We (Kimberly, Tori, and I) left Hirosaki via Willer Express nightbus at 10pm on Friday, December 21st. We were all on the same bus because all of our flights were leaving from Tokyo the next day. Tori was headed home to Vancouver/Portland to see family and Kimberly and I were going to Italy. We were headed off in completely different directions, but we had to Narita Airport first.
I had been running around all day and battling nerves, so I was exhausted by the time we boarded the bus. Kyle drove us all to the bus stop, so it was nice that we didn’t have to haul our luggage in the snow. Kimberly and I, having bought our tickets on the same day, ended up in one row of two seats. Tori was right behind us. The trip actually went better than I expected; I actually slept (but in 2-hour intervals because the bus had no bathrooms and regularly stopped at service areas). It was sleep nonetheless. I finally found a comfy position on the bus and it worked pretty well! Thank God for that.
We arrived in front of Tokyo station around 8am and made our way there. They redesigned the station building recently and it is just gorgeous inside and out. We took a picture in front of it.
Look how pretty we look after 10 hours on the nightbus! ;)
After that we took the Yamanote line to Ueno, bought Keisei express tickets to Narita, and were on our merry way. Keisei is a private, non-JR railway company and their limited express costs 1,000 yen from Ueno. It takes a little over an hour, whereas the JR Narita Express costs about 2,900 yen from Tokyo and takes 53 minutes. I think I’d rather take the cheaper option, thanks. The Keisei station is quite separated from the JR station in Ueno, so you have to walk a while. Note to self: Always change trains from Keisei to JR at Nippori Station. In Nippori, the Keisei and JR lines are in the same building.
When we got to the airport, we checked in and got boarding passes. Then we walked around the Narita shopping area for while. Tori and Kimberly got Starbucks for breakfast and I munched on food that I had brought. I didn’t want to buy any souvenirs or anything at the airport mall because then it would be just another thing for me to carry. Kimberly and I went through security after that because the line was really long. It went by reasonably fast, though. Didn’t even have to take off my shoes, ha. Immigration was even easier. The guy hardly looked at my passport and form before waving me on. It’s like he was almost saying, “Get outta this country already!”
I was really exhausted at this point and just wanted to chill out at the gate, so that’s exactly what I did. Charged my iDevices too. Tori and Kimberly went to walk around the duty-free area and get food while I manned the fort and guarded the bags.
The time until we were called to board the plane neared and I asked Tori to snap a pic of Kimberly and I as we waited in line. It marked the beginning of the second leg of our journey.
Goodbye, Tori! See you in 2013!
We got to our seats, savored our last precious minutes of unlimited data on our iPhones (most with Facebook) and waited to take off. Kimberly told me that takeoff is her favorite part. She was super excited! I had kind of wasted all my nervous energy at that point, but I was excited too. I remembered how my dad would give me a piece of Wrigley’s gum at takeoffs and/or landings to help with cabin air pressure in my young ears. That was when we would fly together a lot as a family.
The weather outside was the “pouring cats and dogs” kind of rain, but our plane left without any delays. VROOOOM!
Vegan lunch on the plane was this:
Dinner on the plane was this:
Seaweed onigiri for me and sandwich for Kimberly.
Long plane rides are no fun, especially in economy. And something was up with our video screens in our entire row, so we couldn’t watch any movies. It was pretty darn uncomfortable. I just wanted it to be over or fall asleep so I could be out of my misery. Only slept about 30 minutes, though. Can someone invent those beaming travel things from Star Trek already?
So. After what seemed like an eternity in a metal tube hurtling thousands of feet per minute through the air… we at last landed in Milan. We didn’t land at a proper gate; we alighted on the ground and took a bus to the actual terminal. It was dark and late.
Once at the terminal, we headed straight for “Transfers” instead of “Arrivals” since we had a plane to catch in less than an hour. The security was the most lax security ever. No questions asked, no shoes removed. Just a stamp and we were on our way. My passport now has a Milan Malpensa stamp, yeah!
Our flight to Rome was delayed by about 30 minutes, so we just stood there, waiting. We were, to say the least, exhausted. Kimberly hadn’t slept, I hadn’t slept. These are the faces of exhaustion:
But we were in ITALY. And that’s what mattered.
