, in a gray, black and white outfit that included a maroon turban.

HM08Carlotta, Broome and Abner made several rounds of all the tables…Carlotta had a funny/scary persona and Broome had several puns readily available. Abner intermixed jokes with slight-of-hand card tricks. For Joe and I, he also mentioned that he was friends with someone we knew named Annelle. (Modern-Day Note: Another Adventurers Club reference. Again, for those “in the know”: at the time, we had NO IDEA of who Abner was in real life was until he said that. As opposed to later years where we could almost play a version of “Name That Tune” when it came to select Disney performers – “I can name that CM after he speaks 4 words in a funny voice!”…”Oh yeah? Well, *I* can name that CM with 3 layers of makeup AND a fake nose!”)

Broome announced each of our courses, with some editorial comments thrown in for good measure. In order (with my own editorial comments), they were:

–Roasted Squab on a Confit of Leeks and Asparagus (the squab leg still had its claw attached)

–Creamy Seafood Soup with Squid Ink and Seared Halibut (it was described as “eyeball soup” by Broome and it DID look like eyeballs with red irises, floating in a black liquid)

–Chicory, Radicchio, Frisée Salad, and Micro Greens on a Foie Gras Tombstone with Truffle Vinaigrette (the foie gras DID look like a tombstone, which was a nice touch, but it’s hard to otherwise make salad look scary)

–Raspberry Sorbet on an Ice Skull (Now THIS was cool. As the description said, the “bowl” for the sorbet was made of ice, in the shape of a skull, with the sorbet sitting in a small indentation on the top. On the bottom of the skull was a red disc, about 3” in diameter, that glowed red. When I took my disk out to examine it further, one of the servers threw a handful of disks at our table so we all had one)

–Grilled Beef Tenderloin topped with a Freshwater Prawn, and served with Root Vegetables and Fingerling Potatoes (again, not a particularly scary course, but it tasted DELICIOUS)

–Blood Orange Mousse and a Spooky Crème Brûlée (this had a dark chocolate bat and spiderweb decoration, with a white chocolate background)

Each course had a beautiful presentation and everything tasted delicious. I’m not a huge wine person (MODERN DAY NOTE: I am now. But in 2002, not so much) and purposely didn’t drink much because I wanted to really enjoy and remember this event, but the pairings (2 whites, 2 reds and a dessert port) seemed appropriate.

After the end of the last course, we were bid farewell by Carlotta, Broome and Abner and were gestured by the servers to leave our seats, go into the pre-load area and board our Doombuggies. There were no pre-planned surprises on the attraction, but as the attraction has just been down for rehab for 3 weeks (the motors than moved the stretch rooms were changed, and several lighting and sound aspects had been fixed – back then, I knew someone who knew such things) I was able to notice many effects much more so than in the past.

Although there were no PLANNED activities, it WAS the first time that I ever saw the Mansion filled with an inordinate amount of drunk people, LOL! There were many more adult human shrieks and screams than usual, as well as a significant amount of flash photography. I also noticed that a lot of folks had significant problems with the moving sidewalks when getting on and off the ride, LOL! Some people were noted to try to hit Madame Leota’s crystal ball with their “souvenir” red glow things in the Séance Room, using them as frisbees (Modern-Day Note: I didn’t throw mine and although it’s now going on 15 years later, I still have my red glow thing).

After we had all finished our ride, we were led to the area just in front of the Columbia Harbor House, where we were offered another restroom break in the restaurant’s facilities. This time it was noted that the Men’s Room had a line just as long as the Women’s Room, and the men just had no clue of how to handle that, LOL!

Once everyone was out of the restrooms, they brought us to the southern part of Liberty Square. They lined us up into in the 2 nearby walkways, facing the Hall of Presidents. Once they were sure we were far enough back “for our own safety,” the headless horseman on his steed came whizzing by. He made 2 passes in front of us and then vanished into the night (my pictures of him were the only disappointing ones I took the whole evening…he was just too fast).

From Liberty Square we were ushered to Main Street where they offered us the “Goodnight Spiel” that they usually play when the MK is closing. Finally, we were loaded onto a waiting monorail (I saw one lady who needed the assistance of not 1, but 2 CM’s to go up the ramp because she was so plastered) and whisked back to the TTC.

It was a perfect evening. I really, REALLY hope they do it again someday.

(Modern-day note: Alas, they didn’t.)

#TBT: A Big Mid-Air Problem With My Flight & The Airline Was WONDERFUL About It!

Watching the latest “Forcibly Remove A Seated Passenger From A Plane So A Staff Member Could Have The Seat” situation with United Airlines, on top of the previous “#Leggingsgate” situation with United Airlines made me think back to a time, not really all that long ago, when passengers weren’t made to feel like profitable cattle with no rights, and when, if something happened that was out of the ordinary and potentially inconveniencing, the airline did everything they could to keep you comfortable and, even if you were not truly happy, at least you knew they had tried their best.

