Sendai and Nikko

After leaving the railway museum I caught the Shinkansen north to Sendai. The journey was uneventful and I made my way to my Japanese style accommodation. There I had a relaxing evening aside from heading out to Mosburger for a small Japanese burger that was too small so I had a second supper afterwards -these small meals do mean the Japanese don’t have obese people; aside from the sumo wreslers of course! The Japanese style accommodation was good but not a new experience as actually I’ve been in Japanese style accommodation all week in Tokyo.

After that the next day I caught the train down to Nikko (I was planning to go north of Sendai which is why I stopped there in the end it didn’t really make sense.) and had a look around the temples in the complex before it got dark – unfortunately I didn’t have time to see quite all of them – that had to keep until the next day. The temples were very ornate and made of painted red wood with oriental style finishing on the outside and beauitful interiors as well which sadly you were unable to photograph.

In the morning I got up, packed and had breakfast in time for the 8.30am bus from the railway station up the valley. Once nearly at the lake I got off the bus with an American couple staying at my hostel and we went to a beautiful viewpoint over the valley below. There was supposed to be a walk down over to the lake but it was shut in Winter – I guess the ground gets icy though it could be Japanese paranoia on safety. When waiting for the train if you stand over the yellow line they honk – even if the train is stopping to let you on.

So then we had to go back down and back on the bus to the lake where we got a view of the lakeside (which was mostly a bit ugly and overdeveloped) as well as a nearby waterfall.

After that I headed back to Nikko and ate in a delicious restaurant which served Japanese vegetable “chow mein”. After lunch I headed up to see the parts of the complex I had missed including a couple of interesting museums which contained artifacts from the complex and about it’s history – it was built for the first Shogun who after his death became a god to watch over Japan. It also had a great Japanese Garden. After this I headed to the far side of the complex to the building I didn’t have time to explore the day before and like the others it was big, red and in a typical oriental style. Even though it was arguably garish it did also fit in with it’s surroundings very well; something that can’t really be said of modern Japanese architecture (though in fairness the centre of Tokyo looks great in my view, it’s the country towns which don’t. In England Nikko would have to have stone (or fake stone) houses and thatched cottages – here that wouldn’t be suitable but they could have been in traditional Japanese style – Hoi An in Vietnam which is a similar style place (though not in the mountains) had prettier modern buildings so the Japanese should be able to manage it. Maybe the Vietnamese should send the Hoi An planning people to Nikko in exchange for the “Shinkansen” the Japanese are helping with between Ha Noi and Sai Gon :p.

After that I went quickly back to my hostel to pick up my bags and I had to run with my big backpack to get the train I wanted to catch at 3:20pm so I could get the Shinkansen to Kyoto. All in all the journey took 5 hours which is incredibly quick.

I should also mention how (aside from pushing to get on commuter trains) the Japanese are incredibly considerate on public transport. Every carriage is quiet and people go out of the carriage when they want to make a telephone call or have a crying baby which is great for the rest of us and makes travelling much less of a chore.

The trip to Christchurch

As I didn’t want to go on the internet for an hour I haven’t been on Wifi for a while so I haven’t made any posts. So the post on Wellington is also new.

First thing on Saturday I headed across from Wellington to the port on the South Island known as Picton. The boat ride across was fairly windy but the boat was so big (and undoubtably has stabilizers) that it didn’t get tossed around by the sea. After arriving in Picton which was a bit chaotic but I safely made it onto the train south and as it left at 1pm I had plenty of time for lunch too. Then after a relaxing train ride down the coast I arrived in Kaikoura. My accommodation, like most accommodation in town was a long 500m walk from my hostel which wasn’t much fun. In the evening I went to a fairly pricey restaurant to try some crayfish which was very well cooked but unfortunately the crayfish itself didn’t really taste of anything (so basically the sauce was nice).

