“Daad, can you stop taking pictures?”
“But I need them for the blog, Lexxie. I always struggle with photos for the start of a trip.”
“We haven’t even got on the bus yet. Can’t you wait? And shut up about your stupid blog.”
“No, Alexei. I need to snap a little or the start of the post will be all text. And people are lazy bastards. Lots of text puts them off. Without photos my blog would be stupid.”
“We need to be ready for when the bus comes.”
The alternate bus route is the one we have to take again, kicking off with a number 62 rather than number 15, changing at Olympic Stadium rather than Haarlemmermeerstation.
I take a few more pictures at Olympic Stadium.
“Dad, can you really stop with all the photographing shit. We have a bus to catch.”
“We’ve a good eight minutes before it comes. Loads of time.”
This is starting well. Not even got to the airport and the kids are already whinging.
There’s no bus catching drama. I’ve taken enough snaps minutes before the bus arrives. I don’t why they’re getting all anxious. I’ve more luggage than they do.
The airport isn’t too mobbed. It is a Friday in the holiday season, after all. Though I’m pretty much insured against that now, what with having pushing in boarding. As long as I fly with KLM or one of their partners.
“Our flight leaves from pier E. Do you know what that means, lads?”
“Yes, dad. That we can go to the Irish pub. We were here just a couple of weeks ago, remember?”
First, though we make a quick detour to the duty free. Where I buy the cheapest malt whisky I can find.
We can’t get our usual seats close to the entrance and have to use one of the tables in the rather murky interior. One thing remains the same: our order. Pints of cider for the kids, a half of Murphy’s Stout and a double Jamesons, no ice, for me.
“Do you want another pint, boys?”
“Yes, dad. But I know you only ask because you want another whiskey. Don’t go crazy with that. We don’t want you getting drunk before we get on the plane.”
Lexxie is really like my Mum, sometimes. I only ever intended having the two, anyway. I’m not totally irresponsible. Though Dolores might argue with me on that point.
We don’t have three seats together, though that’s how the plane is configured. Dolores insisted that we got at least one emergency exit seat so the kids (or at least one of them) could have more legroom. Alexei is the lucky boy, with me and Andrew one row back. I’m consigned to the middle seat. Something I’d usually avoid. The sacrifices I make for my children.
A very quiet middle-aged Japanese bloke is sitting in the window seat. Which is a good thing, as he’s quite small. Not a big fat bastard like me. Two me-sized people next to each other would have been a tight fit.
I watch a film until the meal is served. As soon as that’s done – and I’ve downed a couple of red wines – it’s time to get my head down. Which works out remarkably well. Pretty soon I’m spark out, which was the idea.
At least for a while. I’m awoken by someone poking my arm. It’s Andrew. “Dad, you’re leaning on the man next to you.” That’s slightly embarrassing. I lean on Andrew instead. “Dad, just stick to your own seat.”
Soon I’m slumbering again. Only awaking when it’s time for the final meal of the flight. Perfect. The flight has gone dead quickly. The kids haven’t been quite as successful in their sleeping attempts.
For some reason, at immigration in Japan you have to be checked twice. Can’t see the point in that and it just slows things up. They do let all three of us in. Which is a good thing.
Immigration passed to pick up our bags – which arrive wonderfully quickly.
“I need to get some money, kids. Can you see a cash machine anywhere?”
“Over there day. Are you blind? You’re really getting worse.”
50,000 yen to the better, I distribute the money around the three of us.
“Best you kids have at least some local cash in case you get lost.”
“It’s more likely you’ll wander off and get separated, Dad.”
“Or lose us when you’re taking more stupid photographs.”
The fast train to the centre is expensive at more than 20 euros a pop, but it’s dead easy to buy the tickets. We’re headed for Nippori station rather than the main one as it’s closer to our hotel.
Emerging from the train, one thing is obvious: despite only being before 11 AM, it’s already hot. Effing hot. Andrew starts looking uncomfortable immediately. A waterfall of sweat cascades down his face. I’m not much better.
Outside we grab a cab. Lexxie gets in the front. The driver kindly moves the seat back for him. His knees had been poking his chin. Alexei shows the printed out name and address of the hotel and away we go.
It’s not far. I deliberately chose reasonably central hotels. And reasonably cheap ones. I’m not made of money.
We’re too early to check in.
“Let’s see if we can find a pub, kids.”
“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said all day.” Andrew says cheekily. He’s not one to ever turn down a beer-drinking opportunity.
We head off up the street. It’s even hotter. There are plenty of bars and restaurants around. Just none of them are open.
“Dad, can you hurry up and find something.” Andrew says after about 30 metres. He is looking hot, mind.
We walk a couple of hundred metres up the street. Nothing doing. Then back again. Still no luck. Third time up bingo! A little place has just opened. We rush in and joyously find that it’s air-conditioned and has beer.
“What would you like?”
“Three beers it is, then.”
They don’t have draught. Just big bottles of Asahi. That’ll do. For once I don’t mind that my beer is ice cold.
“Are you hungry?” I ask, as the food our fellow customers are tucking into looks interesting.
“No, my stomach doesn’t feel that good.” Andrew replies. I can equate with that. The heat has knocked all the appetite of me, too.
“I’ll have something.” Says Alexei, unsurprisingly.
What to order, though? The menu is only in Japanese.
“You should do what I used to before I could understand German. Just opt for something around the price you want to pay. Or in this case, how much I’m prepared to pay.”
“We know, Dad. You’ve told us this before.”
Alexei plumps for something in the 800 yen range. It turns out to be pretty substantial. A bowl of rice, miso soup, an omelette, two breaded chicken things and some pickles. Andrew and I get more beer as Alexei gets stuck into his food.
I’m surprised when I see someone light up a fag. Especially as they’re eating at the time.
Alexei can’t manage all his meal. I wish I were hungrier. It looks quite nice. But I couldn’t force down a thing. Well, nothing solid. I’ve room for beer.
When Check in time rolls around, we head back hotel-wards. Nipping into a supermarket we spotted earlier on the way. Where we pick up some drinks and sushi for later. That’s the sort of food I might be able to force down.
“Watch out, dad.” Andrew warns me as a bike approaches from behind. You have to really watch out. Everyone cycles on the pavement. Not used to that. In Amsterdam people mostly stick to the cycle paths.
We’re staying in traditional rooms, meaning there’s not really any furniture. Andrew wasn’t so keen when I suggested it. But I managed to convince him that it would be part of a total Japan experience.
We spend the evening chilling in our hotel, soaking up Japanese culture via the TV and drinking beer. TV is as bizarre as I’d hoped. Apart from the baseball.