MP3 track of the day: You're beautiful – James Blunt
Weather: Beautiful, both in Otaru and Sapporo. I couldn't have asked for better weather (considering the time of year).
As this was the only morning which I could sleep in this weekend, I took full liberty of the situation. Yesterday I was on a train, tomorrow I need to check-out, the day after I will be back on a train and then I'm back at work. I therefore felt no guilt getting up at 9am and lounging around until 10am. My hotel room was small but it had everything I needed; the bed was comfortable and the shower was warm however, the room was cold. This negative aspect was no one else’s fault but my own; in my 'sleepy' state last night, I'd forgotten that an air-conditioning unit could produce hot, as well as cold air. To test the theory I turned on said unit and was greeted by a waft of hot air. A mental note was made for this evening.
Today I was planning on heading to a small town called Otaru; 40km's north of Sapporo. As it was a small town I felt that the entire day was not needed. Indeed, if I got there too early I would find myself board and wondering around until nightfall where, apparently, miniature igloos, with candles inside, are lit all around town. I therefore sat, within my hotel room, and wrote yesterday's blog, occasionally looking out of the window to see cars skidding within the falling snow.
At midday my PC was away and I was heading into town once more. After a quick breakfast I found an underground walkway which led all the way to the train station. Sure I missed seeing the ice sculptures however, I also missed slipping on the ice and waiting to cross roads at traffic lights. I thought it was an acceptable swap. The first part of the walkway had shops on either side, which meant people were 'criss-crossing' all over the place. The second part had no shops meaning that people formed orderly lines. I preferred the second situation.
I eventually surfaced into the middle of Sapporo's train station. I scanned the many signs for the first one which read 'tickets' and I went to join a rather large queue. In no time at all a Japanese lady, with a huge red hat and a smile just as big, asked me where I wanted to go. 'Otaru' was my answer to which she asked me to follow her to an automated machine. As the next train to Otaru was leaving in four minutes I purchased a ticket from said machine, said thank you and headed to 'platform 5'.
The train was packed meaning that I stood the whole way though, as the journey was only forty minutes, it mattered not. As the train followed the coast I saw waves crash against the snowy beaches deciding that 'going for a dip' might not be the best idea. On the other side of the track I saw small communities, which seemed to have been lost in the snow. If it wasn't for the amount of people I might have thought that I was travelling through the Arctic, seeing abandoned 'supply stations' left to stand forever within the cold, snowy barren wasteland which lay before me. At this point I was wondering what Otaru would look like.
Otaru was similar to Omaru in New Zealand; both had once been prosperous sometime in their history (Omaru because of it's local white stone and Otaru because of herring fishing). Due to living within a global society both had lost their importance however, both had retained some beautiful grand buildings as a constant reminder of their 'glory days'. The station was no different; looking like a grand 19th century European train station, it was beautiful and perched on the top of a hill. The main road lead away, downhill to the coast. Dotted along the main road were old 19th century buildings, grand and defiant despite their towns lack of importance.
I wondered down the main road with a good feeling. This 'good feeling' felt even better when the first two shops I found sold expensive cakes and chocolates. I continued down the road with a bank of snow as high as me to my right.
Finally I had made it to Otaru's canal. On one side stood the town and on the other were lovely old warehouses; beautifully maintained and restored. Huge icicles formed from the roofs and, with the snow all around, the scene was very picturesque. I walked along the canal path taking photo upon photo. Looking at the scene in front of me, I was fully expecting horse drawn carriages, street lamps with lit candles inside and men wearing tall hats. It was a strange and historic place; it shouldn't have fit within it's Japanese surroundings … but it did.
I walked the entire length of the canal before roaming around the city itself. Even the grand buildings could not hide the fact that some shops were abandoned, others closed and many seemed to be on the brink of closing. Still, the city had charm and as I walked, I liked the little place more and more.
All too soon it was 4pm. I was in the mood for 'afternoon tea' but trying to find a place with both cake and hot chocolate proved to be a mission. I went back to the train station (as I remembered seeing a café inside) but, at £8 for a slice of cake and a hot chocolate, I declined and looked for something cheaper. In the end I went to the tourist information office where, though no cake, a bar served a lovely hot chocolate for three pounds. After this I moped around town until nightfall.
I felt as though I had entered a Christmas card. You know the one; an early 19th century street scene with candle lit lamps and shops open with snow on the ground. As I turned down a snowy street I was greeted by a curved line of old store buildings and miniature igloos, with candles in, which illuminated the area. As I walked along this street I almost ate the atmosphere, it was that thick. There were chocolatiers and cake sellers all along the street with staff giving 'free tasters' outside the shops entrance. I tried as many as I could, particularly liking the 'cheesecake mix'. I went into the shop but alas, you had to buy a whole 'family sized' cake. Eventually I did find a 'cream cake' which had cream and custard jammed between two circular pastry pieces. I'm not sure whether the cream enjoyed its surroundings; one bite and it made a bid for freedom covering my gloves, hands, scarf and coat. I was covered in cream but I didn't care; the cake was so delicious I was smiling from ear to ear. A sign of a good cake.
By now the time was 6:30pm. I walked along the, now candle lit, canal path before heading back to the train station. I had thoroughly enjoyed my trip but now it was time to head back to Sapporo. With my head slightly low I walked back to the train station, stopping at a chocolate shop for some luxury chocolate, before boarding another packed train.
Once back in Sapporo I made my way to the ice park. The anti-climax of the train journey had brought on fatigue; with my feet hurting it was therefore a mission to keep going. To perk myself up I played one of my favourite 'city games'; it's called 'follow a bottom' and it can be played by both sexes. The rules are simple; find a nice 'rear' and follow it, occasionally changing as not to look weird. Being Japan's 5th largest city finding a 'rear going my way' wasn't too difficult; keeping up with it however was proving problematic due to the crowds. After a short while I abandoned the game and went for a meal. Once consumed I went to the ice park.
Annoyingly the weather was perfect. It was annoying because I was so tired I couldn't enjoy it. I tried to keep going but, I just couldn't. I saw some of the sculptures, bought some more souvenirs and watched local musical acts performing on an ice stage. One act consisted of four young girls, who’s voices weren't that strong but they had practised their dance routine thoroughly and were enjoying their moment. The thing that made me smile was, somewhere near the front of the stage, was a group of adults jumping around with lights in their hands. I presumed that they were family members of the girls as they were acting like a crowd at a proper Japanese gig (to make the girls feel special). There was one gentleman filming the whole act and everyone else was cheering; the whole scene was very heart warming. As I left the park I had a warm 'fuzzy feeling'; this is why I love Japan as the people make others feel special for trying, no matter how good or bad they are.
My feet complained with every step I took to get back to my hotel. Once in my room I collapsed on the bed, ate chocolate and read my book. Before going to sleep I made sure that I turned the air-conditioning unit on.
What a day. Tomorrow, sadly, is my last day.