Then it was on to the bus to Odawara station. We still had a lot of time before our train left, so we decided we should check Odawara Castle before leaving -- it is reasonably close to the station, so it seemed like a good idea. Especially seeing how we had wanted to go yesterday but eventually didn't. It was warm, so we got something to eat and drink at a convenience store. Weirdest thing: an aloë vera-grape drink, with slightly slimy pieces in the drink -- presumably either grapes or aloë vera. Strange, but refreshing.
We arrived at Odawara Castle and sat in the shade eating our snacks and marvelling at the weird drinks, while behind us elementary school children were having their play break. Then we went into the castle proper. We discovered a small zoo in the courtyard. It was a rather sad affair: the animals were listless and tired, with a bored elephant as the main attraction. I felt sorry for the animals, and we quickly left, without having seen the rest of the castle.
We arrived back at the station, and were waved through by a bored railway employee. Turned out we had to get on to the Shinkansen, which stopped at another platform entirely! We did have to make haste to get to the train in time, but in the end it all worked out. Still, this learned us the important lesson of making sure we are at the right platform for the train. Tozai should put the lines on the travelling schema, so that it is easier to find the right platform! All we knew was that we should get on a train called the "Kodama 457". If we had known it was a Shinkansen, we could have gone to the Shinkansen tracks right away and have found our train without any problems.
Anyway, the Shinkansen was nice, but unfortunately it didn't go that fast. We got off at Nagoya, the heat was like a slap in the face... There it was onto another train to Nagiso. I don't know who makes the maps for the hotels/ryokans/minshukus at Tozai, but s/he is doing a really lousy job. With the map of Minshuku Ashi, I had troubles with locating our position on the map of the region while the locals knew right away where it was. With Ryokan Hanaya, our lodgings in Tsumago, even the bus employees had trouble finding the right bus stop and locating it on the map that had been given to us!
We waited a bit for the bus, and were promptly (as promptly as traffic permitted) delivered at the right bus stop. We walked for about ten minutes and then found the Ryokan. We were immediately welcomed and shown to our room. Our "room" was at a tiny patio, in the back of the building. Rice paper screens seperated our room from the rest of the house... It is a very special experience to, say, change into your yukata while you hear people walking around you, with only a thin piece of paper to seperate you from them. Not that I am a prude, but it was certainly a novel experience for me.
Dinner was being served (someone kneeled outside of our room, knocked quietly on the woodwork of the screens and waited of acknowledgement before saying "Dinner now, please") in the communal dining room. There was another group of Dutch people (as one of them said: "Everywhere there is oxygen, you meet the Dutch") who were doing the three-week tour. A single Taiwanese girl was present, as were four Japanese sisters. As the sisters consumed more and more alcohol (beer and sake), they got merrier and merrier (and noisier!). They made up for it by striking up conversations with the rest of the diners, and it turned out tobe a very pleasant dinner experience. I got to practice my Japanese skillz for a bit (much to the appreciation of the Japanese and the Dutch), which was nice.
The bath thing, which had filled Ingeborg with trepidation, worked out pretty neatly. There was a big bath and a small bath. With wooden planks, the status of the bath was marked: either for men or women, and either free or taken. The baths alternated: after 8:30 the big bath was for women and the small bath was for men, while it was the other way around before that time. The big bath was called the "family bath", and since Ingeborg and I were now officially family, one of the Dutch ladies advised us to just occupy the big bath and wash together. Which we did. I even got in the bath, but it took some time to get used to the temperature of the water. I did take a quick cool shower to cool down a bit.
Then we lounged in our room (which was equipped with airconditioning, hooray!) for a bit before making our beds and getting some sleep.