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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Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
A few months ago I entered a contest for a trip for two to visit Philadelphia on Two Bad Tourists. Normally contests like this are limited to United States residents so when I saw this one was open to Canadians I jumped at the chance. I've never won something like this before, so I actually forgot about it until I got the emailing saying I had won. Two Bad Tourists then worked alongside Visit Philly to organise the trip for me and my mother to explore Philadelphia for three days. Visit Philly paid for our flights, hotels and gave us a VIP Pass to experience the city to our heart's content. It is thanks to them that this trip is possible.
Several movies and television shows have tried to capture the essence of Philadelphia over the years – from the boxing Blockbuster Rocky, to the paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even Boy Meets World – but each described the city differently. There is no easy way to approach a city as dynamic as The City of Brotherly Love. With countless layers of art, history, religion and the paranormal, Philadelphia is a city unlike any other throughout the United States.
One thing that surprised me the most about Philadelphia was the history. The city was founded and designed by William Penn, who is also the state of Pennsylvania's namesake. Born in London, England in 1644 he lived through The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of London from 1665-1666. Both events shaped Penn's life so he designed the city to be strictly stone buildings (to stop fires from spreading) and to have plenty of space between the buildings (as to prevent illness from spreading). This led to the older areas of the city to have winding corridors between old stone walls.
I was recently asked if I preferred my time in Montreal or Quebec City more, and while Montreal is a gorgeous city, decorated with thousands of green copper spires, hosts incredible festivals, has some of the most fantastic food I have ever tasted, and is spotted with beautiful parks, there was just something about Quebec City that spoke to me. Being over four hundred years old, Quebec City is one of the last remaining "walled cities" in North America, and is the only one north of Mexico. Quebec City was the location of some of the greatest conflicts in Canadian history, including the Siege of Quebec by the British.
Belonging to three very different countries (France, England, and Canada) in its four hundred year existence, Quebec City is a mixing pot of old traditions, new ideas, cobblestone streets and modern architecture. Since there is so much to see in Quebec City, I figured I would narrow it down to a couple and let you discover the rest! Here is "8 Places to Visit in Quebec City".