Pontorson/Mont St. Michel Bicycle Route

September 2018

A recommendation for those who want to see Mont St Michel sans tourist crowd is to stay overnight in the island itself.

Now, if you don’t have ~190euros to burn, another alternative is a 30 euro per night stay in the surrounding area. There’s plenty. However, most of them ARE not accessible by public transportation. The closest I found was Pontorson, that has a train station to Paris.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that Pontorson was 10kms away! It should be walking distance ( at least for me) but it is not walker-friendly. There are parts where there are no sidewalks on the main highway. In hindsight, I should have walked on the bicycle route but what’s done is done.

Pontorson to Mont St Michel

Mainly flat (less than half a kilometer elevation gain according to another blog), no turns once you get on the main route. The path is about 2 meters wide, so pretty safe. Plus it is beautiful.

You cannot go up to Mont St Michel from 10am to 6pm, so you’ll have to park at designated areas. There are three. Two near the dam, one near the information center where there’s a free shuttle.

I chose the one near the info center. I parked at parking lot 10, where there’s an area for bicycles then boarded the free shuttle. I think the shuttle stops at the other two parking areas too, but it might be full.

Mont St Michel to Pontorson

If you go during the day it’s the same. However, I wanted to see the night version so I waited until 9:30pm. The route is the same, but the feel is very different.

There are no street lights.

There are no houses on the way (one hostel in the middle).

At one point, a huge sounding dog started barking and so i started pedaling like my life depended on it (and at that point it felt like it did). My French friend said it was pretty safe and I had nothing to worry about.

So. If you are thinking of doing what I did, check the headlamps of your bike and for goodness sakes try to go with someone else.

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Getting a Schengen Tourist Visa from Tokyo (France)

I applied last August 6, and this afternoon I received my visa with a personal note (in Japanese) saying “Enjoy!”.

So. Time to pass on the experience.

Before applying

  1. Book your appointment online. In my case it was at least two weeks before I see the next open one. You can easily change it, so book it now! Oh, and print that out.
  2. Prepare requirements.
  3. Get your leave approved by the boss! Actually, since you are in Japan, I assume, better get that approval as step 1.
  4. If you are using the letter pack, take note of the tracking number so you can check if the post is on its way.

During the application

  1. See the post right before this one.

After the application

  1. A, the good old waiting game. Keep waiting sweetie.
  2. One week later, you can check the status of your visa (status as in whether it’s done processing, not whether it is approved or not). If it says that there’s no passport being processed with the details you key in, assume it’s still in progress.

The Requirements. 

The most I’ve ever had to prepare. Let’s get to it.

  1. Checklist. Just print it out, and tick what you’ve submitted. As there are items with options, what I did was underline what I prepared to meet that requirement. For example, I didn’t book a tour, just did my itinerary, so I just underlined “program of my visit” in number 8.a) 2.
  2. Visa application form. That’s easy.
  3. Photo. Again, easy.
  4. Passport. Probably the easiest. I submitted a barely stamped one as I got a new passport, so I offered the old one (with the old Schengen visa) They didn’t nope, they’re good with just the new one. Oh, I presented the original AND a copy.
  5. Cash. 60euros in local currency. Ouch.
  6. Resident card. Just provide a copy, and be ready to show the original.
  7. Employment Certificate. (comment if you want mine). Basically it should  have the company header, date and signature (or stamp), with your name, hiring date and monthly salary. In the Philippines we need to be working with our company a year or so (at least that’s what we think), but here I’ve been with my company 10 months and there were no issues. They’re happy to keep just the original copy of this one.
  8. Purpose of stay. Just printed an itinerary (they ask you about it, so be ready), and underlined “other document showing the program of the visit”
  9. Proof of itinerary. I provided a return ticket. Now, here you have the option of getting a tour company to reserve one for you, or paying for it yourself. I decided to take the risk and just book it (and thus have the cheapest one. I got my tickets at around JPY77,000 yen. I’ve been checking lately, and the cheapest one at this point is more than JPY100,000 yen).
  10. Proof of accommodation. I book via booking.com, and make it a point to select no prepayments AND free cancellations.
  11. Money. Get a photocopy of your bank statement (or passbook), and make sure it’s updated. It’s 65 euro per day, multiplied by number of days and exchange rate. I wrote my calculation in this sheet. I think I needed around 80,000 yen. Then since they need 3 months, I also did the computation for them to show when’s the earliest date they need to check. The embassy girl praised me, so I think it worked. Bring your passbook too so they can check it. They’ll return it to you and just keep the photocopies.
  12. Insurance. I paid 15 euros for this. Just google Mawista. Yes, it is a German insurance, but I had no problems with it.
  13. Minors. meh.
  14. Self addressed envelope with an 82 yen stamp. Just buy it when you buy your letter pack.
  15. B. Letter Pack 510. Keep note of the tracking number!

 

And that’s it! Now I’m flying to France soon!

 

 

 

Kyoto’s Suicide Forest?

~July 2017

Japanese culture has the good and the ugly, and one that I would consider on the less… positive side is the high suicide rate. It fascinates me – this culture that allows for ending one’s life, when I came from a culture where ending your own life is one of the ultimate sins that will bring you eternal suffering in hell.

Either way. So we were talking about Aokigahara, the infamous suicide forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji. My professor mentioned that Arashiyama’s bamboo forest was also a suicide place, but since it got so famous, the influx of tourists made in unsuitable for suicide. Kind of difficult to kill yourself when so many tourists are passing through, right?

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Sakura – Grass Edition?

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May 13, 2017

About nine months ago, I remember a guy telling me to go to Fuji on May. That’s probably because of this – the grass sakura. I think it would have been majestic had Fuji-san graced us with her presence, but that is one elusive sight. Was it still worth it? For people who want to take a breather from the city, most definitely.

How to get there

From Kawaguchiko station (look at article Fujinomiya), go to Platform 7 for the Shibazakura. There’s a shuttle bus at JPY2000. That’s round trip, with entrance tickets included.

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We’ve got the most special seats in the place. Right next to the driver!
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They also have shows. They’re not much, but it’s decent entertainment.
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Hello, Mt. Fuji – flower edition! This is the reverse of the usual shot. See that platform? Normally people go up there, and the real Mt. Fuji is right behind us. Unfortunately, the mountain’s hiding so we had to settle with the flower edition.
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The good thing with the rain is that you get shots like this.
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Shibazakura! Fields of flowers, lake, mountains. What else do we need?

 

 

 

 

 

Aokigahara Caves

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May 14, 2017

It’s a pity Aokigahara is famous for the suicide, when it is has a beautiful forests and plenty of caves. They have lava cave, wind cave and ice cave. We started with the Ice Cave, walked around 20 minutes to go to the Wind Cave, then walked around two hours across the forest.

It costs JPY600 to go to both caves, btw.

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Narusawa Ice Cave

The cave is pretty small, and there’s an area that is around 3/4 of a meter high, so better practice your squats before coming here.

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Here’s someone starting to squat to pass through the small tunnel.
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The end of the tunnel above wasn’t impressive, but the way out (this view) was pretty cool (cool – get it? haha sorry).
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I don’t know why they have bars on the ice. It’s not like people will steal them. (Yeah, people might touch but come on, it’s ice!)
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You have to wear a helmet. And you should. These scratches are proof of all the heads they protected. 😉

Wind Cave

The wind cave path is right behind the toilet! Turn right, then walk for around 20 minutes. I doubt you’ll get lost. Don’t go off the trail!

Once we got there, I kind of got confused why it’s called a wind cave. Really. It looked just like the Ice Cave!

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With a much impressive pillar of ice.
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The natural refrigerator! There was even some picture of people offering this to their “lord”. I remembered the guy from Frozen selling ice – probably similar, eh?
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At the end of the cave is this simulated stock room. They stored silkworms and tree seeds here.