22 July, 2013

Our Hokkaido Adventure Day 1

Our trip from home to Sendai. Just under 400km, took
about 5 hours.
Sunday 23rd June 

We spent most of yesterday pottering around packing for our four weeks away. After dinner last night we packed off Tiny the Turtle to his turtle friend Mint’s home for the month. He also took some pot plants with him to look after for us. Then we packed out car with everything except our personal belongings. Because this is a trip that includes a lot of camping, that meant a fair bit of gear including a tent, a tarp for the annex, chairs, tables, air beds, sleeping bags, kitchen gear, etc.
Only ten minutes into the trip (20 seconds after we hopped
on the expressway), one boy needed a toilet stop!
So here we are, all packed and ready to go.

Then this morning we finished packing our bags and headed off to church on our bikes, leaving our packed car at home. We were going to leave quickly from church, but saw friends who are going on home assignment before we get back from Hokkaido. We won’t see them again for two years because we’ll be going on home assignment this time next year and miss seeing them return to Japan. So, we stopped, and said goodbye.

Then we sped home, grabbed our bags, and jumped in the car with our bags.

“Bye, bye Tokyo!”

That was about 11am. We hopped on the motorway and headed north to Sendai. Thankfully the traffic was light, but the boys were still settling into car travel again. It isn’t that they don’t know how to manage car travel; we’ve done enough of it in their lives. But we haven’t done much recently. A standard school year in Japan for us involves long car trips, almost only to sporting events and camping or holiday trips. We haven’t done either of these since Spring Break at the end of March. So, they took their time getting out their excitement and settling back into the pattern of being strapped into a car near their brothers and very close to a lot of luggage.

Then it was lunchtime. We stopped at one of those great Japanese motorway stops. You don’t have to get off the motorway (and pay the toll), you just pull into a lay by, and there is everything you need for your journey: toilets, food, petrol station (at some stops), souvenirs, and usually a place to run the boys (and the dogs, if you have them). They have great Japanese fast-food (noodles, curry rice, various things on rice) in good portion sizes and

reasonable prices. We love these stops.

Back on the road again we enjoyed some quiet time with full tummies and exercised bodies. I drove this stretch. More straight driving on first three lanes, then two lanes each way. So much easier than driving in Tokyo with all the pedestrians and light poles to dodge, and traffic lights that stop you. Also easier than the two lanes in Australia where you need to pass slow vehicles.

The ferry
We arrived in Sendai at 4pm, with two hours until boarding, we found a bit of a river to walk along, a convenience store to buy some supplies for middle of the night hungries, and an early dinner at McDonalds. 

We’d looked forward to our usual Saturday night ice-cream, but McDonald's ice-cream machine was broken. Plan B was to grab some at a convenience store on the way to the ferry, but Mum and Dad were so focused about navigating to the ferry, that we forgot about ice-cream. Plan C nearly turned into a disaster. We left David with the car at the ferry terminal to do the paperwork and get our tickets while we walked to what looked like a nearby shopping centre. Only it took us longer to get there and back than we thought (I have a developing blister now to show that we did hustle).

My bunk on the ferry, complete with privacy curtain.
When we returned the car was in the line to drive onto the ferry. We had only a short time to grab our backpacks that were packed for the overnight stay (leaving the larger luggage in the car). As we walked along quite a long enclosed walkway (quite similar to an aircraft walkway), we watched the cars gradually loading onto the vehicle, including our own van with its distinctive blue tarp on top (covering our tent, table, and camping chairs).

Then we were on the ship. I’ve never been on anything larger than a day ferry, it was a new experience to be on a ship that had cabins for sleeping. It looked far more luxurious than I’d envisioned. Our cabin was easily found and like seats on a plane, our beds were numbered and allocated. We were given a ten-bunk room, with, it turned out, no one else sharing with us. We had no porthole, but that made sleeping-in just a bit easier the next day.
Our "private" cabin on the ferry.

The boys raced around exploring the ship and it was wonderful to know that they were old enough not to be concerned about them. Probably the biggest concern was that our nearly 11 y.o. seemed, like a toddler, unable to walk. He ran everywhere—his excitement was hard to contain. We sat for a while playing family games of Uno and Scrabble Dice, but then the ship cast off and the boys were off again, racing from window to window and up on deck again. 

Soon everyone tired, however, and we all headed off for a Japanese-style bath. Yes, we’re definitely still in Japan. The only bathing facilities were communal, but very tasteful. The only weird thing was watching the water roll from one side of the bath to the other as the ship made its way across the ocean.

Once we got out of the harbour it took a while for me to feel comfortable. It had been a long and stressful day and to find my balance challenged by a slightly rolling ship wasn't fun. Very soon I found my bunk to be a great place to be. It was surprisingly comfortable. All of us enjoyed our own bed lights and the privacy that the curtains afforded (see the photo).

After a while, the sound and vibration of the motor was very helpful in putting us all to sleep.

As is usual for me (I drink a lot of water each day), I got up to use the facilities in the middle of the night. Our room was totally dark, but all the lights appeared to still be on in the corridors. That was hard to cope with, as was the man I encountered in the corridor who gave me a good look over as I stumbled past, half awake. 

Even more difficult was coming back to our cabin. After I shut the door the room was utterly dark. It was difficult to find my bunk again. I’m just thankful I didn’t accidentally land on anyone else. I must have disturbed our middle son, however, as he turned his bed light on. I quickly nixed his idea that it was time to wake up and drifted off to sleep myself.

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