October 30, 2013

Japan, 2013: Wednesday (Hakone)

On Wednesday Ryan had to work, so I planned to go to a few museums. One was in Kawasaki, about 15 minutes outside of Tokyo. I am not great at directions, but with google maps and the uber organized Tokyo subway system I thought I'd be fine. I was...almost. I made my way to my train, checked that it was going in the right direction, and settled in. I did think it a little strange that you had to buy a separate ticket for this train, and that it sold food and drink, but I figured it must be a Japan thing. Google maps told me that my stop was the 5th stop and would come 20 minutes into the trip. 15 minutes later we hadn't stopped once, and I started to wonder. 20 minutes in, still going strong. I did a quick google search and realized that while I was headed in the right direction, my train was an express train and wasn't stopping until it reached the end of the line, 2 hours out of Tokyo. Luckily for me, I had my trusty guidebook and figured out that the end of the line was a sight worth seeing: Hakone.

Hakone is a little town within one of Japan's national parks. They make it easy on you and have your day pretty much outlined. First you take a little train up the mountain. Every time you come to a switchback the conductor gets out, manually does something with the tracks, and then the back of the train becomes the front of the train and you zig zag your way up the mountain.

not my picture--there were no Hydrangeas in October

Then you come to the cable car. Instead of zigging or zagging you just go straight up. 

Now the real fun begins. You take the Hakone Ropeway (a tram) over the mountains and onto the volcano. The leaves were starting to turn, and a few weeks from now it is going to be amazing. 

The volcano is active. There are little blowholes of sulfur smoke all over the place. It is really cool looking.  I almost missed the fact that you could hike up the volcano. But lucky for me the woman I sat next to on the train happened to be in my same gondola and let me in on the secret.

The thing to do once you've hiked the Hakone Volcano, is to buy hard-boiled eggs that have been boiled in water from a volcanic spring. The sulfur turns them black. But they tasted great--totally normal.

After hiking around the volcano, you take the Ropeway down the mountain to the lake. From there you take a large boat across the lake, and from there a bus back to where you started. 

If you had plan to go to Hakone buy the Hakone Free Pass--one pass for all the different things. If you fortuitously got on the wrong train, you didn't know about the pass and at every stop had to figure out where you were going and what ticket to buy. Thank heavens for my guidebook to help me keep it all straight. 

10 hours after I left I finally made it home. This time, my poor sense of direction was a blessing not a curse! 

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