Thursday, 27 August 2015

Snap shot - What could have been

Date: Friday 14th August 2015

Weather: The weather wasn't bad however, as the day progressed, more and more clouds filled the sky.

MP3 track of the day: Bad day - Daniel Powter

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 at 7am, within my beautiful onsen hotel room, fully relaxed. I had a long shower, got ready and slipped back into my Yukata. Breakfast was served in the same room as yesterday and, as I walked there, I noticed that my mosquito bites had much improved. So far, all was well in my world.

Breakfast was another buffet consisting of both Japanese and western food. Being me, I had a mix; I grabbed some cooked salmon and miso soup from the `Japanese` quarter, before stopping for fruit, waffles and toast in the `everywhere but Japan` quarter. Almost immediately, I noticed that there was a chocolate fountain surrounded by children. As if I was parting the seas, I pushed my way to the front and took no less than five marshmallows covered with chocolate. Other adults looked at me with a `that`s for the children` expression - plus, I am sure I saw a small glimpse of jealously - but I didn't care. The chocolate wasn't the best; but it wasn't bad either.

After breakfast I returned to my room where I became western again. I packed my bags and left the hotel. As I put my bags within my car I looked back at the hotel fondly. God it was ugly, but it had been a great experience. Before leaving the area, I took a few photos trying to find angles of this beautiful valley where the buildings didn't ruin the view.

Before I begin explaining the day, I feel as though it would be a good idea to give you a little more detail in regards to the area of Hokkaido which I found myself in. I was currently on the outskirts of the Daisetsu National Park. This is Japan`s largest national park and is commonly referred to as the `roof of Hokkaido` as it holds Hokkaido`s tallest mountains. It covers an area of 230,000 hectares. It`s best to think of the park as a giant clock, with the numbers of the clock creating a perimeter. As mentioned above, the park is home to some of the tallest mountains in Hokkaido and it is the only park - which I`ve found away - that actually allows you to go off the beaten track and discover it`s secrets. Due to this, there are no roads linking, say, ` three O`clock` to `nine O`clock`; If driving you have to, pretty much, circle the park ... and quite right too. My onsen hotel was located at `two O`clock`. Ashikawa was at `twelve O`clock` with the main urban areas of Hokkaido - Sapporo, Chitose and Tomakomai - running from `nine O`clock` all the way down to `six O`clock`. Today, there were some `okay` attractions located at about `three to four O`clock` plus the beautiful town of Furano - which I`d been too; but I hadn't looked around the area in any great detail - at about `eight O`clock`. With the `okay attractions` being the closest, I planned to visit them first, spending only the smallest amount of time possible before circling the park and heading to Furano. I`d completely under-estimated just how big this park is.

I stopped for fuel and then proceeded in a southern direction whereas, almost everyone else who`d stayed a night within the onsen complex, headed north towards the highway and Asahikawa. The line of cars heading north was bumper-to-bumper and I did wonder why more people didn't take the opportunity to explore this wonderful valley - where the onsen hotels were located - before joining the traffic when it was lighter. Anyway it mattered not; I was heading south on the eastern-side of the park with nothing in front of me.

You would have thought that, with the loss of traffic, progress would have been swift however, it was anything but. Once again Hokkaido`s legendary wide straight roads were nowhere to be seen and I spent, what felt like, hours on roads which clung to the perimeters of mountains and lakes. I stopped once at a dam to take a few photos and then, after a further forty minutes of driving, I made it to my first attraction ... a stone bridge.

A stone bridge doesn't sound like much however, depending on which season you come to visit it, the bridge could be crossing a dried wasteland or, submerged under a lake of water. Unfortunately for me, I`d arrived when there wasn't a single drop of water; I had hopped to see the bridge at least party submerged. As I looked at the bridge, I must be honest and say that it didn't fill me with excitement however, I did wonder how on earth this bridge survived being totally covered in ice cold water during the winter months. The bridge seemed to be built in the classic European style with arches all the way along. I took a few photos and left pretty quickly.

The lake took just as long to get to and provided the same feeling of disappointment. The clouds had closed and, having seen many lakes on this trip, I felt that this lake was possibly a `lake too far`. I quickly took a photo and got back in my car.

The time was already getting close to 1pm. Using my clock, I`d started the day at around `2 O`clock` and I`d only traveled as far as `four O`clock` therefore, it was obvious that, trying to get to Furano today - located at `eight O`clock` - was futile. I looked for something around the south of the national park and found the city of Chitose. The city held Hokkaido`s main airport which, I've been to however, I've never spent anytime within the city itself. Though there was no entry within my guidebook for Chitose, I decided to check it out.

Once at the southern part of the park, I found Hokkaido`s straight roads again. It was true that I had a car or two in front of me however, surprisingly, I wasn't in a mood today to drive fast therefore, I kept inline and drove at around 54 - 59kms (which is still speeding).

