My trip to Tokyo was utterly amazing. It's several posts-worth of amazing, so I'll be sharing it bit by bit over the next few weeks.
Since no great travel experience is all joy and ease, here's how the countdown to departure went.
t-minus 48 hours: The washer/dryer breaks.
The washer suddenly decided it didn't want to drain. I discovered this because (surprise) I really needed to do laundry before we left. Why is it that we only notice things are broken when we really need them to work?
Instead of its regularly-scheduled programming, the washer wanted to (a) leave half-washed clothes in a soup of lukewarm water, and (b) deposit said water all over the kitchen floor - in a house where none of the circuits are grounded. Safety third!
After digging to the very back of the sock drawer, I had exactly enough unmentionables for the trip, plus the day we got back - also known as moving day.
t-minus 36 hours: Moving day confirmed for the day after we return.
A little tight on the timing, but no problem! We're supposed to arrive around 1 p.m. - It's perfect. A leisurely lunch, maybe happy hour, and a relaxing dinner to celebrate the end of the trip - it sounded so good.
t-minus 26 hours: Return flight is cancelled.
The day before departure, I woke up to a semi-scary email from the ticket-booking service about a cancelled flight. It was on the return leg of the trip, so I didn't panic (that much) until I spoke to the Least Helpful Customer Service Representative Ever (LHCSRE).
The original return flight plan was Tokyo to Kagoshima, and Kagoshima to Shanghai on Monday. The LHCSRE informed me that China Eastern, in their infinite wisdom, had cancelled the Kagoshima to Shanghai flight, and would be happy to fly us from Kagoshima to Shanghai on Thursday. We would have to cover all our own costs for the three days we would be stranded in Kagoshima.
While the LHCSRE was not an insurance agent, she was certain that the travel insurance her company had sold me would not cover any of the costs. My only option was to cancel all the tickets for a refund. They would not help with rebooking. Don't want to cancel? Goodbye.
After hours on hold with China Eastern and the ticket service, China Eastern re-routed the tickets. We would now be able to fly on Monday from Fukuoka to Shanghai.
Wait - what?
Kagoshima and Fukuoka are not the same city, nor are they neighbors. This is sort of like having your flight out of Chicago depart from Omaha instead.
t-minus 20 hours: PANIC.
Enter Janet. Janet was part of the group going to be on our trip, and is the kind of Executive Assistant that might make an 80 hour work-week actually worth it. Janet speaks five languages, including Chinese and Japanese, and she figured out a solution within three hours involving a cab, two airport buses, two subway systems, and one high speed train.
When Janet tells me not to worry, I stop worrying.
She made a folder full of maps, with marked routes, for each leg of the journey. It turned a crazy complicated journey into a fun orienteering exercise that was actually really fun.
Departure: On time, with no problems.
The best bit happened when we landed and were met at the gangway by China Eastern Staffers with a sign with our names. Your return flight has been cancelled, they said - there's nothing we can do for you, but you can always call our customer service number.
Mark asked them if the customer service team would be able to help, and they said "No. But you can call them."