ContinentalPlaneIn April 1998, I was still living in Staten Island, NY and was going down to Walt Disney World about 6 times per year – usually for long weekends, but occasionally for a whole week at a time. Newark Airport was my airport of choice to fly down to Orlando and I would usually fly via Continental Airlines or Delta. The week before Easter of 1998, I took a long weekend trip and Continental was my carrier.

I usually would love to stay at Disney for longer than however long my trip at the time was, but in this case, I had some other things going on:

  • I had what was later diagnosed as a massive sinus infection and besides not being able to smell or taste a thing, I also was experiencing some of the fatigue that happens when you have an infection.
  • My 93-year-old great-uncle, who had been something of a surrogate grandfather to me after his brother (my grandfather) had passed away when I was 6, had been hospitalized and I was concerned about him.
  • My father had been diagnosed with cancer 4 years earlier, and the cancer had since spread. He was scheduled to get an MRI the next day and I was very worried about the results.

So on that particular day, all I wanted to do was go home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Our plane to Newark took off without a hitch but thanks to my then-undiagnosed sinus infection, after flying a few minutes, I started experiencing some massive pain in both of my ears – almost enough to make me cry. Once we got high enough and the pressure equalized, the pain improved a little bit but then all of a sudden we started descending again. What the heck? More ear pain and more near tears. Anyway, we arrived back at Orlando Int’l Airport, where the pilot told us our plane’s landing gear would not retract while we were in the air, so we had to make an emergency landing back in Orlando so it could be fixed.

Awesomesauce.

That was around 1pm or so. The flight crew said they hoped it could be fixed quickly, so they would keep us on the plane. At 2pm, they allowed us off the plane because whatever quick fix they hoped would happen, wasn’t happening. So now they were trying to get us another plane. On a Sunday. During the week before Easter.

Good luck.

This whole time, our designated main contact was a Continental customer service employee whose sole focus was to keep us informed and, I think, to keep us in good spirits. I don’t remember his name, but I’ll call him Chris. Chris was wonderful. He was knowledgeable, he empathized with us, he had a good sense of humor, and he even knew how to de-escalate the passengers who appeared to be REALLY unhappy about this unfortunate turn of events. Whether it was a passenger who was forcibly removed from his seat to make space for United staff, or non-revenue passengers who were wearing leggings, can you imagine how much better United’s PR would be right now if they had had someone like Chris working on their team?

Anyway, at 3pm, Chris told us that he had some good news and some bad news and then some more good news. The good news was that they were going to have a new plane for us! YAY! The bad news was that it wasn’t going to be available until around 9pm that evening. Ugh. But the more good news was that each party would be issued a free hotel room at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport (it was inside the main terminal building of MCO) until 8pm AND each person would receive a $25 voucher to eat dinner anywhere we wanted at the airport. They unloaded our checked luggage so we could collect it (it was going to have to be loaded onto another plane anyway and that way if we wanted anything from our checked luggage, we would have access to it), told us our new flight number and which gate to go to later on that evening, and off we went to the Hyatt.

My fellow passengers’ emotions appeared to run the gamut from resigned to angry to everything in between. Personally, I was calm – just sad and anxious because I didn’t feel well and just wanted to go home to my ailing family members – but it was nothing that a good cry wouldn’t fix. And when I got to my assigned room at the Hyatt, cry I did. Hard. And then I took the best nap ever, followed by the best shower ever, followed by a meal at the Chili’s in the airport (which was only OK but that was my fault for eating at Chili’s).

The rest of the trip home went as planned. We all got to our new plane at 8:30pm and were in the air right around 9pm, as promised. I didn’t step foot into my house until just past midnight, but I didn’t care – I was home.

So yeah…with a bazillion opportunities to potentially drop the ball, Continental totally ROCKED that whole situation. So much so that I wrote to their then-CEO, Gordon Bethune, told him so, and sung the praises of Chris. And do you know what? Within 2 weeks, Mr. Bethune’s office wrote me back and thanked me. Again, more awesome customer service. All I have to say is that it was a sad day when Continental merged with and was eaten up by, of all airlines, United.

I realize that times have changed. Post-9/11 flying is nothing like pre-9/11 flying, people have changed in general, and it seems as if good customer service, including respect, understanding, empathizing, de-escalating, and making customers (regardless of how/if they paid for the service) feel like they matter, has become an expendable commodity for some companies. There are so, SO many things that United could have done differently so they wouldn’t be in these most recent predicaments. As Gordon Bethune said of the United incidents, “I’m sure there will be reconciliation … some effort to show they care about passengers,” and “I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion [at United] about how to handle this in the future.” And as United CEO Oscar Munoz has now FINALLY said, in his third apology in as many days, “The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment.  I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way. I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right. It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.  I promise you we will do better.”

We can only hope.

How about you? Did you ever have a time when the airline you were using was actively the good guy? When was it? What happened? We’d love to hear about it!

#TBT: Alaska ’09 – Part 9 of 9

Part 9 of 9: Going Home & Musings About The Trip

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing
Part 4 – Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales
Part 5 – Skagway – Walking on A Glacier and Taking A Train Ride to Canada
Part 6 – Day at Sea – Hangin’ Around the Ship, Enjoyin’ Doing’ Not much…
Part 7 – Ketchikan – Salmon Fishing!
Part 8 – Performing on the Cruise Ship!

