Friday, May 1, 2009

OAT Japan, Wednesday, April 1, 2009:

The 48-hour Day Return Home (At Least It Seemed That Way)

We all had our last breakfast together at the Patio Restaurant, and said our goodbyes. A few of us were leaving early for a post trip extension to Hiroshima. However, they opted to do their own arrangements instead of purchasing OAT’s extension package. Perhaps we can share their experiences in future blog postings.

After several fair days, it was raining this morning so we holed up in the hotel until our noon departure. Doug did some web surfing while Marie was looking at a temporary exhibit of designer kimonos (see photos).

The weather lifted as the van took us and the Denver travelers, John, Sally and Michiko, to Kansai International Airport, located in Osaka. We arrived about 2:00 p.m. for a 4:00 p.m. departure. Machiko arrived ahead of us to guide us through the check-in procedure. We then said our goodbyes and assured Machiko she was going to receive the highest ratings from us!

Kansai is a state of the art airport, completed in 1994. The designer was the world-renowned architect, Renzo Piano. The terminal was so well constructed that it came through the severe 1995 Kobe earthquake unscathed. Additionally, the place was spotless and the waiting area had free public computers for anyone’s use!

After exchanging the last few hundred yen for crisp American bills, we boarded the Boeing 747-400 for our flight to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Whereas we had nice legroom with the bulkhead seating between LAX and Tokyo, this time we had little legroom at all. The food was adequate, but we did not feel that United’s service was as polished as on the earlier flight.

We tried to sleep for most of the flight, but we woke up a couple of hours before we were to land at SFO. We landed about 10 a.m., local time (it was still April 1 because of our eastbound crossing of the International Date Line).

Customs was quick and efficient, and since we had a four-hour layover at SFO before our final leg to LAX, we had a chance to have a light lunch and explore the terminal.

This terminal was a real letdown compared with what we experienced at Kanzai International, and even Narita. Maintenance was so shoddy in comparison: seat backs missing in the waiting areas, floors spotted with dirt and debris, unclean restrooms, out-of-order drinking fountains, and so on. We could not help wondering what kind of impression foreign visitors would leave with; is this the best the United States can do?

The last leg of our flight was a commuter hop to LAX that got us on the ground by about 3:30 p.m. Our last task was to hail a shuttle to the Hacienda at LAX Hotel. In the old days, one went to a bank of telephones to speed dial the hotel to send a shuttle van. Today, one uses a touch computer screen, to contact a van service. We panicked because the Hacienda was not on the menu! We asked an information official nearby; it turned out that the Hacienda shuttle made a regular run every 20 minutes and no contact was necessary. He directed us to the van pickup area just outside. Sure enough, a Hacienda shuttle came by within five minutes, and we arrived at the hotel lobby at 4:00 p.m.

We knew that the notorious Los Angeles rush hour was underway, and we were in no condition to attempt the drive to San Diego this evening. As noted earlier, we had booked an overnight stay just for this reason.

We were ready for a menu change, so we ordered hearty Mexican dinners at the Mariposas Restaurant. Thus sated, we turned in.

The drive home the next morning was a piece of cake; by leaving after rush hour was over, we made it home in two hours in a fairly alert condition.

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