Planning a trip on the longest railway journey in the world would seem to be simple – you just go to your travel agent, book a trip and let them take care of all the details! Probably right, but not for Dad & Dave who have a good idea of how we want to travel and prefer to be somewhat in control of our arangements.
Here’s how we have planned this trip:
- Melbourne to Osaka – this sector is easy – we just organised an airfare on the preferred day and had our travel agent book it.
- Osaka – we will stay with David’s host family (Takemoto Family) in Nara and organise our own local travel around the region. We plan to fit in a few days in Nara, Osaka and perhaps, Kyoto. We may even have a day for a short hiking trip somewhere close by.
- Japan to Vladivostok – This was the tricky bit! Normally, one would fly through Seoul in Korea as Korean Airlines have a number of services to Vladivostok each week. However, this meant that we would lose a day or more in Japan and we preferred not to surrender this time. So how do we go about getting from Japan to Vladivostok? Well, like most other problems in the world, the answer lies with Google. One of our Google searches came up with a site at http://www.flightstats.com/ where we were able to ascertain which airlines flew into Vladivostok and from which destinations. It appeared that on our preferred day, the best way was to travel from Niigata in Japan on Air Vladivostok. Following this decision, we spent a lot of time searching Air Vlad’s website for details as well as on some Japanese travel sites that David came across so that we could find timetable and route information. Ultimately, we found the flight that we needed but then found that Air Vlad only released flight bookings three months into the future. This potentially caused us some problems as we needed a firm flight to be able to apply for our Russian Visas. We also had a problem as to where to buy tickets on Air Vlad in Australia. Ultimately, through a series of other Google searches, we found the only travel agent in Australia who could book flights on Air Vlad (www.jetabroad.com.au), and eagerly logged in to their website every day waiting for bookings on our desired travel date to become available. David even emailed the airline to determine availablity and had a very helpful and courteous reply. Finally, one day in late February, bookings for our travel date appeared as being available and with a great deal of excitement we rushed off to buy our tickets.
- Trans Siberian Railway – For a number of reasons, we decided to sign up with an organised small group on the Trans Siberian. This solved a number of organisational and language problems for us, and minimises the likelihood of delays causing us not being back to work on time! We have booked our tour through Sundowners, a Melbourne based travel company which specialses in rail travel through Asia and Eastern Europe.
- European Travel – This (along with some other bookings into and out of Japan) was handled by Kris at our local travel agent (Harvey World Travel at Lower Templestowe). She has provided us with a lot of advice about this trip and we appreciate her help and organisation. She has done an excellent job of putting up with our all our idiosyncrasies. After our Trans Siberian journey, she has us organised to from St Petersburg to Riga for a few days on Air Baltic, then to Hanover in Germany via Copenhagen where we will stay with Stefan – one of David’s friends from his university days in Chiba, Japan.
- Getting Home – One of our biggest surprises was to find that the cost of one-way airfares from Europe to Australia are almost as expensive as tickets for a return trip. Faced with this seemingly ludicrous position, we finally searched through a lot of options and decided that the only cost effective way to get home was to use our frequent flyer points. After a lot more searching on Internet websites for available flights, David has booked a flight through Helsinki on Finnair to Osaka and then on Jetstar (Starclass) to Melbourne. Bruce (Dad) will fly from Frankfurt to London and then to Melbourne on a Qantas flight.
We are confident that these rather complex arrangements are well thought out and will be well worth the effort that they have taken to get into place. We are looking forward to a great trip!