This winter holiday we visited our families and spent New Year’s Eve in Paris. It was the perfect winter trip in the most beautiful city! More to come on that…
However, the story of our trip does not start there. This first blog installment is about the journey, and what a journey it was! At 3 pm on Friday 22nd December, Dan and I took a coach to Fukuoka and then the metro to the airport. Our flight to Paris the following day was from Tokyo, and so we had booked a late night flight from Fukuoka there and two beds in a hostel at the airport.
Since moving to Japan, we have stayed in hostels a few times. The beds are usually cheap and reasonably comfortable. You get a bed in a bunk bed setup with a curtain, and often a mirror / plugs and light so you can draw the curtain and be private. Admittedly, I am yet to have a good night sleep in a hostel…usually earplugs are required and basically no other people in the room for a good night’s sleep! Still, we wanted to save money and the hostel had 4.2 / 5 on booking.com so we felt it was a safe bet…
Our flight landed at 10.30 pm and we started the 20 minute walk to the correct terminal for the pick up service from the hostel. The hostel owner arrived in a slightly worse for wear van, and in we piled, along with two American girls (also JETs as it happened!). The hostel owner wasn’t one for conversation, but it was late and we were all tired. As we start the 15 minute drive to the hostel from the airport, it seemed like our driver was having an issue with the gear-box…a few bangs and judders later, we were off…
Five minutes in, the noises started again. We asked the driver, “is everything ok”, his response of “no, not really” wasn’t particularly reassuring…we approached the brow of the hill and the van went silent. We slowly ran a red light and approached (at some speed now) the upward climb of the next hill in our cruising van. There was a small lay-by part way up, it was clear this was where our driver was aiming. Well, it in no way made it! “Erm, get out and push” we were instructed by our friendly driver. It is dark, the dual carriageway is not lit, the van is black and it’s lights are off, and he wants us to get out and push…given little choice we do – with me standing in the road jumping up and down like a lunatic to alert cars. We get it into the lay-by and he nearly kills us again by failing to put the handbrake on! Once secured, he instructs us to get back in the van and wait, and he literally runs off into the sunset.
Thirty cold and horror movie like minutes pass and he finally returns with an even older looking car. It is not boding well for this hostel! We all pile in once more and he takes us to the middle of nowhere, with a lone corrugated iron building in the distance. Turns out, that was our planned accommodation for the night. We enter a cold, old, and grubby room. Mr Happy sits us down and takes our money (full cost, despite the massive delay thanks to him!) He then asks the group “anyone drive?” Suspicious of his motives, Dan and I both say no. The poor American girls don’t catch on quick enough, and before they realise, he is requesting they come with him back out into the night to tow his van back…
Meanwhile, Dan and I have been shown to our mixed dorm room and cannot believe it. Not only is it not very clean, cold, and in what appears to be a shed, it is an open room. There are just mattresses on the floor, with no privacy. Consequently, we enter the room and immediately stumble upon on the snoring faces of two other sleeping men. We are shown two beds at the end of this bleak and cold room. Where I am expected to change, put my bags, valuables etc never revealed itself! It was pretty shocking and we were not very impressed, to put it mildly. Off I pop to change into my PJs in the toilet, and Dan starts to hatch a plan! By this point it is 12.30 am and so his attempts to book a hotel elsewhere do not go very well. Eventually, he manages to commit to a costly fee for us to have a bed at a hotel at the airport. This act alone pretty much made my Christmas! I felt immense joy at not having to sleep next to these snoring strangers on the floor in this dirty room.
Next challenge…how do we get there? Our plan was to call a cab and escape into the night before our delightful host returns! We struggled to find a taxi number, until I remembered on the hostel booking information, we were provided with a taxi number. Dan makes the call, and I hear something like this:
“Hello…I need to book a taxi”.
“Erm, were you asleep?”
“Oh, right, erm, yes, it’s you. You’re coming back then? Errrr, great…”
Turns out, the taxi number provided was that of the man whose hostel we were trying to escape. He now knew of our plan and we were effectively trapped waiting for him to return towing his car! Several cold and tense minutes passed until we saw his lights approaching…the American girls were confused at our garbled story of needing to go to some friends at the airport, but nonetheless Mr Happy reluctantly agrees to take us back to the airport. The conversation in the car goes something like this:
Mr H: “Why are you going back?”
Us: “We have some friends who have returned home and we want to stay with them”
Mr H: “So no sleep yet?”
Us: “Errrr, not yet. Soon we hope.”
Mr H: “Where have they returned from?”
Dan: “Somewhere else in Japan.”
Me: “Hahahahaha, erm, yeah.”
The worlds most awkward silence falls…
We arrive at the airport and Mr H asks whether we want departures or arrivals. We can see the hotel in the distance and it looks like departures is the best bet! We finally get out of the car, breath a sigh of relief, but it lasts a nano-second. For in the distance we see a security guard, gun and baton waving, pelting it across the tarmac towards us. Our delightful Mr H shouts something at him in Japanese, hops in his car, and drives away. The furious security card chases the car a short distance, before giving that up as a bad job.
It is fair to say at this point we are not only very tired, but also somewhat confused and concerned. It turns out, Departures at Tokyo Narita airport is closed. We had been dropped off in a place we couldn’t leave until the morning, but where we couldn’t stay either! We explain we will take the walkway down to our hotel, but this is met with much alarm and head shaking from our security guard. Another guard comes along and takes a look, smiles knowingly, and wonders off. Dan and I keep exchanging alarmed looks until finally we are told the police are on their way to escort us out of the airport. Great news at 1 am!
However, the plan that had been hatched, was for the police to open up the departures area of the airport and escort us down to arrivals, where we could finally exit. Not for us to be marched out of the airport / Japan. So, just like Madonna, Tokyo Narita airport was opened up for the Haymans! We finally get to our hotel and bed at 1.30 am; it is fair to say much later and with far more drama than we were expecting. I feel justified in giving our happy host a 3 / 10 on TripAdvisor and very grateful I have such a determined husband! No more hostels in Japan for us…
Next up…a 15 hour flight to Paris!