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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Surprise, Surprise - Which way? (Day 196)

A day travelling to Mount Fuji with some surprises along the way...which way?

Our last morning with Cleverson, chatting about best design of a small accommodation. I think the three of us have a desire to create affordable and flexible homes. I had read an interesting article about New Story, a non-profit company that builds housing in the developing world and in crisis areas. They have designed and recently unveiled a 3d-printed 4-room home that can be built in a day for just $4,000. Their aim was to significantly decrease costs, construct faster and improve the quality of the home. Not only that, it has also taken into account to easily be able to get access to these areas and to use materials that can be found around the world. It looks as if they have achieved this.

Our plans had changed from last night to this morning. We were going to visit Yokahama on our way to Mount Fuji, but after a fairly sleepless night (a backache and the mosquitos have found me) and still feeling tired, I realised that we were doing too much so decided to go straight to our destination, just stopping off in Odawara which was on the way. Our journey still included 4 train rides and a bus.

We finished packing, said our fond farewells to Cleverson (love this man) and down to the station where a very helpful fellow customer helped us communicate with the Station Assistant to activate our Japan Rail Passes and reserve seats on the Bullet train from Tokyo to Odawara.

The 80km journey took just 25 minutes in our first bullet train ride. Very comfy seats, lots of leg room, power sockets and nice large windows. So next to no time we were in Odawara. Tim found a recommended café on google maps and we walked out of the station….No, wrong exit. Back through the other way past lots of shops (and cafes) to the other exit, turned right….no wrong way so turned around and eventually found this small and rather smoky establishment. We chatted with the owner (as much as our pigeon Japanese and his pigeon English could) had a mediocre coffee and meanwhile found that there was Odawara-Joshi Park with a Castle in it. (Tim likes castles).

We found the Park. I found it difficult to pull my bag due to the deep gravel so used the backpack feature for the first time – Hurrah! We stopped to have our picnic lunch (with a couple of pigeons copulating in front of us – what great lunchtime entertainment!), then walked over the moat, through some grand gates to be greeted with rows of beautiful purple irises and later a bank of Hydrangeas. Oh my! I didn’t use to like these bushes. We had one in our front garden when I was a child and the pink was, I found, rather gaudy. I have changed my mind. What a sight! Pure white, tinted – too bright pink to a range of stunning purples and then the deepest most vibrant blues. And these colours are all based on a clever change of soil pH levels (Acidic for blue, pH 5.5 – 6.5 for purple, and higher alkaline level for pink). Absolutely stunning.

We walked along the sloping path to Odawara Castle, first built at the beginning of the 15th century and became the largest castle of medieval times in Japan. The castle has been attacked, destroyed by earthquakes and fire and rebuilt a number of times. We put our bags into lockers and climbed the huge steps to the entrance. The gallery had lots of information in Japanese. There was an App that we could have downloaded, but we didn’t have too much time, so didn’t bother. There was a warrior statute that you could stick your head through, Tim and I couldn’t resist and afterwards, we saw a stylish European gentleman looking tempted to do the same. I offered to take his photo. We got chatting; he’s from Portugal and we mentioned that our friends are moving there. Oh dear – that was it – he started ranting about people taking over Portugal, especially the Chinese who have taken over the electric power company and will take over the whole of the country, there being no trains, and all the Portuguese are interested in is football. Every time he was exasperated about something, which was often, instead of a French shrug with a “pah” he kept doing a pursed raspberry noise. Each time he did it, the gurgle at the back of my throat was rising, I could feel my cheeks getting tense, I had to calm my breathing down. I looked at Tim and his dimples were twitching. How I didn’t collapse with laughter I don’t know. Even thinking about it now I’m hooting with laughter. And, of course, Tim does now keep doing the raspberry noise. We wish the man well.

We got at the top of the castle where there was a balcony with a 360-degree view of the town, Sagami Bay, the peninsula of Mount Amagi, Mount Tanzawa and the famous Mount Fuji…sadly covered in cloud.

Time for our next 2 trains and bus, we descended to the station and discovered that we couldn’t use our JR Pass much to our dismay. After a bit of faffing, we topped up our other railcard and just managed to catch the train with seconds to spare. This took us to Shin-Matsuda where we needed to change at Matsuda station nearby. We had little time to catch our connecting train so I suggested to Tim to ensure he knew exactly where to go. We quickly got off the train, walked up the road, under the rail tunnel, up a hill and then Tim stopped. “We’re going the wrong way” I nearly told him where to go! We returned to nearly where we’d come from and then saw that the Matsuda station was just across the road. We had just missed our connecting train and the next one was an hour. I was not a happy bunny so did a few pursed raspberry noises to show my annoyance. It was getting cold and had started to rain so we ate the nuts that were supposed to be part of our breakfast.

We eventually reached Gotemba. Tim checked at the ticket office which direction for the bus to Mount Fuji. The man signalled right, yet in front of me, I noticed a sign informing us it was left. I went with this – it was correct. A very helpful young bus assistant helped us and within minutes we were on our way, climbing the lower roads of this famous mountain. Tim kept nodding off and was sitting in a seat on the other side of the bus (don’t worry, we were talking, just it was easier to sit on separate seats with our luggage). I was concerned that we would miss our stop. All ok. We got off and it was raining. We walked up the road and…you’ve guessed it…we were going the wrong way. Finally, we reached our Hotel (our 2nd hotel in 196 days).

We were pleasantly surprised. 旅籠壱屋 Hatago Ichiya is a traditional Japanese hotel on the edge of Lake Yamanaka at the foot of Mount Fuji so a perfect location. We were warmly greeted by the owner, Takayuki, who gave us beautiful photos of Mount Fuji, he has taken himself and slippers to wear. He showed us to our room, with tatami (woven-straw) flooring and Japanese futon bedding for us to assemble, a low square table and seats on the floor, great drink facilities and our very own kimonos to wear. Then showed us the bathroom next door. To our surprise, there was a huge 2 person Onsen bath filled up with deliciously natural hot water. Wow - Just what we needed. A wonderful end to a rather long and at times frustrating journey but with a few surprised along the way.

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