Saturday, 31 August 2013

Day 7 -Ajigasawa to Fukaura

It does rain a lot in Japan! After waiting for a couple of hours at the Ryokan lobby, and checking the weather forecasts, we established that it was not going to get better, so we decided to leave the comfort of the hotel and get on the road to Fukaura.

We cycled past signs saying 'Welcome to Fukaura' but it was much smaller than we'd expected and no signs (in English) for an Onsen or Ryokan, and by the third small village with welcome to Fukaura signs we realised this was more a welcome to Nottinghamshire than Nottingham and we were still in Lowdham! We stopped at some Japanese signs of what turned out to be an old people's home. Soaking wet and sitting in pools of water in their entrance lobby, they gave us a hot coffee to warm up and provided directions to the hotel, and then made a phone call for us to check they could accommodate us. How lovely!

The hotel is an Onsen by the sea, where you can bathe in orange hot and salted medicinal water. Mix bathing is aloud, so I went in, following the Onsen protocols naked, I must have been using the incorrect protocol as a man came and gave me a towel to cover my modesty .
After a super hot bath, both now with pink feet, we had a 16 course meal, including an abalone that was still eating the side vegetables in its bowl until it was poached in sake. What a way to die...

Music was provided in the reception by a traditional Japanese musician playing a long guitar-style instrument which plinked and dinked to all the local guests enjoyment, many who sang along. A little beyond our musical appreciation, but clearly a skilled artist.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Day 6- Hirosaki to Ajigasawa

After a quick dip on the Onsen bath and a traditional Japanese breakfast, sad to leave Ishibura Ryokan.
Soichiro was extremely helpful, he treated us to a welcome drink and drove us to the restaurant the night we arrive (his radio was playing Rosario Flores!). In the morning after breackfast and greetings, we left. Soichiri drew the route in a map and marked all the landmarks on the way to our destination and they given us a good bye gift. A lovely book that becomes a scarf. What a treat! Thanks again Ishiba Soichiro.

We left Hirosaki direction to the coast, stoping in Iwaki Shrine, after a visit to the shrine to refill our water bottles with sacred water we were on the way.
We circle along apples orchards with mount ... On our right.

After quite a thought up and down journey we stop in Ajigasawa, our first unscheduled stop. We found a lovely Ryokan next to the town Onsen where we has the most incredible of at least 20 courses!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Day 5- Aomori city to Hirosaki

Left Washington hotel in Aomori stoping for a take away coffee at Coffee Colors, it could easily have been a London coffee shop, we drunk our coffee looking at the Aomori Wan Bay and headed inland towards Hirosaki. Leaving Aomori was not easy, it is a welcoming city, where you could cycle on the pavement and has really poor road signals. It took about an hour to find the road out of the city. And went up the hill to mount Hakkoda, and super-fast downhill towards Hirosaki city. Hirosaki is famous for the 3 storey pagoda shape castle.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Day 4- Hakodate to Aomori

Sayonara Hokkaido island!

Hakodate, a very large industrial port, looking at the map, the shape is similar to la Corunha, my home town.

Hakodate is famous international for the tuna and the scallops. It is a city of low density with not many tall buildings, extending miles along the coast. There are a few landmarks, the Red brick Houses (old port warehouses) converted into a shopping area and the ropeway.

After noodles and rice balls breakfast with Yoel and his lovely wife ( they were on their second honey moon) we left our hotel (toyako inn, a Japanese version of a holiday inn) located next to the fish market and headed towards the star shape castle/fort in Hakkodate, where we had our morning ice-coffee (Richard's discovery competing with Monmouth coffee) and made a quick sketch of the fort.

At lunch time we got the ferry towards Aomori, main island of Japan.
The ferry takes about 3:40 hours to cross the Tsugaru channel , giving us enough time during the journey to enjoy pot noodles and siesta and take a few photos. Instead of seats or benches you go into main carpeted area were you take off your shoes and seat on the floor, they provide you with small cube shaped pillows where you could rest your arms or head.

