A Travellerspoint blog

April 2020

The Return Home to Lockdown

Empty planes, Changi Airport, return to England


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21 March- Present
With heavy hearts we strapped our bags onto our backs and loaded up for one of the final times. Usually the feeling of being laden down with our bags is offset by the excitement of our travel to a new place. And although we would be catching a plane to Singapore there were no feelings of excitement, instead there was just a heavy pang of disappointed and missed opportunity. After saving and planning for this trip for so long we are extremely upset at being unable to finish our journey in the way we planned. However we know that we are in a very fortunate position and I'm not going to sit here and moan about our situation when there are people all over the world losing their jobs, worrying about money and even dying. It cannot be helped and we just have to thankful for all the sights we got to see and the wonderful experiences we have had over the past 4 months. One silver lining is that going home early does mean we have a headstart on the wedding/ring fund.

Our pre-booked taxi arrived in typical Japanese fashion, early! The taxi doors oddly opened automatically and our driver delivered exceptional service as we had come to expect in this amazing country. The airport was dead. It was like a ghost town! Our flight was only one of 3 flying that day which we were very relieved about. It was such on odd experience. Even the airport in Cairns was busier than this and we were there when the doors opened.

One thing we were excited about was flying with Singapore Air; voted the best airline in the world! So far, so good; as our check-in experience went swimmingly. We had hoped to buy a few extra souvenirs and gifts for people in the airport. This was as although we had picked up a few trinkets in our previous countries we planned to get different people gifts and buy souvenirs from different countries. However with our trip getting cut short we hadn't had this opportunity. Unfortunately the two small gift shops in the airport had nothing of any worth.

This flight was the strangest flight we have ever taken. We were on the plane really quickly and we settled into our seats awaiting for everyone else to get on, when all of a sudden the captain came over the radio instructing the cabin crew to close the doors! We looked around... Surely this couldn't be it! After a quick head count we realised that we were 2 of only 15 people in economy! This massive aircraft was literally empty. It was a little unnerving. We have both been on empty trains and even an empty tube, but never an empty plane!

Singapore Air definitely lived up to expectations... Great films, unlimited alcohol, good food and you could even order any extra snacks you wanted! Whenever we pressed the button for attention they were there instantly. We didn't know if this was the usual service of just because they were thankful of something to do but either way we took advantage! We munched and drank our way through a couple of films before arriving in Singapore airport; our home for the next 17 hours!! This airport is constantly listed as the best airport in the world. Due to this we opted for the cheaper flight even though it came with such a long layover. Now this airport is just insane! It is more of a city than an airport. It has 5 terminals each around the same size of Gatwick with so much going on even if the usual airport and city tours being cancelled. After deciding against booking into one of the airport's hotels we went exploring!

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First up was a bit of shopping; you know to get a few engagement ring ideas! I'm so pleased I decided to propose to my best friend when I did as otherwise I'd be looking at popping the question in the middle of mum's lounge in Northampton. And my little pocket deserves so much more than that. Then we checked out the beautiful enchanted garden and koi carp lake before wandering around the memorising butterfly garden. It was just gorgeous and made you completely forget you were in an airport. We must have spent around an hour in there taking pictures and watching these insects fluttering around. We then stumbled upon a cinema playing up to date films, so we wasted a few hours watching a kids film set in China as we reflected on some of the sights we could have seen.

Spoilt with choice over where to eat we opted for McDonald's for ease and a chance to try out some more items we can't get back home, namely spicy nuggets! It was then time to find somewhere to grab a few hours sleep. There were a couple of places called snooze lounges and we went to check out one of them. They contained a number of comfy looking sun loungers in a reclined position. Lucky we got there when we did as we managed to nab the final two beds left and wasted a few more hours on Netflix before managing to get a bit of sleep. On the train ride to the lounges (yes it's so big they need train transfers) we got a brief glimpse of the rain vortex in the jewel section. Unfortunately we couldn't explore this section as it is located in departures but from the what we saw it looked unreal and we vowed to come back to enjoy it for longer.

We survived the night and our lengthy layover and it really didn't seem as long as 17 hours. The 9 hour delay we suffered in Luton while heading to Barcelona was way worse! The flight to London was a lot busier with the clearly being many tourists eager to get home with the country on the brink of lockdown. Singapore Air continued to impress the second time and the service was just as efficient even with a plane full. The leg room was also just a dream.

