Rush and crush. Shinkansen. Shrines and noodles....
05.04.2013 18 °C
I forgot to report that yesterday there was a culinary highlight: takoyaki. These are octopus balls and no I'm not talking about mollusc testicles. They are hot, shall we call them spheres, of octopus, vegetable and some kind of creamy batter in a crispy outer shell. We saw these being made at a kiosk near Ueno Park. The ladies in the window were cooking them there and so they were super fresh and very nice. Takoyaki at home will never match up. Very memorable.
Unlike breakfast this morning which was half a banana wrapped up in a slice of whole meal bread. Anything to avoid that cellar breakfast, and everything to hit the train track early. Ha! Early meant nothing. We hit start of peak hour at 7.30am and had to squash into the carriage with our suitcase and day packs. Quite an experience and not for anyone prone to claustrophobia. Up close and personal with the locals and salarymen...
Somehow managed to extricate ourselves and luggage and tumble out onto the platform at Tokyo Station, but it's not over yet. The next stage was to find and board the Shinkansen (the bullet train). We had reserved seats, but it wasn't full. It is so amusing to watch the preparations before we board. Firstly, a troupe of cleaners line up one outside each carriage door. They wear elf like uniforms with a sprig of plastic cherry blossom in the hat. Then one at a time, like synchronised swimmers, they make a signal like a salute, then hop into the carriage to begin a lightning fast cleaning and chair swivelling process. The chairs are swivelled to face the direction of travel, the window ledges and table tops are briskly disinfected and then we are allowed to board. I was wondering if any of these elves would like to clean our house.
While this is all happening, the train stewards arrive with little carts of snacks for on board snacking. Of which we didn't partake.
The bullet train is fast of course, I like a bit of speed, me. It was over in 50 mins. We had to get another train to eventually arrive at Nikko. On this train was a pack of Italians. They talked. A lot. Loudly. It's annoying. It made me realise how lovely and peaceful Japanese transportation is. Talking on mobile phones is prohibited. No reason to hear about other people's business. Again, I think I live in the wrong place.
Arrival at Nikko and such a literal breath of fresh air. A lovely town, traditional buildings, trees, quiet, mountains in the background..... We got the doilied taxi to our stop, called the Nikko Hotel Natural Garden. The manager is an older Japanese gentleman. This hotel is not a chain, it is a homely place to relax and they obviously take great pride in their hospitality.
Unable to check in, we left the luggage and day packs and took a bus back down to the centre. It is hard to know whether shops and restaurants are open here. After some wandering up and down we settled on a small eatery serving noodles and only noodles. But not just any old noodle. The speciality of the region is soba (made of buckwheat) and a bean curd called yoba. No problem asking for vegetarian this time! The noodle house was traditional and we were the only westerners. Nice! The way I like it.
After the homemade noodles, we walked around. I thought my footwear was inappropriate until I saw stiletto boots and a pair of crocs. Then I relaxed. My soft maryjanes were fine for climbing steep steps and walking over pebbles to see the many shrines and gates and towers and a tall pagoda set in a beautiful forest. This area is listed as world heritage because it is so old. Extremely ornate, colourful, intricate, sacred and tourist attracting. The shoes had to come off a few times to enter the sacred spaces. We were shown the amazing acoustics inside one shrine where a simple strike of two stone sticks lasted for a long time.
My camera battery ran out. I don't blame it really, there was way too much to take in, a veritable visual overload. The last photo I took today was of the 3 monkeys (see no evil etc). I didn't realise but there are more monkeys in that story. It's about the circle of life.
The pass we bought to see all these temples and shrines was only $10 and we couldn't finish, it all got a bit much and we were running out of time. On the way back we used one of the ubiquitous vending machines to buy drinks. Paul got a hot coffee in a can. I am not a coffee drinker but the coffee in Japan is very nice and I might even get one myself next time. Paul spotted a happy chappy in his van merrily cooking up those delicious filled pancakes that are fish shaped. Not sure what they are called, but I always order one at Jaws Kaiten sushi at home. Paul's had red bean paste, mine had chocolate custard. Freshly made nice and hot and yummy. But I am kind of craving a bit of greenery now......
Waiting at the bus stop, Paul was approached by a TV crew who wanted to interview him. He was asked about the exchange rate and why we were in Japan and if the first time etc. I got asked too, but kind of as a second thought. The camera was a bit too close to my face for my liking. I hope it was my good side (do I even have one?). Apparently it's on tv at 10pm tonight but not sure which channel. And the best part was we didn't even miss our bus back to the hotel. Now "bus" is not a fair description of the vehicle. It is a coach. The first one was lovingly decorated with the doilies. The second was not as well furnished, but had a fabulous video monitor up front, describing how to press the alight button, which one is the next stop name and number etc. It's all perfection and efficiency here.
Our hotel rom is very nice. I love having green tea available because it is my hot drink of choice and normally I have to BYO teabag. Also here, it's old fashioned in that we have to choose a dining time for dinner and breakfast. There is an onsen too (hot spring water spa). Nudie bathing only! Not made up my mind about that...... Paul of course will go.
Dinner this evening was taken in the hotel. Everything was laid out like a 5 star restaurant. Haven't seen that much cutlery since I last put away the dishes at home. We had the whole shebang: hors d'hoerves, soup, seafood, meat / scallops for me, dessert and hot drink. No idea how much that was, all inclusive! The beauty of prepaying, hey? Another highlight even though it was a western meal, it was quality and not too humongous serving sizes.
It is now time to decide whether to take that skinny dip..... Also, to rush back and see ourselves on TV! LOL!!!!