We arrived in Aomori on the afternoon, and immediately felt more like Japan, big avenues with medium tall buildings, according to Richard a bit like Sidney.
We headed to the tourist office were lovely RIKA IWAKE who gave us all sort of recommendations about what to do in the region and where to eat good food in the city.

We also found the coolest bicycle shop in Japan NARIFURI ! We wanted to buy everything but couldn't as we would have to carry it on, Tomoro the shop manager gave us some dried calamari snacks, with very string flavour, not enough for dinner thought, so we went to a place near by with great food, and amongst other delicious local food we tried, scallop with spring onion soup and egg! Delicious!

Thanks for this Yakitori menu to our honey moon sponsors!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Day 3 - Onuma to Hakodate (47miles )

Another onsen before breakfast and we were ready to carry on. Skirting the lake at Onuma, a truly beautiful setting with small mound-shaped islands littered across it, we headed east to Shikabe and the coast instead of the direct way on Route 5.

Leaving the lake we cycled between Komamga Toge at 1131m and Yokotsu Dake at 1167m. Both dwarfs in comparison with Fuji-San at a whopping 3776m, but still imposing on the skyline.

Then, following the coast road, we cycled past small fishing villages, nets neatly stacked and recycled clothes softener bottles used as floats. Racks of seaweed hung drying between timber and corrugated tin sheds.

We continued on till next village where we bought iced coffee and sat on beer crates in the shop entrance chatting to the owner (neither speaking the other's language) till the rain lifted and we pressed inland and up into the hills. The countryside here is deep green and steam drifts off the water courses hidden beneath the undergrowth.

The rain picked up again and we stood under a tree till it stopped as water was running down the sides of the road making it difficult to cycle.

Eventually we broke through to the other side of the hills and took a long enjoyable freewheel into the outskirts of Hakodate, and then another half an hour through the traffic, dodging storm drains and pedestrians until we found the centre of the city and the hotel.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Day 2 - 90.5miles Toya-ko to Onuma

We woke to sunshine so bought breakfast at the local Lawsons (rival to Seven-Eleven here) and took it down to the lake where we drank iced coffee surrounded by swan-headed pedallos.

Taking the main road through town heading west, we joined Route 230 towards Date on the coast. This crossed the approach road to the main express motorway, but traffic lights and pedestrian crossings allowed a safe transfer and we cycled on the wide pavement out to Abuta.

Before Abuta, we met one of a string of road tunnels which seem to be the main hurdle to cycling Hokkaido safely. Route 37 hugs the coast from Abuta to Oshamanbe but is cut into and through the limestone and granite hills which fall steeply down to meet the water.

Cycling this road, you are forced to share narrow tunnels, some a kilometre or two long and many without pavements, with large lorries which rocket along at high speed.

Even approaching cars sound like low-flying 747s in the confines of a concrete tube below a mountain.

By the time we reached Oshamanbe where Route 37 joined with and became Route 5, we were wondering if we could do much more of this tunnel travelling.

Luckily, the road opened up onto the coast here with wide sandy beaches and a string of small towns built on the local clam farming industry.

We stopped at Kikonai for lunch in a tiny local cafe where the old ladies served us ramen with high amusement and then, refuelled, we set off towards Mori.

We were doubting if we would make Onuma by nightfall and given the previous nocturnal nightmare, started to discuss alternatives. Stitching wild rhubarb leaves and bamboo into a shelter came bottom of the list.

Coca phoned the hotel from Yakumo to check trains, buses or taxis which might collect us with our two 'baiku'.

The coast road to Mori was smooth running and flat and we picked up pace, reaching the town by 17.30. Lake Onuma and the hotel were only another 25-30km along Route 5 so we agreed to push on, arriving at dusk, but in time to use the hot onsen with outside bathing area overlooking a pool full of carp. An elaborate dinner rounded off the evening and we slept like Hokkaido bears.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Day 1- Sapporo to Lake Toya

After arriving in Sapporo from Tokyo Narita the night before, we had given ourselves a 'day zero' to reassemble the bikes and to acclimatise ourselves to Japan space and time. This allowed some strolling around central Sapporo, finding great little noodle shops and bars in a very laid back and friendly city.

