My husband and I visited the Kikuchi Family and Chiba once again in the winter. Kumi and Hiroto took us to see a magnificent illumination in the middle of the countryside; Tokyo German Village, which is actually in Sodegaura City, Chiba Prefecture.
This winter illumination is one of the three best illumination of the Kanto area, they have three million LED lights on the landscape, all over the fields and buildings. The theme park is open throughout the year; visitors can enjoy the illumination during winter, and the seasonal flower fields, golf course and picnics in summer. There is also German food and beverages.
The cycling went well, but maybe too fast; soon we had reached the other end of the lake, the flat part was over and it was time to start climbing to the hills. The views on the northern side wine region were beyond beautiful. Now we were used to our bicycles and found a good pace to our pedaling.
The countryside was charming, and the roads felt safe. Every day we cycled through magnificent sceneries; the autumn fields continued to the horizon, cute cottages and a lot of different kinds of farm animals spotted our way. Sometimes we found an attractive town or nice spa resort and spent a night or two. Our favourite place was a small spa town Hévíz, which has the second largest thermal lake in the world. Conveniently it was raining, so we decided to stay there, and enjoy the warmth of the lake.
Our route: Budapest – Gardony – Siófok – Keszthely – Hévíz – Tapolca – Veszprém – Székesfehérvár – Gardony – Budapest. It took 11 days, Hévíz was the only place we stayed two nights. Total kilometres was around 430.
We started our cycling holiday from Budapest, where we stayed one night and rented our bicycles. Next morning, full of joy, we packed our gear and headed for lake Balaton. Hungary is one of our favourite destinations, and for years I had dreamed about conquering this lake! Finally, it was real.
This was our first bike trip, and we were excited to see how we can manage; we are not very athletic persons and we cycle only for fun during summer. We didn’t make any schedules or booked hotels in advance, but more like drifted from one place to the next one. It was off season, so there weren’t a lot of tourists.
It took us two days to reach the lake; when we saw it for the first time, glimmering through the tree leafs, was a magical moment. Balaton is the biggest lake in Central Europe, it is 77 kilometres long, quite shallow and has a beautiful turquoise colour. It’s one of the most popular holiday resorts in Hungary, and I can totally understand why; around the lake there are a lot of nice hotels, restaurants and cafes, and the nature is spectacular.
One of the biggest heavy metal festivals in the world is held in a small Northern German village, Wacken. Every August cows have to step aside when 75.000 metalheads take over the serene countryside with their tents and caravans. Camping in the area is free for all who have purchased the festival ticket.
This three-day event draws bands and their fans from all over the world. The festival site is huge, over 240 hectares open field which includes eight stages, camping ground, beer tents, food stalls, places called Holy Ground and Wasteland. In thirty years this event has expanded from tiny to gigantic; nowadays W:O:A has almost two hundred bands and a lot of other activities.
It was a great chance to explore German countryside at the same time. Wacken is in the middle of equally picturesque villages like Vaale and Agethorst; I have relatives in both of them, so no need for a tent! During the festival there is a non-stop shuttle bus commuting from the beautiful town of Itzehoe to Wacken, so it’s also possible to stay at a hotel.
The last day of my Rail Pass I traveled to Akita City, the hometown of Endo. The journey from Tokyo took almost four hours even with the Shinkansen. Cherry blossoms had already fallen, but now it was azalea blooming time, and everywhere was bright pink, aniline red and purple bushes.
Senshu Park is in the heart of the city; a luscious green oasis full of things to see throughout the seasons. It’s built to the ruins of Kubota Castle, and there still are some of those ancient buildings like omonogashira gobansho, the guard house. One of the Kubota Castle’s turret towers is restored, and open to the public.
After a two-hour journey I arrived at the city and immediately felt relaxed; the weather was a bit cooler, and the streets were less crowded.. I fancied a bird’s-eye view, and the best place for that was Niigata Nippo MEDIA SHIP building’s free observation deck.
Niigata took me by surprise. I don’t know what I had imagined, but certainly not this; wide promenades at the river banks, fishing vessels and old tug boats floating in the shiny water, people enjoying beautiful weather while sitting on the benches. No wonder why it’s called the city of water.
Our accommodation was comfortable; the cabin had a kitchen/living room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a balcony with a great view to the sea. Near was a hot spring, which we visited before going to sleep, so we could wake up refreshed to the new day.
After breakfast we said goodbye to our lovely cabin and drove off to see the day’s first sight: senmaida, ‘one thousand rice fields’ arranged like tiny shelves on top of each other on the hillside. Probably because I come from a very flat country, everything related to mountains are enchanting for me, but these fields! How is it possible to cultivate them?
Next we visited the Shōdoshima Olive Park, which was like a small piece of Greek with its beautiful flower and herb beds, olive groves and shiny-white buildings. They also have Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service herb shop Corico that was a must-see for Chihiro and me.
Early in the morning we drove to Kobe harbour, and to ferry; our destination was three hours away, the gem of the Seto Inland Sea. Shōdoshima is one of the Inland Sea’s 3000 islands, and famous for its olives and soy sauce.
The ferry ride was pleasant, we had breakfast and played cards on the floor among other passengers. When we arrived in Shōdoshima, our first attraction was Nijushi no Hitomi Movie Village. It’s the actual shooting place of the Twenty-four eyes (Nijū-shi no Hitomi), filmed in 1954. After soomen lunch we fed the big carps on the canal and played on the beach. The weather was perfect for outdoor activities, sunny and bright.
We also visited a soy sauce factory and last, the Angel Road. It’s a narrow pathway which connects the mainland and few other small islands; it appears twice a day during low tide. Angel Road is a magical place; the sea and its waves had sculptured the rocks and softened the sand, and emerald green seaweed covered the rocks on the shore.
After saying goodbye to the Kikuchi Family and the Jinpuu staff, I headed for Tokyo Station, and took a Shinkansen to Osaka. Golden Week was about to start, and because of that, the Tanaka Family and I would travel to Shōdoshima Island.
Golden Week has a great impact on already crowded stations; everybody wants to travel at the same day, and queues are tremendous. Thank God, Kumi had helped me to send my luggage to the Tanakas, so I didn’t have to carry it!
When the Shinkansen arrived in Osaka, my sadness had almost disappeared, and I was ready to face some new adventures; we began our holiday at a sushi carousel with Mikiko, Otoosan and Ojiisan. It’s been a year since the last time we met. In the evening, we had dinner with the whole gang; I was happy to be with my Japanese family again!
Jinpuu‘s heart and soul were the Kikuchi couple; warm-hearted Kumi and always active Hiroto. Jinpuu was his father’s company, and Hiroto took the lead when he retired, and also Kumi worked at the office. Hiroto was a leader who didn’t mind getting his hands dirty; he shoveled soil, climbed high on the trees and sweated with us at the Tokyo site.
Hiroto was a hardworking, funny and generous man. Every morning he took his moped, drove to a convenient store to fetch us coffees; he treated me uncountably number of lunches, dinners, snacks and beverages. Kumi helped me so many ways during my apprenticeship at Jinpuu: she took me to a hairdresser, sent several boxes full of my stuff to Finland and introduced me to WonderREX second hand shop. (Come to think of it, WonderREX may be the reason I had to send some of those boxes!)
Hiroto loved his family; he always had time for his two boys. We had a lot of farewell parties and company events, and the kids always joined the crew. Jinpuu was a tight community, and they all made sure that I fit in.