Then in the morning I got up early for the Dolphin Encounter, the weather wasn’t as nice as the previous day so the boat rocked and heaved a lot in the water. It was also really cold especially on my hands and feet, though even on Tahiti I don’t think the sea is exactly warm. Anyhow getting to see the dolphins so close beneath you was amazing and a hugely rewarding experience and there were loads and even some with babies and even though they didn’t pay much attention to us, maybe because the sea was so rough or they were bored with people in their water. On the last trip when returning to the boat one of my flippers fell off so I had to swim faster than I’ve ever swam before to get back to the boat; I think the sea was pushing me away and then I did feel seasick.

After that I had a simple but good chicken and Brie panini and hot chocolate which definitely warmed me up inside. After that I headed back to the hostel to get my stuff for the train. The train ride passed through a lot of tunnels and spectacular scenery visible through shiny glass on it’s way to Christchurch. Once I got there I got a taxi for the first time since Iquique in Chile to my hostel as I wasn’t going to carry it from the train station to my hostel. In the evening I avoided McDonalds for a cheap meal by having some Greek food for dinner. You may notice I haven’t had much traditional New Zealand food (like guinea pig in Peru) as you aren’t allowed to eat Kiwi and even the Maori meal was chicken and lamb. I then went off to the cinema to see the new Bond film which was excellent and it had a good plot as well as lots of action, the only criticism was that it was a bit too Hollywood (I.e. Bond would get shot at lots and all the bullets would miss and he’d shoot back once and hit.) The cinema was pretty comfortable too; much more comfortable than the cinemas in Oxford.

Machu Picchu

Firstly a note. This is a double post and the story on the rest of the Sacred Valley was posted at the same time.

After breakfast at the train station we got ok the train. The train didn’t have much legroom (little more than the bus yesterday) but we did get a window positioned next to every seat. At first we got to see the rubbish produced by the citizens of Cusco. I wish they’d add a US$1 surcharge to the US$48 each way ticket price and pay people to clean it up as it’s disgusting. After that we got to see the tight valley the train winds through to reach the Sacred Valley including several switchbacks; especially as we left Cusco. After about 2 hours we again reached Ollyatambo and afterwards headed through the lush farmland of the Sacred Valley. After a while this gave way to the most virgin jungle I had yet seen as we wound our way along the track to Machu Picchu station.

After our journey we arrived into London Paddington Machu Picchu station (if you treat it like London and march straight through you can get the first waiting bus. Keep your guidebook handy for the route through the inevitable Market.) then you are taken to Machu Pichu itself. This meant we got to the top very quickly so we got a lot of time at the top.

It doesn’t exactly have a wow moment like Iguazu does but overall it is incredible and an amazing location to build a city surrounded by mountain peaks and also very challenging to reach. The bus up has to practically hug the cliff on the 30 minute journey to Machu Picchu itself. The highlight for me was the absolutely spectacular views in all directions of the surrounding mountains.

In the city itself we had a wander around and saw the usual half constructed buildings that are present at the other inca sites. The city also is clearly unfinished in places and large boulders take their place among the buildings. Basically the Spanish conquered the incas at the height of their empire so the city wasn’t finished. The centre of the city was a slanted rock which had no shadow on the equinox days which everyone seemed to want to pretend to touch.

After seeing most of the city which includes ledges for growing food for around a 3 hour trip we walked up a path for 30 minutes to get amazing views of Machu Picchu from above. It was as high as the mountain limited to 400 people so the view was pretty amazing, probably as good to be honest. Overall Machu Picchu was definitely well worth seeing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

PS there are lots of trains from Ollyatambo to Machu Pichu. If you want to spend longer on the mountain but still do it in one day get the bus to Ollyatambo the previous evening and stay in a hotel there and then get the train to Machu Picchu from there and then get the train all the way back to Cusco in the evening. If you don’t stay there you’ll have to get up even earlier as it takes 2 hours to get there from Cusco however you do it. Alternatively you can get a late train from Ollyatambo to the village at the end of the train line which lets you walk up one of the mountains to overlook Machu Picchu whose numbers are limited to 400/day and you have to get entry at 7am.

PPS I’ll be adding photos in the next few days of the site to Flickr and I’ll link them from the story.