Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 20 Sapporo City

Thursday 28 June Day 20
Sapporo City (no cycling)

Today I caught the train into Sapporo city.  The trains were easy to negotiate, relatively cheap, and it was a quick trip.

Sapporo City is a compact city that is easy to walk around and simple to find your way to all the sights in the CBD.  I went first to Sapporo University, and the adjacent University botanic gardens, which were both very nice in Spring.  The University has some nice old buildings and scenic surrounds.

I then walked to the old Sapporo Court of Appeals – I thought that it would have some interesting information about the Japanese Court system, but was just an attractive old building… then walked along the length of the Odori, which is a long, thin stretch of parkland that extends over five city blocks in the CBD.  There was a spring flower show on, so there were some interesting displays including some workshops where women were doing Ikibana (Japanese art of flower arrangement).  There were lots of little stalls selling crafts and homewares and food and drink, so I had one final Hokkaido ice cream for morning tea (caramel flavour!). 

Then I went underground!  Sapporo has a vast network of underground shopping arcades, which include clothes, homewares, gifts, and enormous food halls and restaurant precincts.  It was interesting for me to visit in summer, but I can see that the real benefit of this subterranean world would be in winter, so that one could escape the slushy snow and cold wind.  You could really spend all day down there!   I managed to spend around three hours walking about in the underground, and had lunch at a food-hall, where I was able to try a few small serves of food from a number of stalls, including yakitori chicken, soba noodles with vegetables, a seaweed salad and slice of cherry-custard pie. Delicious!

After my late lunch, I walked to the Sapporo Beer museum, which is housed in the old Sapporo beer factory (they still produce small quantities of beer for tasting at the factory).  It was interesting to take a look around the museum, and I ordered a small beer tasting set, which was quite good but perhaps wasted on me, as I am not much of a beer drinker…  The Beer museum would have been a good place for lunch too, because they have a Ghengis Khan-style lamb BBQ lunch.

I tried to keep a look out for gifts for people at home, but there was not much on offer – almost all Japanese tourism is aimed at domestic travellers, with very little specifically on offer for western tourists, so I think that some gift-shopping will have to wait until I am at Sapporo or Narita airports… 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 19 Lake Shikotsu to Atsubetsu (Sapporo)

Wednesday 27 June   Day 19
Lake Shikotsu to Atsubetsu (Sapporo)    (73km) total 1693km

I had a great sleep last night, tucked up inside my tent on the lake-front, and was ready to get started early (7:30am) so that I could make it to Ken and Katsumi’s place before mid-day (definitely before 2pm, because their daughter had a music recital then and nobody would be home until the evening).

 It was a lovely ride away from the lake to Chitose – through the woods and along a cycle-path that runs along-side Route 13 from Lake Shikotsu to Chitose.  Although, there was a rather stern reminder along the way that one might encounter a bear along the cycle road!

From Chitose, the roads became busier as I headed towards Sapporo but I pulled off the road and onto the Kitohiroshima cycle road at Kitohiroshima – it is a brilliant cycleway that runs from Sapporo City to Kitohiroshima – over 20km – and was well-used by cyclists and walkers.  The cycle road took me almost all the way to Shin-Sapporo station, with only a few kilometres back onto the road as I approached the station.  From the station, it was easy to follow Google Maps to Ken’s house, where I arrived around 11:15pm J

So, it took around 2 hours to cycle from New Chitose airport to Atsubetsu if I decide to cycle to the airport on Friday… I am still undecided.

After having a delicious lunch of miso soup, grilled salmon, rice and steamed greens, Katsumi and daughter left for the music recital, and I went for a walk to the nearby park, just to get some fresh air and a walk in the sunshine.  Tomorrow, I’ll catch the train into Sapporo city and check it out!

Day 18 Lake Toya to Lake Shikotsu

Tuesday 26 June   Day 18
Lake Toya to Lake Shikotsu  (92 km) total 1620

Last night camping on holiday, and last full day of cycling!  I had a really good day today, cycling between lakes: the weather was perfect – even a little too hot when cycling over some of the passes – and I followed a beautiful scenic route without too much traffic. Lovely!  And who can complain when you wake up to this (left)?

I had a nice relaxed start to the day and had a beautiful start with a cycle around the rest of Lake Toya and up a rather steep road out of the lake area.  I cycled through farmland and right alongside Mt Niseko until calling into the service centre at Rusutsu for a mid-morning break. I had a delicious strawberry gelato/ice, which was perfect on a hot morning. 
Then I continued cycling through beautiful mountains, and over a 600m pass to the service centre in Otaki for a delicious lunch of ramen/vege soup and curry rice.  Yum!   After returning to my bike, a cycle tourer from Taiwan, Lee, pulled in and we chatted for a little while – he had only just arrived this morning and had cycled from New Chitose airport!  He was travelling light, with two very small panniers and a backpack on an aluminium racing bike (Scott) and was going to stay in hotels so he wouldn’t need any camping/cooking equipment and could do laundry at the end of each day.  He was planning to cycle all the way to Muruoa, but as it was 2pm already and he still had 65km (to Toya Spa) and a significant pass to climb, I advised him to stay at Lake Toya Spa – it was very beautiful (much more beautiful than a port town, surely!) and had plenty of hotel options.  Hopefully he took my advice, otherwise he would have been riding into the night!
 Tonight I am staying at a campground right on the lake front of Lake Shikotsu.  It is really beautiful and has quite good facilities.  Plus, it is only 60km to Atsubetsu tomorrow!

