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At the beginning we found it quite challenging to move around the city. Passers-by were not helpful either, with their poor command of English. Eventually, having visited a tourist information office, we found a youth hostel. Overnight accommodation in this luxurious facility cost JPY 3500. We got a double room with such amenities as air-conditioning, phone, or a TV set. As there was a washing machine and a dryer on the floor, we decided to wash our clothes. The two machines looked alike and only had instructions in Kanji characters, so we obviously put some washing powder into the dryer. All that hi-tech overpowered us.

In the evening we took a walk around the city. First we went to a seafood shop. I was under the impression that the Japanese would eat everything they found in water. In addition to dozens of fish species, there were squids, crabs, snails, and algae. I had no idea how they could eat such things. Even Japanese snacks were made of seafood. For example, dried fish strips seemed to be an equivalent of potato chips. At this point I would like to make some remarks on Japanese trade practices. In groceries you will not find such baked goods as we are used to. They only have some wheat or rice bread. Butcher shops are rare, because meat and meat products are very expensive. The Japanese are masters in the art of packaging food products. At times it seemed to me that the packaging constituted more than a half of the product value, chocolate being the most prominent example. A Japanese chocolate bar with the same dimensions that a European one weighs only 50 g – only a half of what we are used to. Groceries offer an enormous selection of ready meals – both microwave meals and instant soups in polystyrene cups. You can even prepare such a meal on-site – microwave ovens and vacuum flasks with hot water are available in groceries. What else? You can encounter a wide variety of sakes – both in terms of types and packages: from disposable cups and cartons to 2-litre bottles. By the way – after tasting that drink (I am a Pole after all) I was not pleased. Sake can be compared to diluted vodka (alcohol content usually being 16%) with a moonshine smell. On the other hand, Japanese beer is excellent, although the selection is not as broad.

Coming back to Hakodate – the city is overlooked by a volcano from whose top there is a beautiful panoramic view. As we lacked time, we only climbed half the way to the top. We had to be back in the hostel by 11 pm, after which time the entrance door was locked. Nevertheless, the view from the volcano slope will stay in my memory for a long time. A sea of lights beneath our feet, flickering with thousands of colourful neon signs. What is also interesting about Hakodate – one can find Catholic and Orthodox churches in that city. It is an influence of Russian culture, or the influence of Russian emigrants, to be more precise.

Next day we visited Onuma Park. A curious place with a lake and around three hundred "floating" islands, all of them overgrown with beautiful, colourful trees. A number of arched bridges provided easy access to several islands. I was stunned by the beauty of this place, and I dare say it was the most beautiful natural park I saw in Japan. We stopped for a meal at a nearby restaurant. Our choice was the cheapest meal – saki soba. To our dismay, we were served cold pasta with fish flakes sprinkled over it. Firstly, I am not fond of fish and secondly, I really wanted a hot meal. As we were ashamed to give it back, we ate everything. Still, the unpleasant feeling haunted us until the evening. After all, we were the ones to be blamed – we tried to save two bucks. As every decent fairy tale should have a moral – there you go: if you want to try saki soba, be sure to order a few glasses of beer with it.

This time we set up a tent next to some deserted building. Fortunately, we had warm down sleeping bags – in the morning the temperature fell below 0°C, while inside the tent in was no higher than 4°C. During the day, in turn, nice autumn sunshine allowed us to cycle wearing just T-shirts. We decided to go to Lake Toyako – one of the most beautiful regions of Hokkaido. The lake occupies the crater of an extinct volcano, and has a rocky island in the middle. This is where a large spa complex is situated, making use of natural hot springs (so-called onsen). We visited the best local onsen situated in a 5-star Sun Palace hotel. Admission fee was JPY 2500, but it was worth paying so much. We found ourselves in a complex of baths connected with a wave pool and numerous water slides. You walk into the bath naked (men and women use separate facilities), but if you are shy you have a small towel at hand. First you take a shower. However, things look quite different than in Europe. You sit on a stool. In front of you there is a mirror and a faucet, and next to you there are toiletries – shampoo and bath lotion. Everything takes place in public – next to you there are several (naked) Japanese guys washing themselves too. Then you can start soaking your body in one of several pools with water of different temperatures. After a few minutes of soaking in 45°C heat I felt several years younger. Then came a back massage under artificial waterfalls. While walking from one pool to another you can go outside and still indulge yourself in hot water. It must be especially pleasant in winter, with snow all around, when you find yourself immersed in a hot bath up to your neck. Moreover, the facility features a buffet where drinks and snacks are served. All in all, I must say a long stay in an onsen can be tiring. We had had enough after two and a half hours.

While heading for another lake – Shikotsuko – we saw a place on a river bank where people boiled eggs in a hot spring. Kind of a local attraction. On our way to Tomakomai we were surprised to notice that we ran out of food, and there was no shop or inn within sight. In Japan it is extremely rare to encounter no buildings while travelling over a distance of ca. 50 km. This is exactly the beauty of Hokkaido. The wilderness that southern Japan lacks. I was so hungry that I broke out in a cold sweat. We cooperated (taking turns while cycling one behind another) to reach our destination as soon as possible. On our last legs we got to Tomakomai, bolted like savages into the first grocery we saw, and feasted for a looong time. Then we went to the port, from where we were to take a ferry to Tokyo. And off we went. The cruise took us 31 hours – just enough time to get bored and make some new acquaintances. We got an invitation to the captain's bridge. Using his broken English, the captain told us everything about the ferry. It was quite old already – 23 years in service. We later prayed that the rusty vessel would not let in water, and that we would get to Tokyo safely. Moreover, we met a nice Japanese lad – Tayaki.