Drying Out

26-28/6/16. As you will have seen from earlier today, we had a bit of excitement overnight. We are fine and just about dry. Actually there was very little that got wet because our stuff was mainly in the inner tent which is protected by the groundsheet extending up the “walls” or in the panniers (which, being German, are waterproof). One item which did go for a swim was Christine’s Kindle. After not working at all initially, it now seems to be OK, albeit with the occasional hiccough.

The rain started about 9 pm last night and sounded torrential (but it always sounds loud when you are in the tent) waking us several times. Having been dreaming about roads flooding, Stephen woke at about 4 am and realised that the groundsheet was bulging around the back pads that we sleep on. Looking out into the main part of the tent we could see an inch of water. This suggested that we should move pretty damn quickly! Fortunately the rain eased off at that point and we were able to carry everything into the shelter without it getting soaked while in transit.

The rain came back and continued until early afternoon, but not as heavily as in the night. In the daylight, which is about 4.30 am at this time of year in Japan, we could see that we had sited the tent in the biggest puddle! Perhaps the rainy season was not the best time of year to come!!

Of course, all of this was after spending an extra day near Ise on Saturday because of the forecast heavy rain – which didn’t materialise, other than a few spots!

We had a very pleasant ride to the ferry at Toba on Sunday morning, managing to stay on minor roads most of the way until we reached the Ise-Shima National Park (which was where the recent G7 Summit was held – I wonder if we will vote to leave that organisation next!). The road into the park was quite busy (and hilly) but there was a footpath which we could use.

The ferry took us across the mouth of the bay to a small village called Irago where there was a large hotel with an adjacent campsite. It turned out that the campsite was only open on Saturday nights! However, after some persuasion they took pity on us and opened it especially for us – which involved turning the water in the filthy toilets back on and collecting ¥3,600 (£24 – or considerably more depending on how badly the pound is doing today) from us. It was a rip off to be honest.

The next morning the sun was shining in a cloudless sky and by 6.15 the tent was too hot for even Christine to lie in any longer so we packed quickly and got under way along the coast. For long stretches we were able to follow a “cycle road” which was mostly of excellent quality. By midday it was really hot and Christine was starting to wilt in the sun. We found a shady spot to sit which was frequented by a group of hang gliders – they must be mad throwing themselves off a cliff with only a few bits of string supporting them!

While we were eating lunch and cooling down a little, a light haze appeared which took the edge off the heat and we were able to resume. Unfortunately the cycle road soon ended and the route became more hilly for a while which slowed us down.

Eventually we reached the outskirts of Kosai where the road levelled out and, crossing a bridge came to the paddling pool – sorry, campsite – which was a very reasonable ¥820 (under £6) for a night (and included a free bath at 4 am!).

Christine’s thoughts on the past few days

To set out my stall at the beginning, I have always been the “pro-est” of pro-Europeans. I feel it with every fibre of my being. I have never been worried if being in Europe cost a bit of money. We are all in Europe together, we should try our best to get on together, help one another and stand together and the richer nations should be prepared to contribute to the poorer. I have lived and worked in France and Germany. I studied French and German at University, and have also at different times studied Russian, Spanish, Italian and Welsh. I love travelling to Europe and feel very much at home there. We have often said if we were ever to buy a holiday home it would be on the shores of Lake Constance.

I hoped the Remain camp would win, but I wasn’t confident, being very aware that the British people have been lied to about Europe by the media for the past 20 years. Anything bad was reported, good things taken for granted, many, many lies were told. I was afraid that had seeped into people. People often looked at me as if I were odd if the question of Europe came up and I explained I was as Pro-Europe as it is possible to be. At first I just thought about Remain in terms of what I felt, but as the campaign went on I began to think, with my accountant’s brain, more and more about the economic realities we would face. As referendum day approached I became more and more pessimistic about the economic outcome of a Leave win. I think I was more pessimistic than any commentator I read, but then, as my family know, I have a pessimistic turn of mind. I say it comes from a lifetime of supporting Somerset and Torquay United!!

