If Nothing goes Wrong – It’s not an Adventure!


Ugg – I hate to travel. Well, not the meeting new people, seeing new things and visiting new places part of traveling – it’s the TRAVEL part of travel that drives me bonkers.

I never sleep the night before I have to fly – too many things can go wrong… And it’s more fun to start a trip exhausted, right?

So – Night before we had to fly home from Japan was no different than any other night before a big TRAVEL – I couldn’t sleep. But eventually dawn comes, and the Intrepid Traveler – who has no such issues – wakes up cheerful as always. I’m just tired.

We spend our last day in Japan looking for souvenirs to bring home – we have lists and we try hard to get stuff folks will like without breaking our poor bank – and eventually, we head off the airport. We each buy a package of sushi to have as a last meal… The grocery store Sushi in Japan seriously rocks – it’s so yummy – and we know that whatever we’re served on the plane – this will be much better.

Quick train trip (200 Yen or $2 Canadian) and we’re at the Airport. Check-in is easy, security is easy, boarding is easy. Things are going too well to be honest.

The flight is full, full, full. My seat mate is a young man from Vietnam, heading back home to the US. The seriously older gentleman behind the intrepid Traveler is also from Vietnam, being sent to Phoenix by his family. His son dropped him at the airport – I’m guessing (hoping) that another family member is going to meet him in Phoenix. He’s just a bit confused about why he’s on the airplane, but the crew takes it in stride and gets him seated and his carry-on bag safely stowed above his head.

This is actually a problem. He wants his bag, speaks neither Japanese nor English, and gets more and more concerned about his bag as the pre-flight stuff moves forward. The plane takes off – and he’s quickly up and moving around trying to locate his bag. I only know this because the only person on the plane who can talk to him and also talk to the crew is my seat mate.

Apparently the older gentleman doesn’t understand that the plane is in the air – and wants to get out. He also wants his bag. And he’s roaming around thru economy, Economy Plus, and First Class. The flight crew really don’t want him roaming First Class – Economy is apparently ok.

The crew has their hands full trying to get him to stay seated. With the help of my seat mate, eventually they realize that they need to let him hold his carry-on – at least he’s less alarmed when he knows where that is.

During the entire 13 hour flight – he’s either getting up, sitting down, being calmed down by the crew, trying to roam into first class, or finally – sleeping. The crew apologizes to me, to the Intrepid Traveler, to his seat mates, and basically to everyone in our area, but there is little to be done.

Mostly we’re all pretty annoyed. It’s clear that his family had to know that he wasn’t going to handle a long flight very well, but they didn’t plan enough to put a family member on the flight with him. Nor did they warn the airline. In chatting with the crew, they are very concerned that he needs to change planes in Dallas, and since no one is meeting him in there, they are worried about how that is going to happen. I understood their concern – what I didn’t realize was that no one was changing planes in Dallas!

Neither the Intrepid Traveler nor I can really do anything to help (we don’t speak Vietnamese)- so I watch movie after movie, and the Intrepid Traveler tries to sleep. It’s tough to do with him constantly pulling on her seat to get up, or banging her seat when he gets escorted back and forced to sit.

But all things must end, and eventually we arrive in Dallas.

I’ve now been over 24 hours without sleep – so I guess that explains what else goes wrong.

We need to change terminals – but since we have 3 hours between flights, it’s not a big deal. We go thru security and customs into the US – our bags are booked thru to Canada, so it’s just us and our tiny backpacks. We then re-enter the airport thru US security (again – no problems), and find what our gate number is for the flight to Montreal.

Quick note for those who don’t normally fly into Canada from the US. Major airports in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary) actually have US border control. So you officially leave Canada for the US before you leave Canada. And the reverse is also true. The flight going from Dallas to Montreal is a US controlled flight. We don’t go thru passport control until we get to Montreal. So in effect, we physically entered the US when we got off the plane from Japan – and won’t ‘leave’ the US until we physically arrive in Canada. That’s going to make a difference shortly!

Anyway – we are now in the Dallas airport – without our luggage – it’s bound for Canada. We make our way to our gate – and we sit and wait. There’s a lot of people roaming around – and we’re hearing bits and pieces of conversation. “I’m not sure where to spend the night”, “I hope they get us out of here”, “Any news on our flight?” Under normal circumstances I’d have reacted – but I was working out 26 hours of no sleep and counting – so I ignored the warning signs.

My bad on that one.

