The Final Frontier

I awoke on our final day to a soft watery sound, and hoped it had something to do with the Onsen. I drew back the curtain, and saw a heavy rain was falling. The mountains were cloaked in a heavy fog. I told Samuel 'I don't think we'll be seeing Mount Fuji'. 

We went down to the basement where our only 'inclusive breakfast' was to be served. First up was a whole fried fish, which Samuel declined.

The buffet consisted of rice - dry or in a porridge style, shredded lettuce, a green-bean salad, potato salad and a whole load of strange looking vegetation, pickles and packaged items. One thing I picked up was some kind of bean, coated in a glue-typed substance accompanied with little packets of mustard and possibly soy sauce. As I peeled back the lid I reeled from the stench, but determined to try, my tastebuds went into overload: it was sharp and sour and pretty vile.

One of the ladies apologised for not having any bread or sausages. We weren't sure if we had missed them, or she had an awareness of what a westerner might want. That was a tough one! 

Half-fed we left the Ryokan for a very wet walk. We headed into the main part of Hakone down the hills and past a gushing river. At least the umbrella didn't have a wasted journey! 

I tested Samuel's patience whilst waiting for the perfect composition for a shot I had set up. We watched trains coming down the mountain-side then went to the Tourist office to ask what we could do in four hours, in the driving rain. Turns out just enough to satisfy our souls...

We hopped aboard the Hakone Tozan Line train formed of three squat carriages, and were fascinated when the train came to a stop at a buffer. The driver got out and proceeded to the other end of the train where he set off again, driving in the opposite direction. Because of the way the tracks are laid into the mountain it makes a zigzag journey uphill. I think the driver exchanged ends four times in total. At the final destination we swapped for a bus and headed for Motohakone-ko, making a pit-stop for hot chocolate which we drank whilst looking out the rain-lashed window. We could see Lake Ashi and snatched a glimpse of a sight-seeing (well, maybe not today) boat traversing the water. This is where on a fine day you would go out on the lake and witness the majesty of Mount Fuji. We would have to make do with pictures on this trip. 

Adopting the 'Keep calm, it's only water' attitude, we walked onwards toward the cedar lined avenue that leads to Hakone-jinja Shrine. Then down a stone stairway to the lakes edge and the red torri (gate). This was mammoth, and the painted red figure stood out more than ever against a grey sky. 

By this point our shoes were squelchy, and the wind had picked up, so we walked back to 'town' to await a bus, taking us all the way back to Hakone.

We had two thousand yen left, so peered at restaurant menus, making sure we could afford the meal. It is not common to tip in Japan, so we could manage a bowl of steaming noodles each and be left with 50 yen - around 30 pence.

The stooped old lady in charge started saying 'window, window' to us. Ah! I exclaimed to Samuel...she wants us to point at what we want in the window. We've managed a lot by utilising hand signals and nods of the head!

We collected our baggage from the Ryokan and proceeded on our final trip to, and across Tokyo, finishing on the monorail to add to our myriad rail journeys.

Annoyingly, I had wound down the Yens, but needed to get some money to pay for the monorail as it wasn't included on the rail-pass. It can be quite a task finding an ATM that allows foreign-card usage, and when you do, the minimum withdrawal is often 10,000 Yen - around £60.00. The budget was going well until the last two days!

Japan is still very much a cash-country which if I was a native would suit me just fine. 

We got to the airport with plenty of time and boarded our Air France plane to Paris Charles de Gaulle. We managed some sleep, two movies and they served Champagne as an aperitif. Gotta love the French!

A couple of hours before landing a fellow passenger came to speak to me, saying she'd been told we were changing to Orly airport too, so did we want to share a cab with her and her partner.

Well, I'd obviously forgotten this minor detail, but it seemed to make sense. As the airplane taxied on the runway, I had a message come through to say our flight would be delayed by three hours. We already had a three hour wait, so increasing it to six was not welcome news. 

We tried our luck on getting an earlier flight out of Charles de Gaulle, but the 7.30am was fully booked. 

Off we went to Orly at a cost of €40 per pair. Ouch. 

Air France gave us a five-euro voucher each for breakfast, as some form of apology, so we headed to Paul for some chocolatey treat and I am writing the final post whilst watching some plane activity out the window!

We are now back on home turf, so until I blog again...

Here are just a few anecdotes and observations from our short, but action-packed trip:

I discovered at the airport that my camera bag weighs more than Samuel's suitcase                                                               

We heard an announcement we had never heard before: Skytree Tokyo, reassuring visitors that they are prepared for an earthquake.

The Japanese are even more apologetic than the Brits

I could get used to heated toilet seats

Face masks are all the rage (we kinda knew that already)

There was something very special about Hiroshima

Ambulance drivers have mega-phones with which they make announcements alongside regular sirens. I have no idea what they are saying, so decided to make up my own words, like 'get out the way you little buggers or you'll be joining us for a joyride'. Oh! the benefits of a misspent youth.

Nodding of the head - why bother with words?

There is a lot less aggression on the public transport system than in London which was a welcome change.  

Our biggest observation was an over-riding veil of quietness. Regardless of Tokyo being massively built up and with a population of around thirteen and a half million people, the average Japanese person walks quietly, talks quietly, and keeps themselves to themselves. The only overtly noisy, and acceptable practice is slurping on noodles!

   Wet and Wild


Wet and Wild

The annoying shot

   Little ole me


Little ole me

   The final hurdle


The final hurdle