Sunday, 29 November 2009
On the return drive back towards Niigata city we stopped off in the old castle town of Murukami, the town no longer has it's castle as only the ruins remain but there are many fantastic old merchant houses that are now doing very well because they are historic buildings still in use and it was at one of these such buildings that we stopped at in the center of town. The shop had an array of cheap fresh vegetables for sale outside plus indoors there was a raised wooden seating area with a traditional open fire on which to cook or boil tea and a restaurant serving local food, no doubt salmon was probably on the menu. After departing Murukami we returned to the main highway and stopped off at a recycling store where there were hundreds of bicycles, along with TVs , car tires and all sorts of other everyday junk. Amongst the bicycles we did spot a rather nice older traditional bike in good condition for it's age but we didn't bother inquiring how much it was, as the day was getting late and we needed to return home. I'm not sure if we'll get another chance to get out cycling this year as already it's getting rather cold with snow on the hills but if it's a mild winter there may be more cycling yet to come.
The road that we took to head back towards the coast was one of the narrowest I have ever ridden on while out touring and it was easy to see why it's closed over the winter as it would be too dangerous to attempt to drive it covered in snow & ice. Most of the road was downhill towards the coast. Just as we entered the seaside town, the towns 12pm horn was blowing alerting everybody it was lunch time. And as we came to the intersection adjoining the main road we spotted a convenience store with indoor seating , the perfect place for a lunch break. Now quite a few convenience stores in Japan are providing indoor seating for customers. I had one of my favorite Japanese meals " Katsu curry " - fried pork cutlet with rice & Japanese style curry and after spending 30 mins or so over lunch we headed along the busy main road where we spotted " Awa shima " - Awa island one of the two islands off the coast of Niigata. We had thought about continuing on to the seaside town of Sanpoku before turning inland to get back to our starting point, but because of the heavy traffic we took the first turn we came to and headed inland which took us along one of the roads we had cycled that morning back to the car. We arrived back at the van at 1.45pm after having cycled 60 km.
The route Brian had picked was fantastic as it wasn't too steep and the scenery was brilliant and the day had turned out very nice with patches of blue sky which is rare at this time of the year along the coast of the Japan sea. Our next stop was a natural fresh water spring which are often found on mountain roads and especially handy for a thirsty cyclist, after the spring we spotted a very old storage shed with large rocks holding the roof on, which is another technique from days gone by that is rarely seen now. We also paused for a while in an old village which had some fantastic old houses built in traditional style, then after a tunnel and a short but step climb we had reached the border of Niigata & Yamagata where we stopped on the summit for a bite to eat before the downhill into the valley below. The downhill was great fun but being as the road was wet and very narrow you had to take care on the sharp switchbacks before it flattened into another small village where we made a left turn to head towards the sea.
Right where I took the photo of my bike in the last posting , Brian spotted some large trout swimming upstream then a salmon which are very famous in the Sanpoku & Murukami area either fresh or salt cured. A long time ago people didn't have any form of refrigeration so the fish they caught were coated with sea salt then hung up to dry so they could eat the fish over the winter. Next to our surprise Brian spotted a salmon hooked to a line that was attached to a bamboo pole tied to the bank of the river. This form of fishing would be illegal in my home country of NZ but in this valley it seemed the most popular way of obtaining a salmon. After cycling a short distance down the road we came upon a couple of cars and a couple of fisherman who were busy storing their mornings catch in polystyrene boxes by the side of the road. They had built a small lean to shelter and a couple of small dams in the river and had at least 6 fixed bamboo poles in the river. I asked the fisherman how long he had been fishing and to my surprise he had only been there a couple of hours starting at 8am and already he had caught 15 large salmon, he offered me a fantastic large salmon but unfortunately I had to refuse as there was no way it would have fit inside my saddlebag. Along the same road we spotted more fisherman sitting inside their covered fishing shacks with many fixed poles in the river.
Pictured above are some photos taken at the riverside
Not long after the first village we came upon another small village and as we were just leaving it we noticed some movement in a Kaki tree across a rice field and too our surprise there were several wild monkeys devouring the fruit off the tree, it looked like they we having a pretty good time and further along the road we spotted yet another monkey sunbathing on the branch of a tree. It seemed to be a popular spot for monkeys as on the way back along the same road we saw them again and one of the locals passed by stating they have a lot of monkeys around here, which must cause some problems over the winter when their natural food sources are in short supply. Further along the road we came to a scenic spot on a bend in the river where I took the above photo.
I had almost given up hope of getting another ride in before the winter had set in, but in the last few days the weather wasn't bad even though it was pretty cold so when I suggested to Brian that we take a ride on Sunday I had no idea if it would be fine or not and I didn't even have a route in mind. But on Sat night Brian rang to say it was going to be fine according the weather reports and before he told me of his idea , I had surges ted the same area which was north of Murukami city near the border of Niigata. So I dug out my winter woolies and packed my saddle bag ready for our 7am departure the next day. Upon rising early the weather looked pretty go and once Brian had arrived at my place we loaded my work van with the two bicycles and drove past Murukami to the village of Kitanaka a small village located off the main route north. After parking the van by the side of a rice field just out of town at 9am we headed uphill which was to be one of the steepest climbs of the day, it was hard work in low gear sucking in the cold mountain air but before long we had reached the summit and enjoyed a nice downhill through the first village of the day. The scenery was fantastic and we often stopped throughout the day to take photos as we had never ventured into this area before.
Pictured above is a map showing the route we took and the 1st two photos that were taken.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Today I went pottering on the Humber with my mate Brian and our destination was Roast Cafe which is located on the outskirts of Niigata City but when we arrived we found it closed with a sign saying they are not open on Sunday's which was a shame as most coffee shops & cafes in Japan are rather busy on the weekends. After that we cycled back into the city and stopped off at a huge shopping mall as Brian wanted to purchase some foreign cooking supplies from an import shop so while in the mall we had a bite to eat at a fantastic bakery and after a quick look around the mall we continued on our way back into the center of the city. Before we parted we stopped off at the old shrine which is located in Kanbara cho where I used to live when I first moved to Niigata city. The shrine is famous for it's festival which is held in August of every year and has over 600 stalls selling food and toys for kids. The weather is now getting cooler and the days are getting shorter so I hope to get in one more decent ride before winter arrives.
Pictured above is a photo of me taken on the way to the cafe with the Gozu mountain range in the background and the other photo is of Kanabara shrine