Additionally, my return plans had changed a little. I wanted to stay in Lake Onuma just outside of Hakodate for two days, and two days at Lake Towada in Tohoku, Honshu, and I had to figure out accommodation and train schedules. So, from an 8 o'clock start, or thereabouts, the train pulled into Sapporo 11am or thereabouts (catching the six o'clock train would have seen me have the whole morning). So, off to the visitors' centre and then to the Internet to figure out times.
At the visitors' centre I got them to more precisely, please, show me where the ramen alley was, and they did. I wanted to hire a bike, too, which you can do from 6am until midnight for only 500￥. You need to pay 1000￥ deposit, but you get it back. It was close to one, I think, when I finally got moving, or maybe edging towards one.
Bags stowed in lockers, I set out in the heat to find the bicycle hire place. It wasn't too hard, but not too easy. I wonder what people who don't have the rudiments of Japanese do. Maybe pay more attention than me.
With trusty steed I found out the location of my youth hostel (it was too early to check in, and it is so close to the train station. The guide book gives it a bad write-up saying that it has very strict times and so on. But their policy must have changed. There was no curfew). Then I pedalled on down to the Botanic gardens.
I like gardens a lot, and if I lived in Sapporo, I would probably stroll around here quite often if I could bear to part with the ￥400 entry fee on a regular basis. When I lived in Melbourne, I used to go to both the St. Kilda and the Melbourne Botanical gardens all the time. Sydney too. All three are free. I got locked in the St. KiIlda gardens once. Luckily it was pretty easy to scale the fence. Up in Cairns, too, the Botanical gardens were a 30 minute walk from my flat, and a regular space of beauty.
So, I wandered around and took a few pictures, and looked at pioneer buildings, which are probably a whole lot more fascinating to the Japanese than to me (they probably wonder what I see in temples).
There was a good museum of Ainu culture, and again I'm left wondering about the people, such as me and my ancestors, who swarm like great hordes into the lands of others. I wonder if the day will ever come, 400 years, one thousand years from now when we are the minority race in numbers challenging and being challenged by newcomers with new technology, new ways and a sense of superiority. Maybe that is why general immigration should be applied. No one country is excluded.
After that, it was time for ramen, and I knew I'd be out of the lunch hour rush (it was approaching two), so that was a good thing. The area of Susukino is meant to have the best and most nightlife outside of Tokyo. It certainly looks bigger than its population, but then again, I was wandering around in the day, not the night. I really thanked my bicycle. I doubt I could have covered the ground I did without it. I still couldn't find the alley, though. Finally, I asked in another ramen shop (shameful, I know), and they directed me. I was just one block away.
The ramen I had was just plain old shio (salt) but with a monster slice of pork. Now, the base for most shio ramen, except if it is seafood, is tonkotsu, or pork bones. I try to put that to the back of my flexitarian mind, as I do not eat copious amounts of meat, and I can't remember the last time I had a steak or something similar. I should have looked at the picture before I ordered. This super-sized pork was the speciality of the shop I had wandered into. The ramen was okay. All of the broths up that way were great, but I don't know if it was worth all my wandering, nor the slight overpricing. The owner was very much into soul and had classic vinyl soul album covers stapled up all over the walls of his very small shop.
Whew. My next step, and I didn't have very much time, was to the city hall. The city hall is across from the famed clock tower (see day 4), and if you take the lift to the top floor you get a free view all across the city. Considering people pay money to go up the electronic clock tower for this very purpose, it was a thrill to do it for free.
I cut through the governor's house gardens, which were very pretty (and before had seen the old city hall or old government buildings. Again, I'll have to look it up).
I booked into the youth hostel, in case they were to give my room away, but it was the end of the tourist season, and though I ended up sharing with two others, I didn't really see a whole lot of people about.
So, with trusty bicycle in hand, I zoomed out to the other side of town where the Sapporo beer museum was. I wanted to do this for myself, but also for a beer aficionado, Mark, who frequents the PAN site. It took about 20 minutes to get there, and the sun was about to set. I knew I'd missed the opening hours of the museum (it closes at 6, last entry 5.30, and I got there about 6). Still, I don't know that I'd be that interested, but the free tastings would have been fun. I took various photos of old buildings and beery things glinting in the sun. Also, bought some melon caramel (Hokkaido is famous for its caramel) and Hokkaido gurana (a ferocious bear on the can).
