Sunday, February 16th, 2014

The morning came way too fast but the adrenaline was kicking in as we packed up and made our way to the front desk. We were met there by the owner who told us her father was still in bed so it would be her taking us to the train station! Wow, what customer service.

Hotel 4:00 am

The trip down the mountain into Ueda was quite clear with the tall piles of snow we had seen last night even taller beside the road. We stopped at one point for a few minutes to let the snow plows clear away some snow they had piled in the middle of the road - Mother made a comment that snow plows in Canada would not be bothered to be so helpful to the drivers. We made it to the station very quickly arriving at about 4:45. Finding a place to stop was a bit tricky but she pulled up near the small police booth and climbed over a snow pile to see what was happening. She returned to tell us the station opened at 5:30 so we had some time. We went to a local “Family Mart” convenience store for some drinks. We sat and chatted for a few minutes. She had talked to my wife on the phone yesterday and had said she sounded “very pretty” so that was very sweet of her. She did leave us for a few minutes to check with the hotel beside the station (which looked fairly dodgy) about accommodation should we need it for tonight if there are no trains. She came back to tell us that they had vacancy and gave us a card with her name on it - “Mention my name and they will take care of you”. We gave her 3,000 yen for her trouble - She tried to give some back but we had none of that. She has been so very helpful and kind.

At 5:30 we returned to the station where she parked outside and helped carry our bags to the entrance. Inside was what we would have expected - a large queue at the ticket office. But, amazingly, looking at the departure board the train was on it! This was a relief after the completely blank boards at Nagano yesterday. So, we gave up on the queues as we had our tickets that were issued yesterday, went through the gates then up to the platform to wait. We wanted the 6:13 to Tokyo (leaving Nagano at 6). As we waited on the cool (but not really cold) platform there were several announcements in Japanese that we could not make out. We got into the line for one of the non-reserved coaches (even here they mark where you get onto each car on the train) and waited. After one announcement everyone left the platform and we were told to go wait in the waiting room but we were determined to get on the train and not suffering from the cold so we simply waited. I spent time walking up and down the platform as 6:13 came and went with the sign changing to later and ever later times. Looking out the window I could see a car park with uncleared snow - The vehicles hopelessly entombed for the foreseeable future.

There are train tracks under there somewhere...

The tracks were covered with a lot of snow and the snow drifts from the roof dipped into the station as well. At about 7 pm an announcement was made and everyone came back out onto the platform. The train, it appeared, was coming. 7:13 it came in, smooth as you like, gently pushing aside the snow on the tracks. Car 3, and all the other cars, were packed. People were jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the aisles and in the entrances and areas between cars. We, however, were not going to miss this train. We pushed our way with our enormous bags (most of the people on the train were local people who had very little in the way of luggage) into the door area. The people behind us pushed in as well. A few minutes later the doors shut. We were on our way to Tokyo.

We started standing in the door area but eventually worked our way into the aisle of the carriage itself. Shuffling little by little along as people left and boarded the train. Mother does not like crowds like this and we very quickly was separated. I could see she spent her time trying to look away from the people - out the window, at the wall, anywhere. She did not look very happy. I wasn’t either, to be honest, though the fact we were on a train with a remote chance of my catching my flight was amazing!

A bit crowded...

Because we were standing we did not see a lot of the countryside we were passing through though I noticed that the snow levels started to drop the closer we got to the city. The sun was out and it looked like a very nice day.

Spot my luggage...(the black one - mothers is the flower one)

At 9:45 we arrived at Tokyo coming into the city from the north which is a new area of the city we had not seen before but I have to tell you when I saw the Tokyo Skytree I started to breath a bit easier. I was already 45 minutes late for check-in. We rapidly made our way down to catch the Narita Express (NEX) train to the airport. We had, of course, just missed one at caught the next at 10:03. It is a one hour trip to the airport (remember, 11:50 departure for my flight)…Because we had missed the express train we had booked yesterday in Nagano we did not have assigned seats so we sat in single seats at opposite sides of one of the cars which was not great but we were in seats after standing for the long trip from Ueda.

On the train to the airport I spent the time worrying and eventually caused Virgin Airlines about my situation. They told me that if I missed the flight it would cost me £100 to change the flight to the next available…on Tuesday. So, an extra day in Tokyo. Not so bad but unexpected and I really wanted to go home. Mother and I talked. I asked her what she thought. She said I should try to catch the flight. I should run when we arrived. I said that if I missed the flight I would stay at the check in desk and wait for her to arrive so we could figure out what to do next.

I studied the train station and terminal maps to know where I had to go.

The train arrived at terminal 1 at 10:58. Less than an hour to my flight.

I ran.

Rudely, I pushed my way past people as I raced up the three escalators into the departure area. A quick glance at the electronic screens showed that Virgin Airlines, of course, was at the far side of the hall.

I ran some more.

Gasping, approaching the counter I could see a board stating that they were still checking in people for the flight to Heathrow! Skidding to a stop I managed to tell them my name and they quickly took my bag away from them (frowning slightly at the weight) then directed me across the way to a secondary security check for the bag. 11:05. Toes tapping, we waited as the security guy there confirmed it was ok and passed the bag through to loading onto the plane. I was guided by a staff member to the security gates. She asked what had happened and I told her that I had come from Nagano and there had been no trains. She was amazed that we had been able to make it. I asked if we would have to deal with “that” as I pointed at the massive queues for security. She shook her head and took me to the “employees only” security area and told me to “hurry” to the departure gate. 11:10

Security was quick and I ran to Gate 21…it was just after security! Thank goodness. 11:12. I arrived out of breath and saw…they had not started boarding. Amazing. I took a deep breath. I had wanted to pick up some more souvenirs before leaving that I could see being sold just a short distance away. I did not move. I was not going to risk missing this flight.

My seat for the 12 hour flight was on the aisle of the first row in one of the sections of the plane. Not great but I was on board and, hopefully, my bags were too! My heart rate dropped as we waited for departure. I managed to watch a movie (Robert Redford as a sailor trapped in his boat alone on the ocean in the wonderful “All is Lost”).

We arrived in London. On time and with my wife waiting in arrivals. She was reading as she did not know how long I would be but her face lit up as I approached her. I am home. I am happy. I am tired.