I was completely devastated by the result, right to the core of my being, and that just from an emotional perspective. And now, several days on I still feel the same. I, who was so pessimistic, have grossly underestimated the financial cost. I was sure that any trade deals we may be able to negotiate would be poor, and linked to the cast-iron rule that freedom of movement must be maintained. I neglected to take into account that Europeans might simply stop buying British goods, but a message from an excellent small cycle clothing firm on Friday that they were getting emails from Europe saying they would no longer be buying their goods woke me up. This is going on up and down the country. Thousands and thousands of hard working people will see their firms disappear, and thousands if not millions will lose their jobs. More money for the NHS? There won’t be enough money to maintain it at the current level. The recession of 2008 will be as nothing compared to what we now face, and we will be on our own, with an already very weak set of government finances.

And what about the prospects for our children? Their futures have been wrecked by stupid thoughtlessness. What jobs will they be able to get? No decent ones I fear. How could anyone have believed the lies of Boris and Farage? A couple of days ago I suddenly remembered my surprise a few years ago at learning that in the 1930’s Argentina was the 5th richest country in the world, but financial mismanagement and political ineptitude soon changed that. I fear we are going the same way. The political leadership has shown itself woeful. The Prime minister, who brought all this about by promising a referendum as a sop to potential UKIP voters to ensure his election last year, has sacrificed the future of the country for his short-term political gain, and is now resigning. The opposition, who should be stepping in have decided to behave like little children and stage a coup. The leaders of Brexit are reneging on all their promises or hiding. Boris knows he has won the most Pyrrhic of all Pyrrhic victories, even if most of his followers don’t. In a time of crisis having headless chickens in charge is not going to help. I won’t even go into the total abject failure of successive governments over many years to improve the lot of so many people that they voted leave.

This is before we even think about the fact that the racists in our country now feel that they are in the majority. I feel sick to think of the racist attacks and verbal abuse carried out up and down the country, and reported on by our fellow Europeans. How did we let this happen? How can we put this right?

This is not a time to shrug shoulders and say it was democratic. It was not. Many people only voted Leave because of the lies they were told and foolishly believed. This is not a little blip. It is something is destroying the future of the country. I can only envisage one possible way to mitigate this disaster, and salvage something, such as only a small recession rather than the worst we have ever experienced in Britain and that is to have a second referendum and vote Remain. Only then will I feel able to hold my head up again and not feel deeply, deeply ashamed to be British. Only then might the gloom of my mood lift.

Flooded!

After a night of heavy rain, at 4 am we discovered the inner tent was floating on an inch of water. On a seemingly flat field we had managed to choose one of two “depressions”!

We have moved all of the stuff to a room adjacent to the loos but luckily most of it is dry. Will keep you posted.

Time to Reflect

24&25/6/16. Where to begin? How the hell did that happen? What were people thinking? Were they thinking? What happens now?

Too many questions. Not enough answers.

We are still reeling from the news and trying to come to terms with the consequences. Even Christine’s vocabulary has failed her. She has used the “F word” five times in the last two days which is at least four times more than Stephen can remember her using it in 32 years of marriage.

Being 8 hours ahead of the UK, when we woke the polls had not long closed and the count was under way, but the signs were not good. Christine was immediately following events closely on the BBC while Stephen preferred to wait until the outcome was more definitively known and tried to immerse himself in finishing “Ivanhoe” which he had been reading for a couple of weeks without really getting into it.

After a while, we both tore ourselves away from these things to cycle the 15 km or so into Ise to visit the shrine which attracts more than 8 million visitors each year apparently. It turns out that there is more than one! There are two major sites, one in the town itself and the other further out. On each site there are about 6 individual buildings. In addition there are many other separate shrines dotted around the town and its environs.

We started with the main site in town and were not really sure what to make of it. A new main hall is built every 20 years on the site adjacent to the existing one which is then demolished. The other smaller buildings are also replaced at the same time.

So everything we saw was only 3 years old (the last rebuilding being in 2013). Not surprisingly it looked brand new (it is after all!) and, in fact, had a Scandinavian feel to it. Ask youself what a Danish architect would build if asked to design a Japanese temple.

After looking around Christine felt the need for an update on how results were going and while we were doing this the rain started which kept us under cover for most of the afternoon.

By which time we knew the worst.

We awoke on Saturday to find that, unfortunately, it was not all a horrible dream. We were in the process of packing up when the chap running the site, a very friendly sort, told us the forecast was for heavy rain and strong winds throughout the afternoon. Still shell shocked, we took no persuading to stay another day and for Christine to bring her pill day forward from Sunday to Saturday while we try to get our heads around things.

