June 2012 Archives

Had a very slow day Thursday. I woke up at 5:15 when I thought the lamp was on. But it was just the sun shining through the bathroom window onto it. Closed the door, but didn't really sleep anymore.

So just took it easy. Stu enjoyed the big bed :)

At 10:30 I suddenly realised I hadn't gotten ready and I wanted to repack my suitcase. Blah. So was a little bit rushed to check out by 12pm.

After we checked out we wandered around and found an Excelsior Cafe for drinks and nibblies.

Then walked through the park and up to the Tokyo Government building to go up the tower.

Then back down to find some late lunch (just maccas :( we were almost out of money).

Back past Excelsior Cafe for another coffee for the sweetie, then upstairs to the hotel to get on the bus to the airport. We decided that the "Limousine" bus at 3000 yen per person would be much much easier than dragging my broken suitcase all over Tokyo on the trains, and not that much more expensive than the NEX anyway (our passes had long since expired). It was door to door and saved quite a lot of hassle.

Got there with reasonable time to spare, so went to the Qantas lounge, and sat in pretty much the same place as last time - even the plane was at the same gate! (different plane though).

I was near the back in a row of three, but fortunately only one other person on the aisle so noone next to us. The sweetie had booked separately and got himself an exit row seat for more legroom (although the thickness of the door made it look like it actually had *less* room?) Noone directly next to him either.

Niether of us slept :(

I watched Margin Call and Inception and some Big Bang Theory.

Couldn't eat much dinner (too many snackages in the Qantas lounge). They turned the cabin lights on at 4am :( Trying to match the sun in Japan or something?? And breakfast came a little while later.

Tried out the new egate thingie at immigration, but the machines didn't like either of us - probably because of our glasses reflecting or something - will take them off next time.

Customs wasn't too bad. Had to show them our wooden stuff. There was a sign up saying they were filming Border Security there today, but alas didn't see them.

Then over to the domestic terminal. Had a short break in the Qantas lounge.

A very full Dash 8. Had a lovely view over Sydney, flying over the St George and Sutherland Shires, then south of south west.

Arrival, picked up bags and got a lift home (thanks heaps Dave!!)

My computer's keyboard, mouse and monitor are so strange and huge! The house is freezing.. we might have turned the heater on for the afternoon.

So fifty six days of travelling for me. Wow!! Saw so much amazing stuff. A couple of blahnesses, but overall a great trip :)

Distance covered on the GPS: 8066.9 km + 284.5 km
Steps walked: 10296 + ?
Photos on the Canon: 47 + 3
Photos on the Sony: 60 + 135
Videos: 1

Closed the blinds, had aircon that worked, a room that faced northwest, and sheets as well as a blanket. You'd think I'd have had the perfect sleep conditions. But alas, it still took me ages to get to sleep and felt like I was awake for ages early in the night. Sigh. But at least slept til after 7am which was good.

Had breakfast downstairs. There were no checks at all and the place is open to the airport terminal, so really anyone could just come in and eat breakfast there - bizarre!

Checked out and wandered across to the checkin gate for the planes. Turns out the JAL ticket I'd bought was already the boarding pass. Checked our bags, but didn't need to print anything else. Weird! Some confusion as we were trying to figure out how to get boarding passes, when in fact we already had them!

Flight was pretty dull. Clouds just after takeoff til just before landing, except for a small gap in the clouds looking down to the coastline at Sendai where the tsunami last year hit the worst. Sad..

Landed, got our bags, then had to face dragging my broken bag all the way across Tokyo :( The sweetie was the bestest sweetie ever and carried it and/or rolled it on top of his bag. I carried his carry-on bag.

So a monorail ride to Hamamatsucho then it was either a Yamonote line train or a Oedo subway to get to Shinjuku. We took the Yamonote line simply because we were super familiar with it.

Then the long painful walk to the hotel :(

We found the building ok, but walked around it trying to find the actual hotel :( Was quite blah by the time we found it upstairs. But you pay a premium for this hotel for a reason - there's pretty great service. They saw us coming and ran to grab our bags and help us check in, so that was nice. The sweetie thought we should get an upgrade to a corner room. Well we've already spent a fortune on this place, so why not heh.

Got to our room and it's super awesome :) Well the view is super awesome. And there's aircon that seems to work and a huge bed and a funky bathroom area. Hung out for a little while but decided to go out and find some food (it was mid-late afternoon but we still hadn't had lunch).

Wandered towards Shinjuku and ended up in the "geek" area with Yodobashi Camera and other such stores around. Decided to have dinner at a little place there - where you have to decide what you want before you go in, pay on the vending machine, and take the tickets inside for your food. And it turned out to be a super tasty chicken dish that I really really enjoyed. Who needs Michelin stars when you can find great food for under $10!

