So we woke up this morning bright and early at 7:30am. Breakfast was at 8:00am, and we had to robe-ificate for then. At bang on 8:00am, we were gestured into the dining room. Another feast awaited us. Once again, it was a mix of tasty delights, such as freshly cooked salmon fillets, omelettes, and other delicious treats, down to the strange stuff, such as four different types of mushrooms, and meats served cold and slimy that should be served hot, or not at all.I managed to eat most of it though.
Then, we went back to the room to get ready to have a stroll around our local district of Shibu Onsen. Magically, like how it materialised the night before, our bed had now disappeared. Then, I decided to open the blinds to see what the weather was like outside. Snow! It was snowing! Glorious, glorious snow! I called out to Emma, who came shuffling into the room, and was just as pleased as I was.
I dashed down the stairs, got my boots on as quick as I could, and went out to experience snowfall for the first time. It was just as awesome as the snow on the ground. We then took various pictures and strolled through the snowy backstreets. Emma and I even tried to make a snowman at one point, but didn't quite get the hang of it. Needless to say, I was super excited. Sadly though, my camera photos don't really do the beauty of fresh snowfall justice... I really need a better one!
After spending a good hour or so experiencing the snow, we headed back to our room, and made our preparations to leave Shibu Onsen. After chilling out (or in this case, heating up) around the table-heater in our room, we said our goodbyes to our wonderful host. As a memento, he gave us a pair of chopsticks with our birthyear on them, and a photo of us in the snow together. Even though we could barely communicate with him, he was a very nice and helpful gentleman.
What followed was a long walk to the train station. A long, cold, snowy walk, dragging our luggage behind us. Not the most pleasant walk, but I'd rather a freezing cold walk to a train station than a stinking hot one any day.
Then, we boarded our "Snow Monkey" train for Nagano. I had to go to the bathroom, so I had to get off the train and find where it was. In the process, I found a local Lawson, so I went inside and tried to find us some lunch for the train ride. I ended up finding quite a nice deep-fried chicken with rice... thing. Plus, my phrasebook came in handy! I asked the store clerk if the meat in this was chicken, to which she replied, yes. That alone made the phrasebook about 100 times more useful than my Thai one, as I couldn't even comprehend how to begin to pronounce a single word in Thai.
After the ride back to Nagano, we were confronted with a new problem - we had accumulated a lot of rubbish over the trip so far, and for the life of us, we could never find a garbage bin! For a country as staggeringly clean as Japan is, it is amazing that there are no rubbish bins - anywhere! After asking the tourist information centre where a bin was (which led me through quite a complicated path of various buildings and what have you), I eventually found one. Then, it was onto our train ride to Matsumoto.
This ride was quite pleasant - through many pastures, tunnels and foothills. Sadly, there was very little snow to be seen. About an hour later, we arrived at Matsumoto. Here, we needed to transfer to a bus to take us to Takayama, but we had an hour to kill between our train arriving and our bus departing.
Then we realised that we were booked in to have dinner at our hotel in Takayama, but due to the long bus ride, we would be significantly late. This meant that I needed to contact the hotel to let them know that we were arriving late.
I checked our hotel voucher, and it didn't have a phone number on it. Shit. Therefore, I needed to find a computer with internet access on it to email them. So, I asked at the tourist information centre (in japanese - thankyou phrasebook!) where I could find internet access. She gave me directions to what I can assume was a public library - that was where the fun began.
I had to make my way through several backstreets, and then go up to the second level at the public library. Then, I had to sign in on their sign in sheet, and attempt to use a japanese keyboard and internet browser. So it turns out that the spacebar key is really tiny, and on either side of it is a key that changes the language from english characters to either hiragana or katakana. Then, they don't have a clearly labelled button to turn it back to english letters. Unfortunately, I am used to a western keyboard, so I often changed the lettering from english to japanese mid-word. The only way of putting in english characters after switching to hiragana/katakana was by holding the shift key, and making the english letters capital. As such, this is an approximation of what my letter to our hotel looked like:
My name is DAVId WILLiams. I HAVe a reserVATIOn at YOur HoTel tonight. DUE To a miscalculated BUs dEPARTURE tiME, We will be arriving to yoUR HOTel at about 8:00PM. I APOLogise for the exTremely LATE NOTICE.
Then, I clicked on "send". It came up with an error message in Japanese. FFFFFFFFFFFFFfff- So I scrambled to find a phone number to contact them on. Success! Then, after a quick call on a payphone, I had cleared everything with the hotel. Sometimes it is easier to do things the old fashioned way.
On my way back to the bus station, I spied a gaming store. I went inside, and saw a copy of Ouendan for only 1800 yen. Bargain! I bought it. My first proper souvenir for myself.
Then, I went back to the bus station and waited with Emma for our bus. When it arrived, we put our luggage underneath, and sat down. After the doors closed, it became apparent that we were the only people on the bus! In fact, on the whole journey, only one other passenger got on. Still, the bus was quite comfortable, and you couldn't exactly complain about the scenery.
Let me put it this way: The reason why we had to catch a bus between Matsumoto and Takayama and not a train is that there is one gigantic mountain range between the two towns. And the bus trip took us over those mountains. It was amazing. The lakes were dark jade in colour, the trees the greenest green this side of greenland, and the snow was pristine and untouched. I felt like getting off of the bus every time it stopped! Although, if I did, I would have probably frozen to death.
Another thing I found amazing was the network of tunnels through these mountains. Some of them stretched off to the infinity point, so that you couldn't actually see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. When confronted with such amazing engineering marvels, I always think to myself "how on earth did they do that, and how did they get the time/money to do it?" then, I realised that being the world's third largest economy, you can afford to make things like that.
After another hour or so of twists and turns through the mountains, accompanied by suitable "ooohs" and "aaahs" from Emma and I, we descended down the mountainside into Takayama.
After arriving at the bus station, it was a 5 minute walk to our hotel, where we checked in and went to our room. The room is great, with it being a fusion between a traditional ryokan with tatami floors, and the amenities of a hotel (mini fridge, internet access, etc.). The only downside is that our room is a smoking room, but nothing that a bit of airing can't fix.
We then went to dinner, which was once again a traditional meal. Thankfully though, some of the staff spoke english, which meant we were instructed on how to enjoy the meal to its fullest. That being said though, one of the rice dishes we ate had tiny shrimp in it - whole shrimp, complete with shell and eyes. They were so small that you couldn't peel them, so you just had to chew on them. It felt like they were looking at you, pleading for you not to eat them. It wasn't unpleasant, but not something I'd eat again by choice.
The staff at the hotel are very kind. We even chatted to one of the waitresses about traditional Japanese life versus traditional Aussie life. All in all, a great evening, and an excellent introduction to our hotel.
Next: Takayama stuff!