Monday, January 05, 2009

Eight and a half hours

I discovered yesterday that that's about how long I can go without feeding Cassia before my boobs start to protest. Craig and I left her with E for the day while we went off to celebrate our 10th anniversary. Don't you love how I title and preface a post describing how we spent our 10th anniversary with a reference to motherhood? Anyway...

We had a GREAT day! Our aim was to visit an onsen (hot spring) to indulge in the quintessential Japanese experience, and then, if there was time left over, go check out what there was to do in a historic town near the onsen.

So we jumped on a train from Numazu to Atami, which is "the gateway to the Izu Peninsula". Izu is famous for onsen, and there are hundreds of them all over the place. The east coast of Izu is to Japan something like the Gold Coast is to Australia -- a holiday destination with lots of resorts, a good climate, transplanted palm trees to give you the illusion you're in Hawaii, and beautiful views out to the ocean. That's where the similarity ends though, because Izu is nowhere near as built up as the Gold Coast and it's full of steep hills and rocky outcrops which make it far more tasteful and pleasant on the eye. Anyway, there's a train line running all the way down the east coast to a town called Shimoda. It's a private line and a lot of the trains are specially designed with panoramic windows and seats that face outwards so that you can sit and enjoy the view.

The idea was to get off at Kawazu, from where we would catch a bus that would drop us off right outside the onsen. Craig had studied the train and bus timetables very carefully the night before and worked out exactly which train we'd need to catch in order to get on the connecting bus which would maximise our time at the onsen. (One of the catches with using public transport around Izu is that it's infrequent and relatively slow.) He hadn't factored in the possibility that we would be lulled into a trance on the train and find ourselves staring at the sign on the platform saying "Kawazu" and thinking, Hmmm, Kawazu, now why is that name familiar? and only just realising we were meant to be getting off there as the train pulled out of the station again.

After a bit of panic and feeling like the world's stupidest gaijin being hurtled helplessly away from our comfort zone like those poor suckers who find themselves the victims of Japanese practical jokes you see if you put "bizarre Japanese TV" into youtube's search function, we wondered if we'd be able to walk back to Kawazu from the next station in enough time to still make the bus (our hopes of which faded very quickly as the train raced through tunnels for a solid five minutes before getting to the next station). We figured there was nothing else to do but jump on the first train going back in the other direction and just hope we might make the next bus to the onsen. So we hopped sheepishly off the train, knowing that one day we'd think this was funny. After all, it wouldn't be Craig and Nat if we didn't get ourselves into scrapes like this, would it? Much to our relief and amusement the next train came into view within a minute. As the line is only one track wide, this meant that the train we'd just been on had to wait on its side of the platform until the other one had pulled up at the station. We can only wonder what the passengers on the carriage we'd been on were thinking as they saw us jump straight back on the train headed in the direction we'd just come from.

Anyway, the rest of the trip was straightforward, which we were happy about. The expectation for most onsen is that you'll strip right down to the nuddy, but we were far too inhibited for that kind of thing, and chose Amagiso because it was advertised as one where you actually do wear bathers. They also reckoned it had great views, and wasn't too crowded or expensive, so we felt like we were onto a winner. And we weren't disappointed. Amagiso was beautiful!!

You know how the first time you do something new, you feel really self conscious? We felt a bit like that as we were instructed to take off our shoes, step into the change rooms, change into our suimin-gia (that's a hard "g" sound - work it out for yourself), come back out, don some sandaru (sandals) provided by the establishment, and then make the trek down the side of the gorge to the pools. But it was worth it. Nothing like a bit of soaking in a hot spring to help you relax! There were several different pools there of temperatures varying from 38 to 49 degrees. We jumped into the 49 degree one first -- well, eased ourselves in gently -- although I'm not sure if that was the smartest way to do it. Anyway, the contrast between it and the 38 degree one was amazing. I usually think 38 degrees is very warm, but it felt almost cool in comparison. (It was also in a cave, which was the other kind of cool.)

See that black hole towards the bottom right of the photo? That's the entrance to the cave pool.

This is the 49 degree pool. They've built a little enclosure around it, but the side the photo has been taken from is totally open to a view of the waterfall and river.

Some more outdoor pools. Niiiiiiiiiiiiice.

After we'd had our fill of soaking in hot tubs we headed back to Kawazu for lunch. There wasn't much open -- it was already after 2 p.m. and a lot of places close up for the first week of January anyway -- but we found a sushi restuarant nearby which featured extremely fresh and potent locally produced wasabi, so we were able to continue our very Japanese experience. We scored eight pairs of chopsticks as we were leaving, although whether that was a standard parting gift to all customers or just something the guy thought we deserved after Craig's stellar efforts at speaking Japanese and admiring the local wasabi, we're still not sure.

There were still a few hours in the day, so we jumped back on the train and headed to Shimoda, which is famous for being the place that was first used as a trading port by America when Japan opened up to the West in the 1850s. It's got some interesting little things to see and do, and we killed a bit of time there by walking around the headland which has a view with, according to our guidebook, "refreshingly little concrete in sight, although not entirely unspoiled by a large resort hotel". It lived up to its description. More amusing to us was the sight of the utterly delapidated "Shimoda Grand Hotel" with its rusted outer staircase, boarded up front gate and puzzlingly new-looking sign with shrubbery growing over it.

We got home a bit after 7:00 p.m., by which time I was about to explode with milky goodness, to a very cheerful Cassia and E, who had been nice enough to even cook dinner in our absence. Cassia didn't miss us at all! I felt a bit torn about that. Pleased that she's confident enough to go a whole day without me, but miffed that she didn't want to sit in my lap and cuddle the rest of the evening. (And also wondering why it is she's so clingy to me when I am home, since she can obviously go without boobies for much longer than I can go without feeding her!)


The Koala Bear Writer said...

Happy Anniversary! We discovered over Christmas I can last about seven hours... and Sunshine only survived that long without us because she napped for half of it. But like Cassia, after she'd eaten, she wasn't at all clingy either! :) Sounds like a cool date and some great memories.

Hearts and Hands said...

The pics of the rockpools and spa pools are awesome!!! I want to go! On my own, lol
Glad to hear you and Craig had a wonderful day together.
Congratulations again :)