Hokkaido 2008 (III)
Today was all about reliving old experiences and sampling new ones. Furano, Biei and Bibaushi invoke images of rolling hills, vivid flowers and lone trees like no other place in my mind.
The cheese factory was a new experience. It was a little out of town and we didn’t have a car last time to reach there. There were free samples, including a black cheese made with cuttlefish ink, as well as hands-on cheese making sessions.
Next to the factory was an ice cream factory. We didn’t try it cos it was too early in the morning. A short walk to the back led us to a photographer’s gallery where the owner sold me one of his books.
Then it was off to Farm Tomita, arguably the biggest tourist attraction in Furano. The lavender had wilted by now, but there was still plenty of other flowers. Lavender inside the greenhouse if photographed a certain way gave the impression that it was outside.
The famous slope was bare, compared with full bloom last time.
Between Furano and Biei was the Trick Art Museum [English translation of Japanese site] where 2D paintings gave the illusion of 3D. Fun stuff.
Yet again we missed the narrow lunch window and most places in Biei were closed. We ended up eating instant ramen from 7-Eleven in our car. Sometimes we splurge out on expensive meals and yet sometimes we go back to poor student mode.
The starting point of the Biei circuit is Pension Ken & Mary with its distinctive tree. They charge ¥300 entrance to the café, or we can buy something to drink and sit on the terrace. No brainer, duh.
The sun was almost setting when we reached the Shikisai Hill otherwise known as four seasons hill farm. The hay figure was a memory from last time, as was their pumpkin ice cream.
We had dinner at an izakaya - drinking places that are part pub and part tapas bar. We ordered sushi, yakitori, fried camembert, and beef on hotplate. I had a beer and mm a sake. Such a pleasant way of spending an evening.
The softball gold medal match was on. I saw the first few innings at the bar and caught the final few after getting back to the b&b. To see the elation on the faces of the winning Japanese team was gorgeous. When the last US hitter got run out, one of the commentators cried and squealed, even not knowing Japanese I could tell her excitement.
We found ourselves lingering, not wanting to leave, because Bibaushi is so stunning. We traced our route from the station to Takushinkan, this time by car. I’ve tried over the years to try to find more works by Shinzo Maeda and realise his son Akira has taken up his mantle. We bought a big stack of postcards, wanting to buy the whole lot.
A side note is that Takushinkan charged for parking, but only a minute away was a service area with free parking. We wondered why they even charge when every single car parked at the service area. Just as well because we had the sweetest sweetcorn and juiciest cherry tomatoes at the small shop there. The hospitality of the shopkeeper was amazing, she even gave us small doughy rolls to taste. May be our poor student persona was showing again.
The GPS directed us back to Sapporo via Asahikawa, weird. It was lunchtime and we stopped at a huge shopping mall. Had more buta-don and quickly looked around the giant Jusco supermarket. Food was amazing.
We took the fast, and expensive, highway to Sapporo. Instead of wasting time checking into the hotel we headed straight for Sapporo Factory for a little shopping. Not far away was the Sapporo Bier Garten. The beer museum was closed by the time we got there, but dinner had just begun.
Wow. Talk about vast and organised. The speciality is jingisukan, the romanji spelling for Genghis Khan. No surprise that it’s barbequed lamb. There are several different restaurants in the complex and the choices are - full buffet, 100 minute all-you-can-eat, à la carte and a grill. We opted for the AYCE, which for ¥3,570 included beer and soft drinks. I had 3 glasses (500ml each I think) of draft and a half-half mix of draft and black beer. Followed with a glass of oolong tea.
Another shopping mall next to the beer garden and the main attraction was the Uniqlo store. We both managed to buy something, woot!
When we checked into the Keio Plaza we were told that we had a standard (smoking) room for one night and had to move rooms for the second night. We were really, really annoyed. I mean, if a customer requests an additional night before their original booking, wouldn’t it make sense to have one room for both nights instead of treating it as two separate bookings? Not sure if it was the problem with our travel agent or the bureaucratic hotel.
I didn’t think we’d make it back to Otaru. In my mind it’s got shopping and more shopping and how many pretty glass ornaments can we buy?
I’m glad mm insisted to return. After all, it’s only 30 mins drive from Sapporo. We had a great day. Tired from all the walking, but still good. Parking was difficult, at least for the free variety so we parked for the whole day. ¥100 for 30mins, max ¥1,200, we were prepared to pay the maximum price.
No visit to Otaru can be complete without a stop at the canal. I’ve never really gotten why it’s considered to absolutely stunningly beautiful. It’s pretty, but…I dunno.
Early lunch of uni rice at a food stall. We thought the place would get packed later but the crowds never appeared. They must have stuck to the restaurants on the main strip. And what a main strip. Took us the whole day to walk from one end to the other and back. Mostly glassware, music boxes and ornaments. There were repeats which suggested similar sources. Still, the handiwork was impressive.
I didn’t buy much. mm bought sake sets from the outlet, an award winning bottle of sake, music boxes and other souvenirs. We learned something new today at the Otaru Music Box Museum. Normally music boxes are 18-note, so are limited in the range of music they can play. High end music boxes have 36-, 50- and even 72-notes. One of the curators at the museum showed us the difference, and it was remarkable. The 72-note box played Ave Maria with both treble and bass, just like on the piano (same number of keys). Naturally the price increase is exponential.
Food-wise we had a heavenly day. The seafood stall offering grilled scallops on the shell for ¥100 was too good to pass up. We had one each, then returned to have 2-3 each. At Kitakaro where we got a tea set of coffee, ice cream and puff for ¥500 was equally value for money.
Dinner back at the wholesale fish market in Sapporo. By then it was dark and the stalls had closed, but not the restaurants. For this last dinner we totally gorged ourselves, I had the crab set meal and mm had sushi and tempura. The new room at the Keio Plaza was way better, so much so that I was impressed (or relieved) enough to take pictures.
Flight was at 4.40pm so we had the whole morning for shopping. Breakfast was ramen at the JR station. First time we had ramen this trip and it was a good one.
mm went crazy and bought a handbag and a couple of purses from Burberry Blue Label. Blue Label is exclusively licensed to Japan and seem to have a more contemporary design. We even got the tax refund immediately in the store, very convenient.
I didn’t buy anything, unless ice cream and gumi sweets count.
We were very late returning the car, mm was cornered by someone on a customer satisfaction survey. We were spared the pain of check-in cos of my gold card but everyone was treated equal at security. For the 3 flights leaving around that time there was one security checkpoint so imagine the queue.
The lounge was tiny, more like the waiting room at a train station albeit with better seats and free drinks. The flight was fine, we had 3 seats to ourselves.