Sunday, 21 August 2016

The big push

Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st August 2016

Weather: Beautiful for both days … still too hot though

MP3 track of the day: Breathe - Monkey Majik


Number of days: 10
Total Kilometres driven: 3,466 (2,153 miles)
Total petrol cost: 22,942 Yen (£175)
Total Highway charges – 2 bridges and 2 tunnels: 7,920 Yen (£60.43)
Total spent on holiday: 118,000 Yen (£900)

Due to not a lot happening, I've decided to put both Saturday and Sunday together as one blog post. As a quick summary; on Saturday I travelled from Takamatsu over the bridge - just to the west of Takamatsu - to Okayama. From there I turned east and into Himeji. From then on I went north until I hit the northern coastline, when I turned and headed east again. I skipped under Fukui and took the same road I'd come in on – the 158 – all the way to Matsumoto. From there it was just a short trip across some mountains to my over-night stop of Ueda. On Sunday I went east and crossed even more mountains before taking the '17' all the way north to the '252', which took me over even more mountains and into Aizu-Wakamatsu. From there I crossed over my final mountain range before driving around Fukushima and ending up in Sendai – my home – at around 3pm Sunday afternoon. The below will add flavour to that journey.

Saturday 20th: I slept 'okay' last night. The bed was comfortable enough and I had exhausted myself with my days excursion to Nao-Shima. Therefore the only thing keeping me awake were my noisy neighbours. True the time was only 8pm however, I got out of bed and opened my door to see some of them chatting in, I think, Chinese. They said sorry. I could still hear them during the night until 1am – when they seemed to have gone to bed – however, it now wasn't loud enough to disturb my slumber.

I woke up at 1am and got ready as quietly as possible. Due to having packed the night before, I found myself in my car and ready for the off at 1:50am. I proceeded out of Takamatsu as fast as possible however, traffic lights still plagued my journey.

I made it to the bridge crossing around forty minutes later. It was a shame I couldn't see anything however, the bridge itself was all lit up and I did enjoy that. I also felt that it was worth it and now, having arrived on Honshu's southern coastline at 3am (though £20 less due to the bridge's charges), I felt that I could risk travelling along Japan's congested southern coastline until I hit Himeji. My previous plan had been to leave Takamatsu at a 'normal' time and, once across the bridge, head north to Tottori as fast as possible however, with very few roads heading east from Tottori, I felt that going along the bottom of Honshu to Himeji could save me as much as three hours!

I could tell that the '2', at any normal hour, would be jammed solid of traffic. This wasn't a normal hour. I flew along it, all the way to Himeji where I saw a dark silhouette of the castle as I drove past. I then headed north – stopping for a little bit of fuel – relieved that my gamble had paid off; I'd left the southern shores whilst it was still night.

After heading north for a while I then had to cut east. I choose the '412' as my 'eastern road', as it looked like a normal road which was used daily. Not long after I'd turned onto this road did I realised that this road hadn't been used for quite some time. It would appear that, to use this road, I had to help cut back the bushes and long grasses which were trying to smother it. What was worse was that the road wound it's way up a mountainside and had no protective barriers from the drops. I was so glad that it was now light as, if I'd driven along this road at night, things could have been a lot worse. I concentrated hard as I pleaded for the road to end … I hardly remember blinking.

Once off the '412' I met up with the '153' which I'd used just less than a week ago to get to Shikoku. This took me all the way to the coast where I then headed east along the '27'. Unbelievably I found myself sixty kilometres south of Fukui at 10am … only eight hours after I'd set off (going from Fukui to Shikoku took ten hours … and that was a shorter route). I stopped for lunch before getting on my way again.

Once again I fell foul of trying to get over / around Japan's central mountains in order to get onto the right road which would take me to Matsumoto (a city near my night-stop). It took an hour or two just to get myself aligned so that, at midday, I finally found myself joining the '158' which would take me all the way to Matsumoto. This is the road I'd used to get to Fukui and I remembered what I'd learnt from that previous journey. For example, I did not drive through the centre of Takayama – though I did get lost trying to find the by-pass (I hate cities!!!). By 2pm I'd past Takayama and things were going well; I was only eight kilometres from Matsumoto and my speed was looking good … that was until I hit Kamikochi. Kamikochi is a beautiful national park – high in the mountains - which I've visited before (check out my blog). Unfortunately, I'd managed to drive past the park at the same time as everyone else was trying to leave. Scores of coaches, buses, mini buses and cars were all trying to work their way along the '158' – a single lane mountainous road – towards Matsumoto. The views were extremely beautiful however, nothing could lighten my spirits … my speed had decreased to thirty kilometres an hour.

