Friday, October 21, 2016

Airport Transit Hotels for a Long Layover

Great Wall Tour

This last trip to Japan I booked a flight with an intentional long layover in Beijing. The purpose was that my son had never been to mainland China before and I wanted him to see some Chinese history. We flew on Air China from SFO to Tokyo with a 23 hour layover in Beijing on the way there and a 21 hour layover on the way back.

By doing this I was able to enter China on a 72 hour transit visa at no cost. Getting a normal visa into China can cost over $300. Since we had a long layover I contacted the airline to see what they offered for the long layover. To my surprise I was given a free night at a transit hotel away from the airport. If I didn't ask I would not have known.

The point of this post is if you have a long layover check with the airline if they will accommodate you for the inconvenience of the layover. Also, if you have the time, plan a long layover and take a short tour of the city you are in. We were able to see the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall on this trip.

I also know from experience that several  airports offer free tours of the city when you have a long enough layover. Singapore has a very nice tour with a boat ride on the Singapore River. The layover also breaks up a long flight.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Japanese Grand Prix 2016

Kevin and I were able to attend the Japanese Grand Prix this year in Suzuka, Japan. We are trying to go to a different race every year. This year it worked out as I was going to visit NEC on a business trip.

The Suzuka Circuit is located just outside Nagoya in central Japan. We lucked out this year as the weather cooperated and the qualifying and race were dry. Other years have been very damp which effected the race. The circuit is in a figure eight with a lot of elevation change. Our seats have to be the best we have had for any race so far. We sat in section A1. If you are going look at seating there. We were able to see the start of the race and we sat right across from the pit exit. We were also able to see the straight until the first turn, the entire turn and up a lot of the hill on the backside. Most of the overtaking took place right in front of us.

Japan is a great place to hold the race. Take a week, at least, and see as much of Japan as you can.

Best Seats Ever

Supporting My Team

Friday, October 14, 2016

Beautiful and Ancient Nikko, Japan

I wanted to wait until I got back so I could spend more time writing about Nikko and the surrounding area.

Nikko is a small city about 2 hours north of Tokyo, in the mountains, by train. It is the site of Toshogu, the famous Shinto shrine established in 1617 as a memorial for Tokugawa leyasu, founding ruler of the Tokugawa shogunate or Edo period.

Nikko had been a center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries before Toshogu was built in the 1600's. Nikko National Park continues to offer scenic, mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, wild monkeys and hiking trails.

Kevin and I took the 2 trains from Tokyo early last week. Taking the trains was easy with a short connection to Nikko. Once you are in Nikko you have many options to explore. You can walk to the shrines or take a bus. They also offer bus service up the mountain to Lake Chuzenji and the waterfalls beyond that. We opted to take the bus up the mountain and then on the way back hop off the bus and walk to the shrines. The ticket is good for the day and allows you to hop on, hop off any time.

Once you leave the city you start climbing pretty fast and the first major stop is Lake Chuzenji. This is a very beautiful alpine lake with many hotels in the area to stay at. This would make a great spot to vacation if you wanted to really relax in a beautiful setting or, for the more adventurous, take advantage of the hiking trails.We continued past the lake and on to the waterfalls where we hopped off to hike and enjoy the falls. After hiking and taking pictures of the falls we hopped back on the bus to return to Nikko.

Back in Nikko we walked about 1 km to the shrines. The walk was along a river in a heavily forested area. Everything was lush and green when we were there. They say the best time to go is in October and early November to watch the colors of the trees change. There is a fee to enter the shrine which is a large complex of many buildings and the tomb itself. Also the bridge on the edge of the city is a must see. The water in the river is a beautiful turquoise color.

After touring the shrines we walked into the city and looked for a place to eat. We wanted something unusual and passed up a number of restaurants. We almost gave up and returned to one we had passed when we looked down a small road and saw something that may be a restaurant. There were no markings or menus outside as you would typically see and it kind of looked like a house  but we went in anyway.  We were lucky we did! Inside there was room for about 4 people to sit and was run by a husband and wife. We sat down and had the best sushi of the trip. Now for the bad news. It is so small we didn't see a name. If you want to try, walk straight out the front of the train station across the street and past a bigger restaurant. Keep walking until you are almost to a main road. It should be on the right. It really doesn't look like that much but it is really worth trying.

After dinner we took the 2 trains back to Tokyo and still had time to explore Tokyo at night. When you are in Tokyo and want to get out of the city then Nikko is my recommendation. It is an easy day trip.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Beijing Airport Layover Tour

Kevin and I with Tony

Time to catch up on posts I didn't have time to write on the trip.

Kevin and I had a 21 hour layover in Beijing this week. China Air gave us a transit hotel for the night and we had until 3:40 pm the next day before our flight. I booked the Airport Layover Tour with Tony as we had enough time to see The Great Wall before our flight. Tony was awesome. He met us at the hotel right on time and drove us to The Great Wall. Along the way we talked about the area and history as well as how the area had transformed lately. Some examples were the many restaurants on the way to the wall and how competition was very big. Restaurants added attractions such as camels and fishing ponds where you catch the fish you were eating that night. He explained that the usual workday was 9 to 6 and most people had to live outside the city because they couldn't afford the rent in the city. Because of the long day and travel from home to work most Chinese don't cook. 

At The Great Wall Tony got us on the cable car and rode with us to the wall. Tony also walked with us for a way explaining the history and the view of the valley below. He then let us go ahead on our own and waited there for us to get back. We then took the cable car back down and Tony drove us to the airport. One thing I didn't expect was when we got to the airport Tony didn't just drop us off. He went inside with us and made sure we knew which gate to go to. This was going well above and beyond our expectations. I would highly recommend using Tony next time you are in Beijing.

His link is

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Last day in China

Yesterday was a great last day of the trip. When else can you say you walked on the Great Wall of China at 10 am and landed in San Francisco at 12:50 pm the same day?

Kevin and I had a tour guide pick us up at our transit hotel at 8 am Tuesday to take us to the Great Wall. We went to the Mutianyu section where we took a cable car to the top of the mountain and to the Great wall. There is also a chair lift kind of setup where you go to another part of the wall and then ride a toboggan back down but the cable car went higher and we decided to do that. We then had 2 hours to walk the wall. I'll write another post on Tony and the tour,

The section we went to was ok to walk for most people at the beginning but toward the top it got really steep and going up wasn't a problem but going down with the narrow steps you had to be very careful.

I've been to 2 sections of the wall, both were great. The cable car or chair lift added a little something extra.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Tokyo Fish Market

Tokyo Fish Market

Today we went to the world famous Tokyo Fish Market to have sushi for lunch. The best time to get there is around 2:30 AM for the tuna auction but never made it that early. Even at noon the market was really busy and full of tourists. We had the freshest sushi we have ever had.

After that we went back to the Tokyo Tower during the day and went up to the observation deck for some incredible views of Tokyo and the surrounding area.

Glass viewing hole

Glass viewing hole