Today was my last long ride before I headed to the alps and I took my time along the scenic route of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. There were lots of people fishing along the water and boats cruising around, so it felt like I was going through a coastal town.
The path was smooth and there was a mild tailwind to help me along and I took my first break at the 50km mark when I spotted a Lawsons Station. Even though there are loads of convenience stores everywhere, this one is my favourite because I can get an iced coffee for 150 yen (~$2 AUD), some sweet or savoury snacks for 100 yen, use their perfectly clean toilets and get free wifi.
At the 75km mark I reached Hikone Castle, however the entry fee was 1000 yen ($12 AUD) and the grounds were very large and elevated, so I couldn’t spare the time or energy to explore it properly. As a consolation prize I went past the old stables area and part of the wall, then saw a super cute Hikone Castle themed bus.
After Hikone there was a short section of climbing to get between two mountains, although it wasn’t too bad because it was flat enough for the train to travel past. Seeing the shinkansen every ten minutes is pretty impressive, in Australia we’d be excited to even have one super fast train. By the 100km mark I was really slowing down, I wasn’t exhausted compared to other rides of the same distance but I was just distracted. The first bits of the ride were completely car free, but now I had to share the road with some trucks and cars and stop at lots of intersections.
The last part into Gifu was tricky because I was staying at an airbnb place 13km from the city centre and Google maps suggested that I take a route straight between two super steep mountains. I assumed that it meant there was a tunnel, however I had no idea if it was going to be safe for a cyclist when it started getting dark. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I put my lights on and took the route along the river. It was actually very smooth and beautiful, there were brightly lit boats on the water and I could see Gifu Castle shining at the top of a 300m mountain. The route was a bit confusing in the dark because it was inconsistent in lighting, road shoulder and signage so I relied on following other cyclists and just kept gently pedaling in what I hoped was the right direction.
I arrived quite a bit later than expected, but my airbnb host Hiro and her daughter Heidi warmly greeted me and had a welcome sign and had a delicious meal waiting for me. It was the first time I had potato mash in months and it was fantastic. I was happy to stay in a nice home for two nights and get some good rest in the quiet neighborhood.
Day 31: Exploring Gifu Castle and City Centre
I rode to Gifu park and took a cable car up Mount Kinka, where the castle stands at 329m above sea level. Unfortunately it isn’t the original structure, which was destroyed in 1601 and reconstructed in 1956. It’s much smaller than other castles I’ve seen, but it’s probably because it wasn’t used for storing troops, as it’s more useful as a lookout. The view from the top is amazing and it has a 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding mountains. In the northeast corner I could see Mount Norikura, the highest point that I will reach on my journey, and there was still snow on the top. I was quite intimidated to see how tall the mountains were, especially because they were only 100-150km away.
I was feeling pretty hungry and rode a bit further to the city centre to find some lunch. I had a generous portion of udon noodles and sushi and sat at the Gifu Station near the gold Oda Nobunaga statue. He’s a hero in the town because he captured the castle in the 16th Century and had a reputation for being a great leader and strategist.
On the way back home I used the tunnels and found that they were pretty nice, although at night time I don’t know if I would have seen the underpasses to navigate between the road sections. It was quite a warm and sunny day and I was more tired than I should have been for a rest day. I cooled off, rested and prepped my things for my ride up into the mountains.