Friday, July 3, 2009

Across the Pacific and back..

We always look forward to visiting home...we never look forward to what it takes to get there. It all began June 13th:

June 13th - 7am wake up call, out the door by 8am to be at the Narita Shuttle roll call by 9. 9am roll call, Keith gets on the shuttle, Jenn and Jack do not. Plan B - train it to Narita. The shuttle bus desk gives us a train schedule stating that the Narita Express train departs JR YOKOSUKA station at 11:26am and arrives at Narita approximately 2 hours later. We think, great: that gets us to the airport at 1:30pm for a 4pm flight, perfect. We go to McDonald's to fill Jack's belly with pancakes and us with coffee for the long trip ahead of us.


We arrive at the JR Yokosuka station at 11:10am, buy our green car tickets on what we think is the Narita Express. When we enter the station there is a line of more than 200 lookie-loos waiting for something to arrive on Track 1. Neither of us have seen anyone line up for a train before so we assume it must be a special event. We ask the train conductor on the platform and he says that a new train is stopping at the station and everyone is there to take pictures. Around 11:20 it arrives with the initials NEX on the side...NEX stands for Narita Express. This is where the language barrier gets a little stressful. We think, "crap are we supposed to be on that train?" The conductor says no, no one is riding that train it is only to look at. We ask about our tickets and when we will arrive at Narita, he flips through his timetable and replies that the 11:26 train arrives at Narita at 2:45. What?!? That's and hour and fifteen minutes longer than the schedule the base gave us says. Cue Keith freaking out. I think there must be something wrong so we get on the train and hope for the best.


Once we get on the train there is an attendant in our car. Using my best Japanese and her best English we look at the timetables again and come to the conclusion that the train we are on does not arrive at Narita until 2:45. Even if we get off in Yokohama and catch the actual Narita Express train, we would only save ten minutes due to the schedule. Keep in mind that we have two large bags, a car seat, two carry-ons, stroller, stroller bag...oh yes...and a squirmy 21 month old. Our idea of changing trains is a nightmare. We figure we will stay where we are and hope that an hour is enough time to check into an international flight. This is where Keith's pale complexion turns ghostly white and his foot starts to twitch. He starts to process all of the worst case scenarios and expects the worst to happen: that we miss our flight.

We settle in for our three plus hour train journey and arrive at JR Funabashi station and a kind woman who speaks English pops her head in and says, "They just announced that anyone destined for Narita must get off here and change trains. There is an accident at the Chiba station and no trains can get through." Oh crud. We lug our two large bags, a car seat, two carry-ons, stroller, stroller bag...oh yes...and our squirmy 21 month old as quickly as we can off the train only to have no idea where we are let alone what train we need to change to to get to Narita. We follow the herd and go to the other platform but end up as confused as everyone else. Luckily, in true Japanese fashion, a fellow traveler who speaks English is taking the time to explain to all of the foreigners that we have to leave the JR station and find the Keisei line in order to get to Narita. We have no idea how far the other station is but we are told to leave this station and find it. Okie dokie. We depart the station with our $65 tickets that were prepaid all the way to Narita and get a little white ticket from the station attendant (no idea why) and look for signs to Keisei. We find the Keisei Funabashi station which is basically across the street, purchase $12 more in tickets to Narita and have four minutes to catch the next train that arrives in Narita at 3:01. Now, we are really cutting it close and Keith thinks there is no way they will let us check in.

We get to Narita Airport, Terminal 2 at 3:01...Japanese trains are incredibly punctual. It takes us about ten minutes to get from the platform to the check in counter, Keith checks in, no problem. I hand over my passport and Jack's and as she is entering the information into the computer, she has a very confused look on her face. She takes about 10 minutes but then says that the ticket wasn't booked correctly for infant on lap. She fixes it and gives us four seats so we can have more room...awesome. We check everything except for the stroller and stroller bag so that we can get through security faster. We get to the gate and we are the LAST ones to board the plane. We couldn't have been one minute later. We break down the stroller, get it gate checked and finally exhale as we board the plane.

So, eight plus hours into our journey, now, the eleven and a half hour flight. We have pretty good seats, window, aisle and the aisle seat next to it. The gentlemen next to Keith took it upon himself to take our fourth seat but we cannot be too greedy, we were lucky to have three. Jack spent all but two hours of the flight jumping and yelling the extent of his vocabulary all the while we were gifted with the wicked witch of the west for a flight attendant. Every time she walked passed she had to remind Jack to be quiet, keep the window closed, don't throw toys...who did she think she was? Has she never seen a 1 year old on a cross-Pacific flight? Jeeze. We arrived in Los Angeles on time for a two hour lay over before our flight to San Diego. Once we boarded the little commuter jet, Keith, Jack and I proceeded to pass out. We slept the entire 40 minute flight and woke up in sunny San Diego, finally, 23 hours later. The next morning Jack and I jumped on a 90 minute flight up to San Francisco and had 10 wonderful days with my family up north while Keith attended school in San Diego. We went to the Oakland Zoo, California's Great America, the California Academy of Sciences and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.