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Time passed quickly and we were soon touching down in London and meeting mum. It was odd to see Heathrow so empty and the board of cancelled flights. It also wasn't the welcome back we envisaged we would have at the end of the trip but again it just couldn't be helped. We were very thankful to mum for making the journey to pick us up with the train service being limited. It has been really weird being back. Like any holiday it feels you never went away but yet nothing feels normal; not being able to leave the house and having to queue outside supermarkets. It's such a shame we can't have a coming home party or any get together to celebrate our engagement or Izzy's birthday. But again we just have to remind ourselves how lucky we are and we get around to see everyone once this is all over.

We've used the free time well perfecting our origami cranes and putting together our photo books for each country and it was amazing to relive our full trip. I can't believe how much we crammed in and those memories will be with us forever. It was still a trip of a lifetime and I left with a girlfriend and have come back with a fiancé! I can't wait to share all of life's journeys with this girl and make so many more memories with her doing what we do best... Having fun!!

Thank you for everyone who has followed our blog and I hope you have enjoyed reading about all of our adventures!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 08:19 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Day 105-108: It's All Over!

Covid19 unfortunately ends our trip early!

While enjoying our free jam and toast hostel breakfast we checked the government website for travel advise (something we seem to have become accustom to doing every couple of hours every day). The pit of the stomach feeling instantly rose as the most recent update was that Malaysia had closed borders to all non nationals. Fuck. Another flight wasted. The main problem was this didn’t leave us with many options, there was now nowhere in Asia we could fly to without being quarantined (which our insurance confirmed we wouldn’t be covered for), irrelevant of quarantine there was nowhere allowing us to fly in to from Japan. It was a disaster and we didn't really know what this meant but deep down we knew the wheels were coming off and it was all coming to an end. We sat for several hours while waiting for our train from Hiroshima to Fukuoka, contemplating our choices. Trying desperately hard to come up with a solution that didn’t involve curtailing our trip.

On arrival at our flat we’ll call home for the foreseeable future we were trying not to let things dampen our spirits. We had this hotel booked until 23rd March, past that everything else was uncertain. We decided best option was to see how things panned out in the next couple of days. Japan’s tourist attractions would be opening again and countries may reopen borders to travelers from Japan. Well we hoped with all our might not wanting our trip to end.

Since it was St Patrick’s day and we’d past an Irish bar on the way here so decided we’d go test out the Guinness. It couldn’t be any worse than the one in Australia! This bar actually had a 2020 certificate to say they had passed some test Guinness holds to prove they consistently pour a great standard pint! At over £7 a pint it better taste good! They also served English classics; sausage and mash, shepherds pie and fish and chips. Now as we didn’t know how long we may have to wait in Japan we opted for the cheaper option... supermarket shop for dinner.

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We bought sausage, carrots and potatoes (Stew fancied some home comforts). Back in the flat we realised we didn’t have anything to peel or chop the potatoes, we had one tiny saucepan, one tiny frying pan and only one hob ring. Not a great start. Handy we have a pocket knife (Andy will happily brag that I said we wouldn’t need it but have actually used it a few times now), carrots in a bowl of water in the microwave, potatoes being mashed with a fork, and four sausages in the pan at a time rotating with the two out of the pan. It really felt like something scouts had prepared me for survival! We had better coming equipment in the camper! Many would’ve just given up and gone out for dinner but we coped. We couldn’t find gravy in the shop (trying to guess what things are based on the pictures is hard and risky), but we found something that resembled something similar. Having no way of heating them up we poured the four tiny cartons into the pan with the sausages (everything here is unnecessarily double or triple packed, the butter we bought was in a plastic tub inside a cardboard box). I would call it a success, the sauce was a gravy hybrid bbq sauce mash up. It did the trick.

The evening was winding down and we were still feeling pretty low when a friend messaged to say the UK had changed travel advise to ‘non but essential travel’ which could invalidate our insurance if we chose to stay out here. Cherry on the cake! We decided to call insurance to talk about curtailing our trip. Since we don’t have any way to use our phones (without it costing £2per minute), half an hour later we were all set up on skype and on hold. After 15 minutes on hold the call picked up and instantly hung up, kind of annoying! Called again and the same thing happened after 15 minutes, what is going on! Called one last time, on hold just short of 45 minutes before the same thing. It was now 2.30am and we decided we’d try again in the morning since it was only an hour or so before the call center in the uk closed anyway.

