Hannah Barnes: Japan!

The twelve days of holiday.

Last year we (my boyfriend and I) didn’t go on holiday thanks to me and my crutches, so I had decided well in advance that this year had to be double as special. With crutches a distant memory, when off-season finally came, a few weeks later than usual thanks to the October World Championships, we jumped on a plane and made our way half way across the world to Japan.

We had planned twelve days, starting in the capital Tokyo and then travelling by train to a few different places. We had four days in the city, barely enough time to scrape the surface really, but we definitely did our best. We would leave the apartment before breakfast and get back after dinner, trying to fit as much into the day as possible. I’m not sure how accurate the Iphone stepometer is, but on our first day in Tokyo we supposedly walked 20km’s, after getting off the plane at 6am! I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by that figure, but if indeed it is true, I’m pretty sure half of the km’s were from walking around the crazy underground system’s stations.lockup2

On the second day, having walked ridiculous amounts the day before, we decided to take it a little easier. We met up with an old friend of Tao’s, Mie – a Tokyo local, who took us to a super cool flea market in a local shrine. There we found some little trinkets to take home as souvenirs including some Olympic memorabilia from the last time the games visited the city. When lunch time came, Mie took us round to her apartment and surprised us with the most colourful bento box (traditional lunch box), filled with delicious food. With every level of food that was revealed as she opened up the box, my jet lag seemed to disappear more and more! Who needs coffee…

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The following day we made our way to the Tokyo SkyTree, the tallest tower in the world. The weather was a little overcast but that didn’t take anything away from the breathtaking views of the city. I cant say I enjoyed standing on the glass floor 450 metres above the ground but it was definitely something that I won’t forget for a long time. Once back down below and firmly on solid ground, we hit the shopping street’s, of course completely different from those you would see in Europe, before finding ourselves sat in front of a very happy Japanese sushi-chef with a very sharp knife and incredible skills busy making us our dinner.

After a crazy few days in Tokyo, we travelled to the mountainous region of Hakone. I had been doing some research on Japan while laying on a hotel bed in Doha and had read lots of blogs that said staying in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese guesthouse) was something you have to do. When we arrived at our Ryokan we were greeted at the door by an old lady who showed us to our room. Tao couldn’t resist jumping in Ryokan’s absolutely boiling hot Onsen before dinner. We arrived in the evening so didn’t see the breathtaking views of Lake Ashi and Mt.Fuji until we opened the curtains the next morning, but when we did it was an amazing surprise to wake up to.img_2714

Having awoken to perfect surrounding, in the most phenomenal setting, we fuelled ourselves with pastries (daily offseason occurrence) and made our way around the Lake, through the forest and to the Hakone shrine. Not forgetting the obligatory photo between the Orange Torri gate. We then carried on around Lake Ashi to a ropeway that took us to the top of Mt. Komagatake, where we would see the breathtaking views of Mt.Fuji.

On our way to the Hakone-Yumoto station we stopped in a small town up the valley from Motohakone and visited the Hakone Outdoor museum. We spent hours walking round the ground’s taking in all the alluring work by artists from all over the world. We also had a great Gyoza stop as we made our way back to the station. Athletes need fuel after all…

After a very relaxing couple of days in the mountains we carried on south to the city of Kyoto. We had only been there an hour or so and were already sat in a cafe making our way through a big slab of carrot cake. More fuel… As we were walking back to our Airbnb a friend that Tao had met last year while racing the Japan Cup got in contact, and before we knew it we had been whisked away to the amazing Fushimi-Inari shrine.  After walking through thousands of vermillion torri gates to the top of Mt.Inari, we rewarded all this exercise we had been doing with a visit to our friends favourite restaurant in the city. I’m pretty sure it is now one of my favourite restaurant too, it was so good.

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img_2785The following day we made the short 8km bike ride to the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Narrow path’s make their way through the thousands of bamboo tree’s and you spend your time, like everyone else, looking up at the swaying bamboo tree’s, trying to take it all in. That afternoon we made our way to the many shopping streets in Kyoto. We would walk out of one shop and into the next, normally with a sweet treat in our hand from the local food market that ran down the centre of the shopping district. Kyoto pretty quickly stole our hearts.

To finish up our expedition around Japan we headed briefly to the city of Osaka. Rapha, one of my sponsors at Canyon-Sram, had asked invited us to meet, dine and chat with some of their members at their Cycle Club space in the city. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to have ended our time in Japan, amongst such enthusiastic and energetic fans of the sport, and ticking of yet another RaphaCC from my growing list around the world.

The next morning it was on to the train back to Tokyo, but not before a quick visit to the Umeda sky building, after had been recommended to us the evening before. And I’m grateful it was, because the views from the top were absolutely exceptional, along with the incredible time-lapse video of how they created the buildings unique structure. To end of a whirlwind visit we got a take away lunch (yes more food…) from the huge food court at the station, grasping our last chance to eat truly Japanese style, and made our way to the platform for our final bullet-train ride.img_3133

What an experience and what a place. Thank you to everyone in Japan who made our trip quite so special, especially all the chef’s!