Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Babymoon at Miyajima - or - How I climbed a mountain while 8 months pregnant

Scandalous title, I know. Mom, don't pass out. ;)
So as I have been passing the time checking out the plethora of maternity sites available on the internet, I have discovered there are a bunch of to-do lists on these sites, listing many useful things you must absolutely have done before you go into labor. These lists are speckled with new intimidating vocabulary, including words like 'babyproof' ,'birth plan', and ... 'learn how to use your breast pump' (my what? I'm supposed to have one of those?) which you can use to distract yourself from work - I mean, give yourself ideas and also feelings of inferiority.
One of the items prominently featured on these sites:
'Babymoon'. Go on a trip. A nice vacation with your hubby, as long as you can afford/ your distended bump allows you stamina for.
I know they're hinting that we should go NOW because we probably won't be able to go for a while, but it sounded like an awesome idea. I'll take any excuse for a vacation.

Without further ado, we booked a trip to one of the few famous places in Japan that we haven't been to yet - Hiroshima. Hiroshima may not seem like the most romantic of venues, but it and the surrounding areas of Miyajima (a shrine on the ocean dedicated as a world heritage site), and the many islands of the Inner Sea are famously beautiful, and definitely worth a visit.

Day one of babymoon: A little research and I found out to my delight that you can ride an airplane with ANA up to a month before you're due. This is much more lenient that the three months for international flights. Nice to know, considering the shinkansen to Hiroshima is nearly five hours and twice the price of an airplane ticket.
So, we took a flight from Haneda at 8am. It's a two hour flight, half an hour of which involved taxiing on the tarmac, but eventually we landed at the airport nestled in the mountains about an hour from the city, and got into our rent-a-car. It was a really cute Honda Insight, nearly the same color as my darling old civic 'aochan'. As a hybrid, it was naturally a little low on power, causing Takeshi to grumble, but we liked it more than a Prius.

First up: a long string of picturesque bridges over the Seto Inland Sea!

What is there to do here?
-Try not to miss your exit. there is only one per island, some of which are large.
- Eat thousands upon thousands of tangerines. I promise you will not even make a dent in the vast supply available. The islands are all COVERED with mikan (tangerine) trees, of different varieties, all of which were in season while we were visiting. Result? We must have ate dozens of the sweet little fruit. And then got some boxes shipped home. Which reminds me, there are still a few mikans left in a box in the hall. I think I'll go eat one.

Okay I'm back now, where was I. There was an onsen, but it was heavily chlorinated and a bit of a dissapointment, but Takeshi found himself chatting with a local farmer while in the sauna about the details of mikan farming. Fact!  Wholesale, farmers can only get 100 yen per 1kg of mikans!? They must not be in it for the money. ...On that note, I must try to find wholesale mikans...

It was a clear sunny day, the colors of the sparkling blue inland sea, light blue sky, and the green islands
were speckled with orange from the tangerines set off the majestic white architectural beauty of the bridges connecting the islands.
We found a beach, where Takeshi promptly scouted around for good fishing points. Not that he had brought a rod or anything, just... BECAUSE.Apparently that is what you do when at the seaside.
'Too shallow', he proclaimed, and just like that, we were ready to go back to the hotel.
There was a long drive waiting for us, and Takeshi was starting to doze off behind the wheel. With a vote of two to zero, we decided that a giant belly was less of a driving hazard than possibly falling asleep, so I took the wheel. It was really not that bad. And did I mention the car was pretty cute?

The next day, we took a ferry to Miyajima, the home one of the most beautiful shrines in all of Japan - Itsukushima Jinja.
This is the shrine that is famously on the water, it looks like it's floating during high tide. The big red torii gate is massive enough you can pass a rowboat through, which is popular during, well, warmer times (we went in January. Hell no I am not getting in a rowboat in January.)
Our plan was to get lunch, visit the shrine at high tide, take the gondola to the top of the island and walk around for a bit, then get back by low tide and look at it again.
Lunch was an anango rice-bowl, a local treat. anago is an eel that is different from unagi, for some very important and distinct reason that keeps eluding me. Like anago is freshwater? no? I think Takeshi told me that was NOT IT, waving his arms at me. But they cover it in the same sweet sauce and I'll be damned if I can remember the difference.