Day 17 Tomakomai to Lake Toya

Monday 25 June  Day 17

Tomakomai to Lake Toya (97km)  Total 1528km

A fairly relaxed start to the day (after staying up to midnight skyping, blogging, emailing, and route-planning!) ended up resulting in a loooong day in and out of the saddle, only arriving at the camp-site at Lake Toya just before 6pm!  Plus, I saw a bear!

The hotel breakfast was quite good, and I ended up sharing a table with a nice man called Tsukioka-san from Tokyo, who was in Tomakomai for business.  We had quite a good chat, and he was very interested in my cycling around Hokkaido, because he had motorcycled around Hokkaido almost 20 years ago.  He even invited me to lunch, although I had to decline because I knew I had a jam-packed day planned already.  I was really tempted, though – he was going to a seafood restaurant… At any rate, Tsukioka provided me with his contact details and asked me to please let him know if I was in Tokyo, because he would like to catch up again and take me to lunch or dinner.  I gave him a postcard with my details J.

Today I was really interested in going to the Ainui village and cultural museum in Shiraoi.  I am so glad that I went – it was fascinating and I spent over 90minutes looking at the restored village and museum displays… I even got to see three bears (in cages, but still scary!).  I would certainly recommend a visit to Shiraoi to anyone staying in Sapporo or Niseko.  Ohh, and there is a café in the village that sells Hokkaido ice cream – how could I resist?  It was noon already and I still had 20km before reaching Noboribetsu for lunch…

I then cycled straight down the coast to Noboribetsu, a cute mountain-town where I had a yummy lunch of katsu pork, rice and curry sauce at a café near the station.  Yum!  By now it was 2pm.

Then, the real work began… a 22km climb on the way up to Sobetsu/Lake Toya (50km from Noboribetsu).  It was tough, with many sections 9-10% gradients. It took me 2 hours to climb and I drank 1 litre of water.  But, the view from the top was amazing and the ride down was exhilarating!  It was after 5pm by the time I rolled into Sobetsu, but luckily the information/service centre was still open and they were able to advise me on campgrounds around the lake.  Unfortunately the one in town was closed, so I needed to travel a further 10km (in either direction around the lake) in order to reach a campground.  Not really what I wanted to hear, seeing as I was feeling very ready to stop for the day.  Even more unfortunate, the shop in the service centre had turned off their soft-serve machine, so I had to settle for a packaged ice cream instead sob. 

By the time I limped into the recommended campground, it was 6pm, and I was DONE.  Happily, there was a really nice lady at the shop administering the campground and onsen.  So, I quickly pitched my tent and headed for the onsen to clean up and relax. Ahhhh! 

It was only when I returned to my tent just after sunset that I appreciated how beautiful this campground is!  It is right on the lakefront, and just has the most stunning view across to the islend in the moddle of the lake, mountains in the back ground, and at night you can see the lights from the villages on either end of the lake.  Beautiful!  It really is a special place.
Tomorrow is my last day cycling and camping before I return to Sapporo.  It seems to have passed so quickly, although I am really happy about how much of the island I have managed to cover.

Day 16 Hidaka to Tomakomai

Sunday 24 June  Day 16
Hidaka to Tomakomai (109km) Total 1431 

Despite the continual rain, I had a great sleep in my tent.  I must have been tired after the big climb yesterday!  I made the decision to cycle to Tomakomai this morning – I was looking for a town that was likely to have a hotel, around 100km away…

The cycle through the mountains to Mukawa was really scenic and lovely… lots of ups and down (although thankfully, more downs) and hardly any traffic.  From Mukawa to Tomakamai, I followed Route 38, which had a bit more traffic and was a bit less scenic, but still quite a nice ride. 

It was easy to find my way to Tomakomai station, and I immediately saw a Route Inn Hotel (the same as I had stayed in at Kusharo).  Unfortunately, they were fully booked up, but the Toyako Hotel just down the street could offer a reasonably priced single room.  It was 2:45, and check-in was at 4pm, so I left my bags and bicycle at the hotel, got changes into street-clothes, and went for a walk around the station and mall next door.  The mall had a supermarket, which was fun to look around (and I bought a delicious seaweed salad), and a western-style coffee shop where I was able to get a very nice latte to sip while killing some time reading.