That little duty out of the way, I cycled back to the station and asked the bicycle hire guys if I could leave my bike there as the station does not allow you to park them nearby. No problem, though they were a bit bemused as to why I would need it again before midnight (it was close to 7.00/ 7.30). Why I really wanted it was that I hadn't taken my bags to the hostel yet, and they were heavy. The bicycle had a handy basket.
I had a few plans, - see if an English movie was showing, English language that is, and hopefully Harry Potter - get some Indian food after, and somehow get my bags to the hostel in between time. Harry was showing, but not until 8.30, or thereabouts. Then I decided I'd go to the 38th floor of the JR building which had a lookout. You paid ￥800, I think. It was well worth it.
I'd read in my guide book that the men's toilets overlooked the view. That the urinals were positioned so that men would feel that they were taking a piss over the whole city, that they were the king of the world! Or at least that's what the designer said. The women's toilets had no such luck. I guess they were worried about perverts hiring helicopters and you know, perving. However, the disabled toilets did have the view. Heh-heh. And so I used them. Now, I've lived here long enough to usually know which button in the toilets is for an emergency when you're in big trouble, like having fallen in, or having a heart attack or something, and which button is the one for flushing, though they come in a bewildering array of shapes and ways. For the first time in my life, it must have been my guilty conscience, I pressed the 'Please help me, I'm in trouble button', instead of the flush. In the disabled toilets too, of all things.
Over the intercom the guy asked if I was okay, in Japanese. I told him in Japanese that I was alright, that I'd made a mistake. I had to repeat this a few times just so that each of us knew we were relieved of our duty and obligation to the other. Again, I wonder what those without Japanese would do. The guard probably has some English. My advice is use nouns only. 'mistake, mistake, mistake', would probably be understood, along with 'sorry, sorry, sorry', but 'I'm terribly sorry, I made a mistake' probably would not.
So, after oohing and ahhing over the four sides of the city (car shelters below had the names of areas painted on them) I sat in front of a window and had a beer (Sapporo, of course, I think) and looked at the ferris wheel changing colour. I took some pics, but I have no flash, so they are a series of black and white lights.
The place soon got invaded by a large group of junior high school students on a school excursion, so I went down to get some dinner, which was a pasta and mushroom dish. Nice enough.
Then the movie. I was lucky. It was the first of the month and that meant that all tickets were ￥1000. As they're usually ￥1800, and I didn't feel like paying that (especially as you can get tickets for ￥1300 in convenience stores and so on), I felt chuffed. What, with my 500￥ bicycle, I was doing okay, though I had, for some reason I cannot explain, purchased a combined bus and subway ticket for ￥1000 which is still sitting in my purse.
Harry was great. Well, I haven't seen a movie on the big screen for over a year. Shibata doesn't have a cinema and the ones in Niigata just seem difficult to get to. So, I really enjoyed it. It was the Half Blood Prince. It finished at just before 11, so I had an hour of bicycle time left.
I got into a bit of a panic trying to find my locker, but I managed, and then I thought, what the hell, I'll walk. So, I went back to the bike guys to get my deposit (they were willing to let me cycle away) and then plodded the ten minutes, fifteen minutes or so to the hostel.
At least I didn't have to return the bike, right?
So, the baths were open until 1am, which was great and my two roommates, an English banker who had spent 9 months in Tokyo and who was driving up the coast of Hokkaido, and a Japanese student who was going to Asahikawa to see the zoo, and Furano to see the lavender (I regret not seeing any of the wonderful flowers) were lovely. Of course, in the morning, I had to get up at about 5 or 5.30. But I packed everything up the night before, and got changed in the toilets the following morning. I hope I wasn't too noisy, and I had warned them.
Day 7 was a return to the Hakodate area, or just outside of it, and the beautiful lakes of Onuma.