Today was supposed to be a long but easy day. It certainly was long. Easy, not so much.

My first problem was my own fault – I had forgotten to hand in my “tell us what time you want to disembark” form for several days. So by the time I handed it in to say I wanted to leave at 8:00am, they had already scheduled me for 9:10am…which was exactly 5 minutes before my shuttle bus was leaving. Knowing that I wasn’t the first person in the world to hand the form in late, and with several hours before the end of the trip, I asked to be switched to 8:00am. The girl at the Zuiderdam office said it wouldn’t be a problem though, because all the luggage would be out early anyway.

She lied.

I had a quick breakfast at the buffet and disembarked at 8:00am…only to see that they were just bringing out the luggage that needed to be out at 8:00am. Ugh. So I sat there. And sat there. And sat there. Meanwhile, Carlene, Stewart and Celeste, who were all on the same shuttle bus as me (Esther had different plans and the Brits were flying out of Canada), had gotten their luggage long ago. At 8:50am, I asked one of the security ladies when the luggage with the green tags were scheduled to come out. She asked why and I explained my situation. She very nicely allowed me to stand right next to where the luggage carts come out so when I saw my 2 pieces, I could grab them and be on my way. It all worked out…I got to my shuttle bus with one (ONE!) minute to spare.

The ride to Seattle wasn’t noteworthy, especially since I slept through 90 minutes of the 4-hour ride. Our driver did manage to bypass the 5+ hour wait at Customs by stretching the truth a little, which was nice…and as it was, we were stuck there for an hour! But one hour is better than five.

We finally arrived at SEA a little before 3:00pm, bid goodbye to Celeste and tried to check our luggage…only to find out that we couldn’t check in until 4 hours before the plane. So not until 6:45pm. ARGH! With plenty (PLENTY!) of time to spare, we found a restaurant, had lunch, and essentially became squatters for the next 4 hours. We managed to figure out some ways to make the time go by faster but even so, it wasn’t the most pleasant or comfortable way to spend an afternoon.

They let us check our luggage in 5 whole minutes early (yee haw) and then sat at the gate for another 4 hours. Yeah, not exactly the most fun day in the world. But I got a good 4 hours of sleep on the plane going home, which was nice.

We landed about 15 minutes early on on Sunday morning and Joe picked me up, Dobby in tow. I managed to stay awake for the car ride home and even started to unpack a little. Lack of sleep finally caught up with me though and I napped from 9:30am to 3pm. And then from midnight to noon Monday.

Afterthoughts And Musings…

As much as I missed Joe and Dobby, I had a REALLY fantastic time. It was my first trip with this choir and it was wonderful to meet all of these people who I barely knew, or often didn’t know at all, yet we still had this “connection” in the form of the choir that allowed us to have full conversations. It was very neat!

The highlights of the trip were the salmon fishing, walking on the glacier and the concert. In that order.

Having to be at rehearsal at 8:00am SUCKED, hehehehe!

I thought Holland America was lovely. Not quite as good as the Disney Cruise line (the only other cruises I’ve gone on…yes, all to the Caribbean), but certainly high quality. Except for the food, which was just adequate to OK, as far as I was concerned. Nothing was bad (although that “chocolate pudding” was a bit questionable) but none of the meals, not even the “special” ones, stood out as being particularly wonderful, either.

There were only 5 of us Americans and everyone else was from the U.K. Learning 50-odd peoples’ names was HARD and I’m afraid I only eventually memorized about 2 dozen of them…some of which I only got right ‘some’ of the time (my apologies to the various Janes/Jeans/Paulas/Paulines). I wound up using mnemonics for some of them…I already mentioned that (Lord) James reminded me of Christopher Lloyd, who played “Reverend Jim” on Taxi (so I had the James/Jim thing going). And Bob looked like Reverend Alden from Little House on the Prairie, so I thought of him floating in the water, with his head “bobbing” (I didn’t get a decent picture of Bob so you’ll have to take my word for it).

Caroline and I bumped into each other a grand total of 11 times over the course of the week. It got to the point where it had happened so much early on in the trip (4 times on the first day) that I just started keeping track (and yeah, I am indeed OCD like that anyway, LOL!). There was no rhyme or reason to it, either – sometimes I would show up, sometimes her. That didn’t even count the times when we were supposed to be at the same place at the same time, like for a rehearsal or dinner. I mean “just walking along, minding my own business, when WHOOSH, there she was.” Good thing I liked her, huh?

I was admittedly not a cruise fan and really wasn’t thrilled with the idea of cruising but Alaska sounded intriguing, so I was willing to make the sacrifice. As it turned out, I finally figured out my issue…it’s not that I dislike cruising at all…I just dislike cruising to the Caribbean, LOL! As long as there are cool people to hang out with (because playing Bingo and learning how to carve a watermelon or cucumber into a flower are still LAME, no matter what ship you’re on), cruising can be great!

ZZZAlaskaPhotobomb