Stopped in at a Family Mart for some supplies, then came back to the hotel and enjoyed the view while using the internet :)

So after a drinks interlude, we went up to the New York Bar, a-la Lost in Translation. Had a couple of drinks and listened to the jazz band with front row seats.. a very pleasant evening :)

Distance covered on the GPS: 937.1 km
Steps walked: 10118
Photos on the Canon: 150
Photos on the Sony: 111
Videos: 0

Have I ever mentioned that heat in hotels is a major pain? Overheated again last night. And woke up with the sun at 3:45. Grunt.

Bit of a slow start. I headed out a bit before nine to withdraw some money and pick up some supplies for breakfast.

So didn't get out of the hotel til a bit after ten.

Headed up to the Asahiyama Zoo, quite a good little zoo outside of Asahikawa. The enclosures for the penguins and seals (and other animals too) are well thought out and you get some *great* views of the animals. For the penguins there's a tube you walk right through their tank, like the sharks at Darling Harbour. And the seals have this vertical tube they dive through right in the middle of this room you walk through. Sometimes they stop in mid flight and nose the perspex, so there's all these people in a room with a seal floating the middle! Extremelly cool!!

The polar bears looked a little miserable in the heat (or maybe they were just bored). Only gripe about viewing them was you queue for ages in a dark stairwell for who knows what. Turns out there's a little "bubble" you can stick your head up in the middle of their enclosure. OK but not really worth waiting in the heat.

But yeah otherwise a great day and took over four hundred photos in four hours.

Then Japan took another opportunity to completely rip us off. We needed to get to Chitose airport, so programmed the GPS with either the back roads or the expressways. The expressways were 30km longer but a bit quicker, and it quoted us 2250 yen, according to the GPS for the tolls. OK so we did that. And then got quite disappointed that the speed limits on the expressways were 80 km/h .. ???? I thought they were meant to be 100. The road certainly would have handled it. But all the signs we saw said 80. Now it *might* have been that the 80 was only for temporary stuff, like lanes merging in, and the default limit was 100. But if that was the case it certainly wasn't obvious. Give me Australian speed indicators any day (which always make it clear what the speed limit should be when it changes). And give me Australian traffic lights too - everywhere else I've seen doesn't have nearly enough lights. Sometimes in Japan there's *one* light, which is pretty easy to miss. Europe was pretty bad too - there's nothing on the far side of the intersection, so pedestrians can't see what's being shown to the traffic coming. Anyway, where was I? Oh, Japan ripping us off again. The expressway from Asahikawa to Sapporo cost us 3800 yen!!! That's like $50 for 100km of road. Absolutely ridiculous. And for not much time saving either! We should have taken the back roads!!! Blah :(:(

But got out to the airport car rental place without any other dramas (filling up with petrol near the airport at a full service petrol station). Returned the car, and got their shuttle bus to the airport.

From there we just needed to find the airport hotel where we were staying the night. It's right in the domestic terminal which is pretty easy. Sadly no view of the planes from our side of the hotel.

Checked in, then went down to the airport food court to get some dinner and watch the planes while we ate. They even have free wifi! Win!

Then back to do photo stuff and blog.

Distance covered on the GPS: 209.4 km
Steps walked: 11793
Photos on the Canon: 406
Photos on the Sony: 26
Videos: 4

Stoopid east facing windows and stoopid sun that gets up at 4am and stoopid blinds that do nothing to keep out the light or heat :( Blah. So it was very hot in our room. So didn't sleep all that well :(

Breakfast was at the hotel. We'd chosen "western" breakfasts the night before (fish and natto for breakfast? no, don't think so). But they brought out all this food. I couldn't get through it! Saved my bread roll and sweet roll for later.

Then we headed up into the mountains again.

Stopped first at the dam at Lake Chubetsu. Cause I like dams. Have I mentioned that? :)

Then into the national park and up to the Asahidake Ropeway.

But first, 500 yen for parking. WTF? When just down the road was a public car park that was free. Grunt. So already feeling ripped off. Then to go up the cable car it's 2800 yen. Each. !! WTF?? I was way pissed off at that point. But we went up anyway and I grumped the whole way :(

Still, it was a fairly nice place at the top. We went up for a wander up into the snow and mud around the walking tracks and saw the little lakes and the fumaroles. Stu definitely enjoyed it. I would have more if hadn't been so badly ripped off. *sigh*

Had some snacks while waiting for a cable car down.