At one point, I was descending down a long straight when a car from behind me over-took me and the two cars in front. The guy had indicated, chosen his location for the over-take well and had completed the move safely. A part from travelling over the speed limit, I felt as though it was a `textbook` over-take providing no hint of danger to the trees, mountains and grass which surrounded us. Suddenly, from the bottom of the road, a policeman flew a red flag which indicates that the leading car must stop. This caused a chain reaction in the rest of us and we all braked until we were within the speed limit.

In Japan, there are very few static speed cameras. Most speeding fines are handed out when the police set-up a `speed trap`. This consists of a hidden policeman, holding a speed camera, radioing a policeman further down the road to stop anyone travelling at least ten kilometers or more over the speed limit. As I drove past the man, I felt sorry for him; it looked as though this was a standard police sting. What was weird was that, next to the police officer, stood a line of `local pensioners` holding banners (which could not be seen from any great distance) and wearing a ta bard. It would appear that the town I was about to enter - which I shall name `town of speed camera death` - was holding a `speed awareness` weekend and, as I found out later, these groups had been setup all over the town.

Naturally, I kept my speed to within the speed limit as I crossed this town. Due to this, I found myself with plenty of time to think. My first thought was `if the town wants to run this kind of initiative, then they can at least make their town look a little prettier and give me something to look at`; the place was just a standard farm village with a few run-down shops. Secondly, the `sting` had occurred on the approach to the town, and not within the town itself. I hoped that, the guy who was stopped, had only been given a lecture because, the area where the over-take had occurred was full of trees. I proceeded though the town occasionally spotting the `do-gooders`; an unexplained hatred was building towards then and I decided that I wouldn't spend a single yen within this town. As soon as the towns `you are leaving blar blar blar` board came into view, it felt like the start of the race as every car`s speed instantly increased.

There was a good reason why Chitsose had been left out of my guidebook; there was nothing there. I spent only a handful of minutes driving around before filling up with fuel and heading back to Asahikawa. This did mean that I would have to go back through the `town of speed camera death` again however, not for very long. As I drove back to the town, I got myself mentally ready for the 50km drive.

Going back to my clock; I found myself at about `6:30pm` and finally, I was on the western-side of the park. Once through the `town of death` I stumbled upon a beautiful road numbered the `452`. It was everything you could want in a road; it was surrounded by a beautiful mountain landscape, it had the odd corner - so you didn't get bored - yet I could maintain a good speed. Best still, there wasn't a single car on the road heading in my direction ... not one! I was therefore loving the flow of the road and, with the sun setting, the terrain was gorgeous. There were, however, a lot of foxes on the road; some of which ran away as soon as they saw me coming however, some decided to claim the road as their own and it was me that, after checking for oncoming cars, had to swerve to avoid a collision.

This road went on and on and, I was quite sad when it finally finished in the town of Furano. As it was dark, I proceeded through the town and continued north to Asahikawa; this is where I`ll spend the next, and my final two nights in Hokkaido.

I arrived in Asahikawa at around 8pm. Due to entering the city from a different angle to two days ago, I missed the round-a-bout. Luckily, I had manged to set my car`s satnav (it`s all in Japanese) therefore, as I travelled through the city centre's idiotic one-way system, I managed to stop within my hotels car park without incident. Sadly, even through the dark I could still see the building where I would be spending the next two nights. The building looked as though it was a mash of two of three buildings, held together by corrugated aluminum. I gingerly approached the hotel and went in. I was greeted by the most lovely elderly couple who proceeded to help me with my bags; they then showed me my room and where everything was within the hotel. Though the inside was certainly better than the outside, it was extremely old. The shower room made me laugh: due to being within the centre of the building, it had no external windows therefore, no view. The owners had through of that and, on the rear wall, had erected a fake window, with a poster of a mountain inside, surrounded by fake plastic flowers. I`m pretty sure that it was designed with the intention of making you feel relaxed as you showered.

Once back within my room, the couple had left me a small drink of ice tea and a small bowl of ice cream. My room seemed comfortable enough and, for the first time on this trip, I had internet connection within said room; I ate the bowl of ice cream quickly and returned the bowl to the couple. I then headed out into town and towards the train station I`d visited today's earlier. My plan had been to go into the shopping centre connected to the train station and use their foot court however, sadly, it was shut. I therefore went to a convenience store, bought some sandwiches and snacks before heading back to my hotel and consuming them, within my room, as I watched some TV on YouTube.

So today was a `what could have been day`. Once leaving the hotel, I really should have headed north with everyone else and gone to Furano, by-passing the bridge and lake I`d seen today. Tomorrow I won`t make the same mistake; I shall wake up early and head straight to the Furano area. I won`t leave until I am fully satisfied that all has been seen.

Toodle Pip!

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