We walked through the picturesque village area near the shoreline- the bay and distant view of the mainland to the right, cedar trees and wood houses selling snacks and souveneirs to the left. Although we had just had lunch this didn't stop us from purchasing lots of kinds of snacks, and trying to keep said snacks away from the semi-feral deer that wander around and are suspiciously fat, even though there are signs that said 'do not feed the deer' everywhere. I'm guessing the deer haven't read those signs, since they tried to eat our senbei AND the sweet potatoes in exchange for a little pat on the head, following after us merrily on the way to the shrine. I felt like the pied piper of pan, with deer in tow. Finally we got sick of them so we threw the end peice of a sweet potato 'go long!' and made a run for it.

you stinky!
The shrine was like a boardwalk of sorts, over the shallow sealine, which doesn't seem to get choppy to cause problems to the tourists. The ocean is really calm, because it's mostly surrounded by land on all sides except for narrow openings hundreds of miles to the north and south, (hence 'inland sea'). It was mostly an open design, with red poles supporting red roofs, and views of the shallow water on all sides. There were even tiny pufferfish swimming in the water right by the planks!

still standing, in defiance of global warming and rising sea levels.

January is the month to go to the shrine and get your new year's blessing. We already went to a shrine sort of close to our apartment on one of my long walks, but! This shrine is way more powerful. Probably. What? I know I'm not the religious sort, but it's like seven hundred years old, and I'm about to have a baby. So I got a 'safety in childbirth' charm, from the POWERFUL shrine, to take with me when I go to the hospital. (I already have aromatherapy oils, a yoga ball, hot water bottle, printouts of good positions for labor, a playlist of music, some different textures to run my fingers over as a distraction, drinkable jelly energy-boosters... etc etc. I would prefer to over-prepare than under-prepare. A good charm is a welcome addition to my large arsenal. :D )
So, charm purchased, we took some pictures and left for the ropeway. Well, not before I lingered a little too close to the enormous vats of sake, giving each vat a longing gaze....

wait for me, sake... I will be back for you... someday!

The path to the ropeway went though an old forest, which interestingly seemed to have a public restroom every couple hundred feet (happy news for the pregnant lady). Also it took us past an open cafe on a hill-top, where we took a break , had some matcha (green tea made from powder) and maple leaf-shaped sweet bean cakes, which were only a little bit of a rip-off. but it was nice to rest our tootsies. Plus the view from the hilltop was gorgeous.

After that it was just a hop, step and a jump to the ropeway ticket seller. So, imagine this scenario, will you? To the right, the path continues with a gently sloping paved cement trail with a sign 'top of mountain: 2.5 kilometers', and on the other hand was the ticket line, really long I might add, with the price of 1800 yen per person. We looked at both. And naturally, having felt a little ripped off from the tea and cakes, we looked at each other trying to get a sense of how we felt about walking the rest of the way.
 '2.5 kilos, that's not bad! I mean, I take longer walks than that for exercise. I can totally do it. You know. If you want,' I said to Takeshi. 'I need to take a long walk today anyway'.
'Only if you're up for it,' he said, looking relieved, 'and I'll help you up if it gets steep, don't worry'.
Oh boy, did he learn to regret that promise.

For the first half kilo, it really was a peice of cake. Totally paved. Gentle slope. We even snickered at the hordes of old people, dressed in brightly-colored mountain climbing gear.
On the second half-kilo, the gentle slope became gentle stairs. I like stairs, especially while pregnant, believe it or not. They feel really great on swollen ankles and stiff legs. At Rakuten the elevators only stopped at certain floors to save energy and we had to take stairs to get to meetings, which would always freak my boss out when he saw me taking them. 'Kyra-san, you really don't need to do that! there are special elevators for the handicapped!'
... I would muffle the voice in my mind and assure him it was perfectly ok.

So the stairs were cool. no problem. There was a bench at the top of each flight. I would be lying if I said I didn't sit down at each one for a little breather, but that's what they were there for!
... and then the stair-paved pathway turned into a hiking trail, with the stairs replaced with irregularly sized boulders. Oops.
'Take my elbow', offered my exceptionally fit husband, and I took it with such voracity that about a third of my weight was on him at any given time. The climb became like one of those kiddy ski-lifts, where you just have to hold onto a rope, and the rest of you gets pulled up the hill.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking...'that's cheeeating!'
But 'climbing a mountain' sounds more impressive than 'being pulled up a mountain' though. ;)

showing off the maternity badge
I'm training. for.. childbirth?