Then we decided to just go to Asahikawa rather than try and do any more mountains.

So got into town and negotiated city streets and got to the hotel ok.

Had a bit of a relax for a little while.

Then we decided to head out to find some dinner. We were going to get ramen (which this place is famous for), but as we were getting ready Stu looked out the window and said "there's a festival" and I'm like "Japanese street food!!!!!" So that's where we went.

It was just in this little park near the river. All around the outer edge of the park, and through the middle were stalls setup selling food and toys. We had some *amazing* food, as well as some average food, and some pretty good food. Love love love Japanese street food :) Not really sure what the festival was for. We asked at the hotel, she said something about the transition between spring and summer. Couldn't find anything online about it, but not really sure what to look for! heh. We were probably the only gaijin there (we certainly didn't see any others).

Distance covered on the GPS: 128.2 km
Steps walked: 10696
Photos on the Canon: 143
Photos on the Sony: 39
Videos: 0

Pretty good day today (although still didn't sleep too well - too hot).

After breakfast had a bit of a slow start getting out the door. Had to plan what we were going to do first.

I waited outside the hotel with our bags (we didn't really feel like carrying my broken bag all the way to the car rental place). And then the sweetie arrived and off we went.

Fortunately this trip, not only do they drive on the correct side of the road, but we got an automatic, and the blinkers are on the correct side!! Yayy for Japanese cars :) (London in 2010 had the correct side of the road, but a manual and backwards blinkers).

So pretty much just headed straight out of Sapporo (after getting a coffee for the sweetie at a Scottish Restaurant we passed). Decided to go via quieter roads rather than expressways.

Except Hokkaido has ridiculously low speed limits. Roads that would be 60, 70, 80 in Australia were all 50, or maybe 40. It was impossibly slow, and we were pissing off the locals, who were all passing us any chance they could. After ages doing this we gave up and drove more to conditions (but still slower than the locals!). I suppose their limits are for when the conditions are bad, which is sure to be much of the year, or to reduce the number of wildlife accidents. But this was the middle of a clear sunny day. Whatevs.

So basically just drove slowly to Furano. Stopped at a dam on the way. Because I like dams.

Had more Scottish Restaurant for a late lunch, then went and checked into the hotel. Crazy design to the room. The bathroom has a big glass window next to the bed, with a blind on the outside! Weird as!

We headed straight out again, deciding to drive up into the mountains.

Drove up towards Tokachidake springs.

The "lavendar road" would sure be pretty in a month's time. But for now it was just green.

Saw a few foxes around the place. Nat would have loved them heh :)

At Tokachidake springs got out and walked up a trail a bit (I was a bit worried about getting eaten by a bear). There was still snow around!

Drove around a bit more, ending up at Bogakudai for a nice lookout (although looking straight into the late afternoon sun).

Then down the hill to the "Blue Pond" which is a famous tourist attaction in the area. The parking lot and one-way paths testify to that. But when I got there I was very disappointed. The "pond" appears to have been created by the damming of a creek, flooding the area and killing a bunch of trees. There's no flow through the pond so it's a stagnent pool full of dead trees. Yuk. OK so yes the water is a pretty blue (in the right light, sadly we were there a little too late in the day), so if you look at the right angle you can see live trees and not the stagnent muck, it's not too bad. If you want pretty blue lakes, go to Canada.

Then back to the hotel (and stopped at another dam).

Had dinner at the hotel. I had some wagyu beef which was *awesome* and the freshest, nicest asparagus I've ever had!

And finally we stayed up *very* late doing our washing (last load of the trip though - yayy!!)

Distance covered on the GPS: 205 km
Steps walked: 6936
Photos on the Canon: 278
Photos on the Sony: 15
Photos on the Video: ?
Videos: ?

OK day today, a few ups and downs.

The first down was a lack of sleep, it being too hot in the hotel, even after having the window open to let the cold air in, then the aircon on during the night. Stoopid all or nothing quilts :( Not to mention the sun getting up at stoopid o'clock. Got back to sleep but then slept in til 8:20!! Gah!! Then got stressed cause had to get ready quickly so we'd get down to breakfast in time *sigh*

But made it down in time.

Finished getting ready then headed out for the day.

First we headed to the Odori park. It's quite a nice little park. Enjoyed the flowers and the fountains and the people feeding the pigeons.

Japanese toilets failed me for the first time today. The toilets in the park had three squatty toilets (which I don't like because they're awkward and usually dirty and nowhere to put your bags) and a disabled toilet which I waited ages for someone to get out of, only to find *none* of the toilets had toilet paper anyway. So didn't go. Fail.