On the 24th, Jack and I took the 90 minute fight back to San Diego, picked up a rental car and went to the San Diego Zoo for the rest of the day. The zoo truly is world class and the pandas were my favorite exhibit. We picked up Keith from school and had Rubio's for dinner. I can't get enough of their Mahi Mahi burritos, so delicious! The next day Keith was back off to school and Jack and I headed up to Carlsbad to go to Legoland. Unfortunately, Jack was 1 inch too short to ride most of the rides but he had a blast running around and playing with all of the Lego blocks. It's a great park and it really is designed for the entire family. I can't wait to go back when Jack can go on more rides. The next day was Friday, a rest day...a totally needed rest day. We went over to Tony and Dominique's house for dinner and got to catch up with our good friends, and we got a series of performances from Andrew who is seven already!

Saturday morning we met up with Keith's parents that flew out from Chicago to go to breakfast followed by Sea World. Jack got to touch a dolphin and all of the shows were amazing as always. That night we drove up to Los Angeles to visit with the rest of Keith's family for the next three days. Sunday we visited with Jessica at and then spent the rest of the day at Denny and Brynn's where we had fun in the pool and Keith cooked up some amazing Carne Asada. Monday and Tuesday we visited with the rest of the Grandparents and got any last minute shopping in. Wednesday morning started off with a 5am wake up call.

July 1st - 5am wake up call, departed Los Angeles at 5:45am via car, arrived San Diego at 7:30. Had time to fill up on gas, get a bagel and drop Keith and Jack off at the airport so I could return the rental car. Our flight back to Los Angeles was at 10am (asinine I know...but military tickets do not allow you to deviate from your itinerary so since we flew into San Diego we had to fly out of San Diego). We got to Los Angeles a little before 11 and our Tokyo flight left at 12:30. When we checked in our seats were 37E and 38E, yes, that is center of five one behind the other. I asked the counter agent if they would move us to avoid really irritating eight other passengers for 11 hours. She looked at the seating assignments and said no problem, she put us in row 20, bulkhead seats, aisle and window right behind business class...and in a power row. These seats were awesome. Power for the computer and plenty of space for Jack to run around. Again, he slept for a little over two hours of the flight and the rest of the time wanted to run and jump and shout and play. This time the flight attendant was a little less wicked but we are now convinced that airlines have a strict hiring policy that requires they only hire the most evil, rude and inconsiderate people on the planet. We got into Narita at 4pm local time and had 30 minutes to clear immigration and customs to get to roll call for the shuttle back to Yokosuka. Anyone who has been through immigration and customs at Narita knows that 30 minutes is impossible. We had to fill out form after form and then wait for our baggage which luckily came out first. We were though customs by 5pm that has to be a record of sorts for an international arrival.

So Keith, I, two large bags, a car seat, two carry-ons, stroller bag...oh yes...and now a squirmy 22 month old, sped over to Terminal 1 on the shuttle bus to get to the DOD desk for the base shuttle. It was unattended but it said that roll call was at 5:10 in the parking lot. So we rushed out to the parking lot to find the bus and yet another rude person that wanted to put a kink in our travels. Keith had to hand over his original orders (which is a big deal) or we would have to wait until the 7:30 bus so he could make a copy. Not an option. We were in hour 24 of our journey home and were not going to wait 2 hours so we could get a copy. The orders are delivered to the base the following day so Keith hands them over, throws our bags on the bus and we take our seats.

Jack and I took our places laying on Keith's laps and took a two hour snooze back home. 27 hours after we began, we walked through our front door to find Beast waiting for us and our heavenly king size bed calling our name. Quick shower, and we were all in bed by 9:30. Jack woke up at 4 this morning but I am sure we will all be back on schedule after today. Luckily Keith's ship is not in port so we have him for at 4 days for a long weekend of travel recovery laziness.

All in all, the trip is never easy but it is always worth it, especially to get all those hugs and kisses in person instead of just over the Internet. Thank you to everyone who rearranged their schedule to see us on such short notice, and we look forward to the day where it doesn't take us more than 24 hours to visit home. 14 months and counting, I know this next year will fly by so we are going to make the most of it! Fujiyama here we come, Yata!