Our baggage is being shipped once again, this time for Tokyo. With my laptop bag full of clothes, we headed to the train station at 6 in the morning. We rode it, switched trains, and within a few hours we had arrived in Hakone.
Hakone is a small mountain town, which is a big difference from larger cities like Kyoto and Hiroshima. We stopped for lunch before boarding the boat to cross Lake Ashi, the nearby lake. I wasn't hungry, so I waited in the meeting spot, enjoying the long awaited nice weather, especially after the mess that yesterday was. The lake was full of large and small boats alike, and we were going to take one of the largest ones they had -- one that looked very much like a pirate ship.
To get there, we had a bit of a walk ahead of us. After lunch we headed into the nearby woods and walked a very short, but very old road. This, our tour guide said, was the old highway connecting Kyoto and Tokyo. At a time, it was over 100 kilometers long and was used by Samurai either on pilgrimages or reporting for duty to the old shogun temples.
We arrived at the docks and boarded the ship. A quick 20 minute ride got us across the lake and to the bus station. On this side of the lake, the sky was overcast and what would be a gorgeous picture of Mt. Fuji was nothing but cloud. We were warned she was a shy mountain, and pictures weren't always guaranteed.
We took the bus 45 minutes to the tram station, and then headed up the mountain. When we arrived at the top, our guide walked us a bit on the path, stopped, and told us from there on we were on our own. Up the path, and upwind, was the sulfur mine and sulfur pools. The scent can be overwhelming and she's smelt it enough times that she didn't want to smell it again. Once you enter the path you can smell it, and it only gets stronger as you walk towards the pools. In case you have never smelt sulfur, it smells like rotting eggs. Now imagine being surrounded by pools and pools of it. Yuck is right!
While what we smelt was gross, what we saw was very interesting. All the pools of water had milky, smokey water in it instead of your normal clear water. Although the ground was highly acidic, unique plants were able to grow and flourish here. The view from the top was also breathtaking, with rolling lush hills in every direction. On our way to the pools we saw a carriage overhead carrying eggs, and we watched them get dipped into the pools and placed back into the carriage and returned back to where Siako was waiting for us.
When we arrived, she surprised us with black eggs! These were the same eggs we saw in the carriage earlier, and the eggs shell had turned black due to a chemical reaction with the sulfur. They were perfectly boiled, delicious and were supposed to add 7 years to our life.
We took the bus straight back to Hakone, and Siako asked us to go shopping while she checks up on our hotel. She never did this before so we should have known something was wrong. She arrived back in about an hour and, in her broken English, told us something was wrong with the hotel. There had been several complaints regarding it (we thought at first there were complaints again us!), and while the hotel was usable, it was under construction. We decided that was fine, and chose to stay there anyway.
"Under construction" was lost in translation. The hotel was severely damaged and needed repair. It probably should have been condemned. The carpets had dark, mysterious stains all over them, the plaster walls were cracking, and the rice walls of our rooms had holes and tears in them.
We sat down for a feast prepared by the hotel staff. It had several dished, all unique and interesting, including a raw fish speared from it's head and tail that we could cook over individual fires, if we so wanted. I got up then, and went to the end of the table to take a picture of all the food. At that same time, Steve and Alison were sneaking sips from a bottle of Saki at the end of table I had just arrived at. Once I sat down, Alison made a slight gasp and Steve whispered something to her. He then leaned over to me and whispered something to me: "Don't say anything, but a cockroach about an inch long just crawled under the table over there." and he tiled his head toward the far end of the table were several girls, wearing skirts, were sitting cross-legged on the ground. I nodded, went back to my seat, tucked my pants into my socks and waited. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes there was a scream, a bang and the girls scattered, terrifying the insect and sending it running towards more people, which of course set off a chain reaction.
The insect was removed by hotel staff, as was the second one we saw about 10 minutes later... and the third one. By this time nobody felt comfortable eating their supper and we retired for the night. Our tour guide was embarrassed, but did warn us that this place needed some T.L.C..
The rooms we much like the ones in Koyasan, only the washroom and shower room were different rooms. This hotel, not only needing repair and should probably not be open to the public, also had dizzying winding hallways and outdoor passageways which were disorienting in the night. This, with the carpet stains, the cracked walls, the bugs, and the lack of wi-fi finally made me feel like I was living in the rugged mountains on a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean -- instead of a Japanese Manhattan.
I'm off to bed now. Tomorrow we leave early for Tokyo, the last stop on our tour. After tomorrow, I'm on my own in Hong Kong.
Goodnight! Let's hope the bedbugs don't bite!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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About a year and a half ago I visited Kyiv, Ukraine. As I walked down the millennium old streets and gawked at the towering cathedrals, I saw the beginnings of a new country, one that was slowly rebuilding from a much darker time. The process of what I was seeing had a name. It was called decommunization.
Decommunization includes renaming architecture, changing laws and protocols, and even tearing down monuments. People's Friendship Arch in Kyiv, for example, which symbolised the friendship between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, was torn down. Some statues, like war memorials, are exempt, but there is still talk of making modifications to them. Anywhere you go throughout the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle are being removed – not from history, but from modern society.
Long before I started my blog, many, many years ago, I visited Innsbruck, Austria. I was on a Contiki trip through Europe and visited a plethora of locations such as Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Lucerne and Innsbruck, just to name a few. It was an incredible experience and one that I think was a transformative moment in my life.
Off the record (or, on the record now, I guess), of all the places I visited, the only one I didn't like was Innsbruck. I couldn't get into it. We visited it in late March, so the weather wasn't the best. The trees didn't have any leaves on them, the grass was brown, and everything had a post-winter grey look to it. After visiting Munich and spending the night in St. Goar, my mind wasn't thinking about Innsbruck at all. Instead, I was more excited to go to Venice the next day, and the Vatican the day after that. My time in Innsbruck was uneventful, and all I wanted was to get back on the road.
That was in 2011, and now it's 2018. Has my opinion on Innsbruck changed? I would say yes. I'm more mature now and if I went back, I would better appreciate what I was seeing. As I've gotten older, I've been less impressed by the massive buildings and more enthralled by the history that created them.
I'm proudly Canadian, and I accept the fact that a lot of people know very little about my country. A lot of people also seem to think cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver "define" Canada. Just to set it straight, while these are beautiful cities, they don't represent the whole of Canada.
Being such a quiet country, we often keep our secrets to ourselves... and often from ourselves. This is a list of 7 things you -- and maybe other Canadians -- don't know about Canada.
Located southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia is a small island where the average citizen are not allowed. This island is called Sable Island, and is a fragile ecological environment home to the unique Sable Island Horse. Over 400 horses live on this island, with only 5 humans there to watch over them.