Thursday, November 16, 2006
Fast as a speeding bullet
I am now in Tokyo – I promised you a quick update on the journey from Osaka. Well, the bullet train was everything it promised it to be. I took the Nozomi (express) from Osaka, which only stops at the principal stations along the route. It is fast. Very fast. And I got to see, at least from the window, Kyoto (of environment treaty fame), Nagoya, and a lot of landscape along the way. I also got to see Mount Fuji.
Funnily enough, the only time I have seen Fuji before is from the air, flying from Hong Kong to Los Angeles when we crossed over Japan. It is much more impressive from the ground, even though there is a relative lack of snow on the top. Expert railway buffs amongst you will notice the picture of the front of the train is not the Nozomi, rather the train that arrived a moment or two earlier; a slower form of bullet train - I couldn’t get a decent pic of mine!
Anyway back to the Shinkansen, as its called in Japan. I won’t bore on about it – most of you will know something about this technological marvel which travels at speeds up to 300 km an hour. It’s hard to imagine that they have been enjoying high-speed rail travel here since the mid–1960s.
In economy (where I was sitting) seating is 2 + 3, which is a bit of an odd method. And I have to say the seats leave much to be desired. Frankly they are hard and relatively uncomfortable. There are vending machines on board and a trolley service; oh yes, and there is still a smoking carriage.
Even though I am not as interested in trains as planes, you can feel the power on high speed trains. It’s the same on the Eurostar when it gets up to full throttle. You actually feel you are sitting on a rocket with its deep rumble and vibration.
So, that’s enough trains. I am now in Tokyo, which of course is one of the world’s great cities. I have managed to get from the station to my hotel without mishap – yes, I still have my cellphone that doesn’t work, my blackberry that doesn’t work and can only gaze in envy with those still in electronic contact. If you are coming here remember: CDMA nor GSM phones work in Japan. Why do I always forget?
Tomorrow morning I am going to the fish market to film with a sushi chef as he chooses the best fish for his restaurant, then later in the day I get to try my hand at making sushi for myself. How difficult can it be?
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Greetings from Japan
Evening from Osaka. My travels have brought me to Japan. I came via San Francisco (miles going into UA Mileage +). No, it wasn’t the miles that made me go the wrong way round, I actually have to be back in the States at the end of this part of the trip so it was easier and cheaper this way (“Yeah, right!” they shouted).
I paid the price in a different way. I forgot to take my ATM card out of the cash machine in San Fran, and only realised my mistake when I got back to my hotel. Too late! Well, you know how it goes. Some machines you just swipe, others give you the card back immediately. This Bank of America machine gave me the card back after the money was dispensed. Or at least it would have if I’d remembered to take it.
So, one cancelled card later and thankfully I have a spare secreted elsewhere so not all is lost. It will take my bank days to get me a new one (Why is that the case? Amex can give me a replacement card same day – HSBC, wise up!).
Anyway, Japan is always an interesting experience. It takes me a day or two to get used to the place. I can never quite get over the fact that even though I have a tri-band phone, which works on both sides of the Atlantic, Japan is a foreign land for mobiles. Totally. I always feel like such a travelling amateur that I have come to a major G8 country and don’t have a mobile that works. Instead I am using Skype to make my calls from my hotel room – it’s cheaper anyway! I am just here for a couple of days; just long enough for my jet lag to be over, then off again.
I am actually in Osaka; the first time I have been to this city. I think this is the best part of a job on the road. No matter how many times you have been to some places there is always a new one awaiting you. It’s a fascinating city, made more so by my meeting today with the Mayor of Osaka. His English was flawless and we enjoyed a good conversation about whether Japan really is that expensive for the business traveller.
As part of my CNN Business Traveller story, which you can see next month, I have to make do on around 22,000 Yen a day – that’s about two hundred dollars, including accommodation. Can you do it? Well, of course, in theory. But can you still do business and not look like some homeless individual to your clients and guests?
Tomorrow I leave for Tokyo – I am forgoing any airmiles and taking the bullet train. Another first for me. I am rather looking forward to trying this marvel of ground transport. See? There really is something new to learn every day on the road.
Will write more from Tokyo.
p.s. My operation scar on my hand is starting to look rather red, and the dissolvable stitches don’t seem to have dissolved yet. Could be time to have another think about this one… any suggestions?
Monday, November 13, 2006
On the go again
Ok. You got me. It’s been the best part of a week since we last spoke. Really sorry, but I only had a week at home and frankly I had many things to do.
Before I move onto this latest batch of travels let me wrap up the last one. The entire routing took me 44697 flight miles from start to finish (London-Singapore-Dallas-Atlanta-LA-Auckland-Taupo-Auckland-Hong Kong-London-Istanbul-Doha-London) over a three-week period. I stayed in nine different hotels and hopefully accrued miles in most of them.
I have had a few days at home, basically long enough to take everything to the wash and fold, open the post and make sure there were no metaphorical unexploded devices (i.e bills where I am about to be cut off….) and then re-pack. Oh, I did manage to have an operation on my hand, some physiotherapy and then off again.
So this is being written aboard United Airlines flight UA 931 heading from London (LHR) to San Francisco (SFO) - miles going into Mileage Plus including loads of bonus miles since I am on my “home” airline not alliance metal. The exact routing of this latest trip is London-San Francisco-Kansai, Tokyo, Narita, Tokyo-Singapore-Narita, Tokyo-L.A.-Las Vegas-L.A.-London which should top up things nicely.
People always ask me what I am going to do with the miles. I don’t think they understand the point of collecting them. It is to collect them. To be sure, I do use some of them, and I have even been known to give some away, but having miles is a game in itself. To get the most miles from the most circuitous, to find the hidden cities that give bonus miles, to share road warrior stories with other travellers. Well, if you know what I am talking about then I have hit a nerve. Otherwise, you and I are talking a different language, doomed to never understand what makes each other tick.
I am also thinking about giving some away to charity. Anyone done that? Did it work ?
I have thought a lot about my travels over the past week back home; why do my friends and family think I am weird because I was looking forward to another three-week trip?
Today British Airways reveals its new revamped Club World. I can tell you from the calls I have taken there is huge interest from other airlines! BA after all was the first with the flat bed in business class, and its current product is looking definitely tired. The word around is that it is a sprucing up, to increase privacy etc., not a brand new seat. However BA is going to have to address the issue of the width of the seat and the space. If they don’t start taking seats out of the cabin they are unlikely to be able to do that.
Anyway, keep your eyes open. Although I won’t be at the press conference I will let you know what I think.
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