Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Snap shot: Driving

Date: Sunday 9th August 2015

Weather: Terrible in Tomakomai however, as I drove north, the weather became beautiful. Sunny skies with fluffy white clouds however, it wasn't that hot.

MP3 track of the day: Drove all night – Roy Orbinson

Now before I go on, I suppose I should explain what 'snap shot' means within the title of this blog. It basically means that this blog will be a shortened version of my usual blogs, due to a variety of reasons. It is, in effect, a 'snap shot' of my trip.


I woke up a little later than I'd wanted to, but I felt ready and prepared. My plan for today, was to leave the southern part of Hokkaido and drive to the north-eastern part where I will spend three nights. Last night, I'd decided that I would drive two-thirds of the way, to my hotel, before stopping and looking around a lake called Mashu-ko. This was a solid plan however, as I was eating my breakfast this morning, I looked at the map again and the distance between me and my over-night stop didn't seem too bad. I therefore felt that I could deviate my route slightly and have a 'lunch-stop' in Furano - a town famous for having fields of lavender and flowers surrounding it. After my lunch-stop I would resume my trip north past Mashu-ko and on towards my hotel. With that sorted I finished my McDonald's hot pancake breakfast and went back to my car.

The roads towards Furano were beautiful; I had specifically chosen a route which went past as few urban settlements as possible, and as many mountains, lakes and forests as possible. The further I got from Tomakomai the better the weather got too; I found myself winding my way through these forested roads until I came to a stopping place with a view of a long straight road looking as though it ended at the foot of a huge mountain. I stopped for a quick photograph before driving into the town of Furano.

As soon as I entered the town of Furano I saw a sign for a lavender farm which was only a couple of kilometres away. The time was just about midday and I wasn't that hungry just yet; I therefore decided to press onto this lavender farm. Once there I noticed two things. Firstly the farm wasn't actually that big; I had images in my head of hills and hills covered in purple but, that wasn't to be with this farm. This farm had just one side of a hill covered in flowers. The second thing I noticed was that there wasn't a lot of lavender. It would appear that the lavender had already been cut at this farm making me a very unhappy boy. There were other flowers – which were beautiful – creating ribbons of every colour under the sun however, this area is supposed to be famous for it's lavender and, it was the purple I really wanted to see.

I spent a little time photographing any flower which was in bloom, always being aware of the hot sun in the sky and the drive which was still in front of me. When coming into Furano, I saw a sign for a cheese factory selling pizza. I thought that this would make a delightful place for lunch therefore, I drove over to the factory which only took a couple of minutes. Once there I discovered that the cheese factory was located within a beautiful forest making the area a lot cooler than most of Furano. The factory consisted of three parts; the first was the actual factory where tourists could book onto a 'cheese making' session. The second part housed a unsuitably small restaurant and a shop above. Finally the last part of the complex housed a cafe style area where ice cream could be bought. In all, there were three milk related products for sale here – ice cream, cheese pizzas and cheesecakes – which, having trouble deciding which one to try, I ended up buying one of each. First up was the pizza; luckily for me I found a table almost immediately and sat down. I had been advised that it would take around forty minutes from placing my order, to actually receiving said pizza. Though slightly anxious about the time, I still agreed to wait. The staff behind the counter were furiously making pizzas as fast as they could. To cook the pizza, the restaurant had a proper pizza oven.

Within the shop, I had tried a free taster of this factories cheese and it didn't gain any awards from me however, once heated and placed upon a pizza, the cheese became delicious. I enjoyed my pizza so much that, It wasn't until I reached for a slice which wasn't there, did I realise that I'd eaten the whole thing. At this point you would have thought that I would have been slightly miffed; on the contrary, I was delighted that I still had room within my stomach. This meant that I could try the ice cream (I went for the milk and grape flavours) plus the cheese cake. Though the ice cream was delicious, I would have to rank it last, out of the three, due to a beautiful pizza taking the top stop, followed by a delicious and creamy cheesecake being awarded silver. With that it really was time to go. I made my way back to the car thankful that I had parked it under a tree. Once inside I put the air-conditiong on low and checked the map. The time was just after 2pm.