As we sat around refecting on things in the morning sunshine (!) there was a “bang” and a “whoosh” from the direction of the bikes. It turned out that Christine’s rear tyre had split and the inner tube had burst where it appeared through the hole. As this was the first bit of trouble that either of them have given in 8,000 km of riding in 15 months we are not complaining. Christine is grateful that it didn’t happen while she was on the bike and it makes Stephen feel that having 2 spare tyres in his bags all that time has been justified!

Back to the Coast

22-23/6/16. What a glorious start to the day! We had a beautifully peaceful night in the campsite beside the river and a lovely ride down the gorge for the first few km.

Our original plan had been to head straight through Nagoya, a major conurbation that is one of the centres of the automotive industry, but a chat with Jacquelyn and Robert and a look at their maps had led us to take the valley route and then go south along the coast to Ise, where there is a major shrine, before taking the ferry across the mouth of the bay. This would not entirely avoid the industrial/urban area but would considerably reduce the time spent there.

There was then a brief spell on a major road before we got back onto the quiet “white roads” (as shown on a map) following the river down the valley. It was a very rural scene – such a contrast to that on the days into Kyoto and “much more like it” – with many paddy fields and quiet villages. There were stretches when we rode along the top of the dyke beside the river which gave us a good perspective of the steep mountains on both sides.

As we approached the sea, the mountains finished abruptly – and so did the peace as we entered the city of Kuwana which adjoins Nagoya. To avoid riding alongside (using the foot/cycle path) one of the several major roads through the area we experimented with “wiggling” through back streets in vaguely the right direction. Although much quieter, it was no prettier and still resulted in some close encounters with large trucks while being longer.

So we abandoned that idea and went back to the main road.

We left Kuwana and entered Yokkaichi without noticing we had done so! After some searching (principally involving comparing a picture on the web with the building in front of us!) we found the “ryokan” or hotel that we had booked. The outside looked OK but inside was rather shabby and smelled strongly of smoke (not uniquely among Japanese hotels in this respect). It looked to be a traditional working man’s resting place, an example being that there was only one bathroom, Christine being given a ticket to use the public baths a few hundred metres away.  For ¥9,000+ (upwards of £60) we were not impressed – but it did include dinner and when we got to that things looked up considerably! It was more than acceptable with a selection of small dishes of fish, both raw and cooked, some lovely beef and tempura vegetables.

Almost as soon as we arrived at the hotel the rain started and continued heavily throughout the night but, thankfully, it had just about stopped by the time we were ready to set off.

Although it was still urban we were able to ride along the seawall for long stretches, but every now and then we had to head back inland to the main road to cross rivers. As the road was Route 23 it reminded us of the Sustrans route from London to Brighton which has sections alongside the A23 – segregated so safe but noisy and smelly – something to be endured to get to the next pleasant part.

Increasingly, though, there were patches of greenery in the form of paddy fields and as we approached the campsite where we intended to stay we even saw a small wood.

The campsite, a commercial one, is very pleasant but there was a major trauma when we erected the tent – there are several holes in both the outer and the inner tents. We have covered them with tape but this is only a temporary solution. Intriguingly and thankfully, the ground sheet which was on the outside of the package when the tent was rolled up is not affected.

Aaargh!
Aaargh!

A Mixed Couple of Days

20-21/6/16. Or, to be more precise, one mixed day and one wonderful one!

With a range of mountains between Kyoto and Lake Biwa to the north east, we were resigned to a “suboptimal” start to the day on Monday. National Route 1 was close to where we were staying and, in hope of a reasonable foot/bike path, we headed along it. Our hopes were realised – the path was acceptable (i.e. not too narrow and not too steep) and it used what appeared to be an older tunnel so we were off to a 5 out of 10 start!

Down the other side was OK (ish) too.

Where Route 161 branched off to the left we followed, although we were happy to take what appeared to be the old road as the new one looked to be a dual carriageway “racetrack” from down below. Climbing and wiggling was again OK but cautious accountant mode kicked in making us somewhat apprehensive about what was to come! With some justification!

Nearing the top, the road was blocked by a gate that would require a determined effort to overcome. The alternative was a smaller barrier leading to a path beside the new road that disappeared into a dark and noisy tunnel with oncoming traffic zooming towards us.

Reluctantly, we chose the latter option as the lesser of two evils but we were faced with an “unknown” on the other side. The noise inside was horrendous and everywhere was filthy with grime, litter and dampness – but the path was up a raised kerb and quite wide so we did not feel too unsafe!