It was at the Milan airport that I began to interact with Italian people. It was the first time that I had been to a new country since 2007 (Jamaica). I also don’t speak a lick of Italian, so when people like airport staff and flight attendants started talking to me in Italian… I must have given the deer-in-headlights look pretty well. It is a very strange feeling to not understand and not be able to speak. I feel a little helpless, like a child. I haven’t felt this “bewildered” feeling since I went to Japan for the first time in 2005.
But I have been trying to pick up useful phrases and add them to my tourist’s vocabulary. Things like please, thank you, and hello… I learned how to say “Sparkling water, please” in Italian to the very handsome flight attendance. Success.
When we got off the plane at Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO), we were beyond tired. Thank goodness for the yellow signs for “Train” to follow. We zombie-walked to the Leonardo Express train to downtown Rome. For 14 Euros it took us to Roma Termini station without any stops. The trip took 31 minutes in total. Not bad, not bad.
I used the directions from the hostel to get us there. The place was easily found and we checked in. There was an Asian girl who was totally flipping out at the reception staff at the same time we were trying to check in, but we got our room and room key without any problems. We both showered immediately and climbed into bed.
It felt so good to be horizontal at last.
Italy Day 1
Sunday, December 23rd: The Day We Did Everything (Or Nearly Everything)
I woke up early and waited for Kimberly so she could sleep in a little. We had traveled a long way, after all. I don’t know why my body didn’t want to stay asleep for that long… The place we had decided on for brunch didn’t open for a while, so we went on a walk in the fine Rome morning air.
First we found a church, Saint Maria Maggiore. It was beautiful!
We stumbled upon some cool buildings and a supermarket.
I always love going in foreign supermarkets! They are just so interesting!
It was still a little early for brunch, but we just decided to find the place anyway and hang out until opening time.
It was the Beehive Hotel, which I had read about online. Unfortunately, I had found out about it too late for us to stay there. We had already mad a booking at Hostel Alessandro Downtown. The Beehive did breakfast every day from 7:30-10:30am and then a vegan brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. It only cost €8 for a large plate of mixed food from their buffet. And it was amazing.
We talked to the vegan chef, Aimee, and found out that she came to cook at the Beehive a few times a week. So that was cool for us who were hungry! We finished the meet off with an oatmeal cake drizzled with agave that rocked my world. So good.
I also tried my very first ever coffee of my life. I figured… If I am going to try coffee, it might as well be in Italy! It was an ESPRESSO with soy milk.
I’m still not sure if I like it or not, but I’m happy I tried it. (And boy did I have energy the rest of the day…)
Then we were on our way. We just started walking. And walking. And walking.
I was still getting a feel for the streets, but THANK GOD for street signs. In Japan, nothing is clearly labeled. But in Italy, every street had a plaque stating the name of the street. It made navigating a heck of a lot easier.
We walked up to the Spanish Steps and saw the house where the poet Keats died, who happens to be one of Kimberly’s favorite poets. He died here in Rome and the house is a sort of museum now… Unfortunately it was closed for repairs and for the holidays.
We turned around at Piazza del Popolo and walked down the entire length of Via Del Corso, the awesome shopping street. It was like the Mall of America, but outside and more higher-end.
We were mutually disappointed by H&M, but found awesome things at Mango and Zara. Kimberly got a bunch of amazing clothes… that fit! We were not longer in Japan, where we are bigger than 90% of the female population.
After shopping, we found ourselves at Piazza Venezia (Venice Square). I found some Japanese tourists and asked them to take our picture. I did the same for them.
Then we wandered back up to Trevi Fountain as the sun was setting. It was gorgeous at night.
We found the Pantheon after that. We were extremely lucky to have found the Pantheon before it closed. We were able to walk and sit down in it for a short while before they ushered everyone out for the night.
It was about 6:30pm at that point and we were both hungry and tired. Our feet hurt. But we decided to go home by way of the Colosseum and take the metro from there.
What a sight.
We made it back to Termini and the Beehive for dinner. The meal was a variation on the same ingredients from dinner, but still very delicious. I enjoyed every bite and resisted the urge to get dessert. I told myself that there would be many more desserts to come on this trip!
We asked Aimee where the nearest grocery store was and she was extremely helpful, pointing us to a couple inside/near the station. Little did we know, these grocery stores would be our saviors over the next couple days.
We crashed hard that night and even I slept like a rock until a reasonable hour the next morning.
Day 1, over and out.