Our gate agent announces that the flight from Montreal is slightly delayed, but should arrive shortly. Then she announces that the flight has arrived and we’ll be boarding shortly. Then she announces that while the plane and our crew are here, our pilots were bumped off their flight into Dallas and are stuck in San Antonio. But no worries – they will arrive soon. Then she announces – we’re boarding.

I’m still obvious to the problem… and quietly wait to board.

We get on the plane, and I start to watch a movie. Another bad move – I don’t notice that our pilots still haven’t arrived.

Suddenly – our pilots do arrive – and announce that they don’t think there is enough fuel in the plane – they have sent out for more.

Then they announce that they just realized that there is a curfew in Montreal – planes can’t land after a certain time, so they are trying to get the curfew lifted for us.

Then the steward announces that the pilots have been working for too many hours – they have to find us new pilots.

Then the steward asks us to leave the plane, take all our belongings with us – just for a few minutes.

As I’m exiting the plane – I’m now at almost 30 hours with no sleep – I spot the sign that says – flight canceled!

What – our flight has been canceled. You are kidding me!

It’s now 10:30 PM in Dallas – there is no way we are leaving here tonight. Best hope is tomorrow.

We have no luggage – just the clothes we have on. The Intrepid Traveler doesn’t even have her toothbrush.

But I know how to use Hotwire – and I quickly book us an inexpensive hotel that offers a free Airport Shuttle. And then call American to see if I can get us rebooked.

I’m still on the phone (on hold of course) as we make our way to the Customer Service (or really – Customer no service) Desk. It turns out that things are worse than I thought. There is only one way to get us out of Dallas on Thursday – they offer us a 16 hour, 2 stop, overnight trip that would get us into Montreal late on Friday.

I ask to speak to a manager. Surely there’s another airline that has seats available?

No luck. Every airline is booked solid. There have been huge weather issues all over the central US and flights were delayed and canceled – shoving everyone into a frenzy. We could get one seat maybe – but not two. Won’t happen.

Meanwhile the automated system books us onto the non-stop that leaves at 7:00 PM on Friday. That’s almost 48 hours away!

We decide to accept that option, and after being sure our luggage is really, seriously, completely impounded – you can’t not have it – we head to our hotel.

On the way to the hotel, we realize that both of our husbands are going to wake up Thursday morning wondering where we are… so we dash off emails to them on our way out of the airport.

I’m now at 31 hours with no sleep – and definitely not thinking clearly.

I managed to book us a hotel with a shuttle that stops running at 8:00 PM – it’s now almost 11:30 PM. Thank goodness I know how to use my Uber App!

That at least goes well. Our Uber arrives – and drives us to our hotel. On the way it finally dawns on me that I have family in Plano, Texas. So I ask – how far is it to Plano? Answer – 25 minutes.

Ah Ha – Maybe I’ve got Thursday night solved!

Yup – family is willing and able to put us up for Thursday night (and keeps asking why we didn’t come Wednesday night). We spend Wednesday night in our hotel and wake up feeling a whole lot better about the world in general, and Dallas in particular. We have a decent North American style cheap hotel breakfast – Make it yourself waffles, eggs that saw a chicken somewhat recently, and sweet pasty. The best part – unlimited coffee. I’m so happy. The Intrepid Traveler enjoys her tea.

We take the now operational shuttle back to the airport, pick up a rental car, and drive out to visit my relatives for 2 days. They kindly lend us clothes (our suitcases aren’t going anywhere but Montreal – end of story), feed us, bed us, and let us use their pool.

You have to love family in a crisis.

On Friday the weather has cleared, the planes are operating normally and alls well with the world.

We drive back to the airport, return the rental car, and head out. Thank goodness no further adventures await us – the rest of the trip goes painlessly. We arrive in Montreal on time – and low and behold – there’s our luggage!

All’s Well that Ends Well.

Signing off to catch up on much needed sleep – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Day 1 – The Adventure begins in Narita


(Oops – this never got published… so going back in time…)

The Intrepid Traveler and I are off on another of our adventures. This time we’ve chosen Japan. I know that the idea of a budget trip to Japan seems completely crazy – and I admit to being concerned – Japan is hardly considered budget traveler friendly – but here we are.

To make a budget trip these days of raising costs, no travel agents, and internet reservations requires not only confidence, but also a fair bit of bravery. The Intrepid Traveler comments here that Stupidity probably helps too. Not for us the well known brands – the closest we are going to get to a Hilton, a Marriott, or even a Comfort Inn is going to be the bathrooms!

