17 August 2011

Tokyo, again!

I had booked this trip several months in advance (before the earthquake and tsunami).  I was planning to visit a new dessert restaurant in Tokyo that was supposed to open a few months earlier.  My dessert bar friends from New York are behind this venture.  However, the earthquake caused them to postpone their plans, so they postponed the opening until later in the year.  Unfortunately for me, United ceased offering travel waivers for Japan flights that would extend to my flight plans.  So, I was committed to go regardless.  I was going to make the best of it, even though I had just been to Tokyo.  I planned a return visit to the Molecular Tapas Bar.  I also booked a personal architecture tour thorough Bespoke Tokyo.  I also decided to stay at a different hotel than the one I had been using for every other Tokyo visit, which would put me in a different part of town.

My outbound flight was a little bit of a mess.  There turned out to be a delay of almost two hours (not a huge deal sine I didn't have any specific plans for my arrival day).  However, since I was traveling on a Z fare (acquired through an up-sell online when I bought the original ticket), I asked if I could get upgraded to First for a fee plus miles.  After a great deal of gyration and consultation, they eventually gave me the upgrade.  Unbeknown to me at the time, United had called my office number earlier in the morning to tell me about the delay and to say that they were holding a First Class seat for me on the flight.  I did eventually get my fee and miles back, but I think this just added to the booking confusion about my reservation (so much so, that I was not allowed to check in online on my return flight).  But it all worked out, and I decided I didn't want to try gong through the same hassle and upgrade on the return.

Having learned the Skyliner routine, I decided to use that plus local trains to get to my hotel.  When trying to catch the scheduled Skyliner, I found the platform directions a little confusing -- I assumed I could get to the right platform via escalator.  If I had paid attention to the signs, I would have seen that elevators were what I needed to take to get quickly to the correct platform.  I just made my train (tickets are for a specific seat on a specific train).

It was a little more evident on this trip how much impact the aftereffects of the earthquake and tsunami had on Tokyo.  Many escalators were turned off (I had to haul my luggage up stairs), it was warm (thermostats were turned up), and some doors to buildings were disabled (only on set of automatic doors would work).  It was also dark walking outside on the sidewalks -- many streetlights were turned off.  It's a good thing Tokyo is not a big street-crime haven.  It still felt a little eerie.

Since the Hilton Tokyo is near Shinjuku Station, that is the area my tour centered around, although we did take the subway a few times for a quick dash to some specific points, like Mid-Town.  Here are some of the interesting buildings, which are just interspersed among a variety of average or nondescript-looking structures:


My meal at the Tapas Molecular Bar was even better than my first visit.  Some food highlights:

I also had time to travel to a Japanese Onsen (bathing house) located in central Tokyo.  It has water heated by hot springs below, with pools of varying temperature located inside and outside.  Even though not much English was spoken, they did have English instructions available to help guide you through the various procedures and areas.  It was very relaxing.  I don't have any pictures as it would not have been easy (nor probably allowed) to carry a camera into the baths area.

Even though I didn't get to try out the new dessert bar place, I looked for similar experiences.  I ended up having afternoon tea and a snack at a Mariage Freres location on the other side of Shinjuku Station from my hotel.

Fortunately, my flight home was much less of a hassle than my outbound flight.  Business Class was certainly good enough.  My ticket was a little messed up since I appeared to be double-booked, but the agent was very good and eventually managed to figure it all out.  I'll just have to book a return flight some time in the near future to check out the dessert bar.

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