Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Long Train Trip

The sunshine streaming through the window at five thirty in the morning woke us from our peaceful slumber. The infernal buzzing of the alarm clock in our ears didn't hurt either. Which ever it was we were up and ready on the bright. We had plans to be at the train station before seven o'clock and to be riding the rapid that left Omihachiman bound for Himeji at 7:03 in the morning. This was going to be our train. We wanted, neigh NEEDED, to be on that train. Things like train time tables become important details when you are staring down the tracks of a twelve hour long train trip. We were out bound on our first real family vacation. We were going to Hiroshima and Miyajima Island.

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit both of these places with the group of students from Grand Rapids that visited here in the spring. I wrote about it then. The difference then was the trip and the amount of time that we would be spending in the two locations. When I went with the students from Grand Rapids the trip to Hiroshima was a two hour ride in comfort. We rode the Shinkansen, otherwise know as the "Bullet Train". The Shinkansen is the way to travel in style here in Japan. Running along the rails at a whooping one hundred twenty miles per hour, the Shinkansen competes the journey from Kyoto to Hiroshima in around two hours. This time we as a family were planning on riding the regular rail lines and we were planning on spending closer to eight hours on the tracks. Once we figured in time for changing trains, potty breaks, leg stretching, and the ubiquitous "Logan needs to run around" breaks we estimated that we were looking at closer to twelve hours of riding the rails. It was for this reason that it became imperative that we were on one of the earliest trains out of town.

It was an adventure to say the least. We opted to take the method of travel that we did because of simple economics. Shinkansen tickets are expensive. I would equate them with airline tickets. The cost of two, maybe three tickets from Kyoto to Hiroshima would be a bit cost prohibitive. We were able to take advantage of a special ticket called the "seishun ju-hachi kippu". The ju-hachi kippu is a great ticket. It offers five days of unlimited train travel for about twenty dollars a day. Ride the train as far and as often as you like in one day and it is all good. A trip that could have cost us upward of six hundred dollars only ran us around eighty five bucks. But in terms of time we had to commit to an adventure.

We boarded the seven O'clock train and left Omihachiman for a long weekend. We made it to the city of Himeji with little to no difficulty. Well I must admit that it was mostly due to the fact that the train we were riding on only went as far as the city of Himeji. Himeji is about two hours away from us and is about a quarter of the total journey. After arriving in Himeji the true adventure began. It seemed that none of the trains leaving the station were going the direction or place that we needed. We ended up taking a train that only traveled down the line about three stops and then it terminated. We then found ourselves stuck in a tiny town with nothing to see or do, we couldn't even see a restaurant to eat lunch at, for a little over an hour. Then we were able to travel a short distance in the direction we were going a before again having to transfer trains. The trains we were on seemed to get progressively smaller and smaller. We started the day riding a train that was about ten cars long and at one point toward the end of the day the train we were riding was two cars long. I hesitate to say that we ever got lost, but there were times that it sure seemed that we were. The only thing that stopped me from totally feeling lost was the knowledge that as long as we were going west we were going the correct direction. Although at one point I did have to drag the compass out of the backpack to check and make sure that we were traveling in the appointed direction. It was a futile attempt at orienteering however because the train is propelled by electricity which caused the needle on the compass to spin like a top.

We did make it all the way to Hiroshima though. It ended up being closer to a thirteen hour trip instead of a twelve hour one though. We boarded the bus that would take us to our hotel. Now is the time where I must be brutally honest. I hate taking the bus. It is not that I think that it is a low form of travel, it is simply because riding a bus can be nigh on impossible. It is hard to hear the station names when they are announced, it is hard to figure out the proper fare, and worst of all chances are that you will get stuck on the bus for longer than you want to be. And that is exactly what happened to us. The bus became packed full of people and when the time for us to get off we could barely move and it was not possible for us to get off the bus. We were stuck to say the least. Trapped on the bus, unable to extricate ourselves from the cocoon of transportation. I will be eternally grateful to the people on that bus however. Not only did they tolerate a lot of bumping and jostling from three tourists, but they also alerted the bus driver to our predicament. He stopped the bus and let us off only one block from the stop, just on the other side of the hotel.

We wandered, a bit dazed and confused into the hotel and checked in. We then proceeded to the eighth floor and found our room where we fell into bed. Oh yes you heard me correctly, BED! Our first time sleeping in a real bed in almost a year. We didn't even mind that they were two twin beds set up fifties style. I totally felt like Ricky and Lucy in the old episodes of I Love Lucy. Two beds with a night stand in between. We couldn't have cared less. We jumped into the beds, Logan and Jenny in one and me in the other. It was a blissful nights sleep. What a great way to prepare the body and soul for the devastation that visiting the A-bomb dome, peace museum, memorials, and eternal flame can wreak.

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