Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Day 22: Hakone-Yumoto - Oiso (24.5km)

I had high expectations for breakfast. In the end it was a bit of a mixed bag. The bread rolls were soft and lacked substance, and the croissants were average. The coffee was OK. However, the muesli, which I combined in a bowl with fresh fruit, yoghurt, and milk, was exceptional. Plus there was grapefruit juice. I like grapefruit juice. I like it a lot.

I left Hakone-Yumoto at 8.15am. It was downhill for the first five or six kilometres as far as the outskirts of Odawara. Once on the flat I saw some interesting kura as I headed into the downtown area, including this one with what looks like a roller door on the side.

At 9.45am I made a small detour to visit Odawara castle. Due to its strong defenses and strategic location between Hakone and Sagami Bay, Odawara castle played an important role in Japanese history from the late-15th century through to the end of the Edo period. Along with many other castles, it was destroyed by the Meiji government. The buildings that stand on the site today were constructed in 1960.

Although I didn’t climb all the way to the keep (my legs were still sore from the previous day), I had a good look around the castle grounds, which were huge. There were a lot of people about, many of whom were taking photos of the flower display in the inner moat. The presence of so many flowers in such a location struck me as rather odd, although I must admit the display was beautiful.

From Odawara I followed National Route 1 east along the coast all the way to the next post town of Oiso. I caught one or two glimpses of the sea, but most of the time it was hidden, if not by buildings then by the Seisho Bypass, which runs practically right along the beach. Occasionally I felt a pleasant sea breeze.

At 11.35am I spotted a Gusto restaurant and stopped to have lunch. I got underway again at 12.25pm and arrived at the turnoff to my hotel at 2.30pm. As it was too early to check in, I continued on until I found a Denny's, where I had coffee and some pancakes with caramel sauce.

I checked in just after three. The hotel was on a small hill right by the beach. It had several outdoor swimming pools, but none of them was open. Still, I enjoyed walking around outside and breathing in the brisk ocean air.

Back in my room, I did some hand-washing and watched a bit of TV. I learnt that the rainy season had officially begun in the Kanto region, which included the area I was currently in. I had noticed a few spots of rain earlier in the day, but otherwise it was the same partly cloudy weather I'd been experiencing ever since I left Shizuoka.

At 5.45pm I went down to the main restaurant for dinner. I had a seafood curry, which was absolutely delicious, much nicer than any of the curries I'd had at chain or family restaurants. I was dying for a beer but wanted to stick to my "no alcohol while walking the Tokaido" policy, so I tried the new Kirin Free non-alcoholic beer. According to Kirin it's the first true non-alcoholic beer (there are others, but apparently they all have traces of alcohol in them). I thought it tasted a bit too sweet, as if I was drinking a beer-flavored soft drink.

After dinner I went back to my room. I had a "mountain view" room on the seventh floor, which looked out over the town of Oiso and the hills beyond it. At the foot of the hills I could see a short section of the Shinkansen line between two tunnels. For a while I stood there watching the bullet trains pass every few minutes. Every so often two would pass right in the middle of this section of track, which for some reason I found extremely satisfying. As night fell I left the curtains open and continued watching as the lights in the town came on and the blue and white bullet trains turned into darting rows of lights that emerged out of the blackness only to disappear a few seconds later.

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