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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I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!
Most people know how to ride a bicycle. They learned sometime as a child and never forgot. I am not one of those people. I tried learning when I was a child, a teenager and an adult, and I have never mastered the two-wheel contraption. Whenever I see a child zip past me on a bike, I get a little jealous inside. I've always wanted to learn, but it's just something I've never been able to do.
On my recent trip to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta, I explored several of the many biking paths that wind through the area. The paths are also hikable, so I walked them instead. Although I've visited Cypress Hills several times, I never get used to the hills and lakes throughout the area. With dozens of kilometres of trails, you can spend a weekend there and never do the same thing twice. Although hiking around the park was incredible, I imagine it would be a lot more fun, and a lot easier, to bike it instead.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.