A travel report then! I've been thinking hard about whether to do it in Dutch or in English, and I finally settled on English. There's a lot of people that don't speak Dutch who will appreciate this report (I hope :O), and since it's only a travel report and not a technical essay my family should alsobe able to understand most of it :) I will put up more pictures and placemarks later, but it's getting kind of late now, so I"ll do it tomorrow.
So, Hokkaido. The northern part of Japan. More than one thousand kilometers away, and we're going there by train. And not a very fast train, like a shinkansen, but a regular one, like the ones that people take to work every day. I left most of the planning to Ning Ning, since she already knew exactly where to go, and she has a great knack of getting the cheapest price for things, like hotels and trains. Since she also knows kanji that left me pretty much out of the planning altogether, because it was also much easier for her to find the train schedule in Japanese. Big thanks to her :)
Saturday the 30th we departed, at 5:00 in the morning, to catch the first train north from Tokyo. For some reason my backpack was about twice as big and heavy as that of my fellow travelmates. I would expect at least that the girls would bring tons of make-up, but they traveled even lighted than me :O Quite a difference from the last time I went traveling with my sister.
Our first stop was Kitakata, a place very famous for ramen, Japanese noodles. We spent too much time there actually, and missed our connection to the next place :X After that we continued on the train to Sendai, where we arrived in the evening, just in time to take a sightseeing bus through the city center. After that we found our hotel, and went out to walk around and find some food, but our search accidentally brought us in the red light district :O
The second day, the 31st, we went to see the dormitory of a very famous Chinese person: Lu Xun, who studied in Sendai. After that we continued to one of the main attractions on this trip: Matsushima. Designated one of the three most scenic places by Japanese people, I was expecting a lot of this. And I was not disappointed. Matsushima consists of a bay with lots of small islands, covered by pine trees. We arrived there before 11:00, just in time for the sightseeing boat. I cannot describe in words how nice that was, so I'll post some pictures here later :)
After the sightseeing boat we looked around the bay area. We went to a nice island connected by a long pedestrian bridge to the mainland, but 10 minutes after we arrived there we needed to hurry back in order not to miss the train to our next destination. As it turns out, our tourist map was not exactly to scale, and what seemed to be a short walk was actually a 10 minute dash to the station. Of course we arrived with 9 minutes to spare, so everything was ok.
The whole day consisted of jumping from one train to another. After arriving at a station we needed to run to a platform at a completely different section of the station within 3 minutes. Somehow we made it every time, and we arrived in Aomori, at the northernmost area of Japan's mainland in the evening, with still more than an hour to spare before the night train's departure. The night train will go to the biggest city of Hokkaido, Sapporo, under the sea. We spent the hour eating dinner and charging our camera's batteries, because we would not get a chance in the night train.
The night train sucked! I cannot believe people can sleep in those crappy seats. Of course we cannot complain since we had the cheapest tickets and thus the crappiest and most crowded cars, but still, I like complaining ^^. On top of that, the temperate must have been around 30 degrees Celsius. Way too hot. We departed at 22:45. We bought some drinks for midnight, to celebrate the new year. If there's one thing Japanese people suck at, it's celebrating the new year.. They don't do anything. No sound, no smiles, no looks, no nothing. Definitely not fireworks or anything. Boring. The only people who I drank with were my Chinese travel mates, and they even have a different new year than we do. Stupid Japanese. I miss Holland at this time, when people just come out of their homes and everybody will light fireworks. I didn't sleep much that night. Because of the crappy seat, not because I was so excited about the new year.
Third day: Otaru.
We arrived in Sapporo at around 5:00, when we took the regular train back to Otaru, also a famous city in Hokkaido, because of it's port, and it's canal. Yes, it has a canal. Something Chinese people find very interesting, apparently. A paraphrase of something one of my travel mates said to me: "Oh my god, Holland is so flat, your rivers don't even flow. The water just stays there. That's so strange". I guess it is kind of different from mountainous China. In Otaru we were just in time for the sunrise, which was a great chance for nice pictures :) After that, we headed to the car rental place.
Car rental? Yes indeed. Car rental in Japan. And I was the only one qualified to drive, since I'm the only one with a drivers license. So why not, after one year of not driving at all, drive on the wrong side of the road, for the first time in an automatic car, and on snowy roads and poor weather conditions? What can possibly go wrong?