We hadn’t planned much to do here and while researching found there wasn’t a large amount here, other catching up on blog and hopefully sorting the rest of our trip. A boring couple of days but considering we were supposed to be heading to the rest of Asia the rest of the trip wouldn’t be as laid back. The day was being wasted away until finally we could call the UK again, around 4pm our time. Both of us anxious as to how this was going to impact our trip for definite. Another hour on hold and finally through to someone, half an hour later we hung up. Completely deflated we started searching for our flights home for the next few days. Another hour and a half later and being torn how much flights were, how long layovers were and which airline we were willing to deem safe to fly with (you know, some Asian airlines have disappeared mid flight). Heartbroken we pressed ‘confirm’ and the realization it was all over.

We cancelled our booking for sushi making class for Sunday since we’d be on a flight home by Saturday. A stressful few calls later and all our future flights were either cancelled or in the process of cancelling. The rest of the days were spent wallowing and doing a little light shopping. Another Japanese fad is these kind of lucky dip boxes of different characters, we’d spotted some Snoopy ones before, each box has about 5 or 6 different styles. We bought a couple of them and got super excited that we got a Christmas one!!

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Friday night was spent packing our bags up, ordering a taxi for the following morning and trying not to let ourselves get too down. We were grateful for the amazing experience we had been lucky enough to have in the last four months, unfortunately it doesn’t make it any less upsetting that we were heading home so early. We had plans for all the future countries, we were excited to spend two weeks in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, learn to cook authentic Vietnamese in a small market and swing around in hammocks on the beach Bali. We’d spent three years saving for this trip, we’d spent the last three years forfeited some luxuries or experiences with friends for the benefit of this trip (#thinkofBali). We had saved to ensure we got to do everything we wanted on this trip of a lifetime. We were supposed to be hitting our mid trip point, not the end.

It’s a hard emotion to explain. We have been so lucky and fortunate to have this time and there are so many people all over the world with some real struggles during this time; unsure if they’ll have a job remaining after this time, unsure how they will afford to feed their children or look after sick relatives. It makes us realise ours is a first world dilemma.

Posted by Bears on Tour 08:02 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 102-104: Hiroshima


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14 March
After checking out and killing some time in reception we were at the train station to take our penultimate train with our JR pass to Hiroshima. The journey, like all of our experiences here, was punctual, quick and fast. A bus ride later and we were at our accommodation for the next 3 nights. Although the idea of sleeping on the floor didn't really appeal to us we had opted to experience a traditional Japanese style room with futons! Upon check in, and again probably due to the lack of business courtesy of our friend Corona, we were upgraded to a family sized private room instead of the semi private double we had picked.

This meant that rather than paper thin walls and no ceiling separating the rooms we had our own little room. So we were excited and thankful again. The thought of the room and the idea of the upgrade sounded a little better in our heads than the reality. But it was still a cute room and would more than do us for our stay here. How the hell you are supposed to fit four of these futons in the room though I'll never know; would be a very tight squeeze! The hostel overall though was good; nice showers/bathrooms, little extras, free toast for breakfast, and a good communal area complete with kitchen (always handy to save a bit of money and cook).

As with most places we used the afternoon to gather food supplies (having found a much better supermarket than the one in Osaka), plan our Hiroshima stay and called/ texted our families and close friends to tell them of the happy news regarding our engagement! Although it was a little exhausting telling everyone and answering the same questions it was lovely how happy everyone was for us especially during such bleak times where happiness is hard to come by it seems. It was fun reliving the day and hearing Izzy speak about it and how it made her feel made me all fuzzy inside. We celebrated with a bottle of wine, some strawberries and a chilli before settling in for the night.

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15 March
We both slept ok and it certainly isn't the most uncomfortable bed we have stayed in (Port Barton I'm looking at you), although we did steal the extra topper from the two unused beds for extra padding.We had forgotten about the free breakfast and had woken up too late. Much to Izzy's excitement we therefore opted to get a chocolate croissant from her new favourite café; St Mark's. This place did not let her down and the croissant was heavenly! Again the perfect ratio of chocolate to pastry, topped by the perfect chocolate consistency and taste! We would come back to Japan for this café alone!

Next it was time to head to the A Dome and the peace memorial gardens in reference to the atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945 wiping out 180,000 people and around 70% of buildings. Just mind boggling and that's without the devastating impacts that resulted afterwards as a result of the radiation. This was one place I was really eager to see on our trip and learn further about what happened here. However, unfortunately as expected the peace museum was closed. Fortunately there were a number of information points at a number of the memorials explaining what they were and what happened.

