Friday, March 21, 2014

Getting ready for Japan

I love to travel - love going to new places, exploring new destinations - but the planning part of any vacation is definitely not all fun and games! Of course, it would be easier to go to a travel agent, tell them where we want to go, give them the dates - and let them deal with all the drudgery! But after our Egypt vacation, which we booked through a reputed and highly recommended agency - no names here - let's just say that the whole experience was underwhelming, to say the least! So no more agencies - meaning that I get the dubious honor of planning all our vacations from A to Z! Of course, it's a lot of work, and I often occasionally make mistakes - but on the whole, it feels good to be in control!!

The biggest decision, inevitably, is the destination! While Ajey and Manasi would be more than happy to head to a beach resort and chill, I usually have more ambitious locations in mind. Like taking the Trans-Siberian railway from Beijing to Moscow, and if that weren't enough, the train actually goes through Mongolia  - I seriously can't think of anything cooler than that!!! My adventurous spirit is limited to urban locations though - any suggestion of roughing it or the dreaded 'camping out', and I'm in full retreat mode - Ajey, on the other hand, would find this kind of actual adventure exhilarating!! So there's the dilemma - finding the right balance between adventure and luxury - a little more than a beach vacation, a little less than a fullout jungle trek! What a tightrope to walk - it's a wonder that we manage to go anywhere at all!

Going to Japan, surprisingly, was a rare, unanimous decision for us! What we do when we get there is still the subject of furious debate, though - oh well, plenty of time to figure that out! Anyway, Japan - first thing, of course is plane tickets! We recently discovered a low-cost airline, Spring Air (thanks, JM!) - when they say low-cost, they mean it - the seats don't even recline! Still, it's only a 2 hour flight, and the prices are unbelievable!!! Shanghai to Tokyo - for about $100 - doesn't get better than this! Of course, they don't fly to Tokyo's Narita International Airport, rather the flight lands at Iberaki airport which is a 2 hour bus ride away from Tokyo - the low airfare trumps everything else, though! Another advantage of this airline - the price doesn't change if you book one-way or return - so we fly into Tokyo, but our return tickets are out of Osaka - love the flexibility!

A huge attraction in Japan is travelling by the world-famous bullet train, the shinkansen - and Tokyo to Osaka seems the perfect way to experience this! And God forbid we should have an inexpensive vacation - to balance out our low airfare, the train tickets are really expensive. We were advised to buy a 7 day rail pass - and this actually turned out to be more than our one-way plane tickets! Well, I guess the only way to get our money's worth would be to take a lot of trains!! The Japan Rail Pass is actually a great idea - just remember that the pass has to be bought before you actually go to Japan. Pay online, and the JR Pass company will FedEx the vouchers to you (anywhere in the world!) - the vouchers then have to be redeemed for the actual Rail Pass at a convenient (I hope!) location in Japan! Couple of anxious days while I waited for the vouchers - even though I buy so much stuff online, I'm still not entirely comfortable with it - what a relief when they arrived, along with a very handy booklet with all train schedules and all locations of JR offices! Whew, one more thing checked off!

Next on the list - hotels! Manasi, of course, being of the new entitled generation thinks even a Marriott is a 'regular' hotel - she knows nothing of the economy hotels (Motel 6, Super 8, Red Roof Inns - fond memories of travel on a shoestring budget!) - it takes nothing short of a luxury resort to impress her! To be honest, I, too, like staying at the bigger 'brand' hotels - no surprises, the service and food is always excellent! These days, we have been staying at Crowne Plaza whenever we travel - not been let down a single time yet - so that's what we ended up booking this time as well! I was a bit tempted to try the local Japanese ryokan hotels - but chickened out in the end! So - 3 cities, 3 different Crowne Plazas!

Doing great here - air tickets, check! Train pass, check! Hotels, check! Now for the biggest item on the list - the tourist visa! Manasi, courtesy of her US passport, can sashay in - but Ajey and I have to apply for yet another visa! For a change, we didn't have to go the Japanese Embassy in Shanghai - instead we filed our application in the Wuxi Citizen Center! Must say that this government office really, really impressed me - everything clean, shiny and organized! I was dying to take a picture - but didn't know if it was allowed or not! And I'll admit this, anytime we have anything to do with the Government here, I'm a little intimidated - better safe than sorry, is always my motto! Anyway, notwithstanding my weird paranoia - we handed in our paperwork, the application fee and our passports - everything seemed to be in order!

Except it wasn't - a couple of days ago, we get a phone call asking us for a detailed itinerary of our visit! Well, I've already handed in our flight itinerary and all our hotel reservations - how much more 'detailed' can you get? Much, much more - as in what we're doing every waking moment we spend in Japan! 'Detailed itinerary' - am I the only one who finds this more than a little strange?! Strange or not, that's what they wanted, and after a day of research - I did come up with a detailed itinerary to hand in! Sorry, Ajey and Manasi - we have an itinerary now, and like it or not, we're sticking to it!! This was 3 days ago - we're supposed to leave next week - record breaking levels of anxiety right now!! We have been assured that our passports will make it back in time - but until they do, I won't be breathing easy!!

Didn't I say planning a vacation is never easy? Touch wood, everything has always worked out for the best in the past! And after all the planning and anxiety, all our vacations have been so memorable - yes, even Egypt! So watch this space for updates about our visa - and of course, our vacation in Japan! Signing off!!

No comments:

Post a Comment