Emerging into the daylight 1.4 km later, the path narrowed and became somewhat overgrown with vegetation signifying not many other foreign cyclists were stupid enough to go the same way. And we were faced with another tunnel! Much shorter, thankfully, at only 125 metres but still another assault on the senses.

On the other side, the path fizzled out. It looked as though our worst fears were realised. But then Christine realised that about 50 metres on was a slip road onto the carriageway. Heaving the bikes over the crash barrier, we made a dash down the slip road and we were safe!

Some advice to anyone heading the same way out of Kyoto from our hosts that night – there is a better way! Go north from the centre of Kyoto to Route 30!

Relieved to be still alive and (almost) sane, we headed down to the shore of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake – the blob of blue in the middle of the country! The first few km of the southwestern corner were uninspiring urban roads but we soon crossed an impressively long bridge at the southern end and turned onto a designated cycle way. It may have been beside a fairly busy road with consequent traffic noise, but we were not about to complain after what we had experienced earlier – there was simply no comparison!

Getting to the lakeside was less than 20 km but seemed to take forever. The next 40 km, beside the lake, just flew by! Our only regret was that the haze denied us what looked to be spectacular views of the mountains on the other side.

All too soon we turned away from the lake towards our overnight Warmshowers stop with Jacquelyn & Robert Elliott. At which point the heavens opened for 15 minutes, drenching us! But, it being so warm, as soon as the rain stopped things started to dry out so that by the time we arrived we were wondering if we had imagined the storm.

Jacquelyn and Robert made us extremely welcome and we had a lovely evening chatting about books, cycling, our trip, and their experiences of living in Japan for 30 years.

Robert had heard that we could expect rain every day until Sunday and we had received a warning email about flooding and landslides in southern Japan so when we heard heavy rain in the night we feared the worst.

However, when we woke in the morning it seemed to be holding off, although there were some ominous looking low clouds over the mountains towards which we were headed. Jacquelyn had kindly offered to show us her favourite route through them, the prospect of a bike ride being more attractive than a trip to a yoga conference in Osaka!

Well, it was an absolutely stunning ride! The first few km were through farmland in the flat basin around the lake but we then entered narrow wooded valleys on increasingly narrow and quiet roads which climbed gently beside rivers. As we rose, the cliffs closed in and the last of the small villages disappeared behind us. Gradually the clouds lifted or were burned off but the steep hillsides provided welcome shade.

After 10-12 km of climbing we reached the top where we snacked on various bars and biscuits before setting off on the glorious run downhill! We did have to temper our speed somewhat and not get too distracted by the views though to ensure that we could avoid the rocks lurking in the middle of the road, seemingly around every corner.

The only problem with downhills is that they do not last as long as the uphills! But this meant that we were at the new pizza restaurant that Jacquelyn had spotted previously but not tried all the sooner. She told us that pizzas can be of variable quality in Japan but this was not an issue in this charming little place – three different ones were all shared and delicious.

A few km further on was a campsite in another, smaller gorge which Jacquelyn had seen but not used. As it looked so lovely and peaceful we decided to spend the night there, and waved goodbye to Jacquelyn as she took the flat route back home.

5,000 Miles

20/6/16. A fuller update will follow but for the record today, Monday, Stephen went through 8,000 km/5,000 miles on our gallivanting around the world. Christine is on a little less because she doesn’t always go on the day rides that he sometimes indulges himself with.

Just as a reminder, you can find a tables showing the distances we have covered here (Japan & SE Asia) and here (summary), as well as a map here (currently focused on Japan but you can zoom in and out as well as move around the world).

Kyoto

16-19/6/16. For a variety of reasons (the huge number of attractions, the weather, pill day, etc.) we have extended our stay in Kyoto to 5 nights. We can certainly see why the Lonely Planet Guide describes it as one of the world’s great cities. If we come back to Japan (and that is most definitely the intention) then we will be back in Kyoto because there is no way that we will have seen all there is to see.

There are beautiful gardens and wonderful temples everywhere. The street food market is fascinating – full of “What on earth is that?”, “That looks delicious”, “I’m not sure I could eat that!” moments!!! There are intriguing old parts of town full of wooden buildings in little narrow streets.

But, in a way, it is a case of sensory overload! It is too much to take in in one visit. For us at least, there is only a finite of number of temples that you can see in a few days before they blur into “one”. Much as we have enjoyed the gardens (undoubtedly our favourite sights), the danger is that we say “meh” to yet another stunning vista of greenery and water.