Wandered past the old government office building, which also had some nice gardens, and tormented a couple of tortoises.

Then we headed up to the station and got a train to Otaru. Couldn't get a seat to start with, but did later when some people got off.

So got to the station and just wandered down to the water. Found the canal. It wasn't quite what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting it to be a little more "European" with shops along the canal.

But we did find the Otaru beer cafe, so went in there for a couple of beers and lunch.

After lunch went to the harbour, then wandered back to the station.

Got back to Sapporo and I found signs for the JR T38 tower. So went and found that while the sweetie had a coffee. 700 yen (no discount or freebie for JR pass though - doh!). It had a pretty good view - probably better than the TV tower that you can also go up, as it's quite a bit higher.

Got back to the hotel and didn't end up doing anything else for the day. The sweetie had a snooze and I read news feeds. I also got all my beer of the day entries done which hadn't been done since London.

Went out to get some snacks for dinner but that was all for the day.

Distance covered on the GPS: 90.3 km
Steps walked: 14117
Photos on the Canon: 142
Photos on the Sony: 76
Videos: 2+?

Well today was pretty good until the wheels fell off .....

At 4am the sun was rising and it was pretty bright. At 5am the sun was streaming into the room. Grunt. This country could really use daylight saving!!

Breakfast at the hotel.

Then we hopped on a tram three stops up the road and a short walk to the Hakodate ropeway (cable car). Apparently this is one of the world's top three views at night (after Hong Kong and Naples). Sadly I didn't know this until it was too late. Oh well. Next time.. hrmmm. But even during the day it was pretty nice.

Came back down and wandered past some of the churches.

And the brick warehouses.

And was a little spun out by a plaque showing the height of the 2011 tsunami. Looking around the area you'd never know though.

Continued wandering, back through the morning fish market (it wasn't morning anymore but there were still a few things open).

And finally back to the hotel to pick up our bags.

Hakodate is a pretty user-friendly town. There's maps and signs all over the place, including in the pavement. I won't object if we ever have to come back here :)

Headed to the station. The next train was about an hour away. Couldn't get a reservation (they were all taken). Found some lunch at the station then went to get the train. Luckily we got seats no problems.

The train trip was quite nice. A lot of it was around the water so we had a pretty good view. It reminded me a lot of the day we took a train around the Kii peninsula.

Arrived in Sapporo and was walking to the hotel when one of the wheels fell off my suitcase :(:(:(:( This is going to prove very problematic over the next week :( What is it with me and luggage this trip? First my backpack, now my suitcase :( Blah.

Got to our hotel and checked in. It seems it must be a Chisun rule to have *tiny* rooms, not just an Osaka thing (our Loisir hotel in Hakodate had much more space).

Then wandered out to find dinner. Went to a little soba place hidden inside a building. Was pretty tasty.

Then back here to charge things and figure out what we're going to do on this island..

Distance covered on the GPS: 325.7 km
Steps walked: 11336
Photos on the Canon: 173
Photos on the Sony: 35
Videos: 0

Pretty quiet day today, as the step count will testify :)

Up, ready and out the door by 8:45. McGriddle for breakfast.

First train at 9:40 - shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo. Slept a bit on the train (was so asleep I actually slept through the stop at Nagoya!). Couldn't see shiny at all :(

Short transfer at Tokyo, then took the next shinkansen to Shin-Aomori. Zoomed through Fukushima but stopped at Sendai. Dozed a little after Sendai. Lunch was bento boxes we picked up on Tokyo station.

Another very short transfer to the Super Hakucho to Hakodate. We left ten minutes late but got to the tunnel under the straight on time.

And then we were on Hokkaido. We've now been to three of the four main islands of Japan. Stu has been on the shinkansen as far north as you can go and as far south as you can go :)

Got to the hotel - it was super easy to find, being right next to the station.

They gave us a free cocktail voucher when we checked in, so went up and got that, then had a bit of fun with some Japanese whisky tasting. First up we tried a Suntory Yamazaki 12 (very smooth, a bit sweet) and a Nikka Yoichi 12 (a bit smokey, I liked this one). Then we had a Suntory Hakushu 12 (a bit bitier, not as sweet as the other Suntory) and another Yoichi. Expensive but very nice and with a great view over the city from the thirteenth floor.

Then we went looking for dinner. We were in the morning seafood market so not much was open for dinner, but did find one place and had some tempura squid and tempura seafood mix. Was good, but the fish gasping for air in the tanks made me a bit sad.

Washed hair and crashed.

Distance covered on the GPS: 1342.8 km
Steps walked: 5617
Photos on the Canon: 75
Photos on the Sony: 43
Videos: 1