Monday 24 February, 2020
Day 8 | Imabari to Omichi (Island 3)
[Missed the previous post? Check it out here]
Today we commence our next cycling adventure along the Shimanami Kaido. Also known as the Nishiseto Expressway, the Shimanami Kaido is a long expressway that joins seven islands between Imabari and Onomichi. There is a dedicated cycle way the entire route and with the most direct route being 72km, most cyclists can knock it out in a day. The entire path is marked out by a blue line and plenty of signage so it’s virtually impossible to lose your way.
We considered doing a round trip, doing 70km there and 70km back over two days but ultimately decided to take it a bit more leisurely and spend some time exploring the islands. So we are taking three days and plan to stay on some of the islands overnight which should be a different experience.
We set off just before 10am and make our way to the start of the Shimanami Kaido Expressway by following the 317 road until we hit the turn off.
We loop around until we come across the start point where a sign tells us we’re 70km away from Onomichi, our final destination.
We wind up the ramp to the first and also the longest bridge, Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, which runs at 4.1km long.
It’s pretty spectacular to cycle across and so are the views.
At the end of the bridge we arrive on the first island, Oshima. The weather is beautiful which is a nice change to the cold, rainy weather we have experienced for most of the trip.
The cycle path is wide and smooth and there are a few cyclists out and about, especially considering today is Emperor’s Day. We see a variety of people from avid road cyclists to casual bikers who have rented their bikes, as well as some families and kids.
We spot some arrows on the road: one says Onomichi and points to the left, while the other points to the right and says Island Explorer. Over the next few days we come across a lot of these arrows. The Onomichi route is the quickest and most direct, while the Island Explorer route takes you the long way around each island so you can explore more of the area.
However we don’t realise this until we get to the next island so we continue following the Onomichi route for a bit until we arrive at Yoshiumi Rose Park.
Unfortunately the roses only blossom in May and June so the garden looks pretty bare.
However Cheye is there for a different reason… rose flavoured soft serve ice cream!
It tastes like Turkish delight.
We continue on and cross the next bridge the the next island, Hakajima. The Hakata-Oshima Bridge is much shorter at just over 1km long.
This time we discover the Island Explorer path. The road is marked with a blue line and arrows pointing you in the direction of Onomichi or Imabari (depending on which direction you are cycling). We also spot the Island Explorer arrows again and figure out it’s the long way around the island so we decide to take the scenic route this time.
We turn off and make our way around the 17km coastline.
Not too far after the turn off we spot a few orange trees across the road and decide to stop to take a look. It’s not in anyone’s garden so we pick a few and give one a try.
The fruit is sweet, a little tart and very juicy. Turns out they are Iyokan citrus, a combination of two types of mandarin with a slight sourness but sweeter than grapefruit.
As we are eating, a women slows her car on the road and quite sternly says something to us in Japanese from her window before driving off. I’m not sure if we are in trouble so we stash the remaining fruit we have already picked and continue cycling.
The views are wonderful and we make a few stops here and there along the way.
The 17km goes by pretty quickly and before we know it we are cycling underneath our next bridge, Omishima Bridge, and have to take the next ramp up.
This will be our final bridge for the day, taking us onto Omishima where we will spend the night. Before we find our AirBnB we want to make a stop at Omichi Coffee Roastery and Limone, two places we have read about.
We continue following the road and realise we have missed the turn off for the coffee roastery but Limone is only bit further down, so we continue on rather than back tracking.
It’s a cute little building that barely looks open but upon opening the small sliding door we enter a room full of all things lemon. I originally thought it was a cafe but it’s more like a gift shop that at also sells food gifts and drinks.
We wander in a have a browse while the shopkeeper chats to some other customers. The store is full of handmade goods, and bottles of homemade food, drink and condiments. We decide to order a sparkling fresh lemonade and rich lemon cake, and Cheye also gets a shot of Limoncello. We discover the owner speaks Italian so Cheye (who also speaks Italian) strikes up a conversation as he likes to take any opportunity to practise.
Before we pop outside to enjoy our treats, Cheye takes the shot and drinks it at the counter.
He says it’s the best Limoncello he’s ever had. The shop keeper gives us a complimentary shot of blood orange as well and we take everything outside and have a seat on the bench.
I take a sip of the lemonade and it’s very refreshing. The cake is nice and rich. Considering it’s about 2:30pm and we haven’t eaten lunch, I could’ve eaten several more of them.
Cheye decides to buy a full bottle of the Limoncello to bring home and we continue on bikes.
As we told our AirBnB host we would be there for check-in at 3pm we decide to skip the coffee roastery and make our way to our accommodation for the night. We cycle about 5-6km down the road and arrive right on 3pm. Talk about Japanese efficiency! Here’s a video of our cycling from today.
Our host Atsuko greets us as we arrive and we park our bikes before bring our panniers inside.
She gives us some green tea as we take a rest and settle in, and she asks what our plans are for the evening. We ask her about vegetarian dinner options around the area and she calls up a place just down to road to ask if they can make us something. After a brief conversation she makes us a booking for 6pm for a mystery Japanese dinner.
We take a few hours to settle and relax before heading out.
We are getting ready to walk to the restaurant when Astuko says she will drive us. It’s literally around the corner but she insists that she wants to introduce us to the staff, so we accept. The drive takes about 30 seconds and we arrive at a wooden building hidden by some trees. We follow the stone pathway and remove our shoes before stepping inside.
Atsuko takes us inside and says a few words to the chef before handing us over for the night. We take a seat at the bar and watch the fish swim around in the tank under the counter while the waiter sets up our table.
He calls us after a few minutes and leads us to our own private room, which has been set up with some appetisers, vegetarian hot pot and two pots of rice steaming over a flame.
We take a seat as he says a few things to us in Japanese: we must wait 20 minutes for the rice pots to cook, he will be back with some tempura and soup for us, followed by dessert at the end. We sit in awe, gazing at the beautifully presented food not sure where to start.
We eventually start on the appetisers, some pickles and cold vegetables. We move onto the hot pot which has veggies including cabbage, mushrooms and shallots in a nori soup base.
As we are enjoying this, the waiter comes back with some vegetable tempura. It’s the most exquisite tempura I’ve ever seen, beautifully presented and tastes even better.
I have a few pieces and before we know it the rice is ready. We lift the wooden lids to find a mixture of mushrooms and other veggies mixed in with rice in a stone pot.
Our final course is citrus gelato, which is wonderfully refreshing. There are orange bits throughout the gelato which gives it a really nice texture.
The food is amazing. It’s not often we splash out on a meal like this and I don’t think we’ve ever had really high end Japanese food before but we are really enjoying it.
We find that on most of our travels we end up splurging on one meal during the trip. This includes the time we splashed out on an amazing vegetarian meal in Cambodia which cost us AUD 22 (a lot by Cambodian standards). This meal in comparison was about AUD 80, which might not be a lot by Australian standards but much more than what we normally spend in Japan.
It’s a cold, dark walk home and we have to pull out the flash lights on our phones to see the road and find out way to a nearby supermarket (which is closed unfortunately). We arrive back at the house and Atsuko has left us some more citrus fruit for us to enjoy. These ones are Hasaku citrus, bigger than the ones we had earlier today but taste just like grapefruit.
And on that note, I’m all citrused out for the day.