Several boulder flights later, we were both huffing and puffing, and sat down on another bench for a break.
'I feel bad about making fun of the old guys with their hiking gear now'
'I know what you mean. But they were pretty adorable what with their matching outfits and everything.'
We snickered to each other, blatantly ignoring the stares of other hikers on my enormous belly, not really well hidden under my big coat.

But we were now most of the way up, and had rejoined the trail where the top of the ropeway comes out. There was still about half a kilo left, but it was gentle and paved again. And did I mention the view was spectacular?? Check it out!

too bad it was a cloudy day, imagine if it were clear!
We got to the top observatory, and checked out the lovely view, panting from the long hike up the hill, started shivering when the wind kicked up, and started the descent back down.
There was a small rocky part where I found an interesting observation: I can climb *up* hiking courses (with support) okay... but down?! Not even a chance. My protruding abdomen makes it impossible to see exactly where my feet go, and my center of balance is a little off, pulling me forward. Climbing down just one small path in a manner that involved not falling on my face took about three times longer than getting up it!
... in other words, you can probably guess, we took the ropeway/gondola ride *down*.

Me: "If I take it kind of sideways, doesn't it look DYNAMIC?"
Takeshi: "It looks hard to see, that's what it looks like"
( Whatevs. Haters gonna hate.)

We made it back by 4PM, just at the low tide mark, and got to see the torii gate up close. The supporting poles are *massive*, made from single tree trunks of what must be nearly thousand year old trees!! It was pretty incredible, but took a bit of fancy footwork to avoid both the other tourists and walking in tidepools.

The next day we saw the peace museum and surrounding in Hiroshima city (informative, awe-inspiring, depressing, oddly beautiful), and then had our long leisurely drive back to the airport. We stopped twice at different fruit stands to have more mikans delivered to us in Tokyo. (did I mention they were TASTY??... from the time I started writing this until now we have run out. By which I mean I ate them all. darn it.)

We returned the rental car, got to the airport, and found ...
ALL FLIGHTS TO HANEDA WERE CANCELED!! For the rest of the day! Apparently there was about three inches of snow in Tokyo, such a rare occurrance the airport was completely shut down.
I've never had a flight cancelled, it was not a pleasant experience. We had work tomorrow! ... there was maybe one way we could make it back... somehow catch a bus back to the city, slog to the station, barter our kidneys for standing room only shinkansen tickets where literally we would be forced to stand on a moving bullet train for five hours, or ... stay at the airport hotel, and take the next flight out in the morning.

As responsible adults, dedicated to our work, we naturally thought 'screw that' and promptly checked in to the hotel. Well, so we had one more night of lovely babymoon vacation, I suppose there have been worse things!

Hopefully there will still be babymoons, even with a baby? I'm thinking Hachijoji is looking good at the beginning of June! ♪


Blogger cat weaver said...

Sorry I passed out before I could read your admonishment to me not to. But when I woke back up I read the rest of your story. I passed out again at a couple of other parts, but overall had a lot of fun reading about your babymoon and I'm glad you're in good shape!

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just think about how it's going to be when you're lugging a 20 lb. toddler up a mountain. Keep up the blogging; it's the next best thing to hanging out with you!
-Viet :)

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Now I'm kicking myself for not catching up on your blog sooner! Here's to an easy birth!

-Nikhil ;^)

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! It's Julia. Been vaguely watching you on Facebook and decided to track you down here. Good to know that you're still doing well and good luck getting the baby out prior to induction! Also, you look so absolutely cute. (As does Takeshi.)

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Rob Brummitt said...

It’s nice to know that you were satisfied with the rental car you used on this trip. Driving a nice car is a plus factor in your enjoyment. Anyway, what’s important is that you saw these breathtaking views without hassle (except the last part). But hey, there’s nothing wrong with extending your vacation for a day, right?

2:30 PM  
Blogger Kyra said...

Thanks for the comments guys! there is now an adorable tiny dictator resting on my shoulder, but hopefully he'll allow me to escape from my duties long enough to write a blog post one of these days! ;)

3:23 AM  

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