Nothing, actually :D Driving on the left side just comes naturally since the steering wheel is at the other side too. The indicators and windscreen wipers are switched too though, and for the first couple of corners I kept on turning on the windscreen wipers instead of indicating my direction o_0. The weather was not so bad too, it wasn't snowing or freezing at all. We went to a couple of famous natural parks near Otaru, as you can see from the pictures. Unfortunately the weather turned really bad just when we arrived at the most famous place, and we didn't dare go out the car because of the strong winds and rain..
For the evening we went back to Sapporo, where we had booked a hotel. After settling down and walking around, we went looking for a nice place to eat. And we found a nice place. A very small restaurant, serving sashimi. Raw fish. It may not sound very appetizing, but it tasted better than the best steak I ever had. So soft it melts in your mouth. It was so much better than the sashimi I tasted so far around the Tokyo area. And the best part is: it was after 11, so all sashimi was half price! In the end we ate an ungodly amount of highly expensive raw fish, which costed us only 2400 yen (about 18 euro) per person. If this was Europe I'm sure it would cost at least 4 times the amount we paid. Quite satisfied, and definitely the best meal of the entire trip ^^
Fourth day: Sapporo
We walked around in Sapporo to see the famous sights. We went to a hill outside of Sapporo that had a great view of the city. There was lots of snow! Unfortunately we wasted about an hour sear
ching for a supposedly great restaurant, but we couldn't find it, so we settled on another famous ramen place. We had to wait for half an hour to get a seat, but the meal was excellent. After the meal we walked to the old government building you see in the picture above. Quite a nice building. We made a brief stop at the Hokkaido University, and then we took the train to our next hotel, at Lake Toya (Toyako), a very scenic lake with an island inside and a huge volcanic mountain in the background.
Our room at lake Toya was great. Because we tried to get really cheap accomodation our room was kind of 'special'. That is, they don't rent it to normal guests because it's like a party room, just tatami mats and nothing else. But very huge. 18 people could fit in there, according to the hotel. But there was nobody there, only the 3 of us. Nice ^_^
We went out at night to find some food, but there were not many restaurants open, because of the holidays. Also, the town we were staying at was really small, and there were just not many restaurants around. We settled for a yakitori (fried bird) place in a backstreet. It looked really crappy, but it was the only place that was still open. There were only 2 people inside: the owner and the daugher (or mother maybe, it was hard to tell...) . They were very kind to us, and they let us try some very nice Hokke (a kind of fish, very famous in Hokkaido). A very nice meal again :)
Fifth day: Toyako and Hakodate
Toyako. Such a beautiful place. So little to do. Just some souvenir shops were open, and there was not much more there. We tried to find a sushi place for lunch, but we failed because there's just nothing there. We settled for food from the conbini and left early towards Hakodate, where we take the night train back to Aomori for the way back.
The train ride on the way back was very nice. Since we left early it was still light, and we had a great view of the coastline along which the train rode. We had to wait an hour for a transfer a couple of times, so we just walked to the seaside from the station and took pictures.
We arrived at Hakodate in the evening. Hakodate is mainly famous for it's beautiful view of the city, from a hill at the seaside. So that's where we rushed to, because we only had an hour until the cable car up the hill would stop. When we got there we had about 20 minutes to rush out, take pictures, and rush back to the cable car.. This was another one of the highlights of the trip. I only wished we had more time to enjoy it.
After that we walked around the famous area of the city, which contains a lot of old western style buildings. There was an area which had several very different style churches: a Russian one, a Japanese one and a western one. But there was nobody around. No tourists at all, except for one car with people taking pictures inside. Quite creepy.
We got back to the station area long before the night train headed back, so we went to a restaurant to eat, and afterwards to a bar for a drink. After that we went to the station to have a rest before going into the night train. I lied down on a bench and fell asleep almost right away. When I woke up my fellow travel mates were poking me, trying to wake me up. The other travelers in the station were laughing at us. Apparently I was snoring really hard, and my travel mates were trying to wake up by calling my name across half the station, because they were resting somewhere else. I guess people in Hakodate will remember me from now on...
After that there's nothing much to report. Except that the night train sucked again, and that we spent almost the whole day on the train getting back to Tokyo from all the way north. Quite a long way. In the end it was a great trip, and one I will not soon forget :)