It was a four hour ferry trip from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare. If you imagine Ireland as a teddy bear facing west, we arrived at the point where his tail would be.
Our camp site camp site was half an hour’s drive away from the ferry at Carne Beach, Wexford. It had been raining most of the day and it was still hosing it down when we arrived. We could do nothing but park up in the closest pitch, plug into the electricity (blue job) and settle down for the evening. Fortunately we had eaten on the boat but a small glass of wine helped to settle our jet lag before we retired for the night.
The sun was out the next morning although it was extremely windy. We set off on our bikes to explore the local wild and pristine beaches before stopping at The Lobster Pot, a well known (and probably the only) hostelry in the area. The oysters were the best we have ever tasted – whenever we have oysters we exclaim that they are the best ever – these really were and cost £10 for six.
“In July the sun is hot
Is it shining?
No it’s not!”
This was certainly the case when we arrived at Gower, a west facing a peninsular fifteen miles long and seven miles wide stretching out into Swansea Bay in South Wales. We were en route to Ireland and due to catch the Pembroke – Rosslare ferry later that week.
We arrived at Llangenith in the rain; not pouring rain but a damp mist that managed to get you soaked, even if you were out in it for just a few minutes. We couldn’t see the beautiful green hills, the huge sand dunes nor the wide sandy beach, a favourite with surfers. Finally the weather cleared long enough for us to take a walk along the wide beach to admire the surfers who appeared undeterred by the wet weather. There was a bistro / cafe on the campsite where we hoped to get something to eat but they were closing early (4 pm) due to the poor weather. We wondered whether it had occurred to them that inclement weather would bring the restaurant more customers needing shelter from the rain and something warm to eat. There were plenty of people about.
The following day brought beautiful sunshine and we had a long walk along beach and the coastal path towards Rhossili. We then cycled to the nearest village for a pub lunch accompanied by a pint of their local beer, Gower Gold (recommended).
We had been in Japan for almost three weeks and our impression of the country was primarily influenced by the charming people we met. We were always treated with respect and everyone appeared interested to hear who we were and where we came from and they went out of their way to offer us help whenever they could.
The Japanese appeared to us to be very cultured and civilised, their food was delicious and healthy and made with the freshest of ingredients. There were very few fat Japanese, particularly the older generation. The countryside in Hokkaido was, in the main, unspoiled and extremely beautiful. The city was litter free, efficient and dotted with lovely parks and gardens.
We left the country feeling we would like to return some time soon to visit a people genuinely willing to treat a foreigner with a bow and a friendly smile. We felt they were delighted we were visiting their country and they did everything possible to make sure we were helped when we needed it. Not many spoke more than a few words of English but we were often understood if we showed them a word written down. Those who did speak our language seemed delighted to stop and have a chat.
Our thanks were due to our generous hosts, Rita and Brian Shell who were kind enough to invite us to join them on the trip and especially to their son, Jonny and his wife Ayuko who did so much to make our stay enjoyable. We very much appreciate their kind generosity.
We returned to the Flower Carpet the following morning, Saturday, and enjoyed listening to a choir of school children looking very smart in their school uniforms. We took a stroll around the city’s botanical gardens created in the early 1900s on a site that had been inhabited for a thousand years by the indigenous tribes that lived on the fertile plain of the Toyohira river. The beautiful arboretum contained vestiges of the broad leafed forests that existed on the site before the gardens were created.
Back in the city centre we wandered around stalls selling street food, beer, garden plants and crafts. We had a corn on the cob for lunch – cost about £1.50 each.
One afternoon we were a little disorientated when we got off a bus close to our hotel and we’re spending a few minutes deciding which way to head back. A smartly dressed elderly gentleman in a hat and tweed jacket offered his help but indicating he didn’t speak any English. We told him the name of our hotel, it was just a hundred yards behind us, and he walked with us, escorted us carefully over the pedestrian crossing and waved us goodbye at the door of the hotel.
Sapporo had lots of parks dotted around the city. This one was quite small, just a garden in front of a museum but it was so tranquil, in spite of being surrounded but skyscrapers. This tiny azalea water garden was outside our restaurant window on the fourth floor and, again, surrounded by high buildings. There was a lone duck swimming around, I wondered how it got there .
We visited the ski jump used in the Winter Olympics, travelling to the top in a cable car and giving us a wonderful view of the city and surrounding hills.
We were taken to admire a statue of a local hero, Dr William Smith Clark, who in 1877 became head of the new agricultural college that later became Hokkaido university. He was an American educator who brought Christianity to his students. His motto was “Boys Be Ambitious – not for fame or personal fortune but for knowledge and righteousness. Be ambitious for the attainment of all that man can be”. Obviously the Japanese thought very highly of him as coach loads of visitors posed by the statue, imitating his stance for the camera. We bought “Boys Be Ambitious” tee shirts to give to our grandsons! Sorry!
We spent a few days staying in the largest city in Hokkaido before we caught our plane back to the UK. Sapporo was famous for Sapporo lager beer – tried and thoroughly tested by us and found to be very good. The city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972.
We enjoyed our stay in Sapporo, the streets were wide and tree lined and getting around the city was easy by trams, buses and underground trains as well as on foot. Tony said the cleanliness and orderliness of the place reminded him of Singapore.
During the winter months the city was under several metres of snow and there were huge subterranean shopping malls connected by underground walkways so business could continue when sub zero temperatures brought the city to a standstill.
The food halls were extensive and in front of each counter stood a salesperson with a tray of tasting samples. I tried several different types of tasty morsels not quite knowing what I was eating, but it all tasted good. I bought a bottle of sake (rice wine) but not before I had sampled a tot of several different types – and this was at 10 am.
We watched a large group of people sitting on the pavement removing petals from bunches of flowers; I was told they were making a carpet of petals.
We returned later that evening to admire their handiwork. The smell of the petals was almost overpowering in the warm night air.
We caught the bus to the local town of Kutchan, a sprawling and not very pretty place with wide roads set out in a grid system so all the roads were long and straight with little indication whether you were at the town centre or on an industrial estate. None of the buildings were particularly old but nothing seemed to be built with any attempt at style and overhead power cables seemed to complete the dismal scene.
Of course we found somewhere to have lunch helped by a lady in the coffee shop. She walked down the road with us for several hundred yards and pointed out a sushi restaurant, chattering away in Japanese as we walked! We had some excellent sashimi (raw fish) – very fresh and delicious. We also had tempora and what was described as fried tentacles (squid, I assume) washed down with beer and green tea. The cost was just under £10 a head. The chef was delighted with us because, I assume, we ate so much. He enthusiastically showed his various dishes and even demonstrated the proper use of chopsticks when he saw we were making a hash of picking our food up.