The specifics of what we have been doing over the last few days are as follows:-

    • Thursday. Wandering around the gardens of the Imperial Palace (we didn’t apply for a permit to visit the palace(s) themselves. As the rain increased in intensity we retreated to the food market area of Nishiki to gawp and wonder at the variety of foodstuffs on display !

 

  • Friday. A cloudy, dry but humid day. Wandering around temples and shrines in the southern Higashiyama area. Many young Japanese (both female and male) wearing traditional dress – kimonos and the male equivalent. Obviously keeping in touch with their cultural heritage – wonderful to see! The day was “made” by the evening with Asa and Satoru (see What a Wonderful Evening!)
  • Saturday. Blue skies and very hot! We caught the train to an area close to the mountains to the west of the city called Arashiyama where there is the stunning garden of Okochi Sanso, developed by a film star from the silent era of the 1920s. It was very different to the other Japanese gardens we have visited – but simply drop dead gorgeous! On the way back to the centre of town we stopped off to see Kinkakuji Temple – the Golden Pavilion. This took away any breath that we had recovered from the earlier garden visit!

 

Sunday. The rain returned so we visited the Higashi-Honganji Temple (the largest wooden building in the world apparently – if there is a bigger one it must be enormous!) and the small but lovely Shosei-en garden, both close to our hotel, with a long reading interlude in Starbucks when the rain was at its worst!

What a Wonderful Evening!

17/6/16. We will come back to what we have been up to over the past couple of days in Kyoto later but we just want to “place on record” our thanks to Satoru and Asa Nishida (otherwise known as “The Pearson Two” because of their cycling jerseys when we first met them).

We had a most wonderful evening with them after Satoru got in touch when he saw that we had reached Kyoto, where they live, and we arranged to meet up at the railway station. We were whisked off to a street of upmarket, traditional Japanese restaurants and taken into one where we sat outside overlooking the river, with the almost full moon shining down on us.

The menu was in Japanese but we were delighted to be guided by Asa and Satoru in the selection of a set menu of dishes that were simply wonderful! There was a such a variety of flavours and textures and colours, all washed down with a beautifully smooth sake, thankfully served in tiny “shot” glasses – otherwise Stephen would have been under the (9 inch high) traditional table at which we were sat. (Christine was steering well clear of this potent brew!)

The food was mainly fish – but such a variety! The sashimi squid was a real highlight but there wasn’t anything we did not like. The funniest moment was when Stephen followed Satoru’s lead in eating a whole river fish (we did not catch the name – a summer speciality, about 10 cm long) while Christine copied Asa’s more delicate approach of leaving the head and tail on the plate! (And you should try removing them in a decorous manner with only chopsticks!! Not easy.)

While eating we thoroughly enjoyed a conversation about Japan, what we have seen, why we are here, what we like, etc as well as kick boxing (a passion of Asa’s – she might be tiny but Stephen does not want to get on the wrong side of her!) and (of course!) cycling. Asa is a big fan of Bernie Eisel, a well known Austrian team mate of Mark Cavendish, whose signature adorns the back of her phone!

We lost count of the number of courses – it must have been 7 or 8 – but by the end we completely “stuffed”, to use the vernacular. And then it was off to their favourite drinking place!

This was another lovely experience! The taxi drove down a street of traditional Japanese houses, most with red lanterns outside (which does NOT have the same connotations as a red light in the UK!). We pulled up outside one and entered a very small room with seating for 8 people at a bar about a foot high, but with a “footwell”  so you effectively sat on a chair or bench at floor level. On the other side of the bar where three people serving drinks and snacks in a very leisurely manner (not meant in a pejorative sense – they participated fully in the conversation with the customers as part of the “experience”). The floor on which they were stood was also sunk down so they were on the same level as us when we sat at the bar.

Three of the four of us moved from sake to the bottle of Japanese whisky (very smooth and equal to Scotland’s finest – Stephen loved it!) which Satoru had “behind the bar” (complete with beautifully drawn picture of a bike on the label). The conversations about our experiences in Japan continued along with those of the young man behind the bar who visited London, Manchester and Edinburgh recently.

Asa and Satoru took us back to our hotel where we “crashed” in a very happy state. It was a truly wonderful evening which we both enjoyed enormously!