Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Twilight on top of a mountain

Date: Tuesday 4th August 2015

Weather: Pretty good. Today was certainly the less cloudy of the previous three; plus there was a breeze.

MP3 track of the day: Importance of being idol - Oasis

I hadn't set an alarm and so I found myself waking up at 10am! Now, on any other day I would have been annoyed with myself however, as I had very few plans for today, I was indeed glad that I had slept for eleven hours as I obviously needed it. Even though I'd slept in until 10am, I didn't rush. I checked my emails and today's weather forecast before heading for a nice long shower. As I looked in the mirror I did indeed look a lot better; my eyes were not blood-shot and the bags had decreased. After having my usual morning chat with the receptionist, I found myself heading out at the respectable time of midday.

Having missed breakfast I went straight into town where I killed an hour walking towards the old Russian Consulate before heading for lunch. I, of course, went to the 'Lucky Perriot' for another burger however, this time I went to their more famous branch right on the harbour front. There were two problems with this; firstly, this was the more famous outlet and secondly, I found myself having lunch at the same time as everyone else (instead of my usual 3pm lunch time). This resulted in a huge queue which I would have normally walked away from ... if I wasn't trying to kill time. I therefore stayed in the queue and ordered the teryaki burger (delicious). Due to the place being swamped, I had little choice but to take a table located within the smoking second. This 'stand alone' room was actually not as bad as you would think. Firstly it was located at the rear of the restaurant over-looking the waterfront. Secondly, due to the volume of people, it would appear that 60% of the smoking section were not actually smoking and finally, due to the smoke, the ventilation system was better than anywhere else in the building making it the coolest room. Sadly all of these benefits didn't speed up my order which took about an hour - from when I first joined the queue - to when it arrived on my table. Still it was delicious and it was a little sad that it was probably my last.

With lunch consumed I went back into the 'warehouse craft stores' I'd visited two days ago to look for a photo book, and to kill two more hours. I was successful in neither of these aspects; after an hour and a half of shopping the time was 3:30pm and so I decided to climb the mountain an hour earlier than I had scheduled.

In all bar one aspect, the climb up the mountain was so easy that I couldn't believe more people weren't doing it. It only took thirty minutes or so, the path was well looked after and there were loads of signs so it was hard to get lost. The only downside was that due to the mountainsides vegetation closing in, it was very, very humid. Not to put a too finer point on it but, the back of my shirt was saturated with sweat that, even six hours later, the 'sweat ring' can still be seen. Sweat was dripping off my face and every-so-often I stopped to drink water wondering why I just didn't 'skip out the middle-man' and pour it on my back. Luckily when I finally arrived at the observation platform - on top of the mountain - I was greeted by a strong breeze, a cloud-covered sun and an amazing view. I stopped and looked over the railings;'this was going to be good' I thought to myself.

Slightly ashamed of my present appearance, I stayed within this area and allowed the breeze to try and dry out my t-shirt. I waited for at least twenty minutes, taking an occasional shot of the view below. The whole of Hakodate could be seen. Hakodate is a long thin city which is at a kind of peninsular. As it stretches out into the sea, it looks as though someone has pinched it in the middle as, at one point, the sea almost cuts Hakodate off from the mainland. I stared at this view until my t-shirt had gone from 'drenched' to 'moist'. I then headed to where other 'rope-way users therefore, not sweaty' people were congregated. I made my way onto the observation deck which gave a more impressive view than the other place. Finally I went inside to checkout the shop (dull), the restaurant and the café … which didn't open until 5:30pm (why Japanese people!). On my way up the mountain I'd promised my 'sweat-stained' body that I would take it to the café for a nice drink and a slice of cake; as the time was only 4:30pm this would have to wait therefore, I bought a bottle of water, from a can machine, and consumed it quickly.

The time rolled on to 5:15pm and I decided to move from my position over-looking the sea, to a position over-looking the city. Though nightfall wasn't due for another two hours, people were starting to erect tri-pods in the best spots meaning that, I decided to follow suit. At first there was plenty of room for people who just wanted to take a photo and leave however, as we moved closer to dusk space started to fill up.

For the first hour life was pretty dull. It was only at around 6:30pm when the sun started to set that things got interesting. Between 6pm and 6:30pm bus loads of Chinese tourists had swarmed the area and my elbows had never been so busy. It was a constant battle trying to keep the space I had stood at, for over an hour, 'Chinese free'. It was at this point that I learnt another benefit of being able to speak two languages. Instead of using language to connect and bring people together, I managed to successfully do the opposite by switching the language I spoke, to the one the current Chinese person - who was using to ask me to move – couldn't speak. This was great and it allowed me to remain in my position until 8pm when I decided that it was time to depart.

The constant fighting had been worth it. It would appear that, for every inch the sun fell, another set of street lights came on. I've never seen a city go from light to dark in such a commanding position before and, I made sure that I photographed throughout this period.

When darkness fully descended, is when I took most of my photos. Once I was content I decided to hog the space no more, and retreat inside to head towards the restaurant. You see; I'd checked the café menu and the restaurant lunch menu and, from what I could see, if I paid an extra £5 I could have a full meal instead of a drink and a small cake. The restaurant also had tables next to the windows however, all of these seats had been taken and there was a queue of people waiting. I decided that it wasn't worth queuing therefore, I headed back up to the café.

Once inside the café I noticed that the place looked as though it was closing. I inquired and soon discovered that the café would be closed in forty minutes. I also noticed that they were serving the same food as downstairs and that, if I was out in forty minutes, I could have whatever I liked and I could practically sit at whichever window seat I wanted. I ordered the lamb, and a drink, and two small cakes for dessert. Due to being famished I had to try and slow myself down; I had plenty of time and I wanted to make the most of the view out of my window. Outside Hakodate was all lit up and looked incredible; I couldn't believe how lucky I'd been.

By the time I had eaten my meal, the staff had put a 'closed' sign outside of the café door. The queue for the rope-way was huge; it went up two floors and did a loop on the forecourt behind the observation building. With little else to do I bought a 'one-way' ticket (using a discount coupon) and joined the queue realising that it would probably had been quicker to walk down the mountain … if the path was lit.

Given it's size the queue moved incredibly quickly, probably due to the two gondolas working overtime. In twenty minutes I found myself in a gondola and in another five, I was back on the streets of Hakodate walking towards my hotel.

I got back around 9:30pm and told the receptionist all about my day. I then inquired as to what time I had to vacate my room which, as it happens, gives me plenty of time to grab breakfast before checking-out and going to the train station to get my train to Tomakomai.

So this ends my first stop on my Hokkaido tour; Hakodate. It has been a great four days however, any longer than four days and I think that I would have been seriously bored. Hakodate has almost killed me with it's fireworks, parades, mountains and national parks. This has certainly been the busiest start to one of my trips however, it has also been one of the best. Tomorrow I move onto Tomakomai; a place famed for nothing. This is just a small town with excellent rail, road and ferry connections. It will be my base for the next four nights as I travel around the southern-central part of Hokkaido … well it will be if I get up on time!

Toodle Pip!

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