The following morning we left Sapporo Richmond Hotel around 9:30 and rode pavements to the city limits where we picked up Route 453 in the direction of Lake Shikotsu, (shikotsu-ko) where we arrived 3 hours later.

Shortly after leaving Sapporo the heavy traffic of dual carriageways disappears and soon you are riding on well-kept secondary A-roads with one lane in each direction and at least a metre of hard shoulder to ride on if necessary. This is a sort of shared pedestrian/cyclist zone when there aren't pavements between towns but we didn't meet many walkers. Old ladies on bikes eyed us curiously but smiled and nodded when we offered a 'Domo' (hello) or 'Konichiwa' (good day).

Most of the journey was up and down steep hills, isolated and are surrounded by very dense trees and vegetation.

Unlike the Japanese prints of tranquil forests you realise that the countryside here is LOUD! The cicadas, grass hoppers and other insects buzz are almost deafening. Dragonflies dive-bomb around you along with bird size butterflies.

Coming over the crest of a hill we descended to Shikotsu-Ko around 3pm, so we decided to stop and recharge at Marukoma Onsen in the shadow of mount Eniwa Dake (1320m) for a big ramen lunch.

We followed the road around the lake until it met with Route 276. After a horrible tunnel, a puncture stopped us at the side of the road cursing. The 'armadillo-like' tyres we had reluctantly accepted in London instead of the real thing were clearly not as tough or durable (a small metal staple caused a second puncture a few days later).

The weather in the afternoon turned, and we ended cycling in the rain for the last few hours of our journey.

A minor miscalculation of the speed and distance we could achieve per day resulted in us cycling in the rainy night of wild Hokkaido.

Along with signs warning of tumbling rocks we started to see deer warnings. At dusk we spotted our first bear warnings. You what? Bears???

I kept thinking about those programs I watched when I was a child about bears who live in the mountains, surrounded by waterfalls, river and streams full of salmon, bamboo forest.
Richard kept saying that they were just miniature, bonsai-like bears, similar to pandas and vegetarian, but I couldn't stop thinking about typical news stories where the tourist walks into the forest with an iphone and appears 20 days later... or somebody finds their chewed remains some time later.

Lots of adventure for our 3rd night. This area joins lakes Shikotsu and Toya into a national park, with beautiful scenery and waterfalls along the way. We could hear the water crashing over the driving rain as we sped along in the dark, heads down.

The hills flattened out and the rain ceased, clouds parting to present us with a sky full of stars for the last few km.

Soaked but still in one piece, we arrived in Lake Toya (Toyako-san) just in time for the fireworks display!

We stayed the night in our first tatami room: shoes off at the door, futons on the floor and small rice-filled pillows for an amazingly comfortable sleep.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Jitensha dai and jet lag

Jitensha dai and jet lag.

I woke up with the day light, 5ish in the morning, while Richard was still asleep, to kill time went to hotel public baths, what a great experience! They had a hot tub with a very big window overlooking Sapporo skylight, and an area for common showers, where you have a mirror and shower seating in a small plastic stool.

After a slow start, went for breackfast and stroll along Sapporo.
We (Richard) assembled the bicycles and got them ready for the journey.

In zombie mode we visited a few Sapporo landmarks, such as the Clock tower and the Tanukikoji shopping arcade, with all sort of shops such as kimonos, musical instruments, restaurant, etc. and Odori park.

Had traditional Genjiscan (lamb - BBQ) and went to sleep early to be ready for the next day ahead. Sapporo looks better at night.

Friday, 23 August 2013

From London to the Sapporo moon.

Our time travel starts with a flight from London, after a few hours killed in Tokyo Narita. We landed in Sapporo-Shin-Chitose, 17 hours later. We took the bus from airport to the hotel, with Wakana & Jean Mark who gave us a few tips on what to do in the city.
After dropping the bags, we went for a walk to explore the city and to recover some strength with big ramen dish and a classic Sapporo beer at RAMEN SORA And to finish the day off, tasty sake at the Pencil house TSUKINNKA bar (in the moon) were we made friends with Yoshida Akemi and the others. What a great day!