Japan. The larger the town, the less we like it. Sakaiminato was a gem, Matsue a delight, and Hiroshima was lovely. It’s so humid though; we have to carefully choose our itinerary because its overwhelmingly difficult to get about. As soon as we leave the hotel in Matsue it feels as if a damp blanket has been thrown over us. After taking just a few steps, we’re dripping with sweat. This is probably the reason why all Japanese hotels provide free laundry facilities and a free set of pyjamas/lounge-suit to change into whilst hanging out inside. It’s such a horrible feeling to wander around in sticky clothes, beads of perspiration cascading down our backs, knowing that there are umpteen places we would like to/should visit but just can’t face in these uncomfortable weather conditions.
We’re on the bus from Matsue to Hiroshima rolling past green valleys between jagged hills that are utterly tree covered. It’s very green here in Shimane Prefecture; a multitude of different deciduous and evergreens carpet almost every hill. This verdant landscape is so much greener and more varied than anything we’ve yet encountered on our travels. It’s comparable in its own way to the green and pleasant hills of England and Wales, except that the forests are all in tact; there’s far, far less cultivation of the hills here. I look to my left, and through the window see a valley of evergreen trees; they’re well-spaced, perfectly manicured examples that almost look like they’ve been cultivated that way; except they haven’t been, they just grow that way. Alex points out the bamboo out to me; I hadn’t noticed them before because they are trees; I had always thought of bamboo as a bush, but these bamboo are trees, often taller than the surrounding firs and pines, oaks and cedar, their heads bowed over in welcoming deference to us as we pass.
Our last experience on a Russian train was probably the best! It felt good to complete the last leg of the Russian part of our trip on the Trans-Siberian train number 6 from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok, and this time it was a train that was clean and airy and we had a 4 berth cabin to ourselves. There is something so civilised about the way the Russians do train travel: freshly laundered & starched cotton sheets, tea and coffee in those beautiful glasses with the ornate metal holders, and the view from the window: gentle birch forests by the mile, lush green countryside dotted with rural settlements, and abundant looking kitchen gardens. In the cabin there’s a place for everything: under seat spaces to stow your luggage, hangers for your clothes (Russians tend to change into athletic wear and flip-flops as soon as they board a train), cubby-holes for specs, book and bottle of water, and a little reading light. The train left at 9pm and arrived at 8.15am, and was as good as a hotel room.