The Hotel itself was really comfortable – a nice room, laundry facilities, and I found out that the price even included dinner (quite good curry rice), in addition to a decent breakfast.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Days 14 and 15: Kushiro to Hidaka

Friday  22 June  Day 14  Kushiro to Ikeda  (102km)  (Total 1211km)
Saturday  23 June  Day 15 Ikeda to Hidaka  (111km)  (Total 1322km)

Two long and rainy days rolled into one report!

The cycle from Kushiro to Urahoro was along an up-and-down and relatively busy road, but usually with a generous side-lane to cycle in.  The coast line between Kusharo and Onbetsu was particularly beautiful with relatively rough seas that had attracted brave surfers.

I was lucky to meet a Japanese cyclist (kyoo – sp?) from Osaka just as I pulled into the service centre at Urahoro for lunch (at 1pm, and I was starving!).  He spoke pretty good English and asked me if I wanted to join him for lunch at the adjoining restaurant to discuss our cycle trips, and I was delighted to do so!  He had been cycling in Hokkaido for four weeks, and had covered a lot of ground in that time.

He didn’t have a Hokkaido Touring Mapple, so was interested to check how far he was from Kushiro (almost 70km, unfortunately for him!) and see if there were any camp-sites along the way (there was one about 20km out of Kushiro).  We had a nice lunch (Katsu pork & salad set-meal for me!)  and said farewell.

The ride into Ikeda was lovely along Route 73, so there was hardly any traffic, although there were some steep up-down hills that taxed my weary legs all the way into Ikeda.  I didn’t know, but Ikeda produces wine and the information site in town is a “wine castle”, which is certainly worth popping into for those cycling past.  There was lots of yummy food on offer (including soft-serve ice cream and wine tastings/sales) I brought a small bag of semi-dried apples, which were delicious, and got directions to the town campsite from the helpful information desk.  

The campsite was basic, but included a clearly marked camping area, running water for washing up, and clean (squat) toilets.  There was a Japanese motorcyclist sharing the site with me, which I always prefer to camping alone.

Although the day had included some light drizzle, I was lucky that it didn’t start to really rain until the late evening.

Saturday morning started off drizzly and did not let up all day as I cycled from Ikeda to Hidaka. 

The 15km or so from Ikeda to Makubetsu were along a quiet road, but from Makubetsu to Shimizu, I followed the busy Route 38 (including through Obihiro).  There was generally a good side-lane to cycle in, but I never really enjoy cycling with lots of cars – I need to concentrate on my position on the road far to much to enjoy the sights and sounds I pass by along the way. 

Luckily, the cycle from Shimizu to Hidaka was along a less busy stretch of road, but included a significant Mountain mass (1050m+), which I did not know about in advance!  The cycle up the pass took a long time (90minutes+ climbing) but was not too difficult with a general ~6% gradient.  Once at the top of the pass, and on the way down, there were a lot of tunnels! 

Once in Hidika, I decided that I was cold, wet, and tired enough to justify a night in a Hotel, so called into the only Hotel in town.  Unfortunately, they were booked solid and the only other Hotel nearby was 15km away… so I decided to stick to my original plan and stay at the family campsite in town.  It is inexpensive (¥400) and includes well-landscaped camping areas, nice bathrooms, clean wash-up facilities, and a sheltered dining area.  Once I go my tent all set up, boiled some water to have a pigeon-shower in my tent, and put on some fresh and dry clothes, I don’t mind camping tonight :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 13 Kawayu to Kushiro

Thursday 21 June
Day 13: Kawayu to Kushiro 108km (total 1109km)

I have had to alter my plans to stay at lake-side camp sites over the past two days because of rainy weather - while I don't mind cycling in the cold rain, I really feel that I need a hot shower and a warm dry roof over my head!

So, I am in Kusharo tonight - It is quite a large city, really, and has a good range of accommodation options. I am staying in a really nice hotel (Route Inn Hotel) in the inner-city (right across from the JR Station) for only ¥4900, and that includes breakfast!  Seriously, this is one of the nicest and definitely the best value hotels I have stayed in!  I am very happy after cycling 108km in cold and rainy conditions.

I cycled up to the viewing platform at Lake Mashu (20km round-trip) yesterday after leaving my panniers in my Hotel room, but it was very cloudy and I couldn't see much of the lake (which is a shame, it is supposedly one of the clearest lakes in the world). This morning, I cycled along Lake Kussharo on my way out of Kawayu and towards Teshikaga.  Even though it was rainy, it was a nice ride.

I am becoming quite aware that I need to move slowly but steadily towards Sapporo now, as I only have 6 days left of this holiday.  I am a bit sad to leave Japan behind soon, but also looking forward to seeing people on my return to Adelaide, and getting back into writing my thesis!