I finally arrived on the outskirts of Matsumoto at 4:00pm … the time I'd wanted to arrive at my hotel in Ueda. Sadly, the town of Ueda was still forty kilometres east of Matsumoto: i.e. on the opposite side of Matsumoto to where I was. This meant that I had to drive through the city itself, as there was no by-pass. Time ticket away.

By 5pm I'd left the city of Matsumoto and was trying to reach Ueda as quickly as possible. You see, my plan was to get to Ueda at 4pm having filled up my car and having eaten tea. I could then write this blog and, hopefully, go to sleep at 6pm. It was 6pm – after having travelled over ANOTHER mountain range – by the time I hit the outskirts of the city. Yes, city! When I looked at the map, I thought Ueda was a small town but no, looking at the city as I came down from the mountains showed it's true extent. I filled up my car and ate dinner quickly. I then discovered that Ueda's road system was stupid, and that the whole city is practically grid-locked each and every night. Finally, heroically I made it to my hotel … to discover that there car park was full. I then drove to their 'secondary car park' and walked back to the hotel. In my room, I only took out things I needed from my bags before cleaning my teeth and crashing on my bed at 8pm. I was going to get up at 1am again however, due to getting into bed two hours later than I'd planned, I decided to set my alarm for 2:30am. Anyway … tomorrow is a Sunday … should be dead on the roads.

Sunday 21st: DO THE JAPANESE EVER SLEEP! I got up at 2:30am and left one hour later. Within twenty minutes I found myself stuck behind a lorry going up a mountain road. Thankfully, he let me by quickly. I didn't find another lorry going in the same direction as I however, hundreds – including a tractor – were going in the opposite direction.

I'm not sure how high Ueda is from sea level but, the road kept going down for mile after mile. I checked my map just to make sure that the next 'place of interest' wasn't the centre of the Earth. Finally, with dawn approaching, I made it into a valley where I picked up the '17'. I know that there are many wonderful sites in the world however, driving through Japan's mountainous heartland when dawn breaks has to be up there. I know I haven't mentioned it a lot but, I hope as you read this blog, your mental image is of me driving down some windy road with beautiful mountains all around me because … that is exactly how it was.

I took the '17' north and put my foot to the floor. The '17' was one of the main roads to – and from – Tokyo therefore, I wanted to get off it before 7am / 8am. By 8am I'd just made it to the '252'. This road would take me across yet another mountain range to Aizu-Wakamatsu. This is my favourite road in Japan because, unlike a lot of mountainous roads in Japan, it doesn't skip the top of the mountain by having a large tunnel half way up it. At 9am I found myself out of my car, on the top of this mountain, looking down at a valley of lakes with beautiful small wooded islands. The view was exceptional and, I wasn't the only one who thought so; a Japanese gentleman and I passed the time of day as we just looked at the valley below us.

I made it to Aizu-Wakamatsu at 10am. I was starving and ready for lunch however, none of the restaurants were open yet. I therefore had no choice; I opened my last packet of 'Animal shortbread biscuits' and drove out of Aizu. I drove up another beautiful mountain range before coming down onto the outskirts of the city of Fukushima. I skipped around it and, once on the '4' (the main road to home) I stopped for the final time for lunch.

The drive from Northern Fukushima to Sendai occurred without incident. Last time I drove down this road, I was going to Fukui and it was pitch black. It was nice to be able to see where I'd travelled.

I finally arrived home at 3pm. Once I'd parked my car, a flurry of activity occurred with me unpacking bags, doing laundry and repacking bags (I am off to a friends house tomorrow for two nights). So there it is; my trip to Shikoku. Yes, it was hot. Yes, there was a tone of driving and yes, the traffic and traffic lights were unbearable at points however, I would give anything to be back there right now. I did manage to see everything I wanted to however, it would have been nice to have a few more days just to enjoy it ... and to be able to slow down a little.

In December I have, what is possibly, my final holiday in Japan. I would like to see Western Honshu (around Hiroshima) but whether I will, I am not sure. The drive is a little bit less than to Shikoku – only by three or four hours – however, it will be during winter and so a lot of the mountainous roads will be closed (meaning that I … AND EVERYONE ELSE … will have to drive along the coast). I could put more night-stops in … I could use the highway … I drive through the night. At the moment I'm not sure; I need to relax from this trip, take a breathe, and then get my calculator out and work out which method of getting to Western-Honshu would be the best for me.

Toodle Pip!

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