Japanese cycle tour
So even well before plans were fully made for the big fat North American adventure, 2016 was shaping up to be a pretty exciting year, with a three week cycle touring trip to Japan with Elspeth over Easter.
Although we would love to have toured the whole distance of Japan (about twice the distance of Lands End to John O'Groats), we decided to give more time for exploring and just focus on the two northern islands, travelling from Kyoto (on the main island of Honshu) up through Matsumoto and the Japanese alps then to the coast, weaving through interesting places on the way and eventually taking the 3hr ferry ride to Hakodate (on the Island of Hokkaido) and crossing the mountains from there to fly out of Sapporo. I think it was about 1000miles but could be very wrong - I really wasn't keeping track. For once it wasn't about the miles or the speed.
|Cherry blossom. About the best way to be welcomed to a new country.|
|Wee monkey friend. His backside looks similar to his face.|
|Loved how you could just wander off and leave your bike somewhere and no-one would nick it.|
|Cherry blossoms at one of the temples in Kyoto|
|Camp spot at Lake Biwa.|
We struggled a bit with using real Japanese maps to navigate our way through the cities but the foreign lettering and detail meant they were pretty unhelpful and we realised pretty quickly that googlemaps was the way forward!
|Our map. Sigh. Poor Elspeth lugged this hefty and useless tome round most of Japan before we finally binned it.|
|Underground bike parking. Just. Too. Exciting.|
|Cherry blossom ice cream. It really was a tour of Japanese ice cream shops|
|Matsumoto castle - we got there nice and early before the huge numbers of tourists|
|Ninja outside Matsumoto castle|
|Wasabi ice cream|
We did camp on a mini-golf course one night. Perhaps that was pushing the boundaries a bit but it was very quiet and we were gone very early!!
|View from our campsite on the second night. Think we were slap bang in the middle of the path to the shrine so we had someone singing outside our tent at 2am. Bit bizarre.|
|Poached egg and bony fish with chopsticks in our hotel at Tokomachi. At 7am. Hmm.|
In case you are wondering why rubbish bins are a highlight of the 7 11s, it’s because they don’t have many bins in Japan at all. If you are wild camping, you’ll be trailing your wee bag of rubbish round with you for hours til you find a shop to deposit it in. They just don’t do bins. But what they do do, is overpackage every biscuit, sweetie or anything else you want to eat. Then put it in a plastic bag. I think they were somewhat confused to find us enthusiastically brandishing our own plastic bags at them at the checkout.
|Favourite breakfast - melon bread.|
|We ate a lot of food in this beautiful cafe in Akita, a bit of a boring city on the northern coast of Honshu. A great way to spend a rainy rest day!|
|Snowy apple orchard. A bit of a surprise. (Elspeth's photo)|
The next few hours were a bit of a trial, cycling into Aomori through Monday morning rush hour in freezing slush. However everything improved when a driver pulled over up ahead, got out and presented us with an orange. I have no idea what I said but what a beautiful gesture and a nice bit of sunshine on a miserable day.
|The lego version of Hakodate. They loved their bullet trains out there.|
How much is it?
Do you want breakfast?
How much is it?
Just tell us how much!!
|Terribly expensive looking hotel lobby. Note the giant aquarium.|
|Sake vending machine behind saloon doors.|
|Snowy mountains everywhere in Sapporo.|
|Elspeth's photo of me attempting to do the speed skating simulator. She also took a video. No way is that going anywhere near the web.|
Unfortunately, the main thing I remember about Sapporo is the frustration of trying to find a way of getting our bikes to the airport. Clearly you have to organise these things in advance through a courier company, rather than just assuming a taxi can put their seats down. When trying to get our bike boxes back from the shop to the hostel, we resorted to Elspeth hiding round the corner with the boxes, whilst I flagged down a taxi, then she would jump out and we'd start ramming the boxes into the car. This tactic necessitated 4 attempts before it was successful and even then poor Elspeth was left alone in the gale with a box, uncertain of whether the driver was going to come back for a second trip. We realised then that getting to the airport could be slightly more challenging than we'd imagined. It all got a bit stressful and more than a bit expensive so we were very glad when eventually our chauffeur-driven minibus deposited us at the airport the next morning and we were allowed onto the flight!
We’d not been looking forward to our 12 hour layover in Seoul airport on the way home but this turned out to be a lot of fun. The airport offer free city tours so we got out to see the market.
|Elspeth dressed up in traditional Korean outfit|
|Visit to Incheon Market - queues out the door for their KFC equivalent|
|Loved seeing the market at Incheon|
|Our Korean guide was very proud of the cherry blossoms there too!|
|Temple in Incheon - part of our free city tour|
|Incheon city tour|
|Totally not just meant to keep kids occupied at airport|
|My beautiful gluey creation|
Some more random snaps:
|This is so beautiful and I can't even remember where it was. We passed a lot of beautiful temples and gardens in Japan.|
|Loads of snow at the side of the road. This mountain cycling day in Northern Honshu was absolutely stunning.|