After enjoying the historical and beautiful city of Kyoto, Japan, Angela and I were all set to travel into the mountains. We were traveling to the mountains west of Tokyo, often referred to as the ‘Japanese Alps‘. Up to this point, I had navigated our train travels throughout Japan with great success using an extremely convenient app called Hyperdia (a must-have for Japanese rail travelers). I became a little complacent with my skills, assuming that I was just awesome at this and little to no effort was required. We were traveling to Nozawa Onsen, and so I punched in the name of the town into Hyperdia, and was rewarded with the train station called Nozawa appearing as a valid location. I thought “must be close enough, same name!”. And so we happily boarded the JR Shinkansen and departed Kyoto for Nozawa. We found it odd that our train ride took us all of the way to the western coast, when Nozawa Onsen is in the mountains, but we chalked this up to being the only route available, but once we started going far to the north of where we should have been, Angela started to get worried. I was filled with faith in the system, and believed that we would soon turn south and somehow arrive conveniently at the door of our guest house. It wasn’t until I had the idea that maybe there was a Nozawa train station that was actually nowhere near Nozawa Onsen that I became worried enough to look it up on Googlemaps, and finally realized that there was indeed a Nozawa station far to the north of where we wanted to be. It was a terrible feeling as travel-panic washed over me, and I had no idea what to do. We decided that we had better jump off sooner than later, as the further north we went, the further away from our destination we would be. We ended up at a small, rural town that the train happened to stop at, and tried to ask the ticket man how we could book tickets to the right place. With some fancy internet skills, we found that we were not so far away, but had maybe overshot our destination by three hours or so. The extremely efficient and convenient system of booking tickets with my JR rail pass soon melted away as it was clear that the Japanese man in the ticket booth had never seen a JR pass before, and was frantically looking through his manual. He also spoke zero English, which was solely our problem because we did not speak any Japanese. Thanks to Angela’s researching skills, we jumped on a train without a ticket (totally possible with the JR pass) and after a stressful, but incident-free three hour train ride and a fifteen minute cab ride, we arrived in Nozawa Onsen. I was sweating a lot.
Alright, tundra might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but Harbin was still pretty cold. Two of our good friends, Bell and Matt, decided that they were going on a weekend getaway to Harbin, China a few weeks ago. I could not have told you very much about Harbin when I agreed to go along, except that I knew that this city was the host of the annual Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Well, I can’t tell you all that much more about Harbin after having traveled there, but the trip was still great. On Friday night, we boarded a plane after having sat in the Pudong International Airport for many hours. We had a direct flight to Harbin, which is significantly closer to Russia than Shanghai. I was invigorated by the cold once we stepped off of the plane. Although I frequently find myself complaining about the cold, damp weather in Shanghai, this was a dry, more ‘real’ kind of cold. It made me think of winter in the midwest, and that filled me with glee. We had arranged a cab, and arrived at our hotel with no problems. The hotel had overbooked, so we had to share our room with some of our good friends who were homeless for one night.
We realized on our way to the hotel that the St. Sophia Cathedral was right down the road. On Saturday morning, we decided that this would be a great place to start our tour of Harbin, so we walked there. In the morning sun, it was actually quite pleasant outside.