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Published: September 25th 2016
Last night when sussing how to get to our next stop, I did wonder why on earth were we going to this place Hakone? It is the longest journey that we are doing in one day this holiday and ends with a local line trip to what seems to be nowhere. But checking on my guidebook it does look awesome - hot springs, boiling walks through sulphur jets and hopefully views of Mount Fuji. Checking on Google Maps, there was a train leaving at 7am and so we got up at 5.30am to find out at the station that the train left at 8.06am. Oh.
After a a few hours and on the second train, I spotted a mountain rather larger than the rest - was it Mount Fuji? I guess it was, it had to be.
We got to Odawara Station at 1.20pm and this was where things began to get confusing... We ended up taking another short train and then after a visit to a tourist information office, got put on a bus going steeply uphill into the mountains. As always we weren't completely sure where to get off or where we were going but hoped for
Valley of the great boiling
The ticket system was new to us - we were each given a ticket with a number on. A screen on the wall had corresponding numbers with the fare going up underneath it. Upon disembarking the bus, you hand in the ticket to the driver and the total fare is on the screen above you. A good idea for numpty tourists such as us who tend to guess at everything.
After half an hour or so, we found ourselves up mountains, with no idea where we were in relation to our accommodation. A few minutes later a Japanese guy appeared and Glyn showed him a picture of B&B Pension, which after scratching his head a while, sent us back down the hill we'd just bussed up. The winding narrow road had no place for pedestrians, especially ones carrying rucksacks and camera gear and I felt very nervous walking down it (the road had a lot of oncoming and expensive looking fast cars plus streams of motorbikes) but eventually we came to a couple of large hotels. I spotted a taxi - the driver tried to convince us to get the free shuttle bus, but we had
no idea where to get it or indeed if we did get it, where to get off. So this time, we were paying out for a taxi and thank god we did as there had been no signage or people to ask on the way.
We checked in and the receptionist guy drew on about 4 different photocopied maps with arrows and scrawled suggestions of what we could do only it was around 2.45pm and things start closing at 4pm. Typical - why does everything shut early in Japan? He told us to do the cable car, although we probably wouldn't see Mount Fuji (the reason we came here) because of cloud. Not a problem, Glyn said, we've already seen it from the train.
Knowing where we were for once, we finally caught the free shuttle bus back to where we'd caught the taxi earlier and taxi man was back there, thinking what a pair of fools we are and how did we ever make it out of our own country? Next a bus to Gora Station where we caught a Funicular (Japanese call it cable car) to the cable car (Japanese call it Ropeway). It was here
we finally got to see Mount Fuji, swathed in cloud, but still very visible. Apparently it had had its first snow of the season yesterday.
But what was the mighty awful smell? I knew it wasn't one of Glyn's - it was lingering a lot longer and was far more pungent. It was the very fascinating Owaku-dani (valley of the great boiling) - an area of sulphurous steam vents that looked like they were being harnessed in some way. Getting on the cable cars, I'd vaguely noticed a sign about having asthma, breathing difficulties, being pregnant etc and warnings that it could be dangerous to pass there, but we were in a rush and ignored all that. The cars finished at 4pm, and this was a one way journey we'd only just caught in the nick of time.
There was a lot of oohing and aahing at Mount Fuji, a change of cable cars until we arrived at Togedai Station at the north end of Lake Ashi. A sign pointed to a sight-seeing boat (last one of the day, too late for a return) and seeing that it was a pirate ship we could not help but be
Hmm, 'sight seeing' - due to cloud and other mountains in the way, there was no view of Mount Fuji. The only sights was the lake and a few pedal boats shaped like swans. Glyn was enthralled. There was one orange gate in the water, but I've seen a lot of those now and they're all over the place.
It was getting on for 5pm and lunchtime had come and gone with no sign of lunch, so we had to make do with crisps on the boat. Our hotel receptionist had promised places to eat at Hakone Machi which was the final destination of our pirate ship, but of course, it was after 5pm now and everything was closed or closing. Oh no. The only way back was a crowded bus -so many people piled on, we thought there must be a chute at the back where they were all piling out again. The bus driver said he didn't go to Gora (where we were hoping to eat and find our way back) and we had to change at Odawara Station - WHAT?! That was where we started 4-5 hours ago! Noooo!
But as we wended
our way through winding and darkening mountain roads, Glyn recognised the place that we'd originally gotten lost at - hurray! Another stop down the road and we had a good idea where we could be. Obviously there was no where to eat around there but we found a convenience store so Glyn could purchase a ready meal of sushi and I got an egg sandwich. All in all though, it's been a good day and we've seen a lot more of Hakone than most can do in under half a day - mostly due to being lost and hoping for the best!
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