from the foreign female perspective
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After weeks of preparation, paperwork, waiting in lines, and annoying the crap out of a few loyal friends to pull strings, Aaron and I finally left my dorm room at 5:30am on, tickets in hand. Thanks to my good friend 絢子, I was able to get a mad discount on 新幹線 tickets, although the grand round-trip total still came out to about $380. Since we had to catch the 6:56 Hayate Super Express from Tokyo Station, we had to leave before the buses started. That meant either sacrifice a few limbs for a taxi, or lug our suitcases roughly 2 miles to the nearest station. It wasn't too bad, since we had a nine and a half hour sitting marathon awaiting us in the near future. I enjoyed seeing the tail end of a rosy Tokyo sunrise, and walking along the quiet pre-rush hour streets.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that it was a Sunday, we had to catch a slow ass local train from Kichijouji to Tokyo Station. I had stupidly planned on catching the rapid express, which makes the trip in less than half an hour, but this turtle of an early bird train only managed to crawl there in an agonizing 45 minutes. Yes, we missed our train. BY 8 STUPID MINUTES.
And yes, I was about to have a cow. I couldn't believe I made such an obvious error and was ready to berate myself with an endless tirade of derogatory terms, but thanks to a fake smile and an apologetic tone, I convinced the dude behind the みどりの窓口 (ticket reservation window) to give us a new set of tickets without getting the third degree, which was no easy feat considering the number of carefully timed transfers we had to make. He giggled when I explained what an idiot I was for overlooking the obvious dearth of rapid express trains at 6:30am on Sundays, for which I don't blame him. He was ridiculously fast when it came to pushing the multitude of buttons necessary to make the transaction, but even with his amazing speed it still took 15 minutes.
We were back on track, an hour behind schedule but giddy with relief. Aaron and I wandered the station, keeping a careful eye on the clock. He bought a tonkatsu sandwhich (gag) and some bottled green tea, and then we headed back towards our train.
The ride passed. It wasn't exactly fun, but it was tolerable. Once we got towards the northern part of 本州, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and after we passed through the tunnel between 八戸 and 函館 the combination of huge snow drifts and white jagged mountains embracing an endlessly dark blue sea stretching into the distance with was enough to entertain me for the last leg of the trip.
We finally pulled into 札幌 around 6pm, stiff-legged and with aching behinds, but intact. After locating a convenient map of the area surrounding the station, we managing to figure out with direction out hotel was in, and were there in no time.
Man, is Hokkaido colder than Tokyo. There was snow everywhere, and some stretches of sidewalk were sporting a foot of unmelted ice, which old men nonchalantly proceeded to pedal rickety bicycles over. I've been used to this sort of thing my entire life, but it's been a while since I've had to walk on ice and learn to ignore the seeping dampness permeating my shoes, but after a few minutes, I felt quite at home.
The hotel was nicer than I expected. Small and cozy, fresh blue and white yukata laid out, a hair dryer stuffed into the desk drawer in such a fashion that the said drawer would not close. The room was decorated in green and white (my U of M loyalty balked at this, but it was ignorable after a while) with tacky cornices and friezes on every available surface, but it was serviceable and cheap.
Aaron and I ditched our luggage and headed out into the city after a brief rest. We walked several miles, crisscrossing the blessedly grid-like streets, which, thank god, actually had NAMES. Sapporo is a wonderfully well-organized metropolis and therefore easy to navigate even without a map, much unlike Tokyo, which consists of crazily twisted roads and nameless alleys in an endless maze that confuses even the poor postmen.
We found a fantastic little place for a very late dinner in an underground arcade after perusing the multitude of plastic food each restaurant had displayed outside their doors. A plate of gourmet curry and rice, soup, a small salad, and a collection of tempura, all for Y1,480. Finally, reasonably priced delicious food that didn't take hours of searching to find.
That concluded day one of kaytay's Hokkaido adventure.
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