So for the past 6 months I’ve been scouring Air BnB to find the right combination of price, location, availability, and facilities to meet our needs. We want to stay under $50 a night per person for lodging, and to be honest, it’s better for our budget if we run at around $25 a night per person. Canadian. And we want places that are close to public transit, walking distance to main sights, and highly recommended. We know from past trips that having access to a Kitchen is critical for keeping costs down, so that’s high on our list of need to have. We also enjoy meeting people, so a place that has more than just us as guests is automatically given a higher priority.

We do not need a private bathroom, although it’s preferred. And we can handle stairs – as long as it is not a 6 floor walk-up like we got hit with in Russia.

As all trips must – we started in Montreal by getting on an airplane. The lowest cost option was to break our flight in Dallas – so we flew first to Texas to enjoy some BBQ, then got on our flight to Narita.

To our amazement, the economy section was empty. I mean like – empty. I had a full row of 4 seats to myself, and the Intrepid Traveler, who is shorter than I am, took a row of 3 for herself. She was able to put her back against the side of the plane, and stretch her legs completely out.

Service was blisteringly fast. There was a full crew for about 1/3 the normal number of economy guests – so the crew could literally race down the aisles.

Interesting to note – the tiny section of ‘Option Plus’ was full – not an empty seat. So we were far more comfortable in budget economy. And on a 13 hour flight – you definitely want to be able to stretch out. I chatted with some of the attendants – and they told me this was a rare fluke. The flights out of Japan this week are over-booked. So they too were relaxing a bit before the hard work of the return trip began.

We arrived in Japan feeling, while not 100% – not completely 0% either. I’d booked what I’d hoped was a proper hotel (the APA Hotel in Narita) for our first night, knowing that after getting off that flight I wasn’t going to be able to cope with complex navigation problems. It is the most expensive place we will be staying – at a whopping $118 Canadian a night – but I figured I wasn’t going to be up to handling language challenges after the flight.

And I was right. On the booking confirmation were the times and location of the free shuttle from the airport to our chosen Palace – and while the line for check-in was surprisingly long, after about 45 minutes we were given the keys to our ‘Small Double Room with Bath and Breakfast Included’.

Small doesn’t really describe our room. It has all the essentials squeezed into the smallest possible space. The room is a rectangle – barely twice the width of the door. Actually – I think it is less than twice the width of the door.

There is a double bed that fills most of the space, with a desk featuring a 55″ TV that takes up all the rest. You can’t walk straight down the space between the desk and the bed – you must slide down sideways.

There is absolutely no closet, no drawers, no storage of any kind. The tea kettle is on the floor under the desk, and there are 2 mugs on a shelf. The required bathrobes – generally provided at all Japanese hotels – were on the bed along with the ‘Ruses for using the public bath’. There were 2 hangers on hooks in the space opposite the bathroom door. When we put our door key card in a slot, the electricity went on, and lights glowed, a most welcome sight.

The bathroom was almost as large as the bed. And was fully equipped with a 1/2 size deep soaking tub, a sink and a proper Japanese toilet with bidet functions. That said – the toilets in the Airport had bidet functions! This is Japan – proper toilets are a must.

Our first challenge was to just slide open the floor to ceiling drapes that covered the far wall of the room. I always like to see the view, and I prefer ‘real’ light. I think I might have been the first guest to do so, the dust from moving the drapes was considerable. But never mind, I found a shelf – and that was perfect for putting my purse. And our view was acceptable – over the center of Narita towards a forest of trees.

Our next challenge was to locate the light switches for the bathroom. Ok – I know – they should be near the door to the toilet – at least they would be in Canada. But diligent searching found no trace of a switch near the bathroom door. No switch on the outside of the bathroom, nor on the inside of the bathroom. Where could they be hidden? Diligent switching on and off of all switches in the room finally identified them. They were above the bed!

Also above the bed was a built-in clock radio and room control unit. Labels were in Japanese and English (thank goodness) or we’d have never figured things out. All the light switches for the room were on this unit – except the bathroom and ‘hall’ lights. Those were independent switches. The ‘hall’ switch was right near the door – it’s only the bathroom switch that proved a bit odd. And the knob on the radio (it might not be a radio actually – I can’t see a tuner) controlled the night light.

Being really good friends, the Intrepid Traveler and I worked out how to get our clothes out of our suitcases (a challenge when there isn’t enough room to put our tiny carry out bags sideways to open them), and got into bed.

I’m going to sleep – and deal with my lack of time zone correctness in the morning. Which explains why I’m blogging at 2:00 AM Japanese time!

On the bus ride here we spotted Cherry Blossoms – and the promising buds of flowers of all kinds. Tomorrow will be another travel day – we have to get to our lodging in Tokyo, but once there and settled in – we can begin exploring Japan.