Though the first part of my trip had flown by, this second part seemed to take for ever. Looking on the map the phase of the trip from Furano to Mashu-ko looked just as long as the trip from Tomakomai to Furano and yet, it seemed to take forever. Sure, once I got close to Mashu-ko the roads started to become very twisty - therefore reducing speed and increasing time - however, before then the roads had been 'Romanesque' straight. This is one thing I have noticed in Hokkaido; the roads are amazingly straight. I have not witnessed this in any other part of Japan. Anyway, time was getting on and I was still an hour or so off Mashu-ko though, pretty soon, having day light left to actually see Mashu-ko became a secondary thought as I checked my petrol gauge. 'Charles' – which is the name I have given to my car – hardly drinks a drop of fuel when I am either travelling downhill or along flat roads. Go up hill however, and the bars disappear faster than if you put a Mars Bar in front of my mate Alan. It was getting on to six, light was fading, it was a Sunday and Mashu-ko was still at least forty-five minutes away. I therefore had a predicament; do I drive slowly and risk getting to Mashu-ko after all of the petrol stations had closed or, do I drive quickly and hope I don't run out of fuel. In the end I decided to try a bit of both; I tried to go uphill as conservatively as possible however, once on a level or downhill road, I disregarded the speed limit as quickly as I disregard bowls as an actual sport.

I crept into the town, located just to the south of Mashu-ko. Looking at my gauge, I had 'two bars' left. By now I had turned my music off and my eyes were equally focused on the road, my fuel gauge and the satellite navigation map which I had reprogrammed to show me where the closest petrol stations were. The navigation system had indicated that there were four petrol stations around this area and, as I made my way to the closest, I found it shut. The next one was shut too and, at this point, my hands were starting to get a little sweaty. Luckily I didn't need to search for the fourth petrol station due to the fact that the third one was open. As I approached, it's bright neon-lights beamed out into the dark like a rescue ship searching the water for survivors. I dived into the petrol station and put the petrol nozzle into my car before anyone could come running out to say that the petrol station was 'closing'.

As I filled up, my mind returned back to Mashu-ko. It was now pitch black and I was cursing my decision to visit Furano. Unbeknown to me but, this wouldn't be the only time where distances in Hokkaido would catch me out.

Once my car was full, I paid the bill and proceeded to put the details of my hotel into my sat-nav. Now, for tonight's hotel – and the two nights after that – I would be staying in one booked by a Japanese friend who managed to get a great deal (three nights with breakfast and free parking; Comfort Inn, £45.00. I couldn't book it myself as the website was in Japanese) however, the hotel wasn't where I thought it was going to be. Once I'd punched the address into my Sat-nav, I noticed that the route chosen took me to a town called Kitami. I actually wanted to stay in a town called Shari - as it is the closest town to the Shiretoko National Park; Kitami is another hour away – however, that was not to be. Tonight though, it didn't really matter; I was currently at Mashu-ko and, along with Kitami and Shari, this formed a triangle meaning that, from my current position, it was just as quick to get to either town. Before setting off I phoned the hotel to let them know that I would arrive waaaay after my proposed 'check-in' time, and then off I went. Due to being dark, there isn't really much I can say about the trip to Kitami other than, at first, the road was full of 'S' bends as I snaked my way off a mountain. After that the road became as straight as an arrow.

Once in Kitami, I discovered that the city, though old looking, possessed a certain charm about it. Like Tomakomai, most of the restaurants bizarrely appeared to be in out-of-town shopping areas making me very glad that I had my car. After a quick, but delicious, ramen I followed the sat-nav to my hotel and finally checked in. The room seemed nice and had everything I could ask for bar wireless internet. Being very tired I plonked my bag onto the floor, had a quick shower and put my drinks in the fridge. Due to being an hour further away from Shiretoko National Park than I had planned, I changed my alarm time accordingly.

So tomorrow I am off to Shiretoko National Park and I can't wait. This national park is supposed to be Hokkaido's prettiest and, if that is true, it should be very pretty indeed.

Toodle Pip!

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