It was very sobering walking around this place looking at all the monuments. The A bomb dome is by far the most striking, reconstructed to look exactly how it did in the aftermath of the bomb. This building was almost directly underneath the blast and it's skeleton denominates the skyline and acts as a powerful reminder.

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Like a lot of these memorials it was an extremely moving experience. We were hit hardest while stood at the children's memorial reading about all the kids killed and ones that had later died of cancer way before their time. A complete generation pretty much wiped out in this city. On that point it is worth noting that when walking around we didn't see one elderly person, you have to think this event is responsible for that as older people are less likely to move in even after the rebuild. The striking statue was surrounded by colour and messages of peace. Upon closer inspection you realised that all three pictures and colour were made up by origami cranes of all sizes; produced by kids all over the world in memory. Seeing this was enough to bring a tear to any eye and something that we all need to remember in these times filled with Brexit & the Corona virus and the hate, racism and xenophobia that accompanies them. This is why such places are so important and need to act as reminders of what can happen when such negative feelings escalate and that nobody wins! We are always stronger together. Traveling more than anything shows you that no matter how different someone may seem that we still have so much in common; we all have the same needs and fundamental values. The times we live in at the moment are difficult and filled with frustration but taking it out on others will not make anything better.

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With these thoughts swilling around in our heads we made a slow walk to the port, well obviously stopping at a few stops for gifts and souvenirs first! Our next destination was the island of Miyajima to see the floating tori gate, you know seeing as we love them now! Unfortunately though this structure was under renovation and therefore hidden under scaffolding... It doesn't rain it pours! The island itself had a lot of restaurants and souvenir shops but it didn't have anything of much interest to us! Mainly just food souvenirs. That is a big thing here. We spent an hour or so walking around but as the rain started we made for the boat. Like a smaller Nara there were a number of deer on this island, chilling in the town and on the beach.

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Back at the hostel we used the time to catch up on blog. We decided to treat ourselves for dinner that night and headed for some more Okonomiyaki (the Japanese style omelette). In Hiroshima they make this dish slightly differently with a noodle base. So it would be rude not to try it. We located a tiny restaurant recommended by the hostel and got front row seats in front of hot plate, which was fortunate as it was freezing outside. Watching the chef cook was like some art and we were memorised as we sipped and winced at our first taste of sake! We opted for the warm version and it tasted like a slightly sweeter straight vodka without the burn. Not unpleasant but to say we liked it would be incorrect. The food looked and tasted delicious! And we left full and satisfied.

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16 March
With the peace memorial closed we had already saturated what there was to do in Hiroshima. We had planned a day trip to a nearby village famous for its sake brewing, however as we weren't blown away with the taste the day before we decided against taking the trip. Instead we spent the day indoors completing a bit of admin for the rest of our trip.

First up we had booked a sushi making course in Fukoaka; something Iz was very excited about. With the current climate we thought we had the potential of a private session especially as it would take place in the home of a local.

Since we had now booked flights to our 5th country Malaysia we began the research into what Kuala Lumpur and the rest of the country had to offer. Before long we had a rough route and itinerary and were getting excited about the prospect of exploring another new country. We would now be in Kuala Lumpur for Izzy's birthday, after a number of different options didn't pan out due to the spreading of Covid19. However Malaysia's case numbers were low and at the time there were no mentioned entry restrictions or quarantine measures upon entry. Due to this we got ourselves a little lost in luxury as we scrolled through endless 5 star hotels and apartments looking for somewhere special to spend a few days to celebrate. A spa and an infinity pool were high on the list of essentials! After hours of comparisons we had settled on a gorgeous hotel yet we somehow stopped ourselves completing the booking. Despite being worried that the hotel would get booked up or the great price we secured would increase we decided to play it cautiously just in case something prevented our travel. The whole situation makes any forward planning extremely difficult. Not like it's a breeze anyway but this just adds a whole new dimension, especially as it seems to be changing on a daily basis.

We had made real progress and the day had just disappeared and it was already dinner time. After eating the rest of the leftovers we packed up our bags ready for tomorrow; our final train ride in Japan to Fukoaka.

Hiroshima hadn't quite been the experience we had expected but it was still a very unique city and I'm pleased we managed to get to experience it.

Posted by Bears on Tour 07:36 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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