Signing off to go back to bed…

The Soup Lady

Narita – Worth staying at least 2 nights!


Most folks just pass thru Narita on their way to Tokyo or Kyoto – If they sleep even one night in town, it’s to rest up after their flight – and then to quickly race off to other parts of Japan.

But that’s not fair to Narita. It’s a very famous place in it’s own right! One of Japan’s most famous and most often visited pilgrimage sites is right here in Narita – the Naritasan Shinshoji temple.

This is a huge complex – dating back to the beginning of Buddhism here in Japan – and is well worth a long visit. Particularly special is their three times a day services in the main hall. These feature some amazing drumming – and were very very different from the services we saw in Koyasan.

This temple has been performing a Goma (fire burning) ritual every day for over 1000 years. No matter what your religious affliction – that’s a lot of devotion!

And I had to see it. So we got organized, left our absolutely lovely Air BnB lodging, and went to Temple.

The service started with a brief introduction in Japanese – to a congregation of almost 500 people. There were 4 sections of participants. two large groups kneeling quite near the center alter on the right and left, a much larger group kneeling in front of the altar, and then the senior group. We were sitting on benches that ran along the back wall – with a good view and no kneeling required.

I expected something similar to the morning prayers in Koyasan – but what happened was very different. The service started with the entry of the monks – about 10 of them in formal attire. The main monk seated himself in front of the altar, the gong rang out in the courtyard, the lights dimmed, and a monk sounded a single, extremely loud, Thump on the giant Taiko Drum. That started the service. The monks said some prayers that clearly the gather congregants knew, and then there was some gong ringing and drumming. Suddenly a huge fire burst out in front of the main monk. We were blocked by his body from the bottom of the flame, but the top was easily a body length above his head. This was a signal for everyone to get up and line up to the right and left of the altar.

The Intrepid Traveller and I tried to decide in our own minds, what they might be doing. Comparing notes I thought they were going to do confession, the Intrepid Traveler thought that they were going to a lesson or communion. But it turns out they weren’t doing either. They were handing bags and purses and personal belongings to the helper monks, who were bringing these items to the altar and exposing them – briefly – to the flames.

We had read up on the Goma ritual – and the idea is that the flames represent the wisdom of the Buddha of Unmoving Knowledge – and they burn away the root causes of your suffering. Bu exposing your belongings to the fire, you are allowing the wisdom of the Buddha to impact your life.

Obviously as soon as I realized this was what was happening, I got up with my backpack and joined the line.

After the service ended – folks again lined up – this time to run their hands along a staff that ran in front of the main Buddha. We never figured out why they did this – but it’s been happening for a really long time. The staff was carefully wrapped in ropes to prevent it from being worn away by hundreds of hands, multiple times a day.

Great Service, very interesting Temple, lovely walking meditation garden. This shrine was a definite winner.

We did also had an incidence of ‘Japanese nabbing’. I left the Intrepid Traveller alone for just a minute – and when I got back, she had disappeared. Two older Japanese ladies had grabbed her and forced her to go with them into the tea room for a cup of tea. They spoke no English, so she felt the polite thing to go was to go with with them.

While she was being polite, I spent several anxious minutes wondering where she’d gone when she finally re-appeared to explain that she just had to drink the offered tea – it would have been rude to have refused.

Lunch was in a traditional Eel house. It turns out that Narita is famous for it’s ell restaurants – they are the preferred food of pilgrims – health restoring and considered beneficial after a long trek. And the Eel restaurants in Narita have been serving this dish for over a hundred years. We sat down in a traditional looking restaurant, but with a hole for your legs – no kneeling unless you wanted to – and ordered a meal of eel to share.

It was delicious – and the tea (both hot and cold) was unlimited and free. We were the only westerner’s in the place – it was packed with Japanese – so you know it’s the right place. Delightful meal – and a great way to end our trip to Japan. Tomorrow we are heading for home.

A note on shopping in Narita. We happened into the two largest grocery stores we’ve seen in Japan here in Narita. The land is clearly cheaper – and the shoppers clearly either locals or pilgrims to the shrine – not a foreigner in site.

The sushi selection in the 2nd of the grocery stores we found was unreal. So fresh, so beautiful and so reasonably price. $5.00 Canadian ($6.00 US) got you a platter of at least 8 different sushi option. And need we say delicious?

We are so glad we opted to spend two nights in Narita. It’s a really cool spot – well worth visiting. If you come – check out the Aeon Mall – and buy the sushi. And of course – have at least one eel dinner.

Signing off to get our selves to the airport – our flight home awaits.

The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler