Monday, July 22, 2013

Japan July 2013 - Day 14 (Tokyo) 

Last day being in Japan. Tonight we will be moving to the airport (sans taxi this time) to catch our flight back home. Checked with the hostel staff on my missing dental splint and they assured me that they did not throw away anything, at which point I pointed out that an empty bottle was also missing... which means there were items that were not transferred over to the new room. The staff would check with the cleaning staff and we went off for breakfast. Had mac's for breakfast again (the McGriddles are nice!) and bought a McGriddle for my mum. Planned to put it in the fridge till we pick it up to go to the airport. We were putting our luggage in storage back at the hostel since our flight was only at night.

After breakfast, we went back to the hostel to finish up with our packing. Also checked with the staff on my dental splint and no good news. Went through 2 bags of bedsheets though, now that is an experience that you do not get everyday! Still can't find my splint, another staff said that she would look through the garbage. After that, we went over to the Tokyo Station and spent pretty much the rest of the day walking around there. The JR Tokyo station has recently been renovated and put on one of the best light shows I've ever seen!
Spent some time slacking and my friend bought some omiyage for the folks back home. We went back to the hostel at around 1900 to pick up our luggage and again there wasn't any good news. Getting kinda sianz about it already.Although it was my mistake in forgetting that we were to change rooms, misplacing other people's property is a huge deal (and that is why in hospitals we have people witnessing when we have to keep patient's property away). The hostel promised to keep looking, but I shan't expect any good news...

We went off to Haneda via the Keikyu line (and I almost thought that I got into the wrong subway station!) had a fairly nice dinner at Port-Side Kitchen and basically hung around till boarding time. Bye Japan. まだ十月。

P.S. When I landed in SG, I realised that I still had the hostel room key with me. lol. Mailed it back to them.

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Japan July 2013 - Day 13 (Tokyo) 

Absolutely lazy day today! We're gonna do some hotel recce for my friend so that she can provide a sitrep to her family to ensure the smooth completion of her trip in October!

We had Mac's for breakfast and headed off towards Roppongi. We got to Tokyo Midtown, which is quite the posh place to be right next to the Roppongi areas which surprised me bu looking a tad.. riff-raffy. I had imagined Roppongi to be this atas place, but I suppose Roppongi Hills is a different creature than just Roppongi. After checkingo ut the access to the desired hotel, we chilled in Starbucks... or rather just outside starbucks cos it was warmer indoors than out. While at Starbucks, my friend received additional information requests about the hotel and I remembered that we were supposed to change rooms today! So we went off to get the additional information about the hotel and then went back to the hostel to get things sorted out.

By the time we got back to the hostel, my name was plastered on the internal door asking me not to go to the room. Turns out that they had already shifted our items to the new room, and we didn't have to do anything. However, later on, I discovered that my souvenir Lavender Lamune bottle was missing as well as my dental splint. My dental splint was placed next to my pillow in a clear plastic bag.. so I think that it is possible that they have accidentally discarded it. It's not cheap x.X Haiz, think that I have to make a new one.

Not exactly looking like it's gonna be a fun ending to my Japan trip after all.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Japan July 2013 - Day 12 (Tokyo) 

Second day of Neko cafe visting! Today we will be visiting Nekorobi in Ikebukuro and Happy Neko in Shibuya.

We started off by going to Ikebukuro. Nekorobi took a little searching as we overshot the building that it was housed it. We finally got to it and the charges atb Nekorobi are 1000 yen for the first hour and then 250 yen for each subsequent 15 mins. However, the thing about Nekorobi is that they have a vending machine with free drinks, snacks and you can use their iPad, Mac, Wii and a variety of equipment for free, so the it is a pretty 'value for money' place. It's also a lot more spacious than the Asakusa Nekoen that we had visited yesterday, but they didn't have kittens so it wasn't as crazy as it was yesterday. The cats were tamer since they were all adult cats.

After spending an hour at Nekorobi, we went over to Happy Neko at Shibuya. It's really in a happening part of town and so the charges here are higher. The minimum package is 30 mins for 525 yen plus 525 for a drink with snacks. So you have to pay 1050 for 30 mins at the very minimum. When we arrived, there was only one other lady there, but subsequently within the 30 mins that we decided to stay for, another 10 people arrived and when we were leaving another 3 were at the door! It wasn't as large as Nekorobi and was probably about the size of a 3NG flat living room, so.. I suppose we left at a good time. The cats here were also all adult, so there was none of the kitten craziness going on. It also appeared that you have to pay to use a cat toy, not very appealing.

It seems like the Asakusa Nekoen is more focused on stray rescue and adoption, but for the other two that we have visited, I think the cats are permanent residents.

After we were one withthe cat cafes, we walked around Shibuya. It would be ridiculous if we had left without at least walking around Shibuya right? Such a waste of train fare. We didn't buy anything though, we just walked around and looked at lots of stuff.

Tomorrow, my friend will be recce'ing the hotel that they intend to use for her trip to Japan in October.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Japan July 2013 - Day 11 ( Tokyo) 

Amazingly, although we slept at around 0400, my friend woke up at around 0800, and I lazed around till around 0900. After washing up, we decided to go for the Mac's breakfast, but it was too late so we went around and found Excelsior Coffee where we had breakfast there instead. I had the ham and cheese set with Royal Milk Tea at 380 yen ( which I think is a pretty good price).

After breakfast, we went to the nearby Asakusa Nekoen (浅草ねこ園) - Asakusa Cat Cafe to visit the cats. This is actually the main reason why my friend flew over to Tokyo to join me as we wanted to visit cat cafes.

The Asakusa Nekoen is a very cosy place on the 6th floor of a building at the corner of Umamichi and Kotoitoi streets. The owner is a very friendly and sweet lady who obviously cares for the welfare of cats and she shared alot of information on animal welfare in Japan with us. She is also interested in similar efforst overseas as she mention a cat cafe in Singapore. Unfortunately,as far as I know, she is referring to the NUS Cat Cafe which isn't an actual cafe (AFAIK, anyone with more info please let me know) but rather a club for cat caregivers in NUS.

The rates at this cafe is 800 yen for the first hour and 200 yen for every subsequent 30 mins. We wanted to stay there for only 1 hr, but ended up staying for 1 and a half so we paid 1000 yen for 90 mins of kitty fun and boy were the kitties crazy! There were around 10 adult cats, probably, and 3 kittens. Those 3 kittens ran the whole show. They ran, jumped, fought, flipped and did all the cute kitty things imaginable. We were loathe to leave but well, we had to because we wanted to explore other places as well.
After having so much fun at the cafe, we went in search of food. We bought some onigiri at a shop that was nearby, and went waking along Nakamise street for some Asakusa Menchi stall that my friend had heard was very good. Along the way, we bought some ningyoyaki which was suppose to be quite good. We spent about 200 yen on a small packet of 10 to share between us.

After consulting google and google maps, we managed to find the Asakusa Menchi stall that my friend was looking for. It's basically a minced meat tonkatsu, but it contains beef so I didn't eat it. However my friend enjoyed it, so if you are in the area, do drop by Nakamise near the entrance of Sensoji. The stall is on the left of Nakamise if you face Sensoji, please refer to the following map to find it. Asakusa Menchi

We pretty much walked all over Asakusa, and ended our day with a dinner at Matsuya curry rice where you order your food by buying a ticket. The food here is not bad but it's kinda warm so if you can't stand the heat, you'd be better off elsewhere. I had a spicy pork (intended to order original pork but didn't read properly -.-)  but I lucked out in that this is Japanese curry, so it's not as spicy as well, Chinese curry. One serving is 530 yen, upsize is 630 yen.

And that, is our day in brief. More neko cafes tomorrow!

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Japan July 2013 - Day 10 (Tokyo) 

Today, my mum decided that we should not go anywhere that would necessitate a train ride as she did not want to climb stairs anymore than absolutely neccessary, so we decided to just walk around the Asakusa area near Sensoji.

My mum mentioned that she would like to have Mac's breakfast for the bacon, but unfortunately, it was already past the breakfast time (Mac's breakfast ends in Japan at 1030). So we walked on and were ready to eat at KFC (so that my mum can get her hot ceylon tea) when I noticed that there was a BK nearby and asked my mum if she would like to check it out in the hopes that it has a pork burger. My mum agreed and we went over to find that BK offers not one, but two pork burgers! So we both order the grilled pork burgers with hot tea.

After the meal, we went over to Ekimise, which is a shopping centre right where the Asakusa Station is at. We went to a craft shop and also to Uniqlo, where my mum bought stuff at both places. I think she's going with the 'last day in Japan liao must buy stuff!' feel. By the end of the day's walk, she had bought a packet of needles, a Uniqlo sleepwear, some food stuff and a pair of shoes to bring back to Singapore. Do note that my mum came over only with a green check in luggage that was already stuffed full on the way here, so we had to be creative and start stuffing things all over the place and my mum hand carried foodstuff onto the plane as she did not have a hard case luggage and the cookies would all be broken if she checked them in.

Please recall that the green bag is the totality of my mum's check in luggage. She was so happy that she could squeeze everything in one bag that she forgot that she might want to shop.

After all the shopping, we went to Seiyu where we found rather attractive food selections. They have a large array of bento on sale (nut not as cheap as the 250 yen bento!) and so I ended up with a unagi bento (which turned out to have a large number of bones that irritated me to no end) and my mum had a sashimi platter and daifuku.
Afte dinner, we pretty much rested till it was time to go to the airport. It was getting a bit worrying because my friend who was coming over to Tokyo on the 1500 flight informed me that her flight was delayed. This means that 1) our escape from Haneda airport to the hostel would be affected because it was already a tight schedule for us if her flight lands on time at 2300. We were looking at the likelihood that we would have to spend the night in the airport before leaving the airport on the first trains in the morning. 2) My mum's flight would also have it's departure affected since they would still have to turnaround the plane.

I checked the Haneda airport website and it seems that the delayed flight would now arrive at 0015 hours, just 5 mins after the last monorail leaves Haneda. However, even if we had caught that last monorail, it would only have gotten us as far as Akihabara and we would then have to a) take a taxi or b) walk the rest of the way to theb hostel. However, with the last monorail gone, our options are cut down to a) stay in airport till morning to take train or b) spend around 10000 yen to take a taxi to the hostel. Seriously, I wasn't prepared to spend that money.

Nothing to be done but to get going and see how things goes. We reached the airport at 2100 + and I must say that by that time most dining options are closing. So you only have like 2 or 3 options in the International Terminal. By the way, you can take the Keikyu line to the airport but do be sure to get on the line that heads to Haneda (or Narita if that's where you are going).

While checking in for my mum, we were informed that there would be food and drinks served at the boarding gate from 2300hrs, which wa just as well since there was almost nothing to eat at the terminal by that time. So my mum decided to go in earlier to ensure that she would get some food, in case they have designated distribution times.

After sending off my mum, I went to teh arrival hall to wait for my friend. After about an hour and half of waiting, my friend finally appeared and she had good news. SQ gave her a taxi voucher worth up to 10000 yen, so we could get on a taxi back to the hostel! We did not have to camp in the airport after all! We went to get a cab and it was so exciting because I have never taken a cab in Japan before. It's so expensive to take a cab in Japan, and what's more, we are in Tokyo so the cabs are probably the most expensive here.

Back at the airport, we were advised that the fare would be more than 10000 yen. However, with the 10000 yen voucher, we would just have to top up the difference, which was no biggie since that means we could get back to a bed instead of camping out at the airport. So we went off zooming through the highways and streets of Tokyo. I believe this hsall be my first and only experience of travelling on the streets of Tokyo since I cannot believe that I will ever be able to convince myself to pay for a cab.

When we reached the hostel, I thought that the meter was showing a fare of 9000 + yen, and there was an alternate display that showed the 'total' (or so we thought) as 10270 yen, and I was already trying to pay the cabbie the difference. However, the cabbie signaled that there was no need for the additional cash and  asked my friend to write down 8800 yen on the voucher. So...  in the end our cab ride was completely free! We did not understand why but at 0200 in the morning, one can hardly argue with a free cab ride, right?

After dropping things off at the hostel we went out for some quick grocery shopping and by the time we got to sleep, it was already breaking dawn. Pun, whether intended or not, I have yet to decide.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Japan July 2013 - Day 9 (Tokyo) 

Toning down the intensity (well, most people would have had the opinion that so far, my trip was not intensive at all), I decided to scrap the Hakone plan. Had originally wanted to being my mum over to Hakone and let her see the 'smelly' mountain (sulphur fumes), the hot springs and egss, but my mum's feet aren't very good and are hurting her too much so I decided to scrap that idea.

So in the morning, we went to Sensoji (it's pretty much right next to our hostel) instead. It's really convenient, crowded and most of all, the big red lantern at the Kaminarimon is probably seen worldwide.
After Sensoji, we wentover to Meiji Jinggu. From Asakusa to Meiji Jinggu, it's actually quite convenient. Take the Ginza line all the way to the end and you will reach Shibuya. Transfer to the Fukutoshin line and the Meiji Jinggu Mae station is just one station away. Along the way while transferring in Shibuya, you will pretty much pass by the loyal (or.. well...) dog Hachiko. The train ride costs 230 yen one way.

Meiji Jinggu is a pretty nice place to visit as it has a large park of huge trees and it gives one a very nice and peaceful feeling while walking around the grounds. It also right nextto Harajuku so you can skip over to Harajuku and shop after you are done walking around in Meiji Jinggu.

Walking around in Harajuku with my mum is kinda odd, since Harajuku is like for the younger crowd. However, I think it's great to be able to show my mum what people of all generations do. Plus, it wasn't as if some pedobear was hiding round a corner somewhere waiting to whack the loli on some unsuspecting schoolgirls passing by, so it's safe.

We actually walked around Harajuku a bit in a bid to look for a McDonald's that doesn't require my mum to climb to the second floor.. but no such luck. My mum wanted hot ceylon tea so the one sure place to get that is at a fast food restaurant like Mac's, KFC and BK. In the end we went back to the Mac's that we had originally seen at the beginning of our Harajuku exploration.

After that we went back to Asakusa, got dinner and settled ourselves back in the hostel. Think my mum's feet are happy that she's going home tomorrow lol. Hope it gets better in Singapore.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Japan July 2013 - Day 8 (Sapporo - Tokyo) 

Another transit day. Today we have to start earlier because our flight is at 1030. Good thing is that the airport is not as far away as in Kyoto. We had breakfast in the hotel lobby (free) and checked out at around 0700. By the way, at the Toyoko Inn Hokudai Mae, breakfast is at 0700 to 0930 but bread and coffee is available from 0630.

After breakfast we walked over to the JR Sappror station to catch the Airport Rapid service which departs every 15 mins. The fare costs 1040 yen for an unreserved seat and 1340 for a reserved seat. We bought unreserved (anyway reserved seats were sold out until the 0845 train) and got onto the platform to see a fully seated train so we decided to wait for the next one.

Since we were early for the next train, it was easy to get a seat. Yes, people honour the first come first queue first served system here. Even if you ae not queueing properly, the person who comes later will most of the time take note that you were there first.

Got to the airport in plenty of time left, and proceeded to get ourselves checked in. On the way, I passed by the Jaga Potato counter. Wow!! I didn't think I would really come across it, so I had to buy it :D Heard that it's really nice. It's limited production btw since I heard that the potatoes all come from a particular farm. 525 yen for a box of 10 packets. Everyone is allowed to buy 5 boxes.

The check in and baggage deposit counters are separate here, so it might take a while to get cleared. However, I noticed that when my mum was clearing the security checks for carry on baggage, they saw the bottle of water that she forgot to clear and they put the bottle on a scanner / detector and then the lady took a whiff of the contents and allowed my mum to bring the liquid in. Interesting.

The flight was on a 747-400 craft, which I did not think that I would still have the opportunity to fly on again. It was 1 and 1/2 hours before we landed in Tokyo. We took the Keikyu line which brings us direct to Asakusa where our hostel is, for 640 yen. However, the station is actually further away then another option which we have to transit twice, so it took us a while to walk to the station.

Along the way,I started getting a sense of familiarity and looked out for the cheap bento place I ate at before. Near the hostel, I finally found it! Bento for 250 yen, Good portion of rice, assorted ingredients included so you can choose your preferred combination. Do note that 5% tax is not included so you have to add that into the final price. We bought 2 bentos and continued on to the hostel.

When we reached the hostel, it was nice, cosy and the reception was friendly. However as check in was at 1600, we cold put our luggage in the room but had to wait till the cleaning was completed. In the meantime, we ate our bento and napped in the lounge.

Finally, we got into the room and it's really quite good.
There is a bunk bed and one more platform thinggy with tatami so you can actually sleep 3 people in the room. Presently, the reception came in to do a room check and asked if we received origami. He gave us a crane and an absolutely cute Totoro!!
I love that Totoro!

After checking in we basically vegetated in the room. My mum was tired and so I napped too, but it turned out to be a full fledged sleep and I only woke at 2100. Good thing I had no plans.

Was planning to go to Hakone tomorrow but I doubt my mum can make it. So I think we will go to Sensoji and Meiji Jinggu instead.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Japan July 2013 - Day 7 (Sapporo) 

Definitely an easier day today but it is still by no means comfortable. My mum's feet are bad so that means she has to walk slowly and rest often which also means that we spend alot more time in the sun and take much longer to reach anywhere.

I had already decided that today we will go to the Shiroi Koibito Park and Nijo Market for dinner, however, after breakfast I decided to swop the sequence and go to Nijo Market for lunch instead. Nijo Market is fairly near Odori Subway, and we decided to walk from JR Sapporo. Right here now I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Sapporo has an underground space connecting Sapporo subway station all the way to Odori but we didn't know that so we walked the baking route, which let us see more of the city.

We walked through Odori park and there was another rally going on. My mum was again given election campaign materials. Seriously. Odori park is quite pretty and I can imagine that on a cooler day it' be a perfect place for picnics and it's be absolutely hopping with people (as if it was already today). There are flower displays and a fountain where children can play. Right at the end of the park, you can see the Sapporo TV Tower rising up as a marker.

After that we continued on and came across this really nice little stream with green areas right next to it. The neighborhood it was in is commercial so on a Sunday it was nicely quiet. Perfect for a picnic, and I did see someone have a solitary picnic. Perhaps when I get back to Singapore I should also try to get a picnic together.

It wasn't too long before we finally reached Nijo Market. It's apparently quite famous but it was qute quiet by the time we got there. Most likely ue to the fact that it was already lunchtime and maybe because it was Sunday. We walked one round around the place and they have so many King Crabs lying around you might be wondering who will clear their stocks. Great shopping place for people who like seafood.

We finally decided on this shop where it seemed that you could choose your seafood and they will get it cooked for you. My mum noticed a box of a King Crab and a Hairy Crab with a sign that said 'One Box 5000 yen'. She asked me if that meant that both crabs were going for 5000 yen, to which I initially said that it couldn't be. However, upon confirmation with the shop, it was indeed so! A King Crab and hairy for a mere SGD 65! We were immediately seated and they started preparing our crabs.

The crabs were cut up properly so it was minimal effort required to eat them. The hairy crab was boild but to be eaten cold, so it was served first. The King Crab was boiled but was to be BBQ so that has to wait. While waiting, I realised that there were some autographs displayed on the wall and that this shop might have been featured in TV shows. There was even an autograph from 都是新发现, a show from Singapore. Hmmmm. Now I really feel like I stumbled onto something! The crabs are very filling as they were both very meaty. My mum didn't expect that as the crabs that we usually get in Singapore are like malnutritioned with less meat. We were stuffed to the max, and I don't usually eat crab.. so I was done by the time I ate like 4 King Crab legs and 2 hairy crab legs.

Look at that piece of tissue for size comparison.

Whilst eating crab, we ran into a very friendly lady from Hong Kong and had a nice chat. It was certainly enjoyable, eating good food and meeting fun people. That's the fun of travelling, you get new experiences that enhance your outlook in life.

After the meal, we went off to the Shiroi Koibito Park. This is located at Miyanosawa, which is at the end of the Tozai line. Tip: Unless you stay near Miyanosawa, it would be a good idea to buy the Donichika one day subway ticket which costs 500 yen. One way fare from Odori or Sapporo subway station to Miyanosawa is 280 yen, so it costs 560 yen for a return trip and you have already saved 60 yen. Any other trips that you make on the subway is then a gain.

From Miyanosawa station, it's quite easy to walk to Shiroy Koibito Park. Just follow the displayed signs and you will get there fairly easily. There are some free areas which you can explore but if you want to view the chocolate making process, you have to pay the admission of 600 yen. You can also make cookies, the admission for that is around 1000 yen, depending on what option you choose. It was fun viewing how the cookies are baked, stacked, packed and inspected. It's like looking behind into something that we never really thought anything about.

Of course, for friends who know me, what do you think I will do in a place that basically makes and sells chocolate? Huh? Any guesses?

The building is very European and it has a nice garden in which you can relax and spend a while enjoying yourself. Every hour, a choclate carnival will begin on the hour. It's really fun and full of surprises and the entire garden literally comes alive during the show. I suggest that you try to view the show if you are in the Shiroi Koibito Park. It's kinda cute and all. Especially fun for kids (I'm a big one.)

After watchingthe Chocolate Carnival, it was already 1915hrs and the park was closed, so we left and went back to find ourselves some dinner. I wanted to try the Ramen Republic at Esta which is right next to Jr Sapporo station and so we headed there. Ramen Republic is like Ramen Champion in thatthey have quite a few ramn shops all gathered together. The ramen shops there were not especially large so there were queues at some shops. We came across one (Ajisai) that had no queue and seemed to have seats (warning bell!) but then we were too lazy to queue and decided to take a gamble. The menu had wantan men on it and so we decided to order it. When it arribed, we tried the soup, which was quite good, but the wantan was really another thing entirely. I didn't finish the wantans in my bowl cos they tasted a bit too weird for my liking. Perhaps it was meant to taste like that but I don't particularly like that. It was also a large bowl and the cupcake and chocolate milk at the Shiroi Koibito Park was still hanging around in my tummy somewhere.

First meal disappointment in my Japan trip, but I suppose it is possible that we just happened to order something that was not their specialty.

Tomorrow, we move on to Tokyo. Will have to wake up earlier as our flight is at 1030!

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Japan July 2013 - Day 6 (Otaru) 

After the Furano trip yesterday which was a trip highly dependent on train scheduling, today's is much more relaxed as there are many more trains travelling between Sapporo and Otaru. The train fare between Sapporo and Otaru is 620 yen and takes about 30 mins.

We arrived in Otaru rather early, around 0930 and as we exited the JR station, we happened upon a rally and my mum was also given a flyer for the candidate campaigning, lol.

The main plan is to visit the Otaru Canal, and Sakamachi which seems to bring you round to quite a few attractions. It's actually not very far from the JR Otaru station to the Otaru Canal and further on to the sea. Along the way we passed by an old railway converted into a small relaxing area and pathway.

The Otaru Canal used to be a means of moving goods much like the Singapore river, but is now disused and pretty much  tourist attraction. There are scores of people milling around for photos at the photo spot. Everyone who comes to Otaru drops by just to grab a shot here, I think.

After the canal, we walked along Sakamachi... which is basically a tourist street, kinda like Chinatown but much less seedier. You have shops selling glassware, music boxes and omiyage (souvenirs for the gluttons). You definitely have restaurants selling seafood all over the place, after all, this is Hokkaido.

One thing is that there are many rickshaw pullers here and if you compare them to the trishw uncles in Singapore, they are definitely much younger.

My mum wanted some tea (she needs hot ceylon tea daily, which can be tricky in Japan) so we started looking for a mac's. However we passed by a restaurant and she was tempted by the menu so we went in there instead. I had the salmon and ikura bowl and she had the crab,ikua, urchin, salmon bowl. My poor wallet :(  Although this meal was less of a good deal when compared to the dinner we had on the first night in Sapporo, it's still great when compared to Singapore in terms of freshness. The two bowls cost about $65.
After lunch, we continued along the street and I got distracted by this cafe called LeTao. promised Chocolate lol, so I went in and had a cake and tea. I didn't really like the tea though, the tea is not bad but I don't quite like florals.

Whilst in the cafe, I heard drumming going on (hearing drumming while in Cafe LeTao?? hahahaha) and hoped thatby the time I finished my cake, I could still catch it. After the cake, we went up to the observatory platform on the 3rd floor. On this floor, you get a pretty good view of Otaru, so if you are in Otaru, I would recommend that you come over here to take a look as well as take some shots.

By the time we got down to the ground floor, the performance seems to have started up again and so we spent some time enjoying the free outdoor performance (baking in the sun). They did a drum number, 3 dance routines (simple dance where they invite people to join in) and finished with a 10 min drum piece. So glad that I managed to watch the performance!!

After baking in the sun for about 30 mins (actually we've been baking for days now) we finally moved on to the Otaru music box museum. It's basically one huge floor of merchandise, one floor of museum displays and the 3rd floor is for you to customise a music box. A great place to be if you want to buy some souvenirs back home.

Along the way back to the station, we dropped by thge Venetian Art Museum but I decided against going up into the museum since you need to pay an admission fee and I felt that it was probably better to go to Venice itself :D Whenever that happens.

We then slowly ambled our way back to the station, but along the way, we stopped at a shop and bought some tidbits which excited my mum cos they consisted of scallops.

Tomorrow, Sapporo.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Japan July 2013 - Day 5 (Furano) 

Today, we make our way to the highlight of this entire trip. Travelling to Furano to view lavendar!

First off, yes, it is a pain in the arse to get around in the Furano - Biei area if you do not have you own transport and are replying on the train. However, do be assured that it can be done and you just need a little planning.

I had purchased a Furano Biei Round Tour ticket which gives us a ticket from Sapporo to the Furano - Biei area (includes Asahikawa) for 5400 yen. This is an extremely good value ticket if you intend to stay in the Furano - Biei Area for up to 4 days as it gives you unlimited rides in the free area, but please note that once you leave the free aea, your ticket expires. This means that you cannot make daily trips from Sapporo on the same ticket, you have to stay in the free area. It is recommended to stay for a few days in the area as there are many places to visit and the transit times can be quite long.
We had breakfast in the hotel. It's a simple offering but I loved the bread on offer as it was soft and delicious when toasted with butter.... simply heavenly! Was also great that I was seated right next to the toaster, lol. After breakfast we walked over to JR Sapporo station to catch the Limited Express Furano Lavendar Express that leaves at 0755. Although, I did read a model course that recommends catching the 0906 train which allows you to reach Furano at 1103 in order to catch the 1152 Furano - Biei Norokko train (or the 1145 Furano - Asahikawa train), I didn't notice that was cos.. there really is no train if you arrive in Furano at 0955 on the 0755 train.

So, nothing much for it but to go for a walk (which isn't too good an idea for my mum though). JR Furano is a very small station so all you can do is sit and stare if you stay there. Most other places in Furano require transport.... so we walked to Furano Marche, which is basically an air conditioned Farmer's Market/ Cafe / Souvenir shop.
My mum decided to buy a ramen croquette and I must say that it was rather nice!
After spending some time there, we walked back to catch the train to the JR Lavendar Batake Station (JR Lavender Farm). This is a seasonal station in that it is only in use for about 2 months a year, and only some trains stop here. This is a reason why it's a bit of a pain in the arse to get here from Furano or Asahikawa via train. It's a fun little platform though and the JR staff there was so nice in that they offered to take a photo of my mum and I in front of the station sign :D That's probably our only shot together cos I don't bother asking people to help take photos .. heck I don't even take many photos with our faces in them in the first place. My policy is, if I wasn't there I couldn't  have taken the photos.

It's actually quite a short distance (around 10 mins) walk to Farm Tomita. Once you get there, you get to try the melons at 250 yen a slice. Reminds me of papayas and I tell you, I do not eat honeydews in Singapore.

Next up, we walk over to the flower fields. The lavender did not look like they were fully bloomed (almost there!) but I later on I would notice harvesting going on so I suppose the blooming is almost complete. We didn't really smell any scent and wondered about it, until I reached the staff harvesting... wow was there a scent or what! Lovely purple blooms with such a lovely scent, no wonder lavender is such a lovd plant!

There are rows upon rows of flowers, but not all are lavender. I would say that the farm itself is not very big, and given the trouble taken to come here, it might be considered small. However, it's worth a vist (unless you want to go to Provence instead) and there are interesting stuff like lavender softserve and lavender lemonade for you to quench your thirst in the summer heat. Did I forgot to mention that Japan is experiencing a heat wave? Central and South Japan are listed as having dangerous temperatures with the highest temperature today being 39.1 in a particular city (for the name). Highest yesterday was 39.5. Furano was around 33 today I think. The soft serve and lemonade was a roaring business.

This is really someplace where you can just squeeze off your shutter and anyone with a camera can take beautiful photos. So we spent sometime here, taking photos, baking in the sun, enjoying the soft serve and lemonade before going off to catch the 1421 Furano - Biei Norokko train which is a scenic train for passengers to enjoy the views along the way and take photos. The plan was to get to Biei, buy tickets for the Twinkle Bus (Takushinkan course) and get on the Twinkle Bus tour. Unfortunately by the time we got to Biei, the tickets were sold out... so I couldn't go to Takushinkan :(

Since we cannot go on the Twinkle Bus, there is pretty much nothing else to do in Biei unless one has pwn transport or takes a taxi. We hightailed it out of Biei on the next train cos if not, we will have to wait another hour. Noooooo. No way. We decided to have our dinner in Asahikawa! My Asahikawa ramen dinner is happening!

We got to Asahikawa and I was excited to find a ramen place... however that was not to be. After looking around near the station, the ramen places that I could find were closed..... finally I gave up and my mum suggested that we eat Mac's (I think she also wanted her hot tea lol) and so we ended up eating the ebi burger before going back to Sapporo via the Limited Express Super Kamui 41 from Asahikawa to Sapporo.

Tomorrow, Otaru.

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