Now that the controlled chaos of relocation has come to a halt, I can finally sit down and put together some coherent thoughts on the journey thus far. Initially, I was going to write about my thoughts on transitioning from Asia to Europe and the grappling with the notion of what it means to consciously face the best years of your life, but the subtext was muddled and it became too abstract for anyone to possibly enjoy, so I’ll save that one for a later day. Instead, here’s the play-by-play of what’s been going on from the last post until now.
With our final shipment of belongings gone, we spent the remainder of our time cleaning for our final housing inspection before we were then asked kindly to give back the keys to our residence and get out. The Mrs. and I got a room at the Misawa Inn while our dog and cats, who were not allowed to stay with us, were distributed among our pet-friendly friends. Now bike-less, we were forced to use a borrowed car to get anywhere we needed to go in our final days in Misawa. Or so I thought.
Walking into the hotel lobby, one is greeted by this (poorly cropped) poster advertising a “courtesy bicycle” for guests of the Misawa Inn. I don’t know whose idea it was to implement this, but kudos to them. Although I’m sure they exist, I’ve never personally seen a hotel offer complimentary bicycles, let alone an Air Force Inn, so I just had to take advantage of this opportunity. I filled out the form, received my helmet and lock, and was able to choose the bike I wanted from their selection. Granted, there were maybe four to choose from, and none were very spectacular, but hey, they were free.
I picked the Fuji Crosstown 3.0, because it intrigued me, but also because the tires were actually inflated. I’m still not entirely sure what this bike was marketed as, because it suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. The overly padded saddle with a shock-absorbing seat-stem, articulating handlebar stem, and smooth-tread city tires suggest a comfort bike, but the triple crankset, 29” wheels, and front fork suspension suggest a mountain bike. Either way, it offered a ride I can only describe as excessively squishy. I didn’t actually ride it all that far, but I wanted mostly to patronize the Inn’s program to show my support.
Finally, the day had to come to leave. We were going to fly from Misawa to Tokyo, stay overnight, then fly from Tokyo to Frankfurt via Copenhagen the next day. With one suitcase, carry-on, and cat apiece, plus the dog, we had quite the task at hand. Flying with pets is never easy, especially travelling halfway around the world. I also might add that it’s incredibly expensive, and I wish I could somehow convey to these animals just how much they owe us.
The flight from Misawa to Tokyo was easy. Every leg of the trip thereafter was subsequently more troublesome, peaking with a breakdown on the German autobahn, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
After arriving at Narita airport, (Tokyo has two airports, and they are not very close to each other) we boarded our chartered van to Haneda airport where our pets had reservations for their own rooms at the Royal Inn pet hotel. While we were not allowed back to actually see their accommodations, I imagine it was the utmost in luxury. Meanwhile, the Mrs. and I took the train into Kanda to eat at Devil Craft pizzeria and bar. Then we walked around, got a karaoke room one last time, and took the train back to Haneda for a blissful night of rest in the airport lobby, falling asleep to the tune of “this escalator goes to the third floor. Please hold on to the hand rails” repeating over and over again in two languages. All night long.
In the morning, we checked our pets out of their rooms, and loaded them and all of our luggage onto the shuttle bus that runs from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 of the airport. Not only are domestic and international flights in separate airports on opposite sides of the city, but even the terminals of the airports aren’t connected! Thankfully, there were some kind Japanese passengers that assisted us getting our luggage and pets on and off the bus in a timely manner.
After we checked our bags and pets at the counter, we proceeded through to security where the bottle of Suntory Yamazaki I had forgotten I purchased was removed from my backpack and confiscated, in the nicest way possible. Then onto the plane we went for a ten hour flight to Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen’s airport is more of a shopping mall than anything, really. You walk past a dozen full-size retail stores between gates, with signs that indicate approximately how long a walk it will be from one part of the airport to another. Which was helpful when our plane, that was already late, reported problems with the landing gear and we had to walk to the other side of the airport to board a different plane. All the while, our poor pets are zipping around the tarmac on luggage trailers, patiently waiting to be let out of their travel crates, that by this point, they have undoubtedly already peed in.
Finally, we board the plane, and it eventually took off, though I was in and out of sleep by this point and don’t remember much. When we touched down in Frankfurt, Germany we gathered our things and passed through German customs (or lack thereof, seriously our passports weren’t even looked at). The guest house we are currently staying at had sent a shuttle for us, but it was nowhere to be found. An hour or so later, a German man walks up to me, waiting on a bench listening to a crazy lady shouting at passersby, and asks, in German if I was the person he was picking up. I don’t understand him, he doesn’t understand my response, but ultimately we end up putting our luggage in his Volkswagen van and driving away, hoping that we didn’t just get in the wrong guy’s taxi.
After an hour of driving on the Autobahn (at speeds I am not used to), we pull over to the shoulder and the van stops. The clutch had disengaged and the transmission stopped working altogether, effectively stranding us, in the middle of the night, on the side of the only highway in the world with no speed limit. I’m sure our driver tried to console us, but given that he didn’t speak any English, we will never know. He made a couple phone calls on his cell, and over an hour later a mustachioed ADAC driver arrived to tow us away. With the van loaded up onto the bed of the tow truck, and us, incredulously still sitting inside the van, we were driven to a VW dealership in the middle of nowhere and unceremoniously dropped off as the ADAC truck drove away. There we sat with our pets (still in their crates, mind you) in the darkness for literally hours. It wasn’t until 3 A.M. that someone arrived to pick us up, and it was another couple hours from there to our destination.
So there you have it, an account of our perilous sojourn from one country to another. We’ve only been in Europe for one day, and I already love it here. We’re now in the midst of looking for a house and waiting for our possessions to arrive, but I can already tell the cycling here will be fantastic, so stay